Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Strangers in Good Company (Le Fabuleux gang des sept)


STRANGERS IN GOOD COMPANY (Le Fabuleux gang des sept)          B+                               aka: The Company of Strangers                                                                                              Canada (101 mi)  1990  d:  Cynthia Scott 

While Scott has a history producing and directing documentary shorts, this is a unique mix of documentary and fictionalized film, beautifully edited, where the actual lives of the seven elderly women (aged 68 to 88) appearing onscreen figure into the content, as their lives are explored with a curious sense of wonder, offering a pastoral beauty from the remote landscape, shot by cinematographer David de Volpi (mostly shooting documentary shorts), becoming a strangely beautiful film accentuating individualism through their radical differences.  Ostensibly an observational film about eight Canadian women (including the younger bus driver) stranded in the Québec countryside after their bus breaks down on a sightseeing trip, finding shelter in an abandoned lakeside home, openly discussing their lives as they pass the time, providing an interior narrative while exquisite compositional shots reveal the magisterial grandeur of the surrounding natural world, with each of the women using their own names, all non-professionals except one (the youngest), loosely scripted by Gloria Demers, unsentimentalized, at times feeling like a Chekhov play, allowing plenty of autobiographical improvisation from the cast.  At the time of the film’s release, it was the highest-grossing film in National Film Board history. 

The women are:

  • Alice Diabo, 74, a Mohawk elder from Kahnawake, Quebec,
  • Constance Garneau, 88, born in the United States and brought to Québec by her family as a child, a one-time CBC political commentator,
  • Winifred Holden, 76, an Englishwoman who moved to Montreal after World War II,
  • Cissy Meddings, 76, who was born in England and moved to Canada in 1981,
  • Mary Meigs, 74, a noted feminist writer and painter and out lesbian,
  • Sister Catherine Roche, 68, a Roman Catholic nun,
  • Michelle Sweeney, 27, a jazz singer and the bus trip’s tour guide,
  • Beth Webber, 80, who was born in England and moved to Montreal in 1930.

Meigs published a book about her experiences making the film, In the Company of Strangers, in 1991.  Using an abstract opening and closing montage, figures may be seen emerging from a thick fog, temporarily becoming the central focus until eventually disappearing back into the fog from whence they came, a metaphor for the transience of our existence, yet their time spent onscreen feels invaluable, one of the few films offering profound insight into aging, told with a feminist perspective, yet there’s nothing politicized, becoming more of a personalized introspection, where at different points throughout the film, a montage of still photos from each woman’s life is shown, which is hauntingly powerful.  It was at the request of Constance, the most elderly among them, that they took a detour, as they weren’t far from her childhood summer home, leaving them abandoned in the middle of nowhere, with no people or phone service in the vicinity, no contact with the outside world, where they had to make the best of it, finding old unused mattresses in a shed, also layers of straw to provide a sleeping cushion, though they could expect some restless nights, while each day Catherine makes attempts to repair the bus with an emery board.  Conspicuously absent from social relevance in a modern society that idealizes youth, cinema has neglected this age group as well, as other than the elderly couple neglected and abandoned in Ozu’s TOKYO STORY (1953), David Lynch’s rambling Disney road movie THE STRAIGHT STORY (1999), or Sarah Polley’s stunning exposé on Alzheimer’s Disease in Away from Her (2006), very few films come to mind, most focusing on mental or physical deficiencies, where this is one of the few that actually puts a positive spin on aging, a neglected film that needs to be restored and rediscovered.  Finding themselves literally engulfed by an Edenesque pastoral paradise, the setting provides a lush allure of contemplative silence, where they are free to walk and explore the grounds, some spending their time reading, while others try to identify various birds, or draw them in a notebook, while in the evenings they tend to play cards.  The personalities of each woman begins to emerge as they interact with each other, often through an interview style, revealing fragmented stories expressing personal revelations, as they each take their daily allotment of pills, sharing the remains of what little food they have, showing signs of anxiety or fear of the unknown, including their nearness to death, with Constance acknowledging, “I’m going to die soon anyway, and I’d rather die here than in a nursing home or hospital.”  No longer able to hear birds singing, which echo her own calls, at one point we see her dropping her remaining pills in the lake, as if resigned to the inevitable.  Away from their familiar routines, they tend to act differently, while also providing a support network, listening to each other’s stories, hearing what they’ve gone through in life, offering camaraderie and friendship.  

