African Film: 12 Movies to Watch Now

For your consideration, a selection of great films, each from a different African nation, spanning decades, with a small plot synopsis and a ‘buzzword’.

The Battle of Algiers. 1966. Algeria. Director Gillo Pontecorvo. A realist depiction of the guerrilla war effort against French-controlled Algeria. In a word: Intense.

Touki Bouki aka Journey of the Hyena. 1973. Senegal. Director Djibril Diop Mambéty. A young couple plot to escape their lives by fleeing to Paris, raising the money through whatever criminal means possible, always in style. In so many words: New vogue.

THIS IS NOT A BURIAL, IT’S A RESURRECTION. 2019. Lesotho. Director Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese. The aging Mantoa’s village in mountainous Lesotho is threatened with relocation. In a word: Surreal.

Yeelen. 1987. Mali. Director Souleymane Cissé. Niankoro, gifted with magical powers, journeys to request help from his uncle in defeating his sorcerer father. Avoid this film if you don’t want to see a chicken set on fire two shots into the proceedings. In a word: Mystical.

Cairo Station. 1958. Egypt. Director Youssef Chahine. A disabled newspaper vendor at Cairo Train Station develops an obsession with a free-spirited lemonade saleswoman.  In a word: Lively.

Moolaadé. 2004.  Burkina Faso. Director Ousmane Sembene, again, though not Senegal again, at least. Collé places a spell of protection on a group of young girls fleeing a ceremony involving genital mutilation. In a word: Urgent.

Tsotsi. 2007. South Africa. Director A carjacking gangster discovers he’s driven off with a wealthy couple’s baby, in an adaptation of the celebrated novel by Athol Fugard. In a word: Moving.

The Gods Must Be Crazy. 1980. Botswana. Director Jaimie Uys. In this slapstick comedy, a bushman travels across the Kalahari to rid his village of an errant Coca Cola bottle, mingling with the other inhabitants of the Savanah, including a group of bumbling freedom fighters. Despite aging horrendously this comedy worms its way into the hearts of viewers all over the world to this day. Technically this is also a South African film, so we may be double dipping once more, but if us Saffers get Tsotsi we have to relinquish The Gods Must be Crazy; these are the rules.  In a word: Sweet.

Devine Carcasse. 1998. Benin. Director Dominique Loreau. A 1955 Peugeot passes from owner to owner, and role to role. In a word: Experimental.

Sambizanga. 1972. Angola. Director Sarah Maldoror. A man, suspected of being a revolutionary, is tortured to death. In a word: Sharp.

Soleil O aka Oh, Sun. 1970. Mauritius. A visitor to France is stunned by the racial inequity of his new workplace (Black Girl from Senegal does this subject with slightly more aplomb, but we can’t let Senegal have every spot on the list). In a word: Pertinent.

Honourable mention: Too damn many to place here. Mostly from Senegal. If it we had to wittle things down, try: Borom Sarret. 1964. Senegal. Director Ousmane Sembene. A day in the life of an impoverished wagoner, and the first African directed by a black African. In a word: Neorealist. This is the one time we’ll let a country slip a second offering into the list. Senegal is just that good. Since it’s pride month, it may be worth looking into the bevy of Queer films Africa has produced in this century. Hopefully this selection has inspired you to look into the rich history of film in Africa, which too often goes overlooked or is pigeonholed into categories like contemporary culturally oriented dramas (aka festival darlings). You’d be doing yourself a great favour.