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Kino on Video presents

Guimba the Tyrant (Guimba un tyran, une époque) (1995)

"Guimba, I knew you were mad, but not stark raving mad."- Mambi (Balla Moussakeita)

Stars: Fabola Issa Traoré Balla Moussakeita, Habib Dembele, Lamine Diallo
Other Stars: Hélène Diarra, Moune ïssa Maiga, Fatoumata Coulibaly, Cheick Oumar Maiga
Director: Cheick Oumar Sissoko

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence, sexuality)
Run Time: 01h:33m:41s
Release Date: 2005-02-22
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer


DVD Review

When one thinks of foreign films, European and Asian motion pictures come to mind. But Africa also has a film industry, and in Kino's series New African Cinema, some recent movies from that continent get a spotlight. This award-winning 1995 picture is an elaborate fantasy and political satire that combines darkness and humor against a background of stifling heat.

In pre-colonial Mali, Guimba (Fabola Issa Traoré) has become the headman of the village of Sitakili. Through his personal power and sorcery, Guimba rules with an iron fist and keeps Sitakili impregnable. Guimba's son Jangine (Lamine Diallo) is a sadistic and randy dwarf who was betrothed to the beautiful Kani (Moune Ïssa Maiga) at birth. But the now-adult Jangine is more interested in buxom women, specifically Kani's mother, Meya (Hélène Diarra). Wanting to deny his son nothing, and seeing an opportunity for himself, Guimba forces Meya's husband Mambi (Balla Moussakeita) into exile and takes Kani as his own bride. That doesn't go over so well with the townspeople, and soon Guimba has found himself more trouble than he bargained for at the hands of femme fatale Sadio (Fatoumata Coulibaly) and rival wizard Siriman (Cheick Oumar Maiga).

The thing that is most impressive about this film is how convincingly it conveys the oppressive heat of Mali. Helped along by a color scheme that is entirely yellows, oranges, and browns (other than some cooler blues in Guimba's palace), director Cheick Oumar Sissoko builds a highly effective sense of atmosphere in this piece. The setting is vital to the story, since the enervating warmth seems to help Guimba by both keeping the populace under his thumb and making his sorcerous acts all the more credible.

Despite the setting in the distant past, Guimba is quite evidently a parable about the mad strongmen of our own time, from Uganda's General Idi Amin to Omar Al-Bashir of the Sudan. The human spirit of rebellion is expressed effectively, with the counterpoint of human foibles eventually leading to a bad end for the tyrants. However, quite a few scenes and references are cryptic; matters aren't helped any by lines that are left untranslated in the subtitles. This would have been a good candidate for some extras explicating the references and customs that will escape most Westerners as they did me.

The cast is quite good, with Traoré making for a believable tyrant. Lamine Diallo is highly memorable in an oddball part, making the most of Jangine's lusts and viciousness. The supporting cast does a fine job as well, though the similar costuming makes it difficult to tell some of the minor characters apart at times. The movie makes for a fascinating little ethnographic study, though at times it's a bit opaque.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: It's hard to believe that there are still nonanamorphic widescreen transfers being issued on DVD, but this is one of them. Although it's reasonably attractive, the lack of resolution from extra lines is evident in the softness and missing fine detail. Colors are bright and vivid, and black levels are reasonably good. Kino doesn't seem to have tried to compensate for the nonanamorphic transfer by slapping on extra digital sharpening, which is a plus.

Image Transfer Grade: C+

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The 2.0 mono track of the original Bambara audio is acceptable, though it has a moderate amount of hiss. The musical score sounds decent, though the bass is occasionally boomy and overwhelming. It's passable for a 1990s track but nothing more.

Audio Transfer Grade:

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 15 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Stills gallery
Extras Review: The sole extra is a group of eight color stills. The subtitles are burned-in (though at least they're in the 1.85:1 field, so one can blow up the picture on a widescreen set and still read the subtitles).

Extras Grade: D

Final Comments

An intriguing political fantasy from Mali, this could have had a better transfer and really cries out for some extras to fill in some of the blanks.

Mark Zimmer 2005-02-16