|Marème Niang and Magaye Niang in Touki Bouki|
The world premiere of Mille soleils at the 2013 edition of the International Cinema and Documentary Festival of Marseille on July 6, where it won the grand prize for the international competition, confirms Mati Diop as a defining figure of new cinematographic forms.
"The world is old, but the future comes from the past". Over and over again the griots repeat this beginning of the Sundjata epic. And yet this basic truism is not easy to apply. How will this young filmmaker, daughter of Wasis Diop and niece of the most legendary of African filmmakers, Djibril Diop Mambety, eager to bring forth her vision of the present world, be able to proceed within the delicate equation of a magnificently rich and at the same time an undoubtedly weighty heritage?
From hard work! Navigating through Dakar in the footprints of Touki Bouki, a film that touches her deeply but which her grandfather summarizes by saying, "It is our history". Here is a story of a family, of handing down, of heritage, of rupture, where personal history mixes with the grand History of cinema. There had to be a entry point, to investigate what had become of Marème Niang and Magaye Niang, the actors who incarnated Anta and Mory, the young nonconformist freedom-loving couple who forty years before traversed Dakar looking for money to fund their voyage to Europe.
As Anta, Marème Niang left to go North, and as Mory, Magaye Niang remained in Dakar. As the real and fiction intermingle, Magaye is still at the head of the herd and as in Touki Bouki, the animals are at the slaughterhouse. But forty years have passed, and in spite of her referential desire, Mati does not film in the same way as Djibril. Indeed the bloodline is there, as is the blood of the slaughterhouse, the blood of the animals of Georges Franju (1949), evoked to better imagine the carnage of the world wars, as the blood of the slaughterhouses of Rwanda pour memoire by Samba Félix Ndiaye (2003) which closely corresponds to the representation of Itsembabwoko. Blood is present and, like Djibril, Mati does not film this butchery from afar: she is right in the midst of the zebus. While in Touki Bouki it is the shock of the animals and their execution that Djibril represented, in her desire to evoke the damned as well as their force, Mati is more interested in men who are pitted against the herd as in a corrida, as they cry out in victory when they have conquered them. As in Haïtien history where leaders refer to themselves incessantly, blood is a link that traverses time; both the weight of the past and the heritage of the living.
Of this blood link as personal as it is historical, an intense red gives way to an invading blue, imposing itself as it bathes in the blue light of the overhead projector onto the veterans Wasis Diop, Joe Wakam (Issa Samb), Ben Diogaye Bèye and Magaye Niang--who come to present Touki Bouki during a open-air screening. Under a banner of blue it is a new generation that takes its place, a generation of a new cinema that seizes the digital and abandons the film reel, and in the footprints of Djibril, ruptures with a certain classicism. The generation of this taxi driver, which with a loud cry claims the power of the people, admonishing the elders such as Magaye, for making no attempt to do anything. This taxi driver is none other than Djily Bagdad, the rapper of the group 5kiem Underground, a politically committed activist of the Y'en a marre (We are fed up) Movement, which by mobilising street rallies, prevented the passing of power from the president Abdoulaye Wade to his son.
To travel? "It was necessary" said the three comrades. However, even if Wasis left, Joe and Ben stayed. But their paths traversed the world: as travelling is not only geographical. They are, as Magaye, these fragile and uncertain heroes, but who invoke the spirit of certain westerns, such as Gary Cooper of High Noon (Fred Zinnemann, 1952) in which the famous song that Djibril was fond of, accompanies Magaye as he leads his herd at the beginning of the film. It is repeated at the end of the film to the rhythm of rock, and Magaye, like the song, has changed: having surmounted the space of memory facing the bluish cold of the Pole. To have gone beyond his pain and confronted his fears, he reached the beyond of memory, this invisible that is no longer a rememberance but the conscience of time.
This will be the heritage of Touki Bouki : these thousands of clocks, these thousands of suns, these thousands of lightning that move us profoundly towards a film which is as much nocturne as luminous, as intuitive as anchored in the present, worthy of entering into a lineage that is innovative and strong. With Mille soleils, Mati Diop revisits with an infinite finesse the programme of Touki Bouki : to triumph without leaving.
Mille soleils (A Thousand Suns) by Mati Diop, the heritage of Touki Bouki an analysis by Olivier Barlet. Source : Africultures. Translated from French by Beti Ellerson