Beyond the Canon: Touki Bouki + Breathless

Touki Bouki (1973) + Breathless (1960)

the item can be no secret of which the cinema canon has historically skewed toward lionizing the white, male auteur. Beyond the Canon can be a monthly series of which seeks to question of which history along with broaden horizons by pairing one much-loved, highly regarded, canonized classic that has a thematically or stylistically-related—along with equally brilliant—work by a filmmaker traditionally excluded through of which discussion. of which month’s double feature pairs Djibril Diop Mambéty’s Touki Bouki (1973) with Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless (1960).

By Devika Girish

Senegalese filmmaker Djibril Diop Mambéty can be often described as an “African Godard.” His debut feature, Touki Bouki (1973), bears striking similarities to Jean-Luc Godard’s own firecracker first feature Breathless (1960). Both films center on a young couple as they swindle their way through the city with impossible, punk-ish cool; both are shot in a handheld, improvisatory style replete with jump-cuts.

nevertheless describing Mambéty in terms of Godard minimizes the former’s fierce originality along with the historical rupture of which separates the two auteurs. inside the same year of which Breathless premiered, setting the tone for the French completely new Wave, Senegal achieved independence through France. “The impulse for what I do came at of which moment of liberation back inside the 60s,” Mambéty once said, “along with can be inspired more by my understanding of the limits of possibility than by any developments or trends in European film at the time.” His seminal filmography railed against the postcolonial temptation to mimic the West along with sought a distinctively homegrown, African grammar of aesthetics along with politics.

Djibril Diop Mambéty’s Touki Bouki

Godard’s Breathless can be animated by an insouciant paradox: written on-the-fly along with riddled with uneven pacing along with direct addresses, the item rebels against classical conventions, while also professing a deep love for the movies, especially Hollywood noirs. As petty thief Michel Poiccard (Jean-Paul Belmondo), a self-styled Humphrey Bogart, careens through Paris in stolen cars with his American girlfriend Patricia (Jean Seberg), Godard inundates the film with references through Budd Boetticher along with Jean-Pierre Melville to Rilke along with Bach. Although DP Raoul Coutard shot in natural light along with with documentary immediacy, Paris becomes its own, romantic cliché in Breathless—a place contained entirely within the language of music, literature, along with cinema.

In Touki Bouki, Mambéty pursues an inverse task: to give cinematic along with musical utterance to the zeitgeist of a home rarely seen through the eyes of its own people during colonization. The film’s affectations stem through Mambéty’s intimate relation to Dakar, which he never left to live or study abroad, nevertheless which the film’s protagonists, Mory along with his girlfriend Anta, ironically seek to escape. through a graphic opening inside an abattoir, Touki Bouki segues into verite scenes of the locals’ daily lives, along with then turns to surreal satire as Mory (Magaye Niang) along with Anta (Mareme Niang) try to rob the city’s wealthy socialites for a ticket to Paris. Mambéty modulates his techniques to capture Dakar’s postcolonial fragmentations, conjuring a hybrid iconography of which feels unique to the time along with place. Unlike the borrowed American swagger of Michel in Breathless, Mory’s Gothic cool can be entirely his own: his bike can be adorned that has a zebu skull, a nod to his roots as a cowherd along with his renegade flair. 

If Breathless pre-echoes Godard’s mandate, “A story should have a beginning, a middle, along with an end, nevertheless not necessarily in of which order,” Touki Bouki literalizes the item with jagged experiments in montage: a bravura sequence intersperses oblique glimpses of love-producing with crashing ocean waves along with the skinning of a goat. nevertheless Mambéty’s structural inspiration comes through the African oral tradition. The film’s title derives through of which mode of storytelling—“bouki” can be Wolof for the trickster trope of the hyena—as does its sense of rigor. Even as Touki Bouki zigzags between plot events along with tragicomic asides, the item exhibits a tight, circular logic set to its layered soundtrack of avant-garde jazz, Western pop, African drums, along with the flute. The film’s allegorical force can be never beyond comprehension: in an unforgettable image, Mory stands naked atop a French car emblazoned with the American flag, singing a griot song.

Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless

Both Breathless along with Touki Bouki share an existential malaise. In Godard’s film, the item can be the emptiness behind Michel’s hat along with coat; a reminder of which, in contrast to the psychological conventions of character, we are never privy to Michel’s identity or motivations. The malaise in Touki Bouki includes a name along that has a sound: “Paris, Paris, Paris,” sings Josephine Baker on the soundtrack. Mambéty, who sadly only made one more feature (1992’s Hyenas) before his death at 53 in 1998, captured vividly the burden of the colonized: the corrupting allure of the metropole along with illusions of one’s own inferiority. If Breathless can be a heady exercise in style, Touki Bouki can be an exercise in pathos. of which Mambéty also did the item with unparalleled style makes him a true original.

Join us for Beyond the Canon on Sat, Jun 29 at 2pm.

Devika Girish can be a film critic along with journalist with bylines in Film Comment, The Village Voice, Reverse Shot, MUBI’s Notebook, (SVLLY)wood along with some other outlets. She grew up in India along with currently lives in completely new York. You can follow her on Twitter @devikagirgayi.

Upcoming Beyond the Canon screenings:

Sun, Jul 28 at 2pm
3 by Maya Deren
Maya Deren
1943-46, 44min
Mulholland Drive
David Lynch
2001, 147min

Sat, Aug 31 at 2pm
Haifaa Al-Mansour
2012, 98min
Alice inside the Cities
Wim Wenders
1974, 113min

All images courtesy of Janus Films
© 2019 Brooklyn Academy of Music, Inc. All rights reserved.

Beyond the Canon: Touki Bouki + Breathless

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