November 30, 2023

ABOVE PHOTO: Director Ramata-Toulaye Sy poses for photographers on the picture name for the movie ‘Banel & Adama’ on the 76th worldwide movie pageant, Cannes, southern France, Sunday, Could 21, 2023. (Photograph by Vianney Le Caer/Invision/AP)

By Jake Coyle

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CANNES, France  — Most filmmakers within the Cannes Movie Pageant’s top-rung competitors lineup are well-known administrators who’ve been round for many years. One dramatic exception this yr is Ramata-Toulaye Sy, a French-Senegalese filmmaker whose first movie, “Banel & Adama,” landed among the many 21 movies competing for the Palme d’Or.

“It’s solely now that I notice that being in competitors means being in a contest,” Sy mentioned, laughing, in an interview shortly after “Banel & Adama” premiered in Cannes. “Now that we’re actually in the course of it, I notice there’s a variety of ardour going round.”

Sy, 36, is the only first-timer in Cannes’ fundamental lineup this yr. She can also be solely the second Black feminine director to ever compete for the Palme, following Mati Diop, additionally a French-Senegalese filmmaker, whose “Atlantics” debuted in 2019. For the Paris-raised Sy, it’s not a distinction of significance.

“I’m a filmmaker and I actually want we stopped being counted as ladies, as Black or Arab or Asian,” mentioned Sy.

In “Banel & Adama,” additionally the one Africa-set movie competing for the Palme this yr, Sy crafts a radiant and languorous fable tinged with fable and tragedy.

Banel (Khady Mane) and Adama (Mamadou Diallo) are a deeply in love married couple dwelling in a small village in northern Senegal. Of their intimate romantic idyll, they want to draw back from the native traditions. Adama is about to turn into village chief however is tired of doing so. Banel goals of dwelling exterior the village, in a house buried beneath a mountain of sand.

Whereas Banel and Adama slowly work to brush away the sand, their craving to stay on their very own causes angst within the village, particularly when a drought arrives that some take as a curse for his or her independence. Although usually opaque, the movie stays largely with the psychology of Banel, whose single-mindedness grows more and more darkish.

“I used to be fairly reluctant firstly to acknowledge that Banel is me,” says Sy. “Now I’ve to admit that it’s positively me. I see myself, my questions, my wrestle in her journey. Methods to do turn into a person inside a group is de facto my very own query.”

Sy started writing “Banel & Adama” in 2014 as a scholar at La Fémis, the French movie college. Sy, the daughter of Senegalese immigrants, says she was first drawn to literature. Novels like Toni Morrison’s “Sula” and Elena Frenate’s “My Good Pal” impressed “Banel & Adama.”

“The love story was a pretext for to cope with fable,” she says. “I needed to have this type of mythological feminine character that you simply discover in Greek tragedy.”

Sy co-wrote Atiq Rahimi’s “Our Woman of the Nile” and Çagla Zencirci and Guillaume Giovanetti’s “Sibel” — each of which performed at worldwide festivals. Her first brief movie, “Astel,” was well-received.

However little ready her for the stresses of capturing in rural Senegal. Together with warmth, sandstorms and bouts of sickness among the many crew, Sy struggled to search out her Banel. Ultimately, she discovered Mane whereas strolling round.

“We had all of the solid apart from her. We began 5 months earlier than capturing and one month earlier than capturing we nonetheless didn’t have her. At some point I used to be strolling down the road and my eyes locked on this lady,” says Sy. “It was the way in which that she checked out me. Her gaze had one thing a bit clever and a bit loopy.”