Between Turin, Dakar, and New York, the destinies of Sophie (Mareme Demba Ly), Abdoulaye (Souleymane Seye Ndiaye) and Thierno (Ralph Amoussou) cross paths and echo one another, and confront us with the realities, hopes, and dreams of contemporary emigration.
DUBAI INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: The disparate migration of key members of a family unit makes for an intriguing proposition in Dyana Gaye’s feature debut. Splitting the action concisely between three cities (Turin, New York and Dakar), the French-Senegalese writer-director’s protagonists are either searching for work or fulfillment or both. The ability to survive no matter what odds they face – and in the case of the young couple, the very real need to simply find food and a roof over their heads – has rarely felt more immediate and watchable, particularly since these characters hail from the African nation of Senegal, a place that offers its youth little in the hope of lasting prosperity.
Intuitively, Gaye says she began composing the screenplay of this trans-continental affair via a series of fictitious letters. Together with her co-writer, Cecile Vargaftig, Gaye reasoned the script would evolve naturally, once the individuals’s motives and actions had revealed themselves on paper.
We begin with Sophie (Marème Demba Ly), a young Sengelese bride who is following her husband, Abdoulaye (Souleymane Seye N'Diaye), from Dakar to Turin. Abdoulaye is desperate to find work: so much so, he skips town before Sophie arrives, lured by his cousin, Serigne (Babacar M'Baye Fall) to travel on to New York. Without a work visa, Abdoulaye is reliant on his shifty relative, who chimes of better times. Sophie’s aunt, Mame Amy (Sokhna Niang), meanwhile, has just left the Big Apple to return to Dakar, to bury her former husband.
A cat-and-mouse game quickly shifts, as reality kicks in. Abdoulaye is taken in by the well-meaning Sidney Poitier Sy (Major West), a nattily dressed store owner with a penchant for jazz and women. But Abdoulaye flees when his cousin comes calling, threatening a hefty black-market debt ($US1000) still owed on their passage to America. Sophie, while also rejecting her initial benefactors – a boisterous group of women, who clearly enjoy having fun – goes on to find paid work as a cleaner and a sweet-natured Russian man named Thierno (Ralph Amoussou) to fill the void left by her absent husband.
Unlike her husband, Sophie is quietly pragmatic, adapting to a city that’s foreign to her, with contentment nearby. Indeed, Turin, even in winter, appears to offer a warmth that the chilly New York does not, while the dusty streets of Dakar – and its stern familial air – remains a place reserved more for judgment, if not punishment. Aunt Mame’s own domestic disputes while in Dakar with her son – and their clear sense of displacement – provides a neat counterpoint to Sophie’s and Abdoulaye’s divergent choices and actions.
Sharply edited by Gwen Mallauran, Gaye’s debut feature shifts seamlessly between her three locales, with the narrative remaining fluid and unpredictable. A soft, jazzy soundtrack adds an upbeat mood to what could have felt bleak. Performances are uniformly excellent, and Gaye has done well in navigating her three markedly different locations here (For the record, Gaye’s four festival shorts prior to this were 2001’s Une femme pour Souleymane, 2005’s J'ai deux amours, 2006’s Ousmane and 2009’s Saint Louis Blues.)
The film, which had a modest bow in Toronto before enjoying a positive reception in Dubai, is in good company. A growing list of female filmmakers have emerged from the UAE in the wake of various schemes and incentives. Given her French-Sengelese background, Gaye is a minority as a female filmmaker in her native territories, but not so in the Gulf. Interestingly, she has cited Jane Campion’s The Piano as a key influence. The mood and tone of this piece – while largely urbane – certainly confirms that to be true. Clocking in at just 88 minutes, it’s also remarkably economical in its delivery.