Film Review

Touki Bouki

todayMarch 21, 2024 22

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By – Gareth Jones

For fans of New Wave national cinemas, Senegalese film, films that push boundaries and can’t be defined

In 2018, Beyonce and Jay Z incorporated images from the Senegalese film Touki Bouki into a series of photos.  This helped bring attention to this influential film, perhaps even more so than the work of Martin Scorcese. He along with the World Cinema Project helped restore it and with Criterion released the film on Blu-Ray for the first time in 2013.  However you heard about it, when you do see it, it is a revelation.

The film is written and directed by Djibril Diop Mambéty, who did not go to any film school but taught himself. Inspired by the French New Wave, and the philosophy of Third Cinema, his beautifully chaotic work combines ideas from both to create his own unique vision of art and the world.  He started filmmaking at 23 and in 1973 he made his first feature length film, Touki Bouki. It tells the simple story of two young lovers who are ready to leave their home in the capital of Senegal, Dakar.  Mory (played by Magaye Niang) is a shepherd who rides a motorcycle around town fearlessly with a cow skull attached to the front.  Anta (played by Mareme Niang) is a college student.  Each has the vibrant energy of youth who are ready to escape the confines of their society, families, and lives.  The film follows them as they commit a series of crimes/ruses to get money to leave for Paris, France.  Along the way, we the audience get a tour of many aspects of Dakar and Senegalese life.  This includes several disturbing scenes with animals being slaughtered for food.  It is a not so subtle analogy but extremely effective.  I do caution anyone sensitive to animals dying on screen to look away during those moments.  However, I do still think the film is absolutely worth seeing. It is a necessary confrontation to our compliance with colonialism.

The cinematography by Pap Samba Sow is magnificent.  It captures all the vibrant colors of the clothes, buildings, and the landscape.  There is a sharp contrast between the slums on the outskirts of Dakar and the architecture of colonial buildings in the city.  Nature is also on full display, in particular the trees of Senegal.  They are like characters in the film, at times protective and shielding of the leads in the film, and other times like menacing creatures.  The sky and sea are shot in meditative and surreal fashion.  One scene in particular that stands out is when Mory and Anta visit Mory’s friend (one of the dated and unfortunate elements is his representation of homosexuality equating to greed) where they steal cash, clothes, and a car.  At this home, there is a brilliant shot of a swimming pool next to the sea.  The contrast between the man made pool and the swirling waters of the ocean are striking.

The music, in particular the singing of Josephine Baker about Paris, is well scored.  In fact, Baker’s song is on a loop and becomes a theme song for the duo as they traverse the city.  It creates a humorous tone, and reminds the audience of the playful nature of the French New Wave.

Djibril Diop Mambéty was a challenging artist and died at too young an age, 53. He was unable to make another feature length film nearly 20 years later when he made a loose sequel to Touki Bouki called Hyenas.   Touki Bouki can be translated as Song of the Hyena, which is a fitting title for the film.  Djibril Diop Mambéty’s niece Mati Diop has become one of Senegal’s brightest directors working today. Her film Atlantics is a strong companion piece to her uncle’s influential work.

Available to stream on Max

Written by: jamric

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