Dreams Of Dust
R1 - America - Film Movement
Review written by and copyright: James Teitelbaum (20th July 2008).
The Film

Film Movement is a very cool subscription service that sends a new DVD out every month, each containing a complete indie film as well as a short film that often compliments the main feature in some way. "Dreams of Dust" is the fifty-seventh film in the series (it is year 5, film 9).

Mocktar Dicko (Makena Diop) is a peasant from Nigeria who has lost his wife and daughter. Looking to escape from himself - or maybe to find himself - he travels to Essakane, in Northeast Burkina Faso, to work in a gold mine.
Located in the middle of a flat and arid landscape, the mine is a hopelessly grim place which makes even the most rickety shanty town look like "Xanadu". Every day, a team of men must shimmy into one of many narrow holes in the ground, navigate forty meters into the dusty crumbling desert rock, and haul a bag of stones back up to the miserable desert with them. Then, the men must sit under the relentless gaze of the greedy land owner, Amade, and pound their rocks into dust, hoping that they'll find gold within. Then men are paid only 1000 French Francs per week for their toil, plus 33% of the profit from their gold - Amade gets the rest. The men must also share their meager gold profits with the rest of their team members. Mocktar's team consists of silent Pate, old Thiam, and Techie - a former computer repairman. The men face endless dangers: lack of oxygen, slipping down the shaft, smashing their legs up while pounding rocks, the wrath of greedy Amade, and the worst thing of all: collapsing shafts, a fate from which there is no escape.

It isn't long before Mocktar notices Coumba (Fatou Tall-Salgues), a village woman who has lost her husband, father, and brothers to a shaft collapse. All Coumba has left is her daughter Mariama (and apparently a source for wardrobe: her pretty orange sarongs make Coumba the only person in town not dressed in rags). For some reason none of the other men pay her much attention. Subtly, slowly, Mocktar draws her closer to him; she and her daughter represent everything that he has lost. Finding his humanity means more to him than the gold that he claims to be indifferent to. He finds purpose in giving Coumba and Mariama the possibility of the life denied to Mocktar's own wife and child.

The haunting tone of this film, coupled with the use of the desert as a character reminded me a bit of Hiroshi Teshigahara's 1964 classic "Sunno no Onna" (AKA "Woman of the Dunes"), but this film is entirely its own entity. The ending is gutsy and plaintive, a dour vision of a man who has completed one last task in life, one act of kindness, completion, and closure, and who is now ready to join his family.

Video

The film is presented in the original 1.78:1 widescreen aspect ratio and is anamorphic. Cinematography by Crystel Fournier is lovely throughout the film. The color timing on the entire movie is a deep orange-brown, accentuating the dusty sub-Saharan desert, but also recalling unpolished gold, the impetus for the misery of every character in this film. These rich tones work thematically, but by the end I was desperate to see a blue sky. Perhaps the characters in the film felt the same. The DVD transfer is fine: the print is clean, and the image is free of excess artifacts. Running time is 1:22:56, divided into 12 chapters.

Audio

"Dreams of Dust" is presented in French Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo with English subtitles. This is a very nice sounding film. Sound design and foley are mixed right up front, but the exaggerated sound works well in this case to help emphasize the desert environment. The sound of rocks and sand sliding down mine shafts, miners pounding metal on rock, Mocktar pouring his tea, and brutally hot desert winds are prominent in the mix, and are spread over a wide stereo image. Sound designers Stéphane Bergeron, François B. Senneville, and their crew are to thank for that. The interesting musical score by Jean Massicotte and Mathieu Vanasse is an intriguing blend of somber African flutes over string drones and occasional Western textures.

Extras

Film Movement has included a short film, a promo spot, biographies and bonus trailers as extras on this disc. Below is a closer look at these supplements.

"Dreamer" runs for 10 minutes 25 seconds and is this month's short film. Directed by Raymond E. Spiess, it is a vignette about a Native American shaman who has a horrible vision of humanity's future. The first half of the film is basically the shaman writhing around in pain as stock footage of every bad thing that stupid white men have ever done flashes by, to the sound of a Latin percussion solo. The shaman is visited by the spirit of his brother, and then does a traditional ceremonial dance, turns into an eagle, and flies off into the sunset.

Stella Artois Presents: "Train" promo spot runs for 1 minute, this feature is presented as being sort of an additional short film, but it is really just a beer commercial. If corporate sponsorship is what is keeping this series going, then so be it; at least they are being tasteful about it.

The disc also includes text biographies of "Dreams of Dust" director Laurent Salgues and star Makena Diop.

Plus the following bonus trailers:

- "OT: Our Town" runs for 2 minutes 44 seconds.
- "Raja" runs for 1 minute 50 seconds.

Overall

The Film: A Video: A Audio: A Extras: B Overall: A-

 


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