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Touki Bouki
IMDB Rating: 7.1/10 from votes
Release: 21 October 1976 (Hungary) /

Touki Bouki

Genre: Drama
Director: Djibril Diop Mambéty,
Stars: , , , , , , ,
Synopsis: 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. Mory steals clothing and money from a wealthy gay man who had brought him home, and he and Anta book passage on a ship to France. Written by Don Larsson

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Critic Reviews

I went to the London Film Festival in October 2008 to watch a film from the past, a "Treasure from the Archive". However whilst Touki Bouki was made over 35 years ago it still remains incredibly relevant. Young Africans still drown trying to cross the Straits of Gibraltar to Europe every day. That's what this film is about, the desperation of ordinary Africans (specifically from a Senegalese perspective) yearning to find prosperity and stability. It's one of those films I would class as a "scream of despair". Even if there are some very funny scenes, these scenes are like the scenes of humour that Ford would inject into his Westerns to mollify audience gloom. It would not surprise me if that were a direct influence, but if he wasn't cine-literate, then Djibril must rank as the most precocious director of all time.

The bare bones of the plot of the film concerns Mory, who is a sometime cattle herder, and Anta his girlfriend who is a university student. This especially winsome couple want desperately to escape to Europe. Mory is the object of ridicule in his community, intelligent, but useless and uppity, whilst Anta's university is no real safe-haven of learning, what with it being full of decadent revolutionaries (not an oxymoron). Both yearn to live in France.

As close to a true narrative as we get is that they go to a wrestling match and attempt to steal the stadium's cash box. There are two boxes, a yellow one and a blue one, they can't take both and aren't sure which one holds the loot. They take the blue one and when they get to their deserted, ruined, ex-colonial bunker hideout realise that it is filled with Voodoo craziness, runes and skulls and such. This for me is high Surrealism.

Plan B is to steal clothes, money, and a car off a rich idler who lives in a seaside villa surrounded by catamites. Plan B is successful, exeunt Mory and Anta pursued by the lo (sic).

Dressed as highfalutin dandies they revisit Mory's community driving in a stars-and-stripes festooned car where they are treated as a Lord and his Lady. Whether this is actual plotting or wish-fulfilment dreaming is left up to the viewer to decide.

After Fellinian parades of the mind the story returns to earth with a bump as Mory and Anta reach a port and try to escape to France.

One thing that stands out in the film is the anti-French criticism. The French bourgeois who make their living in Senegal are shown as treating Senegalese as some sort of bonobo-child chimeras. Also there is the aforementioned wrestling match, which is a "charity" event organised to raise money to build a statue of General de Gaulle (the height of absurdism?). This is also internally-driven criticism as the organisers are chiefs of a Senegalese tribe.

The film is ambivalent about life in Senegal, whilst Mory and Anta yearn to leave, Mambéty also shows us beautiful scenes of daily life in Senegal, and the humour of the populace. One part for me stands out, a parade of Senegalese carrying water on their heads in semi-transparent plastic buckets, the sunlight shining through the buckets transforms them into preternatural magic lanterns, the framing is exquisite, the camerashot is filled with green and blue corruscation. The point is that this guy Mambéty is not some sort of amateur who is esteemed out of political correctness, this guy is a force of nature, a director whose capability of expression is really begging to be called primus inter pares when compared to the likes of Parajanov and Bunuel.

One strong warning is that this movie contains scenes of cattle being slaughtered both in abbatoirs and outside of them, right at the start of the film. Really gruesome in the extreme, and far more graphic for example than the familiar scene of an ox being slaughtered in Apocalypse Now. The point of it is metaphorical, young African men are treated as no less than cattle to be slaughtered, fodder for the consumer games of power structures, ultimately commoditised.

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