Well-told stories of true grit are rare in African cinema. Depicting one of life’s harshest conditions in the most beautiful cinematic style, Moussa Toure delivers a masterpiece with La Pirogue.
Set in a Senegalese fishing village, La Pirogue unravels on the trail of thirty intending migrants aboard a boat to Spain’s Canary Islands. In its running time of 87 minutes, the film takes the viewer on a cruise that never drags.
Souleymane Seye Ndiaye plays Baye Laye, the film’s male lead, takes on his role with the strength and presence it deserves. Initially reluctant to board the boat, Baye eventually accepts and his navigation skills are put to test on the hard trip he undertakes with an eclectic group of experienced and non-experienced sea-farers. How many of them will survive the crossing and fulfil their dreams of a better life is up to chance alone. As close as they are to shore, there is a strong foreboding of tragedy. Nonetheless, La Pirogue maintains a lively tone, with the boat’s passengers breaking into song and dance on a whim.
Touré’s La Pirogue (also called “Goor Fitt”) is a story of survival, where in spite of the characters’ bumpy ride; the story is emotional and thrilling. Showing his deft mastery of the camera as a narrative tool, Touré, who also previously directed TGV and Toubab Bi, is at his best in La Pirogue.
He tells the familiar story of South to West migration in a much more unique way. Few African directors have tackled sea storms; however, Toure brings some grace to it with scenes that hold their own against Ang Lee’s well-received Life of Pi, minus the Bengali Tiger, of course.
He introduces us to Baye’s existence prior to the voyage with close-ups into his work, his family life and his passion for wrestling. The film opens with an intensely-portrayed wrestling scene suffused with energy and brawn; a pointer to the will of the inhabitants of the fishing village: people who are not scared to take on unfamiliar seas despite the anticipated dangers.
This much is obvious in the resilience of the film’s talented band of actors, including Ndiaye, who display a range of emotional extremes that reflect their encounters with dementia, disease, and death which all culminate into a visually-stunning, enthralling and memorable tale.
*Written during the FESPACO/Africine Critics’ Workshop in February 2013