Ryan’s review published on Letterboxd:
This afternoon I learned that Criterion Channel has lifted the paywall on some films from Black filmmakers.
I randomly found this short while going through their catalog and thought I'd give it a go.
Short films are, when not experimental, tending to be commercials or pitches for the feature they wish to be. Borom sarret is that rare exception of a short film that fills its runtime with a complete, full picture.
It works in telling its story, detailing the life of its character, his viewpoint and troubles while highlighting the post-independence Senegal struggle with poverty and class division. By following a man with a cart, without the money for lunch, we see him as he travels along through his day, trying to make money, dealing with various clients including some that can't pay, ones that have their own troubles that he doesn't let get in his way, or dealing with those that are ready to cheat him.
There are many layers to this short that isn't even 20 minutes long. The music that switches genre once the Wagoner takes the man to wealthier section of the city, the part that doesn't allow wagons, that reminds the viewer of the French that lived there (even if they didn't know it was the French that lived there but some Colonialists). Or the shots of the beggar that the Wagoner doesn't even acknowledge.
As with Parasite this hits that interesting mark of the poverty-stricken looking down on others that they should have a kinship with. Not letting the possibility that they should emphasize with, or support, them enter their minds, maybe due to their own struggles or just because they want to feel better than someone, anyone.
At least that appears to be the suggestion of Manthia Diawara in his commentary for this landmark short ("the first film ever made in Africa by a black African").
I watched it right after and got a further look at what Ousmane Sembène was doing in this short. But even without that enlightening follow-up, it is hard to not find The Wagoner standing up on its own as a complete, beautifully shot in black-and-white, humanistic short.