Jeremy Teicher’s feature debut begins with Coumba (Dior Ka) and her younger sister, Debo (Oumul Ka), beautifying themselves for the day ahead. Exam results loom for Coumba, who is evidently the promise of her family, yet when her older brother falls out of the giant baobab tree, the subsequent medical bills put her bright future at risk. Their devout Muslim father aims to marry Debo off in order to settle the 200,000 franc debt, yet Coumba aims to try and rustle up the funds herself and save her sister, even if at the expense of her planned life trajectory.
Though Teicher’s film crawls along for one running in at merely 82 minutes, there is a pressing urgency to the central dilemma once it kicks off, compounded by the addition of other quandaries, such as Coumba’s teacher advising her to go to the police about her father’s plan. However, despite the material’s potential for heartbreak, this is mostly a hopeful, even sweet depiction of sisterhood, unassuming and quietly heartfelt, boosted by a simply efficient script, quaint score and evocative cinematography.
While things very nearly seem wrapped-up by half way, Teicher nimbly manages to rachet up the tension once again, as Debo has to keep her enthusiastic suitors at bay while Coumba rustles up the remaining cash. As a result it feels slightly like Teicher is running his narrative around in circles somewhat by act three, even if it does ask some probing questions for the viewer to mull over – namely how important to role of tradition is when family is at stake. Audiences will likely be moved by the ending which, in theory, should be a downer, but finds a tragic hope in good people doing their best to help others, and the naturalistic performances are a huge credit to Teicher’s singular vision.
Simple, swift and a little sad, this debut is far from perfect, but shows real promise.
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