Mandabi (The Money Order) (1968)
Director: Ousmane Sembene.
Starring: Makhouredia Gueye (Ibrahim Dieng), Ynousse N'Diaye (1st Wife), Isseu Niang (2nd Wife), Serigne N'Diayes (Imam), Serigne Sow (Maissa), Mustapha Ture (Shop Keeper), Farba Sarr (Businessman), Moudoun Faye (Mailman), Mouss Diouf (Nephew), Christoph Colomb (Water Seller), Thérèse Bas (Dieng's Sister).
in Senegal a man with 2 wives and 7 children receives a money order from Paris and is inundated by charity cases and thieves to his and his family's detriment
Barbers on the street give haircuts and shaves to their clients. They also remove some of the nose hairs. A postman comes over to two women and asks one of them where is her husband? The woman asks him who's he looking for? Ibrahima Dieng. The husband is actually husband to both of the wives. The women remain quiet. So the postman tells them he carries with him very good news. It's a money order. Well, it's a money order and a letter all the way from Paris. The other wife asks who does Ibrahima know in Paris? It's 25,000 francs. The women say they are decent women and ask if the postman is trying "to kill us with hope"?
The husband eats his meal. When he is done eating the meal with his fingers, he says: "Praised be Allah! What a big meal! My blessings to you, women!" He then washes his hands in a bowl filled with water. He dries his hands with a towel. A wife, Aram, brings some papaya for "Uncle". As he eats his papaya, the woman fans him to keep him cooler. For a third time he washes his hands. He then washes his teeth with water and his finger. He now spits the water in the water bowl. He makes a lot of noises as if he is suffering from a case of terrible indigestion. After dinner he lays down on his bed.
Aram comes to say that there is a beggar outside. The husband says: "Hand him the leftovers so as to ward off evil." The husband is very restless in bed and he tells Aram to massage his legs. As soon as he falls to sleep, Aram goes on the porch to help watch the children. She asks the other wife Maty if she has told their husband about the money order yet? The other wife says to let their husband get a little rest first. A water seller comes by. The cost is 50 francs. Amar asks Maty for the money, but Maty says she is penniless. The water seller asks if Amar wants to buy water? She says she will buy the water, but on credit. The vendor asks when can she pay him the money? She says tomorrow.
People say their prayers at the mosque. Husband Ibrahim gets up, but still has digestive problems. He finds Maty sleeping. He gets mad at her. He says he has been without a job for the last four years. He goes on to say that today is Friday and nobody even bothered to wake him up. He gets dressed up and wears a red fez and starts to go out. Maty stops him to tell him about the money order and the letter from Paris. It was sent by his nephew Abdou. He goes back into the house to talk about this. Maty gives the correspondence to him. He looks it over and tells his wives: "I hope the neighbors do not know about this." They say that they did go to the store. The children had nothing to eat. Husband really gets angry at the wives, who dive to the floor in case of a beating. He says how dare they borrow money from him without asking his permission? He adds: "I am you master here. Only I can decide what to do!" He shouts that now everyone knows he has received a money order.
Hubby leaves to go see the shop keeper. The man says he has just received some really fine rice straight from Indochina. A young boy comes in and asks shop keeper Mbarka if he has any rice? Mbarka says no, he has no rice. The boy leaves. Mbarka tells Ibrahima that you see, I could have sold the rice to the boy, but he's saving it for his "brother". He says he will set aside 15 kilos for his friend. Ibrahima says he will buy the rice. He will now go to the post office to get the money.