Easily the most haunting aspect of the film is the recurring use of Schubert’s Adagio, Schubert - String Quintet in C Major, D. 956, Adagio - The ... YouTube (14:25), one of the most profoundly beautiful compositions ever written and a chamber music masterpiece, completed just weeks before the composer’s death.  Sometimes music will forever be associated with particular films, like the Schubert Andante movement from Kubrick’s BARRY LYNDON (1975), Barry Lyndon • Piano Trio in E Flat • Franz Schubert - YouTube (4:19), Arvo Pärt’s Spiegel im Spiegel in Gus van Sant’s GERRY (2002), Gerry / opening scene - YouTube (5:06), or California Dreamin’ by the Mama’s and Papa’s in Wong Kar-wai’s CHUNGKING EXPRESS (1994), Chungking Express - California Dreamin' [HD] YouTube (2:38), to name just a few, with music providing a profound eloquence that only enhances the director’s message.  Much of the film plays out as a memory play, with ordinary women telling their stories, yet the sum total is a compelling drama, among the best features in cinema to comment upon aging.  Isolated from the comfort and anonymity of their everyday lives, where they are largely ignored by society, each has been defined by their own personal circumstances.  Mary, for instance, grew up as part of a “Secret Generation” hiding behind closet doors as a lesbian, which was totally frowned upon during America’s 1950’s conservatism, but learned to express herself as an artist.  Alice and Winnie had to work low-wage jobs to support their families, with Alice recalling her days on the assembly line of a whisky distillery, describing it as a “sleepy job,” as she had trouble with the monotonous tedium of the job, while Winnie, a former belly dancer, worked at a cigarette factory.  In each, women were forbidden from partaking in the product, frisked every night as they left the job to prevent theft, though men were allowed a weekly allotment of cigarettes.  The youngest of the bunch is Michelle (the only professional actress), the more liberated black bus driver, who takes a curious interest in the women, working to bring Beth out of her shell, as she’s very prim and proper, her blouse buttoned to the top, even out in the woods, hiding behind a façade of manners and politeness, never really comfortable in her own skin, remaining shy and deferring.  Constance is a regal presence, so dignified and refined, without a hair out of place, always looking like a million bucks, associated with the elegance of classical music, yet she may be the only one prepared for the inevitable finality of it all, as if finding her childhood home made her life complete, coming full circle.  Perhaps the most aloof, Constance is used to spending time alone, where she may have simply outlived her circle of friends and family, finally finding peace and something close to happiness, where she doesn’t really want to leave.

Much of the film feels as if it has been frozen in time, offering a time capsule of these eclectic lives, and a sense of yearning, where something is still expected of life.  Despite their physical limitations, which certainly slows them down, they move at their own pace, devising various survival strategies, like spelling out “Help” with rocks or generating smoke signals, with Alice turning her pantyhose into an old-fashioned fish net, while Mary and Cissy throw stones at fish near the shoreline, hoping to stun them into submission, like bears, with little success.  Catherine goes on a frog hunt, finding food and needed nourishment for the group, but refuses to kill them, leaving that task to others.  Cissy, in her high-pitched voice, nearly blind as she peers out over her glasses, recalls her traumatic experiences in London surviving the German bombing blitzkrieg during the war while hovering in underground shelters, receiving a jolt hearing each individual blast exploding overhead, wondering when it would all be over.  She was also paralyzed from a stroke, forgetting how to speak, having to relearn everything all over again, perhaps reevaluating her life from her own sense of loss.  More than any of the others, she seems to like everyone, displaying an air of positivity, yet has a fear of being left destitute and alone.  All have experienced profound loss in their lives, but they remember dance halls with faces of young, good-looking men, with Alice marrying one of them, eager to start a life, but the enthusiasm and affection she initially felt was met with disappointment and loss, as he was just not the right guy.  Still, she fondly recalls her electric experiences in dance halls, as does Winnie, both dancing to a chorus of old WWII memories, feeling young and vibrant again.  Despite the disappointments, life has not crushed these women’s collective spirit, where their kindness and authenticity rings true, bringing a rare gift to the screen, as they are not play acting, but simply recalling the best and worst years of their lives and then sharing it with one another, as they have little else to do, stuck in isolation.  As the youngest of the elderly seven, Catherine feels an obligation to walk out for help, particularly since she couldn’t repair the vehicle, and no one offered any objections, placing a great weight on her shoulders.  Perhaps what’s most unique about this film is how moments of quiet contemplation are built into the aesthetic style, romanticized with painterly landscapes, adding still and serene moments, where there’s a sense of accumulated wisdom, with viewers sharing in this collaborative process of living theater that materializes right before our eyes, offering a meditative feeling of growth and transformation, like a condensed version of the aging process itself, as so much is compressed into a small amount of time.  These memories and experiences still live with us long afterwards, making this a different kind of film, self-reflective, gentle and wise, where it’s likely to sneak up on you.    

