I have never watched a film from Senegal. Shamefully I have seen very few films from the whole continent of Africa, which this top one hundred list will hopefully change. Touki-Bouki is the very reason I started this blog – to try something new and see films I had never heard of. Brilliantly, I also watched a restored version of it free on mubi.com. I have been a member of this site for a while and it is absolutely amazing.
Touki-Bouki was made in 1973, directed by Djibril Diop Mambéty with a Government grant of $30,000. It stars Aminata Fall as Aunt Oumy, Ousseynou Diop as Charlie, Magaye Niang as Mory and Mareme Niang as Anta.
The film starts with a rural scene and pipe music, immediately contrasted with a hideous abattoir scene where they slaughter cows by cutting open their windpipes and then city scenes. Throughout the film there is a contrast between ancient ways and modern life and in the early scenes they kept using sound bridges of modern sounds (traffic, planes) over images of timeless farming or nature.
The style of the film is unusual. It is really split between a naturalism and consciously filmic. At some points there doesn’t seem to be any obvious sets or lighting. The shots (very often long shots or close-ups) linger and frequently handheld. There is often very little dialogue. At these points it has a feeling of Cinéma vérité or even Dogme 95 about it. However, at other points it has a frenetic energy with a pounding soundtrack and juxtaposing montage. You can really feel the heat and dust of the market scenes and it feels like a French New Wave film, especially when we are following Mory and Anta around – it almost seems a parallel to À bout de souffle.
I loved the way the film never clarified what was dream and reality and instead consistently paralleled the suffering of humans and animals. There was an hypnotic quality to the montages of cruelty and violence and a desperately heartbreaking ending. It was made even more so by the stoic and under-played performances.
I found some of the film difficult to watch. The killing of the animals, although clearly important to the film, was harrowing. I also found the representation of women, African poverty and gay men difficult to deal with. The stereotypes were obvious and worryingly negative – especially the portrayal of the gay, rich Charlie.
Poem – particularly of the abattoir juxtaposition scene – long sentences, a refrain
Word cloud – chaotic and confused
A juxtaposed portrait of age and modernity.