Coming off of the biggest week for film exhibition in Rochester with the international High Falls Film Festival and the Polish Film Festival, the 2002 release “Waiting for Happiness” may seem a disappointment to viewers expecting a bit more narrative or action in their films.
Relying largely on long takes and deep focus shots, African director Abderrah-mane Sissako’s film – shot in French and Hassanya with subtitles – features an extremely slow pace that seemingly idly rotates between the characters and plot lines.
The common strand through all of this is how the small seaside town deals with modernization and globalization. Maata, for example, works with young protg Khatra to bring electricity and lighting to homes, while Abdallah struggles to become a part of the culture that he left behind. The theme is only highlighted in a scene featuring a singer engaging in karaoke.
With its dragging pace and juxtaposition between the bright, vibrant veils dancing with the wind and wide masses of sand dunes, the film, borrowing these elements from contemporary Iranian cinema, fights against the loss of tradition and culture from the influence of Western society.
One of the more enjoyable aspects of the film involved the constant use of West African music, which helped establish the sort of haunting, delicate mood that follows “Waiting for Happiness” through its duration. When a woman teaches a young girl how to sing, the dissonance between their two voices aids in the creation of the fragile balance between tradition and the new.
The film toys with the two themes by idly wandering between them, with its drawn-out pacing with a delicate touch unheard of in most other filmic offerings of the day, and challenges the viewer to consider globalization and modernization in a different light.
“Waiting for Happiness” plays for the first time in Rochester at 8 p.m. on Nov. 19 at the George Eastman House. The film is sponsored by the Frederick Douglass Institute for African and African-American Studies and the Film and Media Studies Program. Admission is free for UR students and faculty.
Schnee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.