Filmmaker pays homage to Senegalese roots in tragic tale of love

With her first feature film “Banel & Adama”, Franco-Senegalese director Ramata-Toulaye Sy has chosen to shine a light on Fulani culture. She brings a feminist voice to the story of a young married couple faced with the weight of family tradition.

Sy was one of seven women directors featured in the Cannes Film festival main competition lineup in May. Her debut feature-length film “Banel & Adama”, was released in French cinemas on Wednesday.

Working with non-professional actors in the Fula language was particularly challenging, she told RFI.

Her lead actors – Khady Mane (Banel) and Mamadou Diallo (Adama) – described how nervous they were participating in the project at the beginning. They agree that thanks to Sy’s patience, the collective effort paid off.

The pair give thoughtful, heartfelt performances as a newly married couple living in a village in the Futa-Toro region of northern Senegal.

“I wasn’t ready at all and I told myself I would never be able to do it,” Khady Mane, who plays Banel, recalls. Sy came across Mane at a market while scouting for locations in Senegal.

“With Ramata’s help, I got through the audition. The shoot wasn’t easy but she coached me”.

Artistic influences

Although inspired by the village where Sy’s parents were from and where she spent childhood vacations, Sy says she did not want to recreate yet another cliché film about African culture.

She purposely did not approach the landscape and people with a documentary eye, but rather chose to lean into artistic expression.

Sy says her influences come from literature and painting.

Banel is a strong-headed and fiercely independent woman, not afraid of being unlikeable, Sy says.

Read more on RFI English

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