"Mandabi" provides a window in the life and the daily struggles of ordinarily people in Senegal in the years after gaining independence. And it was a hard life.
"Mandabi" is not really a comedy, except in the sense of a comedy of errors or a very dark comedy. It is the heartbreaking story of Ibrahima, a poor, naive man who thinks he has gotten a break when his nephew sends him a money order from Paris, but . . .
Ibrahima can't cash the money order without an ID card.
He can't get an ID card without a birth certificate.
He can't get a birth certificate because he doesn't know his exact birth information.
He struggles to find a solution to his problem, but his solutions make his problem worse.
Ibrahima can't read and doesn't speak French, so he must rely on Westernized or educated Senegalese to help him. But they take advantage of his naivete and ignorance of the system to rob him of the little money he has. Meanwhile, as word of his new-found fortune spreads around his poor neighborhood, everyone he knows comes asking for money, and it is hard for him to say "no."
The product description says that the film is "about a civilization struggling to recapture its own rich heritage after a century of colonial corruption." This is not really an accurate description of the movie. It is more about the venality, corruption, difficulty, and meanness of life in Senegal in the 1960s.
If there are notable flaws with the movie, they are its pacing and the subtitles. The movie is slow, sometimes very slow. Scenes of action and dialogue are separated by long, ruminative camera shots accompanied by kora music. But a bored viewer can easily fast-forward through those. Also, the subtitles are quite old and done in narrow, white typeface, making them hard to read at times.