The Fruitless Tree by Aïcha Macky, an analysis by Olivier Barlet
Translation from French by Beti Ellerson for the African Women in Cinema Blog. (An African Women in Cinema Blog/Africultures collaboration).
The jury of the Africa Movie Academy Awards (AMAA) in June 2016 granted its documentary prize to The Fruitless Tree by Aïcha Macky, co-produced by Sani Magori who won the same trophy in 2009 with the excellent For the Best and for the Onion! Both of these films, which come from the training/ production circuit Africadoc, are part of the Lumières du monde collection.
Aïcha Elhadj Macky was only five years old when her mother died after childbirth. It is this trauma that Aïcha, who is married, still without children, reconstructs in this film about infertility and its disorder. She starts with childbirth: the calm and the advice of the midwife, the fatigue of the mother, the arrival of the child. Then a spoken letter that refers back to it: "Dear Mother, behind the camera, I tremble throughout my body"; and before concluding: "In my sleepless nights, your spirit guides my steps."
This film speaks to us, as it knows how to build on the emotion of this personal implication, as an interrogation of society, a question posed to all of us. The task was not easy, as the subject remains taboo in Nigerien society. How to convince one to share? How to film a face that does not want to be seen? Aïcha Macky accomplishes this very well. With her small technical team, she has an eye for detail, the lighting, the mood. The camera, the editing, are of great tenderness. The testimonials are subtle conversations, where she displays the quality of attentiveness, of glances, of silences. It was necessary to have this level of sensitivity in order to show these very delicate issues in an environment where sex remains a taboo subject, where a woman does not have the right to go uncovered.
Already, her first film, Savoir faire le lit (To know how to make the bed), with which she returned from Senegal having completed a Masters in creative documentary filmmaking at the University of Gaston Berger in Saint Louis, described how the knowledge of the art of seduction and sexual intercourse was transmitted between mother and daughter. She was warned of the repercussions she would face in her country Niger—scandal, repudiation, and banishment: it didn’t happen. The film was well received, screened in schools and universities, and was the catalyst for much debate; evidence that African societies are not static.
Must one have a child in order to accomplish her personal life as a woman? For Aïcha, who is labeled as a "tree without fruit", it was with this film that she could assert herself above all as a woman among mothers—a place that requires courage and determination, but that will give courage to the many women confronted with men’s indifference towards their suffering, the suspicion and rejection of husbands and their families, the taking of co-wives to ensure fertility, the rip-offs of some marabouts... Women's rights are perceptively discussed, clearly but without a banner, notably through the comments of an imam at the Islamic school who encourages pursuing a divorce if the marriage does not lead to the woman’s enjoyment and pleasure in the same way it does for the man, and to file a grievance to the religious leaders in the case of refusal.
This is the unspoken that Aïcha confronts head-on, this unsaid that endures contempt and suffering. She is not satisfied to only denounce the plight of women who are rejected because of infertility; on the basis of the testimony of those who fight for their dignity, she demands the ability to control one’s own destiny. This film, hence, is a project; not only to correct these practices, but also and above all acting through the positioning of agent, to tell through word and image; and in this way to speak to the world and contribute to change.
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Published on the African Women in Cinema Blog in partnership with Africultures | Publié sur l'African Women in Cinema Blog en partenariat avec Africultures