This could have been shot in the 60’s under the auspices of Godard, as a kind of derivative of his “political” pop-art style. But just for the style.
The message is something else! Based on real events, this is the story of African soldiers who fought along with France during WWII, only to be brought back to Africa, mistreated, and killed! The French Army refused to pay them! The movie makes fun of racism by presenting highly affable African characters whose good nature, humanity, and commitment to justice is readily apparent. The mostly unknown cast deliver memorable performances full of naturalistic gestures, speech, and humor.
Think of the best Samuel Fuller, but set in Africa, and in French. In fact, that’s where Godard comes in, long-time Fuller admirer, he could never match his intrinsic humanism. Godard’s romanticizing of art and politics never quite gelled enough to offer a substantial statement. Meanwhile, Sembene achieves this with simple finesse and directness.
Shot under unique light, rich in color, making the dark brown and blue of the African actors’ faces shimmer with beauty even in the bright landscapes.
Read a statement Ousmane Sembene made about the film. In it, he implores the world population to not read the film as a historical account of an event that concerns the black race only, but an event that concerns the entire global population. During a screening of the film in Senegal, the French ambassador walked out, seemingly offended by the story. Sembene reiterates the idea that the movie was not made to exact revenge on the French, but to give root to the history of African culture.