The horrific realities of the African slave trade are exposed alongside the conflicted drama of a young man's life in this illuminating and haunting Ivory Coast/Surinam/Switzerland/Burkina Faso co-production.
The terrible history of slavery has been depicted before in cinema's past, but Adanggaman is unique in its portrayal of the black-on-black trade in 17th-century Africa, which saw scores of indigenous peoples captured by large tribal kingdoms and either kept as personal slaves, sold to other tribes and white settlers or sent overseas in trade for alcohol, guns and other goods. A young hunter named Ossei is plunged into this hell-world when vicious female warriors loyal to the egotistical, power-hungry King Adanggaman raid his West African village. Most of his people are killed; some are captured, including his mother. His life destroyed, Ossei determines to free his mother at all costs -- a decision that takes him inside Adanggaman's domain, where misfortune, suffering and aide from a surprising source await. Director Roger Gnoan M'Bala creates an interesting duality in the film, documenting the horrors matter-of-factly and without much sentiment, while also capturing beautifully composed colors, images and sounds of the African landscape. This balance makes the events all the more unsettling. The film's only downfall is its reluctance to confront the larger issues. The conditions that allowed slavery to flourish hang over the film and addressing them in some fashion would have made for a fuller picture. (Phil Morehart) Grade: B