Saul Williams and Aissa Maiga in the film "Today", part of the 2012 Sydney Film Festival. Pic supplied, no credit. today02.jpg

Exploration into the experience of loss ... Saul Williams and Aissa Maiga.

Reviewer rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Directed by Alain Gomis
State Theatre, June 13

ANOTHER night, another absorbing film in Sydney Film Festival's competition. Set in a vibrant Senegalese city, the meditative drama Today details a man's last day alive.

Handsome and charismatic Satche lives in a land where death warns it is coming.

Saul Williams in the film "Today", part of the 2012 Sydney Film Festival. Pic supplied, no credit. today01.jpg

Dreamlike moments ... Satche played by Saul Williams in "Today".

''He's been chosen,'' his father tells a crowd of anxious relatives and friends. ''Tonight when he goes to sleep, our son will join the spirit world.''

French-Senegalese director Alain Gomis's gentle and poetic drama initially feels like a mystery: what will kill Satche (Saul Williams) so quickly? Something has gone wrong since he returned from studying in the US.

But Today becomes a different film as he sets off for his final day, passing through streets full of life and music.

After a crowd treats him like a king, with a symbolic crown and sceptre, Satche visits workmates, an old flame (Aissa Maiga) and an uncle who shows how he will wash the body, and attends a civic reception in his honour. Before nightfall, he arrives home to his devastated wife (Anisia Uzeyman) and two children. It is a day of comradeship, joy and love as well as recriminations, violence and fear.

While there are magic realist hints that Satche is imagining how he will be judged, Gomis leaves enough ambiguity to tease and enchant. Rather than making a film about Satche dying, he has made a less conventional one about his life and the rich community he is about to lose.

Coming two-thirds of the way through the festival's competition for ''courageous, audacious and cutting-edge'' cinema, Today is a quietly rewarding film full of dreamlike moments.

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