Waiting For Happiness (2002) – movie review

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Movie Review by Susan Hodgetts

Starring: Khatra Ould Abdel Kader, Maata Ould Mohamed Abeid

Director: Abderrahmane Sissako

Sissako’s gentle, lulling drama contemplating the meaning of life, death, identity and travel follows mainly the story of Abdullah as he struggles to sort out his feelings of awkwardness and isolation in his own culture, and orphan Khaled as he struggles to find his way in life.

Abdullah skulks around the village of Nouadhibou, a small seaside village on the Mauritanian coast like an elephant without a trunk. He is not interested in the local culture and still does not speak the traditional tribal language, only French, and neither is he interested in learning. He is obsessed with Europe and the Western world, dresses like a European and wants to be European. His inability to communicate and comprehend and his lack of willingness to try leads him eventually to emigration. Whilst preparing for this, however, he is a passive observer in the goings on in the lives around him, such as that of Khaled, the sorrowful Nana, the singing teacher and her apprentice, old handyman Maata, and a Chinese immigrant’s attempts at courtship.

Meanwhile orphan Khaled, in a beautifully tender and touching tale, is taken under the wing by old Maata, an electrician who tries to teach him the trade and instil in him wisdom and good ways and who has a few tales of his own to tell.

Travel, tradition, isolation and a sense of one’s roots all come into question in this peaceful, meandering tale, along with an examination of the fragility of life, symbolised often by the flickering of a light bulb. The housing in Nouadhibou is temporary, and in Mali (where the director grew up from) the name given to them, ‘Heremakono’, means waiting for happiness. Maybe happiness is in the waiting for it.

Winner of the International Critics’ Prize, Cannes 2002.

4 out of 6 stars