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Hyenas (Hyènes)


Director Djibril Diop Mambéty

Mambéty (left) with actor Mansour Diouf


HYENAS (Hyènes)                B+                                                                                           Senegal  (110 mi)  1992  d: Djibril Diop Mambéty 

Profoundly pessimistic, arguably Africa’s answer to von Stroheim’s Greed (1924), viewing the World Bank and the International Monetary Funds as vicious enemies of the people, Mambéty offers a sharp, unsparing critique of globalization, bringing theater of the absurd to Senegal and the continent of Africa, adapting a Swiss play written in 1956 by Friedrich Dürrenmatt entitled The Visit, which has appeared in multiple variations, including a Broadway production in 1958 directed by Peter Brook that was nominated the next year for a Tony Award for Best Play, a Swedish film by Bernhard Wicki entitled THE VISIT (1964), starring Ingrid Bergman and Anthony Quinn, and a musical production in Chicago at the Goodman Theater in 2001 directed by Frank Galati starring Chita Rivera and John McMartin.  Despite the critical success of Mambéty’s earlier film, TOUKI BOUKI (1973), the director did not produce another feature for almost twenty years, making only two features in his entire career, but this African production may be the most heinously extreme, bleak and surreal, a dark satire on corruption that is unparalleled in critiquing neocolonialism, Western values, and African consumerism.  Both African directors Mambéty and Ousmane Sembène were extremely suspicious of Western colonialist values and its allegiance to materialism corrupting the African shores since independence in the 1960’s, with Mambéty providing the central thrust of the film, suggesting Africans are “betraying the hopes of independence for the false promises of Western materialism… We have sold our souls too cheaply.  We are done for if we have traded our souls for money.” ("The Hyena's Last Laugh - A conversation with Djibril Diop Mambety").  The film mirrors recent history, as African nations have found themselves under massive burdens of unending debt when appealing to Western institutions like the World Bank for economic aid, basically crippling their autonomy, continually remaining economically dependent upon the West, which is simply replacing one exploitive colonialist system with another, creating a “puppet” independence, fed by the lure or mirage of “real” independence.  Significantly, much of the film was actually shot in Gorée, a notorious slave port, the last African exit to the New World during the trans-Atlantic slave trade, a town built on a system of Western exploitation, where the false promises of prosperity never materialized.  Perhaps the most peculiar element of the film is when seen as a continuation of his earlier film Touki Bouki (1973), becoming an extension of those two original characters, with Anta getting aboard a ship bound for Europe while Mory stays behind.  This film imagines their lives several decades later, having been shaped by differing circumstances through the ensuing years.  Set in the desolate village of Colobane on the outskirts of Dakar, Mambéty creates a fictional universe surrounding his home town in much the same way as Nobel Prize winning author Gabriel García Márquez imagines the town of Macondo, which may as well be the center of the universe.  All eyes of the viewers are drawn here, with a seemingly endless desert landscape awaiting just outside town, where wild animals lurk, like hyenas, a Senegalese symbol of evil, but also baboons, monkeys, vultures, an owl, seabirds, and elephants, with Mambéty suggesting humans take on animal characteristics, where a feeding frenzy of materialistic consumption is reminiscent of hyenas lurking just outside a kill waiting to gorge themselves.  Despite the African setting, the film follows the staged play very closely and is dialogue driven, yet could seemingly be transported to any setting, resorting to social realism, magical realism, and allegorical history, music by Wasis Diop, the director’s younger brother.    

