Not rated, but there are some of the most brutal images I've seen on film in this movie. Like Blood of the Beasts, this film shows the slaughter of multiple real animals from start to finish. There is real blood and real gore from these animals throughout. There's also violence and nudity, coupled with a pretty dated homosexual stereotype.
DIRECTOR: Djibril Diop Mambety
Oh man, I'm having the roughest of days. Like, really really rough. I don't want to write this. I don't want to do anything but crawl under my desk and rock back and forth. I honestly am in that place right now. But I also know that today is so rough that there will probably be a chance that I won't be able to write for the next couple of weeks and am I going to remember the nuance of Touki Bouki by then? Also, I'm just praying that this distracts me for the amount of time that it takes to write this.
I just cracked open my first box of the Martin Scorsese World Cinema set. I was so torn about getting it to begin with. From what little Bollywood you have seen on my page, you know that --for all my braggadocio about watching international films --it tends to be a safe attempt to enter cultures. With Bollywood, I always had the excuse that it was too big of a jump without a place to start. Then my brain took another leap in the opposite direction. After all, there are a billion countries (don't correct me right now. I'm not in the mood) and a lot of them don't exactly have thriving film cultures. But I also know that it is nonsense. I just didn't want to open doors to feel like an amateur again, so I didn't touch it. But Criterion releasing box sets? I'm just the right level of snobby to try anything if it is in a Criterion box set. Do you know why that is, reader? It's because...I'm the worst. Hey, you know that guy that you absolutely hate? Hi, my name is Tim and I'll be writing a blog about how I experienced my first film from Senegal and mostly liked it.
I'm really glad that Martin Scorsese was holding my hand and curating my meanderings into the cinema of Senegal. It's not like I go and search out films from Senegal, nor would I without this lovely box set. But as I established, it's in my house and I'm going to approach it with an open mind. But since Scorsese put it out there, I don't know why I was surprised that it was so good. Golly, this movie is just part of the New Wave in the best way possible. I did a speed round of teaching the French New Wave and I got really jazzed for the best of the French New Wave. Part of it is that avante-garde --when you are in the right head space --can be very cool. Part of me didn't want Touki-Bouki to just be a movie about the culture of Senegal. For a while, that's what I thought the movie was going to be. Like with much of the New Wave, there's always that element of amateur acting that happens with everyone who isn't the main character. That's probably true about Touki-Bouki. The film spends a lot of time just establishing the world of Senegal. (Sure, I'm writing this from the perspective of the single story, which is unfair. But I'm also reacting to what the director gave me and that's all that I have to work with.) The acting is really rough in these scenes. It actually started playing to some of my inherent biases to what I thought much of African cinema was like.
But then there was this very loose story that was charming. The film depends on Senegal as a backdrop, but then splits from there into a character motivated story. Sure, Mory and Anta have a bit of a Wes Anderson quality to them. They aren't exactly heavy on verisimilitude, but they are characters that are likable and sympathetic, despite being thieves. I had a discussion the other day with a student about why people are obsessed with Bonnie and Clyde. I still don't really get it. I mean, I get it is the beginning of the American New Wave, but that's something that doesn't strike me as all that interesting, despite the fact that I watched a whole 'nother box-set with the American New Wave. But Touki-Bouki was a more fun Bonnie and Clyde. That's a pretty strong and gutsy take, if I do say so myself. But Mory and Anta are far more fun and divorced from history than Bonnie and Clyde. With Bonnie and Clyde, there's this avante-garde element that is still kind of attached to a studio system. That means that there's this commitment to the story and the marketability of the film. I don't get any of that from Touki-Bouki.
Also --and I suppose this is all I thought during the movie so you have to suffer through it --Bonnie and Clyde aren't that sympathetic. Part of the historical appreciation for these outlaws is that there was something almost psychotic and self-destructive about them. It was the glory of the gangster. They were done living by society's rules, so they were going to go out in a blaze of glory. In my brain, that's way more romantic than what the film portrayed. Mory and Anta are genuinely poor. There's something noble about wanting to escape to Paris and become something greater than the region had ever seen. If that meant lying, cheating, and stealing, by gum they were going to do it. Now, I would find such behavior abhorrent in reality. But in a location that wants to see them fail so badly, these moments of Mory and Anta walking around in finery (finery that, for all intents and purposes, should not fit them but does) is fantastic. Yeah, there's a lot of moments where reality couldn't possibly play out that way. But that's what makes it avante-garde and cool. It doesn't matter about the individual story beats. It matters more that we see them succeed and fail because that's more interesting. There's an everyman quality to these two characters. Yet, these are everymen who are completely crushing the expectations of the society.
It's what makes the cow slaughter so tragic. The entire film, Mory's bike is adorned with these bull horns, reminding us of the gory imagery of the slaughterhouse. I hate this kind of stuff because it just hits me hard. I think it is supposed to hit everyone hard. I just get really sad when I see this stuff. (Again, I think this is an everybody thing.) But I didn't get the imagery for most of the movie until when Mory's name gets called out on the boat. There's a moment when this bull is being slaughterd that it resigns to its own death. It fights and it fights until it slips on the blood of its bretheren and there's this forfeit that happens. When the bull is being slaughtered, it looks alive still. I'm not sure if this is a camera trick. I'm so used to the stun bolt being a thing in American slaughterhouses (I'm such an English teacher) that I don't know if the bull is alive when the skin comes off. It's brutal, but that's also Mory. Mory is kicking against the constraints of culture and expectations. It's that economic battle that he's never going to win and so he runs. He finds the bike and refuses to escape. At least Anta gets away, but it is almost because she is the less vicious fighter.
Anta confuses me a little bit. As part of the avante-garde tone of the film, Anta is kind of the Silent Bob of the movie. I hate to sound like I'm slandering the movie because I'm not. But Anta is there almost to make this a romance story without any kind of physical interaction. She is there to show that one just falls into what fate has in store. She wants Mory to be there, but she also acknowledges that fate has put her on that boat. It's not that people don't escape Senegal. It's just when they need something so desperately, they tend not to get it. It's not like Anta doesn't want to go to Paris. It's just that we don't get much from Anta in terms of high or low emotions / dialogue. We imbue our own reads on her as a character. There is something bittersweet, though, about her escaping on this boat. Because we make Anta who we need Anta to be, that ending plays with our expectations.
I can't imagine that all three Martin Scorsese World Cinema movies are as good as this, but I hope that Touki-Bouki was an indication of quality of these films. This movie crushed.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.