Published Aug 15, 2013Keying into the desperate dreams of West Africans seeking greener pastures across the Atlantic, Moussa Toure has crafted a humble, elegant picture that puts its subjects before the demands of dramatic devices.
Though it's presented as a sea-faring survival story — and, stripped to the bone, that's precisely what it is — the peril that befalls the passengers of what's essentially a giant motorized canoe isn't what drives La Pirogue; it's the characters. What they hope and how they cope are paramount to the tale Toure is telling. This pertains to our time with them on land as much as it does at sea.
The relatively inexperienced (not that it shows) director takes his time setting the scene, ensuring a familiarity with the major players before asking us to sympathize with the great risk they're taking by embarking upon what they know to be such a foolhardy endeavour. Since we spend that time getting to know the economic climate of the village, along with the various expectations and aspirations of the villagers — some think football (soccer, as us North Americans call it) is the key to wealth and financial freedom; for another, it's music; and most just hope for enough work to support the families they're leaving behind — it's easy to understand the lure of such a dangerous journey.
Many motivating factors are based upon the simple hearsay that Spain will welcome able-bodied additions to the work force. Unlike the sheltered majority of the villagers, the wife of Baye Laye (Souleymane Seye Ndiaye), lifelong fisherman and reluctant ship captain, demonstrates a shrewd global awareness by suggesting her husband head for China instead of Europe, if he's serious about finding gainful employment. That booming Mecca of industry isn't a mere seven days away by boat though, so Spain it is.
Once the rickety vessel is on the water, alpha-male clashing begins almost immediately, with inexperienced sea-faring hustler Lansana (Laity Fall) challenging the captain's authority on all matters, save navigation. Compounding tensions, some of the passengers have never even seen the ocean before and the daunting vastness of perpetually moving liquid proves more than at least one man can handle. Furthermore, the lines of tribal allegiance and mistrust run deep among the passengers, with French serving as the common tongue between them.
However, Toure's observational vision never succumbs to sensationalistic plotting tactics like overt insurrection or violent xenophobia. What binds these people together — the universality of song and dance especially — is as important as what sets them apart.
Professionally shot and edited with an eye for natural beauty, La Pirogue has a clear objective: in celebrating the unique spirit and customs of his people, Toure is showing anyone who cares to look why home and culture are worth struggling to preserve. (ArtMattan)