Working again with nonprofessionals, Morey has been transformed into an aging Dramaan Drameh (Mansour Diouf), a kind and friendly local shopkeeper with a store that is filled with empty shelves, who is nearly bankrupt himself, yet his customers demand drinks, so he gives away free drinks, knowing they cannot pay, or items on credit that his wife Khoudia Lo (Faly Gueye) disavows, always keeping a watchful eye upon him, as if she is the balance upon which the business rests.  Nonetheless, his place of business is a community meeting grounds for drink and conversation, a social hub where one can obtain the latest news as well as stock up on needed grocery items, like rice, a staple in this arid region.  Dramaan is so popular, his name has come up as a likely choice to replace the next mayor, which is a position without power, as the city hall building has been taken over by creditors for non-payment, leaving them nowhere to conduct city business, just an example of the lingering poverty in the region, as everyone in town is broke, devastated by drought and unemployment, with little hope of breaking the vicious cycle that has creeped into and affected everyone’s lives.  But an official pronouncement is made, complete with street drummers, as later that day will mark the arrival of Linguère Ramatou (Ami Diakhate, discovered selling soup in a Dakar market), the reincarnation of Anta, a former resident who left town at an early age, returning now after an absence of 30 years as an old woman having amassed a great fortune, now richer than The World Bank, instantly reviving the hopes of the town, as she could be their salvation.  Dramaan, her former lover, is selected to lead a welcoming committee marking her arrival, with a train stopping at a long-abandoned station, appearing with an entourage of beautiful women of various nationalities, including a girl in pink dancing like an original (In Living Color) Fly Girl against the desert landscape, and after a cordial brief exchange, she announces the real purpose of her visit.  She promises the village 100,000 million francs (half of which they can share among themselves) if they will kill her former lover, Dramaan Drameh.  Seething with bitterness and resentment, she claims he betrayed her as a young teenager, getting her pregnant, then refused to recognize the child, paying off two witnesses to claim they slept with her as well, ruining her reputation by making her appear promiscuous.  She left town in disgrace and was forced into prostitution, with the child dying after a single year.  In utter disgust she proclaims, “Life made me a whore and now I will make the world a brothel.”  Ramatou’s sole purpose in returning is to take revenge upon the man who betrayed and humiliated her.  Mambéty himself makes an appearance as her counselor, a former judge who once ruled against her, recounting the actual events, providing the necessary evidence, convincing the town of the severity of the charges being made against Dramaan, as Ramatou steps aside and then patiently waits for an answer, remaining in a central location in town where she can observe everything.  Her hovering presence is like an omniscient force overseeing all, pulling the strings, like a spirit from the underworld, where she is instrumental in altering their mindset and ultimate destiny.     