At the post office, Ibrahima shows the money order and letter to a clerk. The man reads the letter: "I am writing to you from Paris. Thanks to Allah, I am doing well. I think about you day and night. I miss all of you. Do not think that I came here to France to become a bum, or rebel against authority. I came to find a job to make some money and learn a trade. I left Dakar because there are no jobs! I cannot remain day in, day out all my life without a job waiting for leftovers or handouts from others. At my age I need to get married and start a family. Do not pay attention to rumors. (One does not become a bum here unless one wants to.) Allah willing, not a single drop of alcohol will touch my lips. Every day after work, I attend evening school to learn something. Here's a money order of 25,000 francs. Keep 2,000 for me. Give 3,000 to my mother and keep 2,000 for yourself because I know you don't have a job. Tell my mother I am well. I miss her and the kids. Everyday after work, I go home and say my prayers. My regards to Aunt Maty and Aunt Aram. Allah willing, I will come back home some day. Do not forget me in your prayers. Your nephew, Abdou."
Ibrahima now is at the main desk getting his money. The clerk tells him that he has to get a photo identification card from his precinct before he can release the money. The money order will be held here for 15 days. So now Ibrahima has to go to the police precinct.
Two men are thinking of buying Ibrahima's house. One of the guys asks: but will Ibrahima sell the house? The other man says it's a sure thing because the fellow is broke with two wives and seven children. Maty comes out to say hello to the men. She says hello to her nephew Mbaye. Mbaye comments to her that it sounds like there is a party going on in their house. Maty answers: "You know people. You mention money and they all come running in." Maty invites the two men in, but Mbaye tells her just let Ibrahima know he just stopped by for a short visit. They leave.
At the police station, the clerk tells Ibrahima that he has to go get a photo I.D. The clerk inform him that he will need a birth certificate, three pictures and a stamp worth 50 cents. So now Ibrahima will have to go to City Hall to get a birth certificate.
At home Ibrahima receives his friend Iman. Iman says life is tough for people like us. He came to ask Ibrahima for his help. Ibrahima swears that he has not cashed the money order yet. Iman still says he needs 5,000 francs with a security deposit. Another friend arrives. This fellow says he wants to borrow 10 kilos of rice from Ibrahima. His family hasn't eaten in three days. Iman now says goodbye, but asks that Ibrahima not forget about him. Now the attention is back on the hungry man and his family. Ibrahima tells Maty to give the man 3 kilos of rice. Maty says they have no rice and has to duck to avoid being hit by her husband.
Maty complains to Aram that now everyone thinks they have rice. Ibrahima told her to give Madiague some rice. Maty shows her that they only have one sack of rice left. Aram tells her to give it to Madiague. Maty objects and says no because they will starve. What will their children eat?
Maty puts some rice in a small container and gives it to her husband. Ibrahima gives the rice to Madiague. When Madiague leaves with the rice he is told by Iman and his friend that yesterday Ibrahima brought in 100 kilos of rice.
Ibrahima asks for 25 francs for his bus fare to City Hall. Maty again says she's penniless. Aram tells him the same thing.
Iman sees Ibrahima leaving his house. He says Ibrahima won't have any money left after he pays the shop keeper.
Ibrahima has to walk to City Hall. When he gets there he is asked for his date of birth. Ibrahima doesn't know the date. Another person in line looks at Ibrahima's papers and says the date is around 1900. And what about the month?, asks the clerk. That information is not included in Ibrahima's papers. So the clerk tells Ibrahima to come back when he has figured out his full date of birth.
Ibrahima is worried. Who can he turn to, to help him with his date of birth? And he's worried about what is he to say to his neighbors without the cash from the money order? He thinks and then says he will go see his nephew Mbaye. Mbaye actually gives his uncle some money. And he says they will go to City Hall together, because he knows someone there. Mbaye speaks to his friend and brings him out to see uncle. He tells uncle to come tomorrow to see his friend here and everything will be okay.
Ibrahima returns home. Maty waits on him. She washes his feet. He lays down on his bed.
Ibrahima walks to the bank to cash the check that Mbaye wrote for him. He is stopped by a woman who wants 50 francs for her bus fare home to be with her children who are waiting for her. Ibrahima gives her the money.
