Senegal's Son

For Ousmane Sembène, an icon of African cinema, the personal was always political

Camp de Thiaroye, co-directed with the younger Senegalese director Thierno Faty Sow, is the most formally rigorous of Sembène's films. Despite, or perhaps because of this apparent detachment, it also seems the most personally painful, representing as it does the end of reason.


Ousmane Sembène isn't the only filmmaker to have a retrospective this week. In addition to Pier Paolo Pasolini's Walter Reade show, BAM celebrates Max Ophuls's cosmopolitan oeuvre, as Anthology Film Archives fetes Polish director Jerzy Skolimowski. The Ophuls show opens with a week-long run of Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948), the most heartbreaking of his Hollywood melodramas. If that hooks you on Ophuls's refined sensibility and virtuoso moving camera, there's plenty more, beginning with the backstage melodrama La Signora di Tutti (1934) and continuing with his final fou, Lola Montes (1955). Also: Ophuls's two Schnitzler adaptations, Liebelei (1933) and La Ronde (1950); his three other Hollywood movies (one starring Maria Montez); and his official masterpiece, The Earrings of Madame de . . .(1953).

Dancing with the stars (of Xala)
photo: Film Forum/New Yorker Films
Dancing with the stars (of Xala)

Recently seen to sardonic effect as Naomi Watts's uncle in Eastern Promises, Jerzy Skolimowski was the most nouvelle vague of Polish new-wave filmmakers. He directed a trio of quasi-autobiographical youth films, running afoul of the authorities with the fourth. Anthology is banking on renewed interest—the retro is capped with a week's run of the unfairly forgotten Deep End (1971), a clammy tale of adolescent obsession, with mod goddess Jane Asher as the object of desire.

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