In the middle of a dry stretch of land by the Volta river, a boy is found lying face down wearing threadbare rags. When a friendly traveller finds him, he is unable to recall his past or even speak. Taking pity on the boy, the traveller brings him to a nearby village, where he is entrusted to the care of Tinga and Lale, who rename him Wendkouni, ‘God’s gift‘ in the Mòoré language. Despite his muteness, Wendkouni manages to integrate surprisingly well, working hard alongside Tinga and growing close to adoptive sister Pognèré. When a hysterical villager named Bila hangs himself in a tree, the sight so greatly disturbs Wendkouni that he finds himself able to talk again, but with his first word being a plaintive cry of “Mother!”, revelation isn’t going to be easy.
Prior to producing Wênd Kûuni, the second film ever produced in Burkina Faso, director Gaston Kaboré had been disturbed by the simplistic representation of West African peoples in documentaries. In the character of Wendkouni, Kaboré finds a means of constructing an identity from scratch. Free of language or other cultural signifier, he is absorbed into a community which gives him purpose and love, and later helps him to articulate his pain. At the end of the film, he emerges from his chrysalis, stronger for his suffering and with newfound direction. Wendkouni’s relationship with Pognèré is particularly touching, as both young actors (siblings in real life) support each other through the painful process of growing up.
From Celluloid Breakfast