Love Will Tear Us Apart

Banal & Adama

by Matt Weiner

A tale of star-crossed lovers gets a welcome refresh that’s equal parts tragic and enigmatic in Banel & Adama, the feature debut from Senegalese writer and director Ramata-Toulaye Sy.

Khady Mane anchors the film as Banel, a fiercely independent woman who wants to chart her own destiny in life rather than adhere to the traditions of her rural village. Building a new home together rather than staying in the village is seen as odd enough, but her strangeness goes too far when she persuades Adama (Mamadou Diallo) to give up his bloodline claim to village chief.

What the elders see as a spiritual sickness becomes manifest when a drought falls over the remote village. Sy’s arresting use of brightness and color gives way to a desiccated village. The growing unease and desperation are palpable, and made all the more visceral as the starving cattle succumb to the oppressive weather. And all of that before death comes for the villagers.

These languid middle sequences in the village are some of the most powerful shots in the movie. Sy’s treatment of Banel and Adama is part Shakespeare, but there’s a healthy dose of Melville too. What starts out in happier times as a romantic refrain—Banel whispering their two names over and over—turns into an obsessive mania. Banel drops hints that her union with Adama might be fate… but it also might have been caused by more direct and nefarious human intervention.

Sy’s script, along with Mane’s performance, adds a welcome layer of complexity to the otherwise slight story. Banel can be frustrating, but also sympathetic and enchanting. (Adama never stood a chance.)

The film’s allegorical explorations of fate and destiny become more deeply felt as the village suffers. For Banel, too, it becomes unclear if her true love is Adama, or the idea of a different life.

Sy doesn’t offer clear answers. Only stellar performances that welcome the inscrutable, even haunting contradictions of love and life.

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