Woman with the Knife, The (1969)

A somewhat underwhelming and ponderous psychological drama about a female knife-wielding spectre that haunts a European-influenced African who struggles with romantic relationships in his return to his home country.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Review #2,478

Dir. Timite Bassori
1969 | Ivory Coast | Drama | 78 min | 1.37:1 | French
Not rated – likely to be PG13

Cast: Timite Bassori, Mary Vieyra, Danielle Alloh
Failing to reconcile his newfound modernist views with his African traditions, an Ivorian man returns home from a lengthy spell in Europe and becomes haunted by the spectre of a knife-brandishing woman threatening to shatter any potential relationships with other women.
Official Selection (Locarno)
Source: The Film Foundation

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Returning Home; Sexual Inhibition
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: General Arthouse

Viewed: MUBI
Spoilers: No

Restored by The Film Foundation, The Woman with the Knife is the first ever film that I’ve seen from Ivory Coast.  My natural interest in exploring more areas of African cinema has led me to this. 

The only feature film written and directed by Timite Bassori, who also multitasks as lead actor, The Woman with the Knife has interesting ideas about what it means to be an African in a post-colonial world, though they are developed in a largely sketchy manner. 

Bassori’s character is haunted by a female knife-wielding spectre that appears when he is at his most vulnerable e.g. in the shower, or when he is about to make love to a woman, which might suggest a case of severe sexual inhibition. 

“Do not fear her. Her presence is beneficial.”

As a man of intellect who has lived in Europe for many years (and perhaps has experienced social and sexual liberation in less conservative cities), returning home to a land of superstition, conservatism and tradition can be difficult. 

With a jazzy score that evokes the French New Wave, Bassori’s film is at its best when the camera is out surveying the streets, both rural and urban.  There are a few long takes as the camera drifts in space, almost signalling a sense of listlessness—or could it be a ghostly presence that cannot settle down? 

Whatever it is, Bassori seems to be aiming for higher meaning, but The Woman with the Knife rarely achieves any form of clarity, let alone transcendence, with its somewhat underwhelming and ponderous attempt at a psychological drama with elements of horror.  The stilted performances don’t help as well. 

Grade: B-


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