Sunday 14 June 2015

Sydney Film Festival (35) - Barrie Pattison reviews Touki Bouki


Considered a classic and a milestone in African film making, this is one of those must see items that your tend to come at with muted dread.

If you approach it as a narrative, you’re doomed from the get go. The hero is lynched by a bunch of Tertiary Educated red car hoons early, his corpse flung off a cliff,  and he carries on through the rest of the picture undaunted. If you want to know whether this is a dream or a fantasy you’re asking the wrong questions.

Fresh from film school and saturated with Eisensteinian associative montage, and a bit of PEPÉ LE MOKO thrown in, Mambéty wanted to produced something which would play to the audience that was wowed by the French New Wave, Antonioni, Joe Losey and the rest. Glauber Rocha was on the same road but he was a better craftsman and coming out of a more sophisticated environment.

You can see why master technician Ousmane Sembene would rip off Mambéty’s funding for his own more assured project, the pro’s contempt for the dilettante.

However TOUKI BOUKI has a place of it’s own. Mambéty’s Africa is as detailed and packed with life as Sembene’s. He fills the screen with striking images, from the opening slaughter house scene - most shocking in it’s depiction of the placid cows standing watching the dismemberment of the preceding member of their group.

We see the roadside stall, the contrast of the villagers working in the open and the westernised yobbo students. Young Magaye Niang and Mareme Niang’s plan to get the sports ground takings away from the slack policeman guard only lands them a trunk full of fetish gear. There’s a bit of tame nudity and the leads head out to the decadent, pool-owning rich Ousseynou Diop to rip him off, taking his stars and striped car unconvincingly in the parade of red uniformed colonial mounted troops to the port where departing ex-pats talk about saving half their annual salary.

Meanwhile the light skinned character living in a tree crashes the boy’s ox horn motor cycle, Joséphine Baker sings “Paris Paris, Paris” on the track and paid off aunt Aminata Fall chants “Vultures and Hyenas will never get the best of you.” The dream of sailing off on the white “Anceville” liner rather than refurbishing the shoreline wreck for an illegal crossing to Europe looks attainable, while the port guard with the ax handle keeps on getting cut-aways for no reason  - or something.

Mabéty’s ability to muster colorful exotic detail and contrast it with the encroaching
European (French. with the money intended for a De Gaulle memorial) way of life does hold attention for the film’s hour and a half and makes this more rewarding than most more traditionally well made work.

The new digital restoration (taken to 35 mm. film they proudly say) offers a quality which may rival the original lab work.

*Touki Bouki, Directed by Djibril Diop Mambéty, Senegal, 1973, 90 minutes

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