Waiting for Happiness

"Very Good"

Waiting for Happiness Review


Waiting for Happiness feels like festival bait, the kind of lyrical ethnographic exercise that makes the people who watch it feel important. It's an interesting journey to a faraway place -- can you find Mauritania on the map? -- but as a movie it turns out to be more boring that meditative. Watch with coffee.

Not much happens in the crumbling seaside village that the film visits. Abdallah (Mohamed Mahmoud Ould Mohamed) a 17-year-old who has been away for many years, returns to visit his mother before he heads off to Europe to seek his fortune. Unable to remember the local dialect, he can't communicate with the townspeople or even with his mother, so mainly he lies in bed and reads or wanders around with a shell-shocked look on his face. He can't even stand to wear the local robes, choosing instead to remain in his well-worn Western clothes.

A more interesting character is young Khatra (Khatra Ould Abder Kader), an orphaned and energetic boy of nine or so who has latched onto the village's old and not very effective electrician Maata (Maata Ould Mohamed Abeid). They pass through town screwing in light bulbs, with Khatra urging Maata on and reassuring him that everything will be alright. It has to be because if Maata fades away, then so will Khatra.

And that about sums it up. The film's purpose is to analyze alienation and isolation, and a transient town on the West African coast is a good place to do it. You never know what, or who, will wash ashore. The town has a lone Chinese man who tries to win the heart of a local woman by serenading her in a karaoke bar. Where the heck did he come from, and what is he doing here? In a nearby house, a mother teaches her daughter ancient songs, and down the street a gaggle of women meet Adballah for tea and stare at him. Khatra tries to teach Abdallah the local language, but nothing sticks. Abdallah will leave soon. Maata may die soon. The Chinese man may go back to China. People come and go, and they're always alone in the end. Adballah eventually hikes over a dune with his suitcase in his hand. What happens to him in France might make for a more interesting movie.

Director/writer Abderrahmane Sissako has played with the theme of small people isolated in a big world before. It's sort of his obsession, and it's an interesting topic. In Waiting for Happiness, however, what little story there is simply stalls out, and you're left with the feeling that you've watched a so-so National Geographic special about immigration trends in Africa rather than an affecting film. It's pretty and it's exotic, but that's all it is.

Aka Heremakono.

Keep waiting.



Facts and Figures

Run time: 90 mins

In Theaters: Wednesday 15th January 2003

Distributed by: New Yorker Films

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 76%
Fresh: 13 Rotten: 4

IMDB: 6.7 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: Abderrahmane Sissako

Producer: Nicholas Royer, Maji-da Abdi

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