He reaches the bank. A man outside asks him if he has his identity card? No. The man says he will handle it and tells Ibrahima to ask for the money in 100 franc bills. Ibrahima gets the cash from the bank. When he comes out again, the man says the teller is a good friend of his and he is only asking for 300 francs for cashing the check. Ibrahima objects to having to pay so much money, but he does pay it. On his way back, the same woman who asked him for 20 francs for bus fare now tries to ask for more money from Ibrahima. The poor man recognizes the woman and he tells her she has some nerve asking him for more money. She tells him to stop harassing her for she is a decent woman.
Ibrahim goes to a portrait studio to get a photo of himself. The photo costs him another 300 francs.
The water seller asks Aram when is she going to pay him? She explains that she has no money. A brassiere vendor sells a bra to Aram. She tells him to come back tomorrow and she will pay him. Iman comes around with his two friends. Again he leaves a message that Iman wants to see Ibrahima. Aram asks Maty how many people have come to the house? Maty says: "Why bother? As long as they think we have money, they'll be harassing us."
Aram tells Maty that the 15 kilos of rice lasted only 3 days. And they also owe for the 3 kilos of rice Maty borrowed from the store. Then they have to pay for the 5 liters of oil and the 300 francs they borrowed in cash. Maty says and the brassiere. Aram adds they have to pay for the water and charcoal they used. Plus 8 cans of tomatoes. Maty says they will have to stop giving money to people.
Nephew Mbaye comes by in his car and tells Maty that he still wants to see Ibrahima.
Ibrahima's sister named Astou tells Ibrahima that she wants her 3,000 francs by tomorrow. And don't dare tell her that Ibrahima still hasn't cashed the money. Ibrahima says he had to borrow to even get the rice that he's feeding her now as his guest. Astou accuses him of deliberately indulging himself and his family with money for which her son worked very hard. Aram is so tired of being harassed that she gives her husband her necklace and tells him to pawn it.
Ibrahima goes to see the shop keeper and asks for 5,000 francs for the necklace. He says he is being harassed by his own sister for the money. Mbarka says he doesn't have that much cash on him. He gives the necklace back to his customer. He adds that Ibrahima owes him so much money that he cannot extend any more credit to him. Another man tells Ibrahima that he will give Ibrahima 2,000 francs for the gold necklace, but he only has 3 days to pay him back to retrieve the necklace. Ibrahima says he paid 15,000 francs for the necklace. The man adds that there will be an additional 500 francs interest. Ibrahima says that charging interest is immoral. The other man says the charge will be a total of 2,500 francs. Ibrahima takes the 2,000 francs.
Iman comes along and wants to borrow 5,000 francs. This time Ibrahima explains that the money he has now belongs to his sister. He himself is penniless. He walks away from Iman.
Ibrahima walks with his two wives and his sister. They walk with her down to the bus. Astou says if she doesn't get the rest of the money in three days, she will be back demanding the balance of the money. She also scolds Ibrahim for not having any of his papers.
Ibrahima goes to the photographer for his photo. The guy says the pictures did not come out right and Ibrahim has to go away! Ibrahim breaks the man's table. The two men start struggling with each other, which immediately draws a crowd that separates the two men. The photo shop is just a con game.
In the fight, Ibrahim suffered a bloody nose. When his wives see him, they cry. Maty says he's dying. This draws a crowd and someone says that Ibrahima was beaten and robbed of more than 100,000 francs! Maty says he was attacked by four bandits! Aram adds that the money order wasn't even his. It was his nephew's. With there being no more money left, the crowd soon disperses.
Now people bring Mr. Money Order food and other gifts to console the family, victims of a 100,000 francs robbery. Ibrahima is even given back his gold necklace. He calls his wives over to him and asks them why did they spread the lies that he was beaten and robbed? Maty tells him: "A lie that unites is better than a truth that separates." He says what will he say when people find out that the money order is still there at the post office? Aram explains that they never lied before, but they felt they had to in this case because of all the bad feelings that the money order generated amongst the people. Ibrahima feels a bit less hostile to his wives, but still asks what will he tell the people? They say he should tell them that his wives made up the story of the money order. Ibrahima doesn't think that excuse will fly with the people.
