Opening with a traditional harvest celebration, Delwende soon turns its gaze on the darker side of the persistence of indigenous culture in postcolonial Africa. After being raped by a man whose identity she refuses to reveal, Pougbila (Ilboudo) is abruptly married off and sent away from her rural Burkina Faso village by her father. Her mother, Napoko (Yaméogo), objects vociferously to the decision, but soon finds herself evicted from the village after a traditional ceremony (involving a phallic object carried by “two virgin young men”) implicates her for witchcraft in the deaths of several local children.
The latest in a boomlet of explicitly antipatriarchal African art movies to reach American shores, Delwende bears a passing resemblance to the great Senegalese director Ousmane Sembene’s 2004 swan song, Moolaadé, in its deliberate pacing, lightly stylized performances and strong feel for the rhythms of contemporary village life, where young men in baseball caps may be seen carrying out ancient customs. But later scenes, in which Pougbila searches the homeless encampments of Ouagadougou—filled with outcast older women—for her mother, seem to unfold in another Africa entirely, its residents caught between merciless tradition and noisy, congested modernity.