Makibefo (Madagascar, 1999)

This brilliant and unusual film takes the plot of Macbeth and relocates it to the shores of Madagascar. Makibefo was directed by Alexander Abela—not himself from Madagascar, though since the film has an entirely Malagasy cast, I thought it would work well as Madagascar’s entry for this blog. (Malagasy films are not terribly easy to come by.)

What’s Done Is Done

Set in a small Antandroy village in the far south of Madagascar, the film is the story of a couple’s treacherous hunger for power. It’s recognizably Macbeth, to the point that viewers familiar with the story would probably hardly need subtitles to understand what’s going on. But it’s also something entirely different. This is hardly an adaptation—it’s more of a reinvention. The sonorous narration of the storyteller, played by Guadeloupean actor Gilbert Laumord, is the only real Shakespearean holdover.

Early in the film Makibefo’s wife, Valy Makibefo, murmurs: “To become king you’ll need to call upon evil.” This is a sentiment that Makibefo understands well: “Know that if we commit this horrid crime,” he tells his wife, “there will be no turning back.” Indeed, the tragedy of Makibefo unwinds in just the manner you’d expect if you’re familiar with the Scottish play. Makidofy finds Valy Makibefo catatonic, holding a knife as if about to plunge it into someone’s breast. The gravity of her and her husband’s crimes has rendered her essentially paralyzed. And, of course, their bloodlust snowballs from there. In another scene, the witch doctor tells Makibefo to beware Makidofy. When Makibefo sees Makidofy fleeing the village in a boat, he executes Makidofy’s family within Makidofy’s view.

Sound and Fury

At only 73 minutes, the film is brief, but powerful—one of the most remarkable I’ve ever seen. Before watching the film, however, do be warned that it contains the unsimulated slaughter and butchering of an ox. A message at the end of the film explains that “The Zebu ox in the film was sacrificed in our honour according to the customs of the Antandroy people and was distributed to the families involved in the making of Makibefo.” The scenes of the butchery are interlaced with segments depicting Bakoua’s death. Makibefo proudly raises the ox’s head above his own, proclaiming “I am your new king!” Just like the Thane of Glamis, Makibefo is haunted by the silent ghost of Bakoua, to the consternation of Valy Makibefo.

The film concludes with the following message: “The Antandroy people of Madagascar who played the characters and helped in the making of this film are an ancient tribe with a truly great sense of pride, honour and tradition. A poor people in what is already a poor country, they have few possessions and little knowledge of the outside world. As simple fishermen, they live off of the ocean that crashes against their unchanging shoreline and take one day at a time. The majority of the actors have never seen a television let alone a film, and have never acted before in their lives,” Laumord being presumably the sole exception. I like the vibe that such casting decisions lend to films like this; Travellers and Magicians was also cast with mostly first-time actors, and in both cases, it works.

Up Next…

Black Bread (Spain, 2010) was

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