Min Ye -- Film Review

Benjamin Walker
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NEW YORK - OCTOBER 13:  Actor Benjamin Walker attends the "Bloody Bloody Jackson" opening night after party at Brasserie 8 1/2 on October 13, 2010 in New York City.

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After making two poetic classics of African cinema, "The Wind" and "Lumiere," director Souleymane Cisse is back with "Min Ye" (a.k.a. "Tell Me Who You Are"), an unexpected portrayal of an adulterous middle-class African marriage: The wife has a secret lover, while her polygamous husband openly divides his time with a second wife. The situation may seem paradoxically absurd to Western audiences, and casting most of the blame on the two-timing wife, as the film does, grossly unfair. What remains in the memory is a fascinating, if over-the-top, character study and a rich slice of life from urban Africa.

In Bamako, the capital of Mali, Mimi shares a fancy villa with her filmmaker husband Issa (Assane Kouyate.) She is a heavy-set beauty over 50, with unmatched self-assurance and a wagging tongue. As the film opens, she is a professional woman working on government programs; her working life vanishes, however, as she schemes to divorce Issa and marry her younger boyfriend Abba (Alou Sissoko). Both men love her, but neither is willing to leave his wife for her.

Rather than taking a firm stand against polygamy, which would have made "Min Ye" a much stronger film, Cisse seems content to reveal its contradictions in modern society. In the end, the second family is viewed as a complication in the men's lives and a thorn in the side of the wives, little more.

The characters' psychology is a bit of a puzzle. Why does Mimi insist on leaving Issa, who obviously dotes on her and loves her more than his beautiful, younger second wife? Even her (female) lawyer, judge and friends counsel her to remain in the marriage and stop playing around. Little by little, viewer sympathy is eroded for the lying, scheming, manipulative Mimi, who mistakenly thinks that powerful, educated, wealthy women can't be hurt. They can, and she is, when she gets her just comeuppance. But by then more than two hours of screen time have gone by, and few will still care what happens to this operatic heroine, so exuberantly portrayed by the popular TV journalist Sokona Gakou.

For African cinema fans there is much to fascinate in the film, like the women's flashy costumes, designed by Gakou herself. Mimi is a born fashion victim, and her frivolous clothes and shoes are tell-tale signs of a flawed personality.

Six directors of photography are credited for the luscious cinematography, which works such magic as matching the tangerine desert with wall colors.

Section: Out of competition
Production companies: Les Film Cisse, Canal Plus Horizon

Cast: Sokona Gakou, Assane Kouyate, Alou Sissoko
Director: Souleymane Cisse
Screenwriter: Souleymane Cisse
Producer: Souleymane Cisse
Director of photography: Fabien La Motte, Xavier Arias, Thomas Robin, Amaury Agier Aurel, Nicolas Mercier, Youssouf Cisse
Production designer: Bakary Ouattara
Music: David Reyes, Mamah Diabate
Costumes: Sokona Gakou
Editor: Andree Davanture, Youssouf Cisse, Barbara Bossuet, Marie Estelle Dieterle
135 minutes