Semiologic analysis of the movie HAWA
Semiologic analysis of the movie HAWA by Arzouma Kompaore
The movie “Hawa” can be analyzed under many angles in substance and in form. From the start, the movie presents himself as an original cinematographic writing exercise with African aesthetics influences. It is a movie whom overall grave and dark tone takes us in the heart of a nuptial drama, exposing a social and individual issue. The issue of the married couple facing the supposed infertility of the wife.
By choosing to talk at first about infertility, Arzouma Kompaore touches an important social issue. Indeed, in the African society, having or not having a kid in the couple becomes a haunting obsession because a kid is seen as the principal finality of marriage, an achievement of the couple’s natural vocation- perpetuate life, pass on the heritage of the clan’s lineage; for the wife, it means fulfilling her womanhood calling to become a mother, and a spouse.
The woman who gives birth is respected, even sacralised, while the one who is not in the luck of birthing is stigmatized, blamed immediately as if infertility couldn’t possibly touch the man. Often, the reason of this infertility is sought near witchcraft who will not hesitate to see a bad luck, a curse, a divine punishment to an act “generally committed by the woman”. Thus the poor woman is double-blamed, not only is she suffering in her heart for she does not have the joy of bearing a child, she also has to openly or presumably endure the social discredit often to the extent of being divorced or repudiated.
We can then understand why the question of the child is for the modern African an major concern that impacts the individual life of the woman, the couple’s harmony, and the social meaning of being a man and a woman. We notice in HAWA that the stigma carried by the wife is also carried by the husband. Both have internalized this drama and this progressively ate away the joy of a life together. Slowly, the more or less pacific coexistence transforms into a tasteless routine and each spouse is sent back to his own questioning. Hawa, the wife tries back to back multiple recipes and techniques said to be helping people get pregnant. Stuck between modernity and tradition, personal beliefs and others accusations she desperately reaches out to her mother in law for help.
Arzouma Kompaore doesn’t just tell us a family love story laminated by the absence of a child, he goes to place this drama in an immigrant life in USA context. An african immigrant couple in America, both coming from the same country.
These two exiles whom couple's life should have been a lifebuoy against the redoubtable aloneness, lose their identity marks; the lack a child brings a lack of communication , the lack of communication brings the irreversible extinguishment of the flame of love. Everyone turns in on itself, the man on his work, the woman on her two jobs and her tribal rituals in order to protect against bad luck and welcome a long awaited child.
Therefore the infertility drama becomes a metaphor for a failed integration of African immigrants to the American society. An immigration without quality employment and a better lifestyle is, at a second level, infertility. The infertile couple is the symbol of a failed immigration. However, it does not stop to the spouses. It goes beyond. It involves an east-African mechanic, central Africa hair braiders, a west African dancer in short a melting pot where African people one single Africa. The cultural and language barriers or the social status- a student newly graduated or an African immigrant woman seeking employment, do not become real issues if not because of the child problem.
These efforts to give birth are expressed in many ways throughout the movie. For the most part, Arzouma Kompaore draws from his own culture. For example the propitiatory rituals recommended by traditional seers and witchcrafts we see right when the movie begins do exist in many countries in Africa. The powerful visuals of fumigation practiced by the wife, the meticulous wearing of her fertility belt (bilbil) are popular in Burkina Faso’s ethnic groups. The fertility belts are worn not only to seduce the man, but also to increase fecundity. The incent and the fumigation is supposed to have both a purifying and aphrodisiac effect. Incent keeps bad spirits away and opens up the door to good spirits along with little genies who could then invite themselves in the family thus perfumed.
The third significant element is the use of traditional lullaby in Dagara language. The smooth melody of the lyrical chant tells the story of loneliness, of grief. The distress of one woman. With short sentences, repeated multiple times, the introductory chant installs the duration, the repetition, the hope against all odds. Undeniably, the writer/director of HAWA has assumed his African cultural origins.
But the story is not only a folkloric movie with an anthropologic dimension. The second major problem is that of the woman and her fulfillment in a couple. An universal, human issue.
After years of commune life trying to please others, please her husband, Hawa slowly discovers that she also has the right to be happy, to taste pleasure and freedom, to fully realize herself. This initiatory quest is a bit transgressive to the extent that it takes the wife to the threshold of separation. It is an intrapersonal and an interpersonal conflict. The opposition of the inside and the outside. The household and the workplaces. On one end it is confinement, solitude, silence, dialog reduced to the strict minimum, affectionate gestures quasi nonexistent except for a few growling before a flabby collapse of the husband after a long day of work filled with no excitement. On the other end the wife goes through her own furtive and frustrating encounters; she prays that all of these would eventually lead her to getting a baby but alas. It is only at the hair braiding shop that she lets herself, for a moment, socialize with other people and enjoy a temporary and superficial joy.
Neither the man nor the woman find in their respective work a satisfactory alternative. Hope comes from another outside space, the trans-diegetic space inside which the telephonic exchange between the mother in law and the wife occurs seems to be the last chance to find listening ears.
The exterior space is also represented by the dance floor at the salsa club. The big cold room, at Hawa’s surprise, becomes the very place of great moment of pleasure and awakening of the senses in the arms of a circumstantial gentleman: the dance instructor. A new world suddenly opens up, the possibility a new feelings, maybe just repelled for too long in the tremolo of a bitter american experience. Her prolific imagination hangs on to this unannounced joy, totally unexpected. She can finally taste life, and her husband quickly sees it. His male instinct is activated and for the first time his realizes how far apart he had allowed them to grow.
When he is about to fix the situation and goes to offer a rose to his wife to show he still loves her, he is not quite the same husband we have seen until then. He smiles for the first time. For the first time we see him wearing a suit. But he discovers what appears to be the proof of her infidelity; she is in the care of another man. For him, it is all over, his pain is huge, he must leave, he as lost everything. This final misunderstanding, instead of bringing a funny note confirms the dramatic character of the premise. “Dark is dark, hope is gone” said Johnny Halliday.
To watch the film go to www.afreefilm.com or click on the link below:
INTERVIEW WITH DIRECTOR ARZOUMA - ON WVKR 91.3 FM172
CONVERSATION WITH CREATIVE - THE MAKING OF HAWA