Friday, November 8, 2013
#685: Touki Bouki
The second of two African films in the Martin Scorsese World Cinema collection, Touki Bouki is also the more innovative and foreign in the truest sense of the word. Mambety's style is both elemental and post-modern, indebted to Soviet cinema of the 50s as much as Goddard movies of the 60s. It's also a bit of a slog at home, where it was never meant to be seen.
The story revolves around two Senegalese youngsters who dream of a new life in Paris but seem stuck repeating silly mistakes in their home country. The details of the story are of little concern, and what sticks out in Touki Bouki are the surreal fantasy sequences and the grounded portrayal of Senegal. Both are given equal weight and yet never forced on the viewer - this is a movie only a native could make, the difference between Charles Burnett - a virtual native of Los Angeles - producing Killer of Sheep and Billy Wilder making Double Indemnity. It's not just the subject matters and social intentions that separate those two approaches to a place, and Touki Bouki follows the in-the-know pattern. This is one major place where it separates from its obvious spiritual cousin, Breathless, which is not especially tied to Paris (though this seems quite intentional by Goddard). It's these casual portrayals of Senegal that are most appealing about the film, but the use of sound and visual cues in rhythmic editing from Mabety run a close second, and make the case for the film as one of the more innovative of the 70s.
The problem with the movie, however, is that it's dreadfully slow. There are long stretches without dialogue, the plot is minimal, and you never really get involved with any of the characters beyond a surface level. Considering the talent on display here, my guess is that the experience of seeing the film on the big screen would be notably more enjoyable, and I'd be less likely to drift in and out of the film's current.