Waiting for what, exactly?
WAITING FOR HAPPINESS (Heremakono) (2002) is a French/Mauritanian film directed and written by Abderrahaman Sissako. The film covers life and longings in Nouhadhibou, a small coastal town in Mauritania that is also adjoined to the Sahara Desert. Four languages are featured in the movie: French, Hassaniyya (Arabic dialect), Bambara (a language common in Mali), and Mandarin. The theme of the film being cultural assimilation/resistance, multilingual exhibition is a beautiful and appropriate touch.
Mohamed Mahmoud Ould Mohamed portrays Abdallah, a young man who, after being far away from home for a good portion of his life, returns to visit his mother. Although being born in Nouhadhibou, Abdallah is a complete stranger. He wears Western clothing and has forgotten how to speak the local dialect. Feeling lonely and alienated from his community, Abdallah becomes a recluse with only a makeshift window to stare out of into the world. His mother Soukeyna (Fatimatou Mint Ahmeda) attempts to encourage him to pursue making friends and assimilate into the local culture for the duration of his stay. Alas, he cannot; his heart belongs to Europe, and he yearns to leave to pursue his dreams.
The most charming character in the film is a small and adorable boy named Khatra (Khatra Ould Abder Kader), who accompanies his elderly guardian Maata (Maata Ould Mohamed Abeid). The duo works as electricians in their town, but strangely they cannot provide electricity to Soukeyna’s home. This may represent the symbolism of the relationship between mother and son–there being no spark between them and no way to rekindle what might have existed before.
Light bulbs and electricity provide lots of symbolism in Waiting for Happiness. Lights being extinguished through longing, regrets, and death; and light bulbs brightening and returning, representing the hopes of Abdallah and Khatra. The light bulbs can be seen as the souls of each. Khatra can be interpreted as being a spark of light amongst the stagnation of Nouhadhibou, due to his liveliness and his desire to follow in Maata’s footsteps–his dream to become a master electrician. However, his community rejects the outside world–as demonstrated by their attitudes towards Abdallah–and choose to remain in their traditions, exemplified by a woman teaching a young girl (Amidala Tembely) traditional music pieces.
The problem with this film is the manner of editing and the difficulty in discerning characters. I had to research IMDb just to find out who exactly I was watching. Many of the scenes were haphazardly stitched together without a clear transition between them; one event will occur and then annoyingly, another would appear directly afterward, without a tie in. Overall, the people in the film demonstrated a realistic charm–capturing the culture in a flattering light. The cinematography of the surrounding oceans and deserts are spectacular. Waiting for Happiness is a film some may relate to, at one time or another, we have had dreams that may have been extinguished or ideas we still hold onto throughout any circumstance–a superb analogy of hopelessness and persistence.