While the villagers instantly scoff at the offer, protesting that they would never succumb to her demands, swearing they would never compromise their moral principles by betraying their friend, “We are still Africans.  We are civilized people.  We won’t kill for money.”  However, Ramatou reminds them, “Either you get blood on your hands or you stay poor forever.”  Nonetheless people’s behavior suggests otherwise, as immediately they flood the markets with demands for new high-end products, all placed on credit, instantly amassing a great debt while collecting the latest in fashionable goods.  Even as giant transport trucks roll in from the desert carrying boxes of large expensive items like refrigerators, televisions, washers, dryers, stand-up fans, and air-conditioners, Dramaan’s wife refuses to be left behind and buys up the entire stock, immediately seen available for purchase in their store, which is continually packed and raided by customers demanding credit while taking whatever they want, turning into a full-fledged carnival atmosphere with a shooting gallery, roller coaster rides, a giant Ferris wheel, and fireworks, becoming an exaggerated and grotesque display of human greed, where Ramatou bleakly observes, “The reign of the hyenas has come.”  All of this is witnessed, of course, by Dramaan, who is fully aware of the implications, visiting every level of civil authority seeking help and protection, but they’re all under the same delusional cloud of accumulated materialism, where the mayor, smoking a Cuban cigar, has ordered a new typewriter, the chief of police has a gold tooth, new chandeliers are being installed in the chapel, and people that used to walk barefoot are suddenly adorned with new shoes from Burkina Faso, as people have decidedly turned against him en masse while still pretending to be his ally and friend.  Even the town’s spiritual leader lends an evasive answer, suggesting he hop on a train out of town, but when he tries, he’s met by a mass of villagers crowding around him, wordlessly preventing him from leaving, forcing him to accept his fate.  Developing a sense of resignation, he senses the inevitable, as the walls are moving in, subjecting him to a moral dilemma of being the sacrificial lamb for the greater good, where he’s even willing to accept the judgment of the village council, but he’s not responsible for their actions, which they must face alone.  Ramatou remains on the sidelines, refusing to budge even an inch, demanding full compliance, while behind the scenes she’s buying up all the factories, then shutting them down, putting everyone out of work in an attempt to coerce their behavior.  Without so much as a smile, she clearly seems motivated by nothing more than revenge, assuming the devil’s role, as she’s an avenging angel accepting nothing less than death for an answer.  Mambéty frames this outdoor communal scene with grace and poetry, surrounded by the emptiness of a vast landscape, skillfully keeping the murder out of sight, cloaked behind a moving wall of people that surround him, literally consuming him, yet the result is devastating and impactive, where only the clothes he was wearing remain behind, with a bulldozer erasing any signs left behind.  Rather than restore the town, as villagers had hoped, Ramatou’s Westernization has instead destroyed it in the name of progress, likely bulldozed out of existence, living on only in memory.  In fact, the real village of Colobane was swallowed by Dakar’s sprawl in the 1990’s, a victim of its own development.  Globalization is viewed as an extension of Manifest Destiny, a doctrine justifying America’s outreach and expansion, now viewed purely on economic terms instead of territorial, removing any traces left of African autonomy.  In Mambéty’s vision, Africa’s future is sealed, the last African refuge of faith and hope has been thoroughly decimated, leaving behind only bitterness and cynicism, devoured by a hideous clamoring for greed.                                               

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Touki Bouki


Beyoncé and Jay-Z recreation


TOUKI BOUKI (Journey of the Hyena)                   A-                                                             Senegal  (95 mi)  1973

Touki Bouki was conceived at the time of a very violent crisis in my life.  I wanted to make a lot of things explode.       – Djibril Diop Mambéty

An absurdist anti-capitalist fever dream taking place in post-colonial Dakar, a political satire heavily influenced by the French New Wave, given a Godardian twist of mystical unfathomability, considered, along with Med Hondo’s SOLEIL Ô (1967), to be Africa’s first avant-garde films, never settling upon any narrative form, instead becoming a fragmented series of randomly occurring events, shot almost exclusively outdoors in vibrant colors by Georges Bracher and Pap Samba Sow, using a jarringly different sound design with a radical use of music that adds additional meaning to the bold imagery, actually providing the film’s cutting edge, creating a different style of film.  Mambéty, the son of an Islamic imam, began making films at the age of 23 with no formal training in filmmaking, coming instead from a theater background, directing and producing five short films and only two features in his lifetime, but they are landmark films, offering a Brechtian assault to the senses, believing the role of a filmmaker is that of a griot, a traditional African storyteller imbued with wisdom and cultural awareness, viewed as a visionary.  Part of the film’s appeal, particularly on the African continent, is that it doesn’t have that polished film school look or a recognizable political agenda, yet it contains a combustible anger and force from the staggering originality.  His first feature is a perplexing road movie that passes through a rabbit hole juxtaposing modernity and tradition, showing a collision of cultures at odds with themselves, yet for the uninitiated they should understand there are very few films like this.  Using surreal Buñuel-style metaphors of cattle being led to slaughter (including brutally graphic slaughterhouse images), the film makes similar suggestions that the migratory path for economic opportunities from Africa to Europe through traditional colonial trading partners may be a bad idea, as Africans get devoured and eaten alive in wealthy capitalist economies, with Africans at the lowest end of the wage scale, ruthlessly exploited, relegated to manual labor while less skilled whites are given preferential treatment, offered the most hazardous jobs, subject to racist abuse and mistreatment, never finding that elusive freedom they were looking for.  Like Godard’s Breathless (À Bout de Souffle) (1959) and Pierrot le Fou (1965), the film features a pair of criminal lovers on the run, Mory (Magaye Niang), a young cowherd living a traditional life bound by the economic restrictions of the land, yet he drives around town on a motorcycle adorned with a bulls skull and horns (a recurring African motif), and Anta (Mareme Niang), a liberated college student with closely cropped hair and dressed in pants, where she can easily be mistaken for a man.  With no money to speak of, they plan an escape on a ship headed to France, pretending to be rich Europeans so as not to draw attention, blending into the normal and everyday European reality, aided by hustling up some needed cash, where they can initially be viewed as throwing their money around in exorbitant tips.  Together they resemble a modern era Bonnie and Clyde (1967) of Dakar, neither one particularly likeable, dissatisfied with their own bleak lives, both fantasizing about their escape to a heavily romanticized version of France, exemplified by familiar refrains from a popular Josephine Baker song that repeats throughout, “Paris, Paris, Paris,” Touki Bouki YouTube (1:41).  Still recovering from a history of French colonization, made just 13 years after independence in 1960, still dependent upon French financing and equipment to make films, it’s ironic that what they admire most about French culture is wealth and status, the same social barriers used by the French to exploit Africans and keep them in their place.  Nonetheless, dressed in the latest fashionable attire, they view themselves as conquering heroes when they return, complete with a citywide ceremonial parade lauding their success, money lining their pockets, transcending the cycle of poverty that defines Africa.  Baker represents an iconic international star objectified by her race and gender, perhaps signifying an American exiled to France where she established a successful career that was never possible in America due to the hostile racial climate, yet here her black African roots are highlighted and culturally reclaimed with reverence and distinction. 

