Fire (Tasuma /le Feu) is a feature film about Sogo Sanou, a returned soldier from the colonial army who fought within the French army in Indochina and Algeria from 1953 to 1963. Sogo, nicknamed Tasuma (Fire), expects the administration to honour his request for a returned soldier’s pension. One Monday morning, Sogo is on his way to Bobo-Dioulasso to collect his pension.
Due to a computer breakdown at the Office of the Treasury, the returned colonial troops (former tirailleurs) are asked to come back the next day. On Tuesday morning, encouraged by both Khalil, a Lebanese retailer, and Adama, a door-to-door salesman, the confident Sogo buys on credit a flour grinder to replace the cumbersome grinding stones which the womenfolk use to make flour for the daily tô, a staple millet dish. Indeed, Sogo’s wife once hurt her finger while handling the stone grinder. The village celebrates the purchase of the modern grinder and the chief offers his daughter Oumou to Sogo as a second wife. In addition to introducing progress to the village with the modern grinder, Sogo reveals himself as woman’s advocate by claiming Oumou’s right to choose her husband herself.
Sogo’s glory, however, is short-lived because he is still waiting for his pension. In his determination to have his rights acknowledged, Sogo is arrested and remanded in custody for having threatened with a gun the regional chief administrator. He is soon freed, thanks to the women’s march for his release and to Lieutenant Alassane’s support. Sogo’s homecoming is crowned by the announcement that his pension has been granted.
Trained in Ivory Coast, France and Canada , Daniel Kollo Sanou devoted several years of his film career to the national TV in his native country, Burkina Faso (until 1983, Upper Volta). He directed several short films, documentaries, TV series and feature films, among others Paweogo/L’émigrant/The Migrant (1982), Jigi/L’espoir/Hope (1992) and Sarati/Le poids du serment/The Weight of the Oath (2009).
The first feature film produced in Burkina Faso (Le sang des parias/The Pariahs’ Blood, directed by Mamadou Djim Kola) was released in 1972 but Burkina Faso’s film production only took off in the early 1980s, not only with the works of Gaston Kaboré, Idrissa Ouédraogo and Daniel Kollo Sanou himself, but also with the establishment of Cinafric, a private production studio. The initial Tasuma project, which was started in 1987, dealt with the life of former tirailleurs such as Kollo Sanou’s father who had served in the French army. It was not until the director teamed up with producer Toussaint Tiendrebeogo that Kollo Sanou decided to incorporate into his script the issue of the unpaid pensions.
In the same vein as Sembène’s Camp de Thiaroye (1988) and Bouchareb’s Indigènes (2006), Tasuma is as much a topical as a historical feature film that inspires viewers to respect men of honour. Wounded in his pride yet contented with his social and historical standing, Sogo takes his fate in hand by demanding that his pension be paid. Without being a flag-waving film, according to the director, Tasuma prompts the viewers to reflect on the fate of the returned soldiers through humour. Sogo’s inclination to avail himself of all possible means to claim his pension creates playful incidents that suggest that Sogo is a pacifist in spite of acting the tough guy. His friend Tinga, for example, notices that on pension payday, Sogo carries ‘a ready to use grenade’. Similarly, waving an unloaded gun, Sogo orders the Prefect to put his pension claim in writing to General de Gaulle, even though the latter ‘died a long time ago’. In addition to Sogo’s antics, the director utilizes the ‘joking kinship’ to entertain the viewers, be it in solemn circumstances such as the village council meetings or commemorative ceremonies for the deceased of the preceding year. The joking kinship, called rakiré in the Mossi language, is a playful antagonism that allows differing ethnic groups to make fun of each other without harm and thus is a regulatory principle that defuses interethnic tensions. The joking kinship that binds the Fulani and Bobo ethnic groups is called upon in Tasuma when Diallo, a Fulani, has no qualms about hurling abuse at the Bobos about Sogo’s ‘reward’ (the beautiful Oumou).
Even though Sogo’s sacrifice for France is downgraded by both the local and the French administrations, his community acknowledges his value. He holds a place of honour at the village meetings in Koro, for he sits to the right of the chief. As non-conformist and progressive as many of the tirailleurs that can be found in villages in Burkina Faso, Sogo is a character who is motivated by the search for justice and consensus. Such pacifism is consolidated not only by the fact that Sogo’s gun is not loaded but also by the closure of the film with Zao’s song, which is a hymn to peace.
The director threads the secondary strand of the purchase of the grinder in order to broach the theme of women’s status. Sogo’s stand on male contribution to the daily family chores and his rejection of arranged marriage are examples of his commitment to the improvement of attitudes to women. Tasuma offers an innovative representation of women since they are the ones who, in the face of the men’s inertia, decide to go the police station and demand that Sogo be freed. Such female heroism echoes that of the female lead characters of Collé Ardo and Kiné in Ousmane Sembène’s Moolaadé and Faat Kiné.
Tasuma’s aesthetic attraction derives from the combination of beautifully lit long and close-up shots with chants that are an integral part of the narrative. Doba the madman, well interpreted by Serge Henri, sustains the narrative with different songs for each day of the week when Sogo rides out to Bobo Dioulasso. Doba’s simple songs, reinforced by the children’s chorus, gives rhythm to the events: ‘On Friday morning, on his bike with his gun and haversack, Sogo heads for the Treasury, dying of sadness; Sogo does not give a dam, his gun in hands, he is ready to shoot.’ The character of the madman comments on Sogo’s trials. The representation of the fool as a visionary, in the manner of Karfa in Dani Kouyaté’s Sia, le rêve du python/Sia, the Python’s Dream, differs radically from that of the popular image of the lunatic bereft of reason.
Tasuma holds the viewers spellbound thanks to Sogo, the non-conformist who always finds extraordinary solutions to obstacles. ‘It is interesting to wander in Sogo Sanou’s world,’ comments the griotte (woman singer and storyteller).Even when the events are dramatic, the viewers keep smiling thanks to the joking kinship between the Bobos and the Fulanis or to the scenes of women brandishing sticks and chasing the police.