The postman comes along and tells Ibrahima that the money order is still at the post office. Ibrahima figures that he has spent 9 days running around trying to get his papers to get the money order. In 6 more days the money will be sent back to Paris. Now he wonders where can he get 300 francs for another photo.
Ibrahima goes back to the shop keeper to get 500 francs from him. If he gives Ibrahima 500 francs, Ibrahima will give him 1,000 francs when he pays up. Mbarka changes the subject saying that someone wants to buy his house. This makes the penniless man very angry. He says he is not going to go homeless just to be able to pay his grocery bill. The shop keeper doesn't like being yelled at and he says: "Yesterday when you were crawling for rice you were not so loud." Mbarka tells him to get out of his shop or he will call the police. A struggle breaks out again and another big crowd appears. The fight is broken up. The shop keeper now says that Ibrahima is a liar. He says he was robbed, but he just wanted the money for himself!
Maty comes into the store and gives the shop keeper a piece of her mind. Mbarka doesn't want to talk to a woman, only to her husband. Ibrahima says that the store keeper wanted him to sell his own house just to pay the grocer his bill. Finally, everyone leaves the store. Mbaye, who helped break up the dispute, tells Ibrahima to come see him about this money order problem. When they meet, Nephew Mbaye tells Ibrahima to give him power of attorney to cash the money order.
They drive and the nephew gets a form for power of attorney and he has Ibrahima sign it. Mbaye gives Ibrahima money for his bus fare, because he has to go to another location for some reason.
The next day Ibrahima goes to his nephew's house. Mbaye says he cashed the money order, but a pickpocket took the money from him. He says he knows his uncle won't believe him, but in the name of Allah it's true. Mbaye goes on to say he lost the 25,000 francs and 75,000 francs of his own money. Uncle says: "Mbaye, this money doesn't belong to me." Ibrahima virtually begs his nephew to give him the money. He gives Ibrahima a 10 kilo bag of rice and drives him back to his house.
Ibrahima is left by his house. He squats down near the rice and holds his head in his hands. Three women come up and start taking his rice. Maty sees them and runs to stop them. Aram helps her husband back to the house.
The postman comes and says he hears that Ibrahima is now distributing rice. Ibrahima becomes angry and tells the postman: "To tell you the truth, decency has become a sin in this country. And that's why I'm going to become a wolf among wolves. I, too, will become a thief and a liar." The postman asks him: "But why?" Ibrahima answers: "Mbaye stole my money order." The postman says then we will change the country. Ibrahima asks who is this "we"? That's Ibrahima, his wives, his children, the postman and others who will change the country.
Now a woman comes for some rice from Ibrahima. And Astou comes back after three days of waiting.
Ibrahima starts hearing the voices of all the people who have asked him for some money or rice. And that's a lot of people.
Good film. It tells you something about the culture of Senegal as you watch the goings on of a poor family, whose father has not worked for 4 years. Ibrahima has two wives and seven children and not much money. He receives a money order from a nephew in Paris for 25,000 francs. But Ibrahima is only to take 2,000 francs for himself and his family. The rest is for the nephew's nuclear family. The money order is like a blessing from heaven for Ibrahima, but he's got a real problem. He has none of his identity papers. He can't get the money order without a picture I.D. Then to get the I.D. he needs a birth certificate. And so on and so on. Ibrahima gets exhausted trying to get his identity papers together. Meanwhile, news has gotten around the whole neighborhood that Ibrahima is rich with money because of the money order. So people constantly come up to him asking for rice or asking to borrow money from him. It seems everybody wants something from Ibrahima. The more the man tries to dig himself out of the hole he's in, the more dirt falls back into the hole. He's not only not getting ahead, he is getting deeper in debt. And people are cheating him so he can't get his act together. He's a regular sad-sack character.
Ibrahima is so tired, exhausted and cheated that he tells the postman that he's going to become a thief and crook himself in order to survive in Senegal. The postman tells him that Ibrahima and his family and people like the postman himself have to work together to change the country for the better, so these kinds of things will not happen so often in the country.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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