Vision of West Africa: SFFS Screen's 'Delwende' offers an ebullient dance scene within a powerfully sad story. (Photo courtesy SFFS)

SFFS Screens 'Delwende'

Dennis Harvey October 28, 2008

The West African nation of Burkina Faso is one of the globe’s poorest nations. When the children of Saaba begin mysteriously falling ill and dying off, the collective opinion is that it must be due to…witchcraft. At odds with wife Napoko (Blandine Yameogo) over his sending 16-year-old daughter Pougbila (Claire Ilboudo) off to an arranged marriage, influential elder Diarrha (Celestin Zongo) orchestrates it so a ceremonial totem accuses her of being the witch. She’s driven away, and can find no shelter anywhere—news spreads fast of her alleged evildoing—until finally she ends up at a shelter for other banished "witches" in capital city Ougadougou.

Meanwhile, Pougbila—who had confessed to her mother that she’d been raped by an assailant she refused to name, and now refuses to sleep with her new husband—hears of Napoko’s fate and sets off to find her.

Simply crafted but powerful and involving, veteran Burkina Faso director S. Pierre Yameogo’s new Delwende, which opens this Friday on the SFFS Screen at the Sundance Kabuki, shows an isolated society still vulnerable to superstition. Though one resident’s boom box hints at modernity, blasting songs and news in French, the broadcast message that it’s a meningitis epidemic, and not hocus-pocus, that’s harming the children doesn’t get across.

In their travels, both mother and daughter routinely face would-be rapists and seducers. When strangers discover Pougbila’s mission—making her a "witch’s daughter," they shun her, too. But the assertiveness of the women here sends a strong message that these things can, and must, change. There’s justice at the end of their long, hard road.