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BOROM SARRET (aka: THE WAGONER) (director/writer: Ousmane Sembene; cinematographer: Christian Lacoste; editor: André Gaudier; cast: Ly Abdoulay (Cart Driver); Runtime: 20; MPAA Rating: NR; New Yorker; 1969-Senegal-in French with English subtitles)

The black man’s Bicycle Thieves.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The black man’s Bicycle Thieves is a b/w realistic drama directed with passion by Africa’s most renown film-maker Ousmane Sembene (“Xala”/”Ceddo”/”Moolaadé“), theSenegalese novelist and Moscow-trained filmmaker.

It’s about one day in the life of the pensive impoverished cart driver (Ly Abdoulay), who lives in the poor native quarters of Dakar, Senegal. He begins his day at the break of dawn in Moslem prayer at his humble home, while his wife keeps busy with the children. The old man then attaches his old horse Albourah to his old wooden cart and goes to work to earn a meager living as a cart driver. He picks up three destitute passengers who do not give him money but say thanks, shake his hand or give him a kola nut. Things pick-up when a paying customer delivers construction concrete blocks and another paying fare has him go to the maternity ward to have them deliver his pregnant wife’s baby. Stopping for a lunch break, where he dines on the kola nut, the old man gets carried away listening to a griot (a singing storyteller) sing in a rich voice about the ancient days that remind the miserable cart-driver of those glory days for his noble ancestral family. In a foolish whim, the unnamed cart-driver forks over to the storyteller the money from his morning fares, forgetting for a moment about his starving family. Realizing his mistake, in the afternoon, he takes a questionable fare to the Heights, the modern French quarters part of Dakar, where horse carts are not permitted. Foolishly believing the well-dressed fare when he tells him not to worry because he has connections, the cart driver finds when he’s ticketed by a cop and the fare runs away without paying, that he loses his most valuable possession of the cart to pay the fine.

The film, where most of the sparse dialogue is derived from the thoughts of the cart-driver voiced aloud, marks the debut of Sembene as a filmmaker. This film becomes one of the earliest indigenous films in West Africa, and it powerfully shows how the marginalized live such desperate lives even though free from their French colonist suppressors. It’s a simple film about how corrupting is the political system and how defeated are the oppressed, who have been emasculated and left with no hope for the future and no way to turn back to the past.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”