A thoughtful, exploratory discussion of a landmark gangster film, a story about America made by one of Italy’s greatest directors. We discuss how the film might have re-defined the gangster genre; the film’s aesthetic and how particular choices serve expression, we talk of the violence in the film and the charges that it might be misogynist; the distinctions between script and mise-en-scène; what the film shows and the film’s pov on those actions; the relative lack of dialogue and the focus on faces; we discuss the significance of the closing shot…and much much more, not least Robert De Niro’s extraordinary performance.
A fine gangster film, novel for being an excellent debut feature from Daouda Coulibali and set in a region of Africa (Mali, Guinea, Senegal, Niger) that is a nexus for transporting cocaine from Columbia to Europe.
The film begins with a series of titles contextualising and explaining as follows:
‘In the Bambara culture, fraternal societies must train their followers to make them into valuable members of the community. In the Ntòmo society new members must pass through five levels:
The lion level teaches a man where he came from
The toad level tells him where he is going
The bird level teaches him who he is.
The guinea fowl level considers the man in the cosmos.
The final level enlightens the member on his place in society. This is the level of the dog (Wúlu).
The Wùlu of this story is Ladji (Ibrahim Koma), who works in a collective taxi. He’s the one who decides who to pick up and he’s figured out all the angles: avoid the elderly, fat and infirm: they can lose you a lot of money. He dreams of driving his own bus. But in spite of being excellent at his job, he’s passed over for the boss’ nephew, who’s got nothing going for him aside from his relations.
The film starts in 2007 in Bamako, and the corruption is shown to pervade everything and everyone, even Ladji’s sister, Aminita (played by singer Inna Modja) is turning tricks to get by. It ends in 2012. Ladji, the dog, can’t live with himself; his sister, the whore, is sunning herself by the pool in the lap of luxury. The final title card tells us:
‘In creating divisions at the heart of the army; in inciting competition between different tribes, and in constituting one of the sources of financing for terrorist organisations, cocaine trafficking largely contributed to the failures the State of Mali underwent during the course of 2012.’
A very good crime film about the rise and fall of the gangster figure; as in so much of the genre, it is as much a critique of the society its portraying as a depiction of particular characters. And that is a chief attraction for someone like myself: we not only get a film with likeable characters, excellent action and a poetic touch, but we get to find out about the cultures depicted: the tribalism, the meaning of art in these cultures, the corruption of politicians, the way white people are seen, what a rich house looks like to these people, the value of a bus. This is a gangster film in which negotiations takes place in a tent in the desert, in which the way out of a shootout is through a boy with a donkey, a place in which an intelligent, thoughtful and responsible young man has no way out but gangsterism, drugs or death and in which death is preferable to drugs; It’s where whores survive but dogs are put down (there is a slight tinge of misogyny in the film).
Olivier Rabourdin plays the French Entrepreneur who is also the drug kingpin