Touki Bouki, the unexpected and “loud” role of the hyena

The film Touki Bouki, on a first viewing experience, is about a couple (Anta, a university student and Mory, a cowherd) living in Dakar, Senegal, who make plans to leave their current lives behind and sail to France.

In reality, as scholar Sada Niang mentions throughout her chapter on Touki Bouki in Nationalist African cinema: Legacy and transformations, it goes much deeper than that. Indeed, the film conveys a: “Transition between a critique of postcolonial power strategies and the postcolonial subjects.” (Niang 2014, 76) We notice this critique as early as the establishing shot of Anta’s village. Her mother, selling vegetables, converses with another villager discussing about their children wanting to go/going abroad (to France, specifically). At the end of the conversation, they agree on the fact that nothing good comes out of going to France. One of the first sequences of Touki Bouki already establishes the sense of pride of staying in Africa and work towards “making it” there. Or, at least, the attempt to not be subject to the colonizer, in order to be independent.

This attitude reflects the director Djibril Diop Mambety’s intentions to not follow Western cinematic standards in order to be recognized as a valid filmmaker. In fact, in an interview he says: “I wanted all of us to stop dreaming of other lands. Let us dream and plant our seeds here in Africa.” (Niang 2014, 73) The movie is also revolutionary in terms of narrative and structural elements and devices. Indeed, Anta’s character is a very progressive female character who does have a significant depth, especially in relation to similar movies released around the same time in Hollywood, for instance. In the film, sound is a powerful narrative device used to help and disrupt the narrative at the same time.

Touki Bouki: a revolutionary counter-emulation of Hollywood standards

The film was released in 1973, with very little budget, filmed outside and on the road. In many regards, it is similar to French New Wave films. In addition, the main female character (arguably, the main character) defies the time’s Western expectations for a woman in a (gangster) film. Indeed, Touki Bouki (literally, the journey of the hyena) is referred to her and not to Mory, or the couple, since at the end of the film Anta is the only one traveling to France, leaving Mory behind.

The whole movie turns out to be about her new beginning as she sacrifices Mory in the process. She defies the stereotypical femininity, while dressing as a stereotypical man and condescendingly answering to the lady at the travel agency. Furthermore, Anta is the one who find the money for the trip, proving her independence and cunningness. Mory simply provides new clothes for them, though he tries to come up with multiple plans to get money throughout the film.

A parallel and contrasting narrative in Touki Bouki through sound

According to the scholar Vlad Dima, sound in Touki Bouki is disruptive in the sense that creates discontinuity with a straightforward and “expected” narrative that sees audio and image to go in parallel (2012, 41). The sounds stimulate the viewer and hold their attention, while creating contrasting narrative connections within the same film. For instance, at the end of the film, the boat about to sail from the Senegalese harbor makes a loud noise similar to the one of a siren. In that moment, the sound morphs into the one of a cow herd. At that time, Mory realizes he’s still very attached to his motherland, interpreting that sound as a call back to his roots. Us watching the film can be initially confused by the seemingly bazaar pairing of sounds, but that probably reflects Mory’s emotional state and internal conflict as he’s overwhelmed by the “call”.

Dima, V. (2012). “Aural narrative planes in Djibril Diop Mambety’s films.” Journal of film & video 64 (3), 38-50.
Niang, S. (2014). Nationalist African cinema: Legacy and transformations. Lexington Books.

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