Banel & Adama (2024)

Khady Mane and Mamadou Diallo portray star-crossed lovers in “Banel & Adama.”

Love and tradition a deadly mix in tragic ‘Banel’

  Do you believe in curses? The denizens of a remote Senegalese village do and are quick to blame their escalating despair on one woman and her longing to ditch their oppressive, anti-feminist customs to live a life apart with her mon amour. The extent she’s willing to go to accomplish that goal is the catalyst for “Banel & Adama,” a twisted love story encompassing obstinance, obsession and murder. 

     It proves an impressive debut for writer-director Ramata-Toulaye Sy, a Paris-born daughter of Senegalese immigrants who spent time in Dakar and was obviously appalled by the nation’s antiquated adherence to gender roles. But it’s not just Senegal. It’s a subjugation occurring across much of the African continent, especially in Islamic nations such as Senegal. 

    To grant women free will is to defy Allah, and any attempts to do so will result in eternal hellfire like that befalling Banel’s fellow villagers once she dares put her needs above theirs. At least that’s what Banel (Khady Mane) is accused of after persuading her new husband, Adama (Mamadou Diallo), to abdicate his ascension to tribal chief, a role previously held by his father and older brother, Yero, who recently died unexpectedly. 

     It’s hard to argue against such merciless myths once the rains cease and drought ensues. But is it brought on by Banel, or is it mere misfortune that her stubborn fight for independence happens to coincide with the ever-worsening effects of climate change? You be the judge. And lord knows there is plenty of judgment cast by the village’s traditionalists all too ready to ostracize Banel for refusing her womanly duties of working the fields and bearing Adama a son. 

     The suspicions toward her deepen as the crops shrivel and the people and livestock start dropping like flies. Even Banel begins to suspect her daily acts of defiance are to blame. Her dwindling confidence is precisely what Sy endeavors to convey in portraying the ways societal expectations can rob a woman of both her spirit and her will to break away from the herd. 

    Sy is obviously sympathetic toward Banel, but the woman we come to know is hardly without fault. Banel’s selfishness and aggression toward her elders and peers can be off-putting. But Sy also urges us to question whether we’d think the same if Banel were a man. And isn’t it interesting that Adama is also being pressured to do what he’s told? It’s palpably suffocating. 

    What shocked me most was how prevalent and pervasive superstition remains in this day and age. And it’s hardly restricted to a small enclave in Senegal. It’s everywhere, and it can have profound impact, as it does on the unconditional love shared by Banel and Adama. It causes them to turn on each other and the people who love them. That includes Adama’s stern mother (Binta Racine Sy) and Banel’s twin brother, Racine (Moussa Sow), whose advice she unwisely ignores. 

    Credit also must go to Mane for holding nothing back in expressing the utter ruthlessness that’s driving Banel to the brink of insanity. We literally have no idea of how far she will go to achieve her ends. In many ways, it’s admirable, but it’s also more than a bit deranged. 

    Yet, it’s clear Banel should never have been placed in the sexist fix she’s in. She deserves the right to make her own choices and mistakes. You begin to suspect the misfortune isn’t the fault of Banel and Adama, but rather the folks attempting to force these square pegs into the round holes of tradition. It’s that archaic mentality that’s tearing their powerful love asunder. And Sy renders that loss with such wrenching clarity that it shakes you to the core. 

Movie review

Banel & Adama

Rated: Not rated

Cast: Khady Mane, Mamadou Diallo and Binta Racine Sy

Director: Ramata-Toulaye Sy

Writer: Ramata-Toulaye Sy

Runtime: 89 minutes

Where: In New York City June 7 and Los Angeles June 14 before expanding across the country

Grade: B

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