At this year’s New York African Film Festival, a screening of director Moussa Touré’s 1998 sophomore film, TGV, sheds new light on the Senegalese filmmaker’s more recent work.
TGV tells the story of Rambo (Makena Diop), a bus driver who runs an intercity line between Dakar and Conakry, Guinea. He decides to embark on the risky trip between the two countries with a quirky group of passengers, despite warnings from the military that rebels have taken over the border and pose a huge threat to the determined band of travelers.
The motives for each passenger’s migration from Senegal gradually emerge as the colorful, rickety bus drives through an often barren but beautifully shot landscape. It’s a diverse group: There’s a disgraced politician, a polygamist on the way to his new wife (with five goats in tow), a shady drug dealer, and a pair of white French ethnographers, to name a few. It’s an interesting cross-section of Senegalese society, with each passenger taking on the familiar roles like that of the problem-solver, the leader, and the instigator.
But perhaps even more interesting are the striking parallels between TGV and Touré’s latest film, La Pirogue.
La Pirogue, which had its US premiere in January, is the tale of a seaman who reluctantly agrees to captain a small boat of Senegalese immigrants across the Atlantic to Spain, and the promise of a better life. While La Pirogue is a more straightforward tale of human perseverance against the odds of nature, both films feature the reluctant hero who must contest not only with the elements but with the frailties of human nature and the complexities of the African struggle.
In TGV, Touré displays the genesis of ideas that he continues to play with as a filmmaker. He is a director who is deeply interested in capturing stories of displacement and migration, a filmmaker who seeks to distill the commonality of the human experience through the metaphor of the long, arduous journey.
Like the colorful TGV bus or the bobbing pirogue, so many of his characters are in a state of transit – not only physically but spiritually.
For those interested in Senegalese and African cinema, Touré’s work is necessary viewing, the intersection of great movie making, storytelling, and African representation.
Zeba Blay is a Ghanaian-born film and culture writer based in New York. She is a regular contributor to Huffington Post, Africa Style Daily, and Slant Magazine. She runs a personal movie blog, Film Memory, and co-hosts the podcast Two Brown Girls. Follow her on Twitter @zblay.