forces of modernity collide head on with the weight of African tradition
11 August 2011
I recently showed this film to a group of students so what follows is a condensed version of the worksheet I gave them. The questions I give hopefully can assist others in making meaning from the film.

Touki Bouki can best be made sense of in the following way: It operates through allusion and symbolism. Through the story of two young lovers, Mory and Fanta, clashing with the older generation, yearning to leave for Paris, Mambety puts on screen his vision of a country where the weight of thousands of years of tradition collides head on with the modernity of a newly emergent Senegal.

Allusion...an implied or indirect reference hinting at something

Symbol...something that stands for something else...something concrete that represents or suggests another thing that cannot in itself be represented or visualised...for example a lion symbolises courage

Think about what you have seen (and heard!) in the film, paying special attention to:

Mory's motorbike – what is it decorated with? What do those objects remind you of? Fanta ties it to a tree, in the midst of a herd of cows...is there a connection to the cows?

The long scene in the first half of the film, when there are lots of shots of the sea, then we see Mory and Fanta together on the cliffs talking about leaving for France

The transformation of the Aunt from an unsympathetic character in the first half of the film to a praise singer in the second.

Charlie's car which Mory and Fanta ride off in after robbing him is a Citroen painted in the flag of which country? How is it positioned in relation to the motorbike and the welcomers?

1. How do you think the following things are alluded to in the film?

The act of lovemaking The city of Paris The cycles of life – birth, death, birth

2. How do you think the following things are symbolised in the film?

African tradition African modernity – this film is made soon after Senegal gained independence The ties which hold us, such as family, friends, our familiar environment Colonial power The primitive

Other points to consider...

Mambety inserts documentary footage from actual events, such as the women at the well, a wrestling competition, street children and a Presidential motorcade, into a fiction film. Do these scenes have anything to do with the story? What effect do they have on you, the viewer? What's your response to them? Why might they be in the film?

Certain images and sounds are repeated in the film, such as the ocean, the crows, the cries of the taxi driver who runs away from the box then repeated by the caveman. What effect does this have? Does it 'organize' the film in any way?

Answers... Mory's motorbike symbolizes Africa, in the scene after they ve robbed Charlie, it s positioned in such a way against the Citroen that the two seem oppositional. The Citroen is a French car decorated with the US flag stars and stripes so representing both French colonialism and US imperialism. The sea is a symbol for lovemaking. The cycles of nature are implied in the scenes of cattle slaughter and goat being sacrificed. Fanta ties the motorbike up as if shes trying to hold at bay the forces of modernity, of change. is the film trying to reconcile two opposing aspects, yearning for the past and tradition while simultaneously embracing modernity, the new? Whose the weird, white looking caveman up in the tree? Its as if Mambety shoves our images of 'primitive' Africans back in faces, also in the dream sequence when Mory and Fanta sit in the car, dressed in 1930s clothes smoking, being sung praises by Aminata Fal is a parody of successful Europeans. There's so much I d love to write about this film...Paris is reduced to a notion, an idea, a fantasy, brought to life through a clichéd song by Josephine Baker. On another level I read Touki Bouki as being about how Europe positions Africa and Africa positions Europe as exotic other. I m running out of space here, loads I could write about this film, hope this is useful, ENJOY!
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