Balolé: The Golden Wolf


Today, sixty years after their country gained independence, many people living in the West African country of Burkina Faso are victim to unfair labor practices and are forced to contend with dangerous, slave-like work conditions that leave many of them feeling helpless, if not hopeless, in the face of governmental apathy. As in the United States, one of the most grueling, dangerous jobs is that of mining, and the quarry workers in the capital city of Ouagadougou have largely managed to survive “occupational hazards” (e.g., respiratory illness, smashed limbs, malnourishment, etc.) without the support of labor unions or other protective measures. In recent years, a grassroots movement of young activists, including men and women who had earlier protested President Blaise Compaoré’s efforts to change the constitution and extend his 27-year-long autocracy (leading to the 2014 Burkinabé uprising, which brought an end to his corrupt regime), has made it possible for the nearly 2,500 stonebreakers to stand up for their rights and demand change. Two such workers are Adama and Ablassé, leaders of an aggrieved contingent of men who are seeking adequate compensation for their backbreaking work and who eventually confront the cockseurs (or middlemen) that stand between them and the true powerholders (including Western artisanal mining companies). Breaking up pieces of granite from dawn to dusk in a Dantean pit that they call “the hole,” the subjects of this film want little more than living wages, working toilets, functioning equipment, and a means of safeguarding themselves from the noxious gases that spew up from sledgehammer blows. Their optimism in the face of adversity, including state-sponsored violence and food insecurity, is what propels them toward their goal. First-time director Aïcha Chloé Boro documents their everyday heroism with a confidence that is rare among burgeoning filmmakers, and her skill in getting widows and orphaned children to reveal their hopes and aspirations to the camera suggests a level of kinship or interpersonal bonding that is equally uncommon. As a pair of thirteen-year-old twins — Sény and Hassan — explain to her, simply being able to rest is what most kids their age long for, and few of them really believe that they will achieve their dreams of becoming policemen and airplane pilots. Scored to elegiac string music as well as the persistent pings of hammers hitting rocks, and set against a rugged, unforgiving terrain that attains almost-mythical proportions, Balolé, the Golden Wolf is at once devastatingly beautiful and hauntingly mournful. But, surprisingly, it is also celebratory, reveling in the small moments of joy that occur inside this otherwise-hellish “hole,” as the quarry workers’ smiles beam as brightly as the sun that beats down on them.


By David Scott Diffrient



Aïcha Chloé Boro
France | Burkina Faso
65 min

(Moré with English subtitles)