In retrospect, Touki Bouki was an odd film to choose. It’s recently been restored by the World Cinema Foundation (i.e. Martin Scorsese’s company). So obviously it’s a film that Scorsese deems good enough to spend his money on. However, it’s not exactly a classic or a film that people are going to mock me for never having seen. It’s no Raise the Red Lantern (1991) or The Seventh Seal (1957). It’s certainly no Spirited Away (2001). But dammit it’s interesting, and when was the last time you saw a senegalese film released? The ones that reach the Western world are so few and far between.
My African film viewing history is so minimal I didn’t know what to compare this film to at first. I hadn’t seen anything like it, but that was me being very close-minded. It started off like a regular village scene with people interacting, buying and selling, introducing us to all of the main characters. Like many other films. It portrayed much of what I’d come to assume about Africa and didn’t give me much to the contrary. There was little dialogue, and the film largely relied on soft, steady actions to move the narrative along rather than anything rash or sudden.
That is apparently very traditional of African films. But it didn’t last long, because then it got weird. Really weird. Like, the camera would cut back and forth between two subjects that didn’t quite make sense. It was disorientating and frenetic. Since I would have seen the re-distributed version, the soundtrack would have been scored by the band Red Snapper. They formed in the ’90s so it would have been terribly clever of them to score a ’70s film on it’s first release. It would have been interesting to watch the film with it’s original score, as this one was often fast paced and juxtaposed what was happening on screen.
The narrative focused on two young people. A cowherd with a bull horn skull on the front of his motorbike called Mory and a bright female student called Anta. They decide to run away together to Paris and cook up a plan to steal the money in order to catch a ferry to do so. Being introduced firstly to the quintessential African landscapes, to then watch Mory drive his modern day steed through the fields, you can tell there’s going to be a clash of cultures here. The traditional and the modern. The fight between them and the struggles to break free. Anta’s character is one that especially intrigues me.
It’s her that is allowed to go to college and not her male peers. They mainly still work on farms and have labour jobs. It’s her who knows her own mind, what she wants, and ultimately has to make it on her own when Mory abandons her on a ferry to France. He is drawn back by the inability to leave his culture and his home. But that makes total sense… Women are the future after all, are they not?
I can’t imagine watching the entire back catalogue of Senegalese films before 1973 would have prepared me for this art house journey of culture and clashes. What I got from it was ‘hope’ more than anything, but not from the narrative per se. I just hope more films like this are being restored for us to enjoy and experience and not just the so-called classics.
Have you ever seen Touki Bouki? Did you like it?