A wayward couple in Dakar

Martin Scorsese digitally restores Djibril Diop Mambéty’s masterpiece Touki Bouki.

Still from "Touki Bouki.".

The Criterion Collection has just released a new box set and it’s a big one. Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project collector’s set brings together six classic films from around the world. Among them is Senegalese filmmaker Djibril Diop Mambéty’s 1973 masterpiece Touki Bouki. The other films making up the collection include Emilio Gómez Muriel and Fred Zinnemann’s Redes (Mexico, 1936), Ritwik Ghatak’s A River Called Titas (Bangladesh, 1973), Metin Erksan’s Dry Summer (Turkey, 1964), Ahmed El Maânouni’s Trances (Morocco, 1981), and Kim Ki-young’s The Housemaid (South Korea, 1960). On top of digitally restorations of the six films, the set also includes an introduction from Martin Scorsese, as well as several interviews with pivotal figures in contemporary world cinema on many of the films in the collection. The two that stand out most to me are Abderrahmane Sissako’s (La Vie Sur Terre, Bamako, et al.) interview on Mambéty and Touki Bouki and Metin Erksan and Fatih Akin’s (Head-On, The Edge of Heaven, et al.) conversation around Dry Summer.

The Criterion Collection’s website describes Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project itself as follows:

Established by Martin Scorsese in 2007, the World Cinema Project expands the horizons of moviegoers everywhere. The mission of the WCP is to preserve and present marginalized and infrequently screened films from regions generally ill equipped to preserve their own cinema history.

For those who have never seen or heard of Touki Bouki, it is an eccentric film that draws on avant-garde and French New Wave film traditions, all the while remaining completely unique. It tells of the antics of a wayward couple in Dakar who dream of one day making it to Paris. The film was recently featured on Sight & Sound magazine’s Top 100 list of the greatest films of all time. Read Basia Cummings’s review here.  Mambety was ahead of his time, as Cummings writes:

Mambéty tests certain situations and norms; he demonizes the ‘revolutionary’, he shows a gay character, he shows sex between two African people in a way rarely ever shown before; full of tenderness, eroticism, reclaiming love and intimacy from the stereotypes of Western presentation. Mory and Anta make love in the shadow of the motorbike, on the edge of a cliff. It’s a breathtaking scene, their impassioned gasps slowly drowned by the repetitive crashing of the waves.

Mambéty only ever released one other feature-length film, called Hyènes in 1992. Although, Touki Bouki is often considered Mambéty’s best and most important film, Hyènes and his various short films are all brilliant. Hyènes — which was an adaptation of Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s play, The Visit – was intended to be a sort of continuation of Touki Bouki. Meanwhile, at the time of his death, Djibril Diop Mambéty had been working on a trilogy of short films (only two of which were actually made, as Mambéty died of lung cancer in 1998 before getting to the third) called Contes/Histoires des Petites Gens (Tales of the Little People). The first of the shorts in the trilogy, Le Franc, was released in 1994 and the second in the series, La Petite Vendeuse de Soleil (The Little Girl Who Sold the Sun), was released posthumously in 1999. His other works include Contras City, Badou Boy, and Parlons Grandmère.

Update: In this clip, Scorsese talks about Touki Bouki.

Further Reading

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Kwame Nkrumah today

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