HA VU previews Appoline Traoré’s West African road film Borders, which premiers this week at Film Africa.

Borders, Apolline Traoré’s third feature film explores how government policies manifest at the personal level, namely the Economic Community of West African States’ (ECOWAS) ability to realise its vision of economic integration. Borders highlights the bureaucratic and corrupt enforcement of policies, in particular the agreement to ‘free movement of goods and people’ between member states. At its locus is a bus journey from Dakar to Lagos. Following Adjara (Amélie Mbaye), a Senegalese tradesman-to-be, and her varied encounters along the trip, Borders reveals the plight of the African woman when confronted with patriarchal control.

Still from ‘Borders.’ Image courtesy of Film Africa.

The contradictions between words and actions are made clear as soon as the film begins. Despite traveling through a ‘zone of free movement’, the need to smuggle is rife. The goods are not illegal per se, but customs police are forceful in collecting arbitrary fines. Unwilling to cough up the money for lacking a vaccination card, Adjara instead offers sex as payment. Her nonchalance suggests that this is not an uncommon occurrence – it may even be expected.

As the bus drives from Senegal to Mali to Burkina Faso to Benin to Nigeria, it becomes a meeting point for several interweaving stories. Adjara is joined by Emma (Naky Sy Savané), an acerbic and sceptical Ivorian tradesman who’s been making the trip for fifteen years; Vishaa (Unwana Udobang), a spirited Nigerian restaurateur on the way to her sister’s wedding; and Sali (Adizétou Sidi), a Burkinabe student delivering medicine on behalf of her fiancé. The unlikely friendship between these women demonstrates the tortured circumstances that bring about female solidarity. When a woman and her baby are disembarked for not paying a ‘departure tax’, Adjara rallies the bus against the perverse policeman. His power trip is insufferable, and only deflates when a higher-ranking chief makes a surprise visit. Sadly, this example is only the surface of a wider and deep-rooted problem of the pervasively corrupt law enforcement in West Africa.

Still from ‘Borders.’ Image courtesy of Film Africa.

As the bonds between Adjara, Emma, Vishaa and Sali strengthen, the difficulties they face become outright infringements of human rights. Preceding the climax, Sali’s arrest exposes how men betray and use women for their personal gain. On discovering her fiancé’s medicine pack is illegal drugs, she is dragged to a hut for ‘interrogation’. Claustrophobic in its use of handheld camera, Sali’s rape is portrayed with a sickening, hair-raising realness. Traoré does not shy away from visually depicting this unforgivable crime. It is difficult to dismiss such abuses as anything other than the result of the glaring reality that women are seen as objects, that they are property.

Although the speed at which events unfold in Borders seem far too rapid, it concentrates the ‘sad realities of everyday life on African roads’, with the President of Burkina Faso having noted that ‘there has not been a lot of fiction in this film’. Traoré also questions the ECOWAS’ effectiveness in carrying out its aims. Failing even to protect its people, perhaps economic and West African integration are grand visions that require more concrete plans of execution.

‘Borders’ [Frontières] premiers in London as part of Film Africa on Friday 3rd November at Rich Mix. More information here.

Featured image courtesy of Film Africa.

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