WAITING FOR HAPPINESS (Mauritania-Fra / 2002)
The fact that filmmaker Abderrahmane Sissako has often dealt with themes concerning sociocultural identity and displacement shouldnt come as a surprise. Sissako was born in Mali and raised in the neighboring Mauritania. Then he headed off to the Soviet Union to study film at Moscows famous VGIK Institute before making his debut while based in France, which remains his country of choice. In his first fiction feature, the hour-long French television-produced Life on Earth (1998), Sissako played a character who travels back to his Malian village on the eve of the millennium and discovers a place in a state of permanent transience. While the filmmaker doesnt star in his second, Waiting for Happiness (Heremakono), you cant help but feel that its protagonist, a melancholic young man who visits his mother in a seaside transit town in Mauritania before leaving for Europe, is his surrogate, one who feels estranged in his own homeland due to his deficiencies regarding the local dialect and customs he once knew. Waiting for Happiness is a quiet, contemplative mosaic which advances through a series of vignettes. It isnt as politically overt as Life on Earth, though the tension between tradition and modernity remains palpable. Sissako's richly symbolic images recall the best of what Iranian cinema has to offer (when I took it in consideration with the tone and the setting, Babak Payamis Secret Ballot  is the film which immediately came to mind; needless to say, however, Kiarostami could also be found around the edges). In what is quite possibly an homage to Sembene (the filmmaker also pays one to Tsai), or, as its been stated, a radical formal declaration, Sissako sets a brief, expressionistic episode in Paris about midway through the film in which another displaced character tracks down her lover. Along with numerous other sequences, it helps validate Sissakos theory that happiness is nothing but a state of consciousness.
*The film premiered at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival (Un Certain Regard), where it won the FIPRESCI Prize. A year later, it garnered the Best Film award at BAFICI (Buenos Aires).
*Now available on DVD in the U.S. (New Yorker). Extra features include an interview with the filmmaker. Not sure if Sissako's intriguing early short, October, which is featured on the U.K. DVD (Artificial-Eye) is also part of the disc or not.
*Sissako's latest effort, Bamako, is currently in limited release in the U.S. (New Yorker).