Sunday, January 17, 2010

Watching a short film usually means watching the director race to their clever ending. Dyana Gaye's Ousmane is a 14-minute film that doesn't hurry. Doesn't linger either. Things happen; that's enough.

The plot's a series of little jokes: a boy begs various people (a policeman, a woman who runs a restaurant, the owner of the skinniest horse you've ever seen) to give him money and, in return, he'll pray to Santa Claus to bring them what they need. At about the halfway point, he gets enough money, so he goes off to the local letter-writer to compose his list (his 500 francs buys 33 lines of text), which includes people who didn't give him anything, like his marabout, who needs to go on a pilgrimage to Mecca and suggests that, instead of having someone write his letter, the boy should take this as an opportunity to learn to read and write French (Santa Claus, the marabout explains, probably doesn't understand Arabic and certainly not Wolof).

Drama isn't a set of rules; it's whatever happens. Gaye's already learned this -- and before directing any features, to boot. Who needs "conflict?" There's enough life, enough action, in just getting something done. Sometimes you don't need to create an impediment. Think of the Morris Engel and Ruth Orkin movies, where being a kid was confusing enough that the plot didn't need to be any more complicated, or the two-act plots of Charles Burnett or Joseph H. Lewis movies. "A man walks down the street" -- there's a story there, maybe even several. Or a Sembene film, where society already posed enough problems not to have to find others. A woman trying to convince a group of people was sufficient material for an hour and a half.

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