The wind blows tumbleweed into the sky; a radio is buried for safekeeping under a sand dune then subsequently lost; a traveller plods through the desert carrying a suitcase; a Chinese man takes time out from selling knick knacks on the street corner to sing in a local karaoke bar.
Welcome to Waiting for Godot, Mauritanian style.
Impossible to summarize, the plot of Abderrahmane Sissako's mesmerisingly slow Waiting for Happiness is little more than a series of vaguely connected incidents that take place in a tiny seaside town on the coast of the Mauritius.
The main focus is Abdallah (Mohamed Mahmoud Ould Mohamed), a teenager who's more interested in Western fashions than African culture, can't speak the local dialect and wants to escape to somewhere more exciting.
As Abdallah pays a final visit to his mother before leaving for Europe, Sissako switches back and forth between his mournful solitariness and the trials and tribulations of a local electrician, a group of women looking for husbands and the other characters who comprise this sand-swept interzone of different cultures and people.
Interspersing the elliptical action with some poetic imagery - an old man carrying a flickering light bulb into the desert; a group of rusting trawlers anchored off the coast that are slowly slipping beneath the waves as the salt eats through their metal hulls - Sissako ensures that the occasionally infuriating pace builds into something quite enchanting.
"AN UNEXPECTED CELEBRATION"
It all adds up to a melancholic vision of life set in a remote outpost of humanity where the seconds and minutes tick by with deadening precision. Yet, scratch beneath the surface of this disjointed drama and you'll find an unexpected celebration of the happiness of community and friendship, a happiness that's so understated even the characters themselves don't realize that it has already arrived.
In French with English subtitles