As relevant as ever, with thousands of young Africans caught in a relentless migratory pattern in pursuit of a better life in the west, risking their lives, often dying at sea, driven by despair and deluded hopes.  Made on a budget of $30,000, the portrait of life in Dakar is devastating, revealing a congested shantytown in Dakar with people literally living on top of each other, where there is a montage of brightly dressed young girls lined up at the communal water source to carry buckets of water on their heads, with Mory owing unpaid debts to seemingly everyone, resulting in one woman, Aminata Fall as Aunt Oumy, placing a hex upon him, vowing revenge, yet in their imagined utopian dream she’s the one offering platitudes welcoming their successful return.  The motorcycle, however, offers a symbol of African freedom and independence, showing little children chasing after it, like an elusive hope or aspiration, while the mixture of diverse sound and musical styles becomes the cornerstone of the film, adding an experimental dimension designed to shock the audience into a different awareness, allowing Mambéty to literally reinvent African cinema, perhaps epitomizing the contradictory paradoxes of cultural exchange between post-colonial Africa, Europe and America.  Departing from the social realist tradition of Ousmane Sembène, Mambéty frames Senegal as a nation in perpetual change, expressed in the highly unorthodox film aesthetic, where the two characters themselves are the picture of ambiguity and uncertainty, barely uttering a word to one another, continually keeping the audience off-balance, deflecting all expectations.  Whatever internal struggles that may exist for these two characters is overshadowed by the boldness of the jump cut editing, with little continuity between shots, creating a picture of fragmented images that only consolidate afterwards, becoming a unified whole.  Among the most noticeable capitalist signifiers are Mobil oil tanks, gigantic Renault car ads, and a luxury Mercedes Benz being loaded onto the ship.  One of Frantz Fanon’s warnings was predicting the colonized would act like the colonizers, treating their own in the same abusive way, which comes to pass when Mory has an ugly incident with a university group of Maoist revolutionaries who decide to violently mock and terrorize him, momentarily kidnapping him before subjecting him to torture, mirroring the grotesque early slaughterhouse images of cattle being herded into slaughter, with audible animal cries of horror quickly blended into children’s cries and the noises of Dakar, which include the Islamic call to prayers.  This merging of sound and image fuses together forming an African identity, suggesting it is shaped by a multitude of forces.  Another overt image is the ferocity of the ocean, with waves seen crashing against the rocks on the shoreline, which is what’s shown onscreen during the couple’s lone lovemaking scene, mixing ecstatic moans into the sounds of screaming seagulls and shorebirds, all merged into one natural world.  In a strange turn, they take a cab ride to the outskirts of town, viewed as a dangerous and inhospitable place, as the Europeans gather there in resort style accommodations, seen cavorting by the pool, where Mory quickly takes the place of another male consort, chosen at the whim of a queer French-speaking businessman (Ousseynou Diop, the director’s brother) who flaunts his wealth and seems to relish sleeping with the hired help, inviting Mory into his lavish suite, who quickly steals his clothes while Anta steals his wallet, now fully prepared to make their way to the heavily fortified shipping docks.     

