SIRA – Movie Review

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Burkinabé filmmaker Apolline Traoré’s Sira is a tale of a woman’s revenge. Sira (Nafisatou Cisse), the titular character, is the joyful and beloved daughter of the chief of a Muslim village, and she is about to be wed to her childhood sweetheart, Jean Sidi (Abdramane Barry), the son of a prominent and wealthy Christian farming family. Their inter-religion union is controversial, but both sets of parents approve the wedding, which is thought to be a positive peace-making bond between the disparate ethnic groups. This is a time for joy, but the celebratory mood doesn’t last long.

Sira is travelling with her family across the vast and arid Sahel Desert when their caravan is stopped by a band of fundamentalist terrorists who, without any provocation, gun down her father and other family members. Sira cries out and curses the terrorist leader (Lazare Minoungou) who, as punishment, takes her prisoner, brutally rapes her and leaves her alone in the desert to die. But she summons her strength and sets out to reach her home village or find her betrothed. En route — limping across terrain that is grain of sand for grain of sand as harsh as that seen in the Dunes’ filmscapes — she discovers the terrorists’ encampment. She finds a hiding place in a nearby cave and begins to steal water and food for her survival. Meanwhile, her mother, who survived the terrorist attack, turns to village elders for help to find Sira, and Sira’s betrothed sets out to find her as soon as he learns what’s happened. That’s the set up. The ensuing plot is an engrossing tension-filled thriller with many genuinely frightening moments. Treachery and exploitation are constants, but so are love, loyalty and dedication. The way that interpersonal allegiances are formed is fascinating and the denouement is unexpected. But no spoilers here.

Suffice it to say that Sira is a very compelling character and the film about her is an extremely good and satisfying watch. Perhaps the story sometimes seems contrived and, to the perception of someone who has never had to survive in the desert, somewhat improbable. Perhaps even magical. It’s hard to imagine, for starters, that anyone could walk barefoot across that baked crusty land that radiates heat without experiencing crippling pain. But everything becomes believable because all of the characters are thoroughly engaging and the performances are so genuine. It is also a very informative and rewarding glimpse of another culture, a glimpse that shows women to be extremely strong and resourceful and supportive of each other — countering stereotypical representations. Sira is a serious heroine who never gives up.

Sira was the official submission of Burkina Faso for the ‘Best International Feature Film’ category of the 96th Academy Awards in 2024.

Film Details:

Title: Sira – 2023
Director: Apolline Traoré
US Theatrical Release Date: May 7, 2024 (limited)
Running Time: 122 mins.
Parental Advisory: Content advisory for parents
Location: Sahel Desert, Burkina Faso
Language: French, Fulah and some English, with English subtitles
Production Country: Burkina Faso
Production Company: Les Films Selmen
Distribution Company: Freestyle Digital Media Company

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