Mocktar Dickto, the protagonist of Dream of Dust, does the best he can do. It’s just not much.
Mocktar is a native of Niger (the landlocked African nation located north of Nigeria) and an immigrant to neighboring Burkina Faso, where life is shaped by a gold rush two decades old and largely panned out. A windblown wasteland surrounds the isolated mining town, a place where occasional hopes for fortune trump regular expectations of mere subsistence.
Jarringly present in this environment of frontier masculinity are a widow, Coumba, and her 7-year-old daughter, Mariana. Coumba’s plan to send her daughter to Paris for an education move Mocktar to aid in the effort. The experiences he has in pursuit of this unconventional goal change him into a conventional resident of the mining town.
The incongruity appears suddenly as Dreams of Dust unfolds with steady pacing punctuated by plot developments that make the whole entirely hypnotizing. The cinematography deserves much of the credit for the mesmerizing effect. A swirling orange pall cast across the screen coats everything in dust without adding grit. The effect is surrealism moving along at an everyday pace—bleak living with time for tea.
Talk about hope is common, but the characters experience more want than hope. The best they can aim toward is the fruitful extraction of resources to satisfy their lack. It doesn’t take much; a chunk of gold the size of an infant’s fist is enough to send the whole mine into spasms of joy. After discovery, it’s a question of distribution, which the gentle protagonist settles with unexpected alacrity.
In doing so, Mocktar does the best he could, which isn’t to say that he does good or that virtue will be rewarded. Dreams of Dust’s simple story artfully makes plain that it couldn’t have been otherwise.
Dreams of Dust screens as part of the Missoula Public Library’s World-Wide Cinema series Friday, Nov. 9, at 7 PM. Free.