Initially panned by the Senegalese public and press, it is now regarded as one of Africa’s greatest films, at #93 listed higher than any other African film in the 2012 BFI Sight and Sound poll, Critics' top 100 | BFI.  Markedly different from most other African films, largely due to the fiercely independent and experimental style, absurdly paying its debt to Godard’s gangsters, echoing Western attitudes, where France is seen as a paradise on earth, little more than a mirage, repeated in the musical refrain from the Josephine Baker song, which only repeats the lyric “Paris, Paris, Paris/You’re a kind of paradise on Earth,” which is its own form of deluded wish fulfillment.  This sentiment was previously explored by Ousmane Sembène’s Black Girl (La Noir de...) (1966), where a hired help’s dreams of life in France are dashed, feeling squashed and imprisoned instead of liberated, treated more like a slave, where she was expected to be “grateful” for the opportunity.  Perhaps the most absurd reference is a Tarzan-like figure, initially seen in a tree, later seen riding Mory’s motorcycle before coming to an unceremonious end in a crash, with suggestions that some outdated stereotypes need to come to an end and be put to rest as well.  Caught up in the winds of change, between the confining authority of local tradition and the extremely limited economic prospects at home, much of the film’s imagery is seemingly reflective of Mory’s constantly-in-flux state of mind, alternating between the internal and external, never offering a clear internalized view, where this is never about an individual character’s personal development but a nation’s changing identity, explored through absurdly heightened exaggeration and hallucinatory compositions, occasionally humorous, but more often devastating, where at least in their eyes, Dakar is immune to happiness and progress.  Told with a spontaneous exuberance, the final scenes are perhaps the most telling, making their way to the harbor, which has a rhythm all its own, including its own unique sound design, with lines of waiting Africans trying to get onboard, with derogatory racist commentary heard on the ship’s deck by well-educated white French passengers, including the abominable words of a cynical professor who finds a complete lack of culture and art in Senegal, holding views completely disassociating themselves from “Africa,” which they view with derision and contempt, dehumanizing the entire continent, showing their true colors.  But the film itself flies in the face of what he utters, offering proof of the contrary, where the stereotypical savages left on the continent may well be these white neocolonialists that hold firm to their prejudiced, sanctimonious views.  As luxury goods are loaded and classical musical refrains can be heard, Mory and Anta board as well, where she steps forward, but he hesitates, has a change of heart, not willing to really abandon his home, stepping backwards, leaving Anta aboard the ship while he dashes back through the city in a dizzying reassemblage of his confused identity, resulting in an extraordinary jazz fusion that is just sublime, TOUKI BOUKI YouTube (5:29).  Yet we’re left with a profound sadness and moral frustration, with each heading for opposite shores, their futures completely uncertain, with Mory discovering his crashed motorcycle laying on the street surrounded by blood, grabbing what’s left of the broken skull and horns, left sitting all alone to dwell in his own existential thoughts, as the giant passenger ships in the harbor heading to Europe are replaced by smaller crafts that reflect the Dakar influence, touki bouki (1973) - final song YouTube (4:32).  A seminal work in African cinema, and key to the establishment of a new, post-colonial identity, misappropriated by Beyoncé and Jay-Z in the summer of 2018, again using Africans as a colonialist commodity, vowing allegiance to the almighty dollar (raking in a quarter of a billion dollars for themselves in just 4 months), restaging the film’s iconic image for their On the Run II world tour (SMPS-PRT-2018101115440.pdf).  The sad truth is that little has changed in nearly half a century, where the lure of the west continues to be an elusive dream that desperate lives are driven to follow.