NORTH AFRICA

(Technically in West Africa, much of Niger is Saharan desert, and I’ve characterised the country as part of North Africa rather than as part of Sub-Saharan Africa, to keep my categories similar in size)

In Songhoy (Zarma), Hausa and Fulani, with English subtitles

Niger isn’t famed for its film industry, and The Wedding Ring was the first film to be submitted by Niger to the Oscars, in the category of Foreign Language Film. Fully African-funded, this female-led coming-of-age movie, the second film to be directed by filmmaker Rahmatou Keïta, is a really enjoyable, almost cosy watch.

The plot is straightforward. Tiyaa (played by Keïta’s daughter Magaajyia Silberfeld) is a student from a wealthy and highly esteemed aristocratic family, who has returned to the Sultanate of Damagaram in Niger for the winter holidays. While studying abroad, in Paris, Tiyaa has fallen in love with a man from another prestigious family, based not far from her family home. But after arriving home Tiyaa doesn’t hear from him, and begins to doubt that he will come to her to make the formal proposal of marriage that she has been led to expect.

It was interesting to see the Western lifestyle from an African viewpoint. As Tiyaa says, “white people are strange” – from her perspective Parisians have no sense of taboo, and people lack restraint, kissing and touching in public, something that noble girls of her lineage wouldn’t dream of doing at home. However, in Paris she and her beau found themselves adopting a ‘when in Rome’ attitude, and became intimate, almost despite themselves.

Tiyaa speaks openly to her confidante of the pleasures of her newly discovered sensuality, in front of a symbolic night-time fire. Sex she says is “even better” than they say, and she waxes lyrical, comparing her experience to an explosion of silver stars. Young, unmarried women in her culture are supposed to use cold water to wash, while married women “who have known pleasure” use warm water. Tiyaa confides that she has begun to sneak warm water for her ablutions…

The beautifully filmed, romantic movie vividly portrays a close-knit, bustling rural community and foregrounds and pays respect to the gradually eroding traditions of rural Sahelian people. It thus serves to depict on screen Nigerien cultural rituals, based on Keïta’s own experiences as a member of an aristocratic Nigerien family (who has also lived and worked in Paris), and to preserve them on film for future generations. It was an extremely enjoyable film, although I’m not sure how representative it is of the typical Nigerien member of the public, given its focus on the hyper elite.

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