in Somali and French with English subtitles (2019, running time 1hr 25 mins)

As part of the Africa in Motion film festival 2020, which ran from 30 October until 29 November 2020, I watched this online screening of the 2019 feature Dhalinyaro, directed by Lula Ali Ismail.

The film follows the lives of three girl friends, Asma, Hibo and Deka, throughout their final year of school in Djibouti city. The film is beautifully filmed, and I loved the insights into life in Djibouti, the bustle of the city and the port, the beautiful sands of the beach, the rolling waves and the sharply contrasting lifestyles of the three girls.

The film is set in contemporary society, where mobile phones and laptops are ubiquitous, and which seems to mix conservatism with opportunities for self-development. As well as taking their BAC exams (the International Baccalaureate), the girls have to make decisions about their future, and if money permits they are encouraged to travel to France to pursue their university studies (as Asma notes, funds for further studies, for her, are “rare as snake’s shit”).

This is the second African film I’ve seen lately that discusses study in France as a natural progression from schooling in a francophone nation (although looking online it seems that illiteracy is fairly common in parts of the country). I had no idea that travel to France was such a rite of passage for so many middle-class francophone Africans. Watching African films, it also interests me how the dialogue often switches between languages (here between French and Somali), and whether there are informal societal rules governing this (I did study linguistics at university back in the day so maybe this explains my geeky interest!).

The story itself is gently paced and doesn’t break any new ground: it’s a straightforward coming of age tale, but no less charming for that. It opens with wealthy, appearance-orientated Hibo (who typically sweeps around in a chauffeur-driven four-by-four), sobbing in the school bathroom as she miscarries – a shocking and scary experience that has coincided with Eid. Asma and Deka do not judge, but lend her a black abaya to cover her blood-stained trousers and swiftly and stealthily arrange her a taxi to the hospital. From then on the three are inseparable.

The movie is the first to be made by a female director from Djibouti (and Lula Ali Ismail also has a cameo role as the girls’ school teacher), and it provides a convincing, character-driven exploration of friendship and the challenges and pleasures of youth.

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