The Wind (Mali, 1982)

Directed by Souleymane Cissé, The Wind depicts the political and generational divide of late-twentieth-century Mali through the story of the friendship and romance between Bah, the grandson of a powerful chief, and Batrou, the daughter of a military governor.

In Their Forefathers’ Shadows

Batrou’s father, Sangaré, plans to send her to France for her education. She’s less than enthusiastic about the idea. Meanwhile, Bah is stressing about an important exam, so his friend Seydou gives him some pills to help study. Bah thinks the exam goes well, but when the results are read out, he is crestfallen to learn that he has not passed. Seydou didn’t pass either. Afterwards, Batrou comes to hang out with Bah, Seydou, and their friends. They sit around smoking pot and drinking; some of them get pretty incredibly toasted. But while they’re high, something is budding between Bah and Batrou. In a later scene, as Bah and Batrou bathe together, Bah is reluctant to undress. “I’ve never done it in front of a woman,” he admits sheepishly. “I get undressed and you refuse?” Batrou teases, splashing him playfully. It’s pretty cute.

Bah’s grandparents are horrified to learn that he’s been taking pills, but his grandfather Kansaye is even more furious that Bah has been seeing the Governor’s daughter. For his part, Sangaré disapproves of his daughter’s association with the depraved, pill-popping grandson of a village chieftain; he even threatens to dissolve his marriage to Batrou’s mother if she doesn’t ensure the “improvement” of Batrou’s behavior (meaning, of course, her connection to Bah). Meanwhile, Sangaré’s third wife Agna threatens to leave him if he takes a fourth wife. This, along with her other “insubordinate” actions, provokes his ire. But “Papa loves you,” Batrou assures her. “The proof is he beats you but doesn’t divorce you.”

More Than Just Teenage Rebellion

Conflict is brewing on another, bigger front as Sangaré learns that he is facing political opposition. Even more worrisome, it’s begin led by Bah and his friends (including Batrou), who print pamphlets underground. But some of the protesters don’t trust Bah due to his closeness with the Governor’s daughter. When the military teargasses the opposition’s headquarters, that only makes the student protesters more committed to their cause and more militant in their tactics. The military then responds, as you might expect, with excessive force. Bah is among those arrested, while some of the village women protect Batrou and are themselves arrested. Batrou pleads for the women to be released, but instead, she is also arrested. The witch-hunt is spiraling out of control; Sangaré even authorizes his men to kill Batrou if they see fit.

Sangaré calls the rebel prisoners “stateless sons of hell,” saying that “no one will care if I kill all of you.” He tells them that if they sign a document pledging their faith to the military government, he will release them. Bah protests. “Why sign it? You can kill us, you don’t need our signature.” Sangaré informs him that a refusal to sign would mean being committed to hard labor, to which Bah replies “I prefer hard labor.” When none of the other prisoners seem as steadfast as Bah, Batrou says to them: “Aren’t you ashamed? You let him defend us alone.” She addresses her father: “Governor, if you will allow me, I am now aware that we see things very differently, and I wonder if I am really of your blood.” Sangaré replies coldly: “What Marx taught you is no help here.” But for Batrou, this goes beyond politics: “You forbid me to see the man I love.” She leaves, and the other prisoners sign their souls away.

Kansaye is incensed at the treatment of his grandson. Batrou apologizes to him for what she has gotten Bah into. He accepts her apology and says he has nothing against her—it’s the fault of the Governor and his goons. Kansaye prays to a sacred tree for his grandson’s release. The god of the Tree responds that there is nothing that divine powers can do: “From now on, act upon your own initiative.” Taking the message to heart, Kansaye approaches Sangaré and tells him: “When I return home, I want to find my grandson there.” Sangaré is both annoyed and somewhat amused. He shoots Kansaye, but Kansaye merely chuckles and walks away unscathed. Upon returning home, though, Kansaye receives gut-wrenching (though perhaps less-than-accurate) news, prompting him to burn his ceremonial garb in tearful outrage. He pledges his support for the young rebels. As the film draws to its conclusion, the Minister of the Interior orders Sangaré to release the prisoners. Sangaré complies with the order, albeit with a look of fear on his face.

Up Next…

Blood of the Condor (Bolivia, 1969)

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