Touki Bouki (1973)

Review #1,143

Director:  Djibril Diop Mambéty
Cast:  Magaye Niang, Mareme Niang, Aminata Fall
Plot:  Mory, a cowherd who rides a motorcycle mounted with a cow's skull, and Anta, a university student, have met in Dakar, Senegal's capital.  Alienated and disaffected with Senegal and Africa, they long to go to Paris and work up different con schemes to raise the money. 

Genre:  Drama
Awards:  -
Runtime:  85min
Rating:  NC16 for some disturbing images.

World cinema in the truest sense, Touki Bouki is lovingly restored by Martin Scorsese's World Cinema Project in Criterion Blu-ray.  As I laid on my couch seeing this film, I was struck by the fact that I was watching a piece of African cinema in the comfort of my home.  I sincerely thank Marty for this opportunity, and I wish him and his colleagues all the best in restoring great, unknown films from around the world. 

In the annals of African cinema, Touki Bouki has been continually regarded as one of the most important works.  Made by a self-taught filmmaker with no formal training – his name is Djibril Diop Mambety, Touki Bouki is a flamboyant feature debut that gives us a taste of the kind of film that Godard would have made if he was African.

It is high praise indeed for Mambety, who made this film at the age of only 28, and who would only make one more film, Hyenas (1992), which competed at Cannes for the Palme d'Or, before he sadly passed away in 1998. 

Bereft of any kind of logical plotting, Touki Bouki is free-spirited, experimental (not in the avant-garde sense), and if anything, an evocation of Mambety's preoccupation with the quest for freedom.  The film centers on a couple who try to steal money to leave Senegal for France.  That's all you should know, because really, there is no substantial plot. 

In the tradition of the early films of the French New Wave, and even films like Malick's Badlands (1973), Touki Bouki captures a sense of unbridled freedom to challenge the establishment and to denounce conformity.

The ambiguous, almost poetic and mystical qualities of Mambety's film are that while the characters may seem to challenge the establishment, it doesn't entirely imply an anti-establishment stance.  At least for Mambety, Touki Bouki is very much an expression of the desire for flight – to leave tradition, rurality, and one's righteous path behind, in pursuit of modernity, freedom, and temptation. 

Yet he also champions his land, the innate richness of his people, his culture and music.  African tribal drums are interlaced with avant-garde jazz, classical music, and catchy French pop, all contributing to an extraordinary soundtrack. 

Together with the heavy use of associative montage, where recurring images are spliced together to develop meaning through rhythm and movement, Touki Bouki is hypnotic, kinetic, and quite simply one of world cinema's most enchanting works, made by an outrageously talented filmmaker who knew no rules or boundaries.

Verdict:  This Senegalese masterpiece is truly hypnotic – a marriage of vivid sights and sounds, emanating a sense of unbridled freedom against struggle.


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