Thursday, July 09, 2009

Films of the 00s: Dôlè

Judging from the comments (what comments?), this retrospective series about buried gems and split decisions from the last ten years is more fun for me to write than for you to read, but what can I tell you. I like it, and I'm learning a lot, as I certainly did in my first encounter with Dôlè, a Gabonese film from 2000 that had been pitched to me in the past, somewhat maladroitly it turns out, as a West African Boyz N the Hood. That's tall praise and there's a nugget of merit behind it even if I don't think the comparison really holds. Still, while Dôlè isn't a slam-dunk, it's an engaging and a visually accomplished 79 minutes, which certainly eclipses lots of better-marketed movies that have some comparable inspirations at heart. To wit:

"A Slumdog Millionaire nearly ten years avant la Boyle, this shortish Gabonese feature has the good sense to avoid either the chirpy fructification of poverty as entertainment or the sensationalizing of grisly violence as an entrée into the life of some dream-deferred youths. School kid Mougler (David Nguema Nkoghe) wants to get in on the hip-hop game with his pals, especially lead emcee Baby Lee (Emile Mepango Matala), who sports a Fugees T-shirt while he rehearses the French-language lyrics of his favorite artists and chastises his buddies for mucking up their parts. It would be easier to hold the rhythm and master the words if these kids had a radio, which they still refer to as a 'ghetto blaster,' a few years after you stopped hearing that term quite so much in the American streets. Despite the likelihood that huge swaths of Dôlè's audience won't ever have seen a Gabonese film, or perhaps any West African film or any images of Gabon or Libreville at all, writer-director Imunga Ivanga isn't interested in the kind of social cross-section that would contextualize where and how and in relation to whom these kids live, to include whether they have their own 'ghetto' to blast. It doesn't quite look it, but unlike Boyle, Ivanga associates the frustration of have-nots with a series of sharply coded rules, fantasies, and assumptions, not with grabby emblems of abjection or televised deliverance..." (keep reading...)

Like a lot of African films, especially those without the auteurist pull of a Sembene or a Mambéty imprimatur, Dôlè is distributed in rentable, projectable, and purchasable formats by California Newsreel, which deserves all the thanks and the dollars it can get. Encourage your local or university library to buy it and then check it out.

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5 Comments:

Blogger Catherine said...

I'm actually racking my brains trying to count the number of African films I've seen in my lifetime. And I'm coming up verrrrry short, embarassingly so, to be honest. It's partly to do with how poorly-distributed they are, mostly due to laziness on my part. I was going to ask for recommedations on the best African film to start me off, but then I came to my senses and realised that's like asking somebody to recommend a single "European film". I have no idea even of which regions or countries have the liveliest film industry. Help a girl out!

Also, is there a way to get ahold of your original review for Wonder Boys? There used to be a full review, right? Or am I imagining that? I held off from commenting on that first Films of the 00s post because I hadn't yet watched the film, but I finally sat down last night to spend some quality time with Grady Tripp.

I'm a little unsure what exactly I felt about the film. My overwhelming feeling is, I suppose, that it was too faithful to the source material, which seems like an unfair criticism. It probably doesn't help that I read Chabon's novel earlier this year and a lot of it is still fresh in my mind, but I started to grow a little restless as characters spouted the majority of their lines verbatim from the book. Also, the "zanier" elements of the book - the canine assassination, the pot, the gangster subplot, the pink dressing gown (I laughed aloud at your description of that, btw) - work less well filmed than they did as prose. Visually, they translate as a lot more ridiculous and far-fetched; I tend to suspend my disbelief a lot easier regarding the written word.

Having said that, I'm never not happy to see Robert Downey Jnr or Frances McDormand pop up in a film, and although lately Tobey Maguire and Katie Holmes have each gone off the rails in separate ways, I really like their early screen roles and I'm always eager to be reminded of their failed coupling in The Ice Storm. Opposed to these personal favourites, I'm almost never happy to see Michael Douglas turn up in a film, although I quite liked him as Grady. I'm in no hurry to revisit it - neither the film nor the book, which I enjoyed enormously - but I can guess how irritating he may become, with repeat viewings.

4:09 AM, July 10, 2009  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

Well, I was a fan of Douglas the first couple times, too, so I'm not going to talk you out of it; I was frankly surprised that the perf didn't hold up for me this time. And though I haven't read the novel, the narration certainly sounded verbatim, and as much as I love it when a Hollywood film actually seems smitten with the work of a classy author, I think you're right that the film might be a little too in love with its source.

Thanks for chiming in, Catherine, and if you're looking for some African films to get started with, I think Yeelen from Mali (which won a prize at Cannes) or Faces of Women from the Côte d'Ivoire or, best of all, almost anything by the Senegalese masters Djibril Diop Mambéty (Hyenas, The Little Girl Who Sold the Sun) or Ousmane Sembene (Xala, Mandabi) would be a great start.

8:55 PM, July 10, 2009  
Blogger Guy said...

Chiming in late on the African films discussion here, but I do just want to say that if you fancy dipping into South African cinema, please bypass the dreary Oscar-nominated twosome of "Yesterday" and "Tsotsi," and instead seek out the wonderful Afrikaans female director Katinka Heyns, whose films "Paljas" and "The Story of Klara Viljee" are among the best the country has ever produced, but never got much international exposure due to their unfashionable language.

And Teboho Mahlatsi's "Portrait of a Young Man Drowning," which won a prize at Venice, is one of the best shorts I've ever seen.

11:45 AM, July 20, 2009  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@Guy: Very excited for these recommendations, and also swelling with good fortune and institutional pride: WorldCat only lists one university holding of Paljas anywhere outside of South Africa, and it's at Northwestern! I'll be sure to check it out.

12:48 PM, July 20, 2009  
Blogger Guy said...

Cause for pride indeed! "Paljas" is tricky to get hold of even in South Africa (which has a terrible record of preserving their own cinema), so more power to Northwestern. It's been some time since I saw it ... I'm intrigued to hear how it travels.

6:08 PM, July 20, 2009  

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