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Guimba the Tyrant
The ruler of one of Africa's great, pre-colonial kingdoms has let power go to his head in this handsome film from Mali. Cheick Oumar Sissoko's 1993 film may be intended as an allegory of recent events in Mali -- in the press book he speaks disparagingly of a former national ruler -- but Guimba the Tyrant has a universal application and could just as well be "about" Watergate, Whitewater, Gingrich, or the fall of Sen. Bob Packwood. (Sexual harassment is most definitely at issue here, as Guimba attempts to marry off himself and his son to the heroine and her mother.) A film lives in its details, anyway, not in its plot, and the details here -- crisp cinematography, gorgeous and, we are assured, accurate costumes and decor -- make for a good film, as does the film's cheerful humor, decidedly non-PC as it is. (The king's dwarf son has enormous genitalia, while a raft of beauty queens demanding the secret of sexual appeal from the heroine's mother is right out of a UPN sitcom.) With admixtures of magic realism and sharp character observation (Habib Dembele, for example, as the king's sycophantic griot, his Carville or Stephanopolous), Guimba the Tyrant should not be feared by moviegoers as something exotic, or dutifully viewed as something good for you, but enjoyed as an entertaining costume epic at least as flavorful as, say, Ridicule.

-- Gregg Rickman

Guimba the Tyrant screens Wednesday through Tuesday, Jan. 15-21, at the Red Vic, 1727 Haight (at Clayton). Showtimes are 7:15 and 9:15 p.m. daily, with additional shows Wednesday at 2 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday at 2 and 4 p.m. Tickets are $6; call 668-8999.

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