Touki Bouki

Director: Djibril Diop Mambéty
Screenplay: Djibril Diop Mambéty
Stars: Magaye Niang (Mory), Mareme Niang (Anta), Aminata Fall (Aunt Oumy), Ousseynou Diop (Charlie)
MPAA Rating: NR
Year of Release: 1973
Country: Senegal
Touki Bouki Criterion Collection Blu-ray
Touki Bouki

One of the more daring and experimental of films to be produced by a black African in the 1970s, Senegalese writer/director Djibril Diop Mambéty’s Touki Bouki (aka Journey of the Hyenas is an edgy, energetic ode to youthful idealism and rebellion molded quite clearly on the rough-hewn vibrancy of various European New Waves, particularly the works of Jean-Luc Godard. Mambéty, who was only 28 years old at the time and had never directed a feature film (he had made two highly accomplished short films), displays an almost fully formed aesthetic sensibility, mixing highly attuned montage editing and overt visual symbolism with a gritty sense of in-the-moment realism. The film is both a document of its time and place and a poetic evocation of the fervent desire to escape one’s surroundings.

The protagonists are a young couple, Mory (Magaye Niang) and Anta (Mareme Niang), who dream of escaping the poverty and squalor of their lives in Senegal and moving to Paris, where they imagine they will forge new and better lives. Anta is a student at the local university, which draws the ire of both her traditionalist family that doesn’t understand her desire for higher education (embodied in her outspoken Aunt Oumy, played by Aminata Fall) and a group of fellow students who see themselves as socialist revolutionaries and begrudge her setting them aside in order to spend time with Mory. Lacking funds to make their dreams a reality, Mory and Anta first plan to steal the earnings of a local wrestling match that have been earmarked to help support a statue of French President Charles De Gaulle, and when that doesn’t turn out as planned, Mory conspires to rip off a wealthy friend in order to put on the charade that he and Anta are already financially successful, which they imagine will smooth their transition into French society.

If Touki Bouki has a weakness, it is that Mambéty is too invested in the symbolic value of his characters and situations at the expense of direct empathy and emotional engagement. Neither Mory nor Anta are particularly interesting as characters because they are barely sketched ciphers, representatives of a particular youthful mindset and sense of desperation. Yet, the film is so fiery, so intense, so alive in its provocations that we can easily ignore the lack of traditional emotive registers and engage directly in the larger issues that are clearly on Mambéty’s mind, particularly the tug-of-war between traditional African culture and the vestiges of European colonialism and the frustration felt by young Africans who were caught between the conventions of their elders and the lures of European-style modernity. For his part, Mambéty had clearly bought into the power of modern aesthetics, as Touki Bouki works largely as a Godardian rumination on youth, violence, and broken dreams.

Touki Bouki Criterion Collection Blu-ray

Aspect Ratio1.37:1
  • Wolof Linear PCM 1.0 monaural
  • SubtitlesEnglish
  • Introduction from 2013 by filmmaker Martin Scorsese
  • Interview from 2013 with filmmaker Abderrahmane Sissako
  • Interview program from 2012 featuring musician Wasis Diop and filmmaker Mati Diop
  • Contras’ City, a 1968 short film by Mambéty
  • Essay by film programmer and critic Ashley Clark
  • DistributorThe Criterion Collection
    Release DateMarch 9, 2021

    Criterion’s stand-alone Blu-ray of Touki Bouki features the same transfer that we saw when it was first released in 2013 as part of “Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project” boxset, although the image on the new disc looks just a tad darker. The film was initially restored as part of the World Cinema Project in collaboration with the Cineteca di Bologna, and the image we see here was transferred and restored in 2K from the original 35mm camera and sound negatives, which were provided by the director’s son. It is presented in its original 1.37:1 aspect ratio and looks excellent and extremely clean. There is no doubting that this is how the film should look, with its vibrant colors, strong contrast, and nice presence of film grain. The monaural soundtrack is just as good; it certainly betrays the low-budget nature of the film, but the track is clean and clear and suits it beautifully. The stand-alone Blu-ray adds to the supplements from the 2013 disc, which consisted of a brief, 2-minute introduction by World Cinema Project founder Martin Scorsese, who situates the film historically and aesthetically within the history of African film, and a longer 12-minute interview with African-born filmmaker Abderrahmane Sissako, who has worked in both Mali and France and speaks eloquently about the film and Mambéty. New to this edition is a 26-minute conversation between Mambéty’s brother, musician Wasis Diop, and Wasis’s daughter, filmmaker Mati Diop, which was recorded in 2012. Even more important is the inclusion of Mambéty’s first short film, Contras’ City (1968), a 22-minute documentary about the city of Dakar that was restored in 4K from the 35mm internegative and the original sound negative in 2020 by Cineteca di Bologna/L’Immagine Ritrovata and The Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project in association with Criterion.

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    Overall Rating: (3.5)

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