Lucidno        LA VIE SUR TERRE

Life on Earth

La Vie Sur TerreLa Vie Sur TerreAbderrahmane Sissako's hauntingly beautiful film La Vie Sur Terre brings a reality check to the hype of the information age which still stands its ground twelve years later. It is a visual poem as well as a strong statement on Africa and globalization as we entered the 21st century. The film was shot on the eve of the millennium in Sissako's father's hometown of Sokolo in Mali, near the southeast corner of Mauritania. The making of the film came out of the 2000 Vue Par, a European television series which invited ten outstanding independent producers to imagine the last day of the present century in their own countries. La Vie Sur Terre shows the limitations of connectivity in a town that has only one telephone line and where modes of transport, like many places in the developing world, are still mainly limited to foot, donkeys and bicycles. Sissako's challenge was to comment on the impact of the 21st century when in some ways Sokolo hadn't even entered the 20th century. Yet Sokolo is far more connected to the modern world than a first glance suggests.

The film is accompanied by a soundtrack which includes Salif Keita's evocative rendering of Folon: The Past and is interspersed with quotations from the forceful work of Aime Cesaire, that endorse the words of the song,

On the surface Life on Earth seems to be a simple film showing the languid rhythms of every day life in Sokolo. Yet it is much more complex. Although Sokolo has only one telephone line and no electricity, the people in the town remain deeply connected to the rest of the world in a variety of ways. Furthermore, Sissako's return "home" to make the film highlights the importance of return to those living in the Diaspora. Cesaire's writings reinforce the significance of a homeland for Diasporan intellectuals. The film also explores the complex and crucial relationship Sokolo has with both the Metropole and the urban centers of Africa. The people of Sokolo are acutely aware of these places, and feel neglected by both the Metropole and the current authorities in Bamako.

Sissako uses the innovative mode of "fictional documentary" to make this film. This is no Cinema Verite or Direct Cinema with shaky camera movements--on the contrary each shot is carefully and meticulously composed and framed. The actors play themselves as the film centers on the slow tempo of daily life and the town's tenuous but vital links to the outside world. Sokolo keeps connected through the telephone line in the post office, letters and remittances from abroad, and the local radio station which includes broadcasts of news of the millennium celebrations in Paris. 

Local broadcasts, however, quote from Cesaire's Discourse on Colonialism dampening the charm of the Parisian world and reminding us of the deep wounds of Sokolo's colonial past. Thus the themes explored include technological impediments to connectivity and globalization, the ways that in fact globalization has infiltrated Sokolo and the awareness of its inhabitants of the rest of the world, how Sokolo remains connected and, indeed, its dependence on the Diaspora for its very existence. Finally it raises the importance of a homeland—a place to return to those in the Diaspora. The film opens in a supermarket in Paris--the camera pans the abundance of cheeses in the cooler to contrast the excesses of Paris with the sparseness of Sokolo. We see Sissako shopping in the supermarket as he prepares for his journey dressed in a gray overcoat and hat. A Baobob tree then fills the screen as a transition to Sokolo. The camera slowly zooms into the branches conditioning us for the slower pace of the town where the principal modes of transport are on foot, by donkey or bike. The camera, however, is far from still as it pans the movement of peoples, goats, cows, and Sissako on his bike criss-crossing the screen from left to right and right to left so that the film keeps our eyes moving.

The camera work lovingly frames the beauty of the environment. The gentle earthtones of the mud buildings and pathways are brilliantly contrasted now and again with a vibrant piece of cloth such as the purple or yellow of a Boubou or the blue piece of cloth that provides the backdrop for the photographer—one of the principal players who the film centers around. We see him set up his yellow box camera and hang out the cloth and then throughout the day people come to have their portrait taken. Each portrait gives both the photographer and Sissako the opportunity to meticulously frame the subject like a painting whether it be an old Tuareg man dressed in indigo robes that compliment the blue back cloth or the beautiful Nana, who, like Sissako, meanders around town on her bike.

Sissako uses the innovative mode of "fictional documentary" to make this film. This is no Cinema Verite or Direct Cinema with shaky camera movements--on the contrary each shot is carefully and meticulously composed and framed. The actors play themselves as the film centers on the slow tempo of daily life and the town's tenuous but vital links to the outside world

We soon find out that Sokolo has one telephone line to the postmaster's office. The switchboard is powered by solar panels—not evident in the film. Sokolo has no electricity and lighting is by oil lamp (Joris, 135). Again this makes the reality of increasing connectivity even more complex. Perhaps solar electrification could bring power to the town. We are constantly reminded of the vagaries of the one phone line. At one point the postmaster, Bina, states that "it's ringing in England, and I'm calling Paris. Its difficult, it won't go through, it's hard to reach people. It's a question of luck." Many of those who try to reach people during the film are unsuccessful. Nana, the young woman who cycled into the film waits patiently to reach her friend Bai. She eventually gives up and cycles off into the distance at the end of the film perhaps deciding that she will reach him quicker in person. Yet at the same time it is easy to imagine the postmaster and his assistant as well as the other people who speak French—most people speak only Bambara-- easily making the transition to computers and satellite phones. It is not a difficult transition. How much benefit global connectivity would bring is an important issue and one that the film forces us to consider.

 



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