Combustible Celluloid
Stream it:
Download at i-tunes iTunes
Own it:
With: Aminata Fall, Ousseynou Diop, Magaye Niang, Mareme Niang
Written by: Djibril Diop Mambéty
Directed by: Djibril Diop Mambéty
MPAA Rating: NR
Language: In Wolof, with English subtitles
Running Time: 89
Date: 03/25/2021

Touki Bouki (1973)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Children of the Horns

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

One of the most essential films of African cinema, Djibril Diop Mambéty's Touki Bouki (or "The Journey of the Hyena") shows a knowledge, or perhaps an awareness, of the New Cinema that was sweeping the rest of the world, an attempt by young people to break away from the stifling traditions of their forefathers. According to Martin Scorsese, who introduces the film and is largely responsible for its being seen in the West at all, Mambéty did not have any experience in moviemaking when he picked up a camera and made this, through guts and determination alone. Perhaps that explains why scenes of dreamy meditation and scenes of harsh reality butt heads throughout.

Anta (Mareme Niang) and Mory (Magaye Niang) meet and become lovers, and subsequently dream of moving to Paris to start a fresh life. They try many ways to raise money for the trip, planning several small-time robberies — and sometimes comically botching them, such as taking the wrong strongbox from a racetrack — before finally achieving their dream. But something still stands in Mory's way. Notably, Mory rides a motorcycle with a cow skull mounted on its handlebars, which becomes both a symbol of freedom and entrapment. Early in the film, we get a gruesome scene of cattle being slaughtered (animal lovers beware), which foreshadows the idea that Mory's cow skull likely isn't going to take him where he wants to go. It's a sentiment similar to Easy Rider's "We blew it."

The Criterion Collection released this film on a crisp 2021 Blu-ray, restored in 2K and with an uncompressed monaural audio track, though it was previously available on their 2013 Martin Scorsese's World Cinema Project box set. Bonuses include an introduction by Scorsese from 2013, an interview (also from 2013) with filmmaker Abderrahmane Sissako (Bamako, Timbuktu), interviews with Mambéty's brother, musician Wasis Diop, and niece, filmmaker Mati Diop, from 2012, and a 1968 short film by Mambéty, Contras' City. Programmer and critic Ashley Clark provides the liner notes essay. This is highly recommended.

Movies Unlimtied