It is no coincidence that the title of Mama Keïta’s film is the same as that of French director, Jean Renoir. Both films are all but picturesque. Both films present a relational puzzle bathed in the presence of beings and objects. However, while the river represents change, light and replenishment for Renoir, it is imaginary for Mama Kaïta, and it is Africa in all its hardness that plays this role. Mama Keïta uses this as a subtle means of reminding us that the relationship with the African continent cannot be based on fascination.
In 1998, one week before shooting Le fleuve tel une fracture, his first feature film, Franco-Guinean director, David Achkar finally succumbed to the leukaemia that he had been fighting for some considerable time. Prior to his death, he made his friend Mama Keïta promise to finish his film. Thus, Mama Keïta found himself faced with the delicate issue of making someone else’s film. Although his father was Guinean, Keïta had grown up in France and therefore had no real understanding of life in Africa. So, he decided to follow in the steps of the film’s protagonists and travelled from Dakar to Conakry in an attempt to understand the director’s point of view. He then went on to make his own film.
Le Fleuve is, like Barbet Schroeder’s La Vallée, an imaginary place that must be attained within oneself. However, Mama Keïta has not approached this initiation rite in usual chronological fashion, nor does he divide the narrative into revelational steps. As previously in Le 11ème commandement, he weaves a web that is both relational and temporal, in which the psychological complexity of Alfa (the leading character, convincingly played by French rapper Stomy Bugsy) is gradually revealed as the puzzle is pieced together, using powerful flash-backs onto his life as a no-good dealer. We gradually realise that Africa is a land of exile for him, not only to escape the vengeance of the brother of the drug dealer he killed but also to find a new sense of balance in his life. There is a kind of tension running through the film, which is not so much the need to know where they are going and if they will get there but rather whether they will find the thing that will make it possible for them to meet. « They » are Alfa and his beautiful young cousin Marie, thrown literally feet first into a voyage into the unknown. Neither has any more idea of how it will evolve than the spectator. The only tie between them is Marie’s adolescent love for Alfa, whose tough exterior is gradually peeled away to reveal a childlike fragility.
Alfa carries the world’s despair in his heart but he slowly turns from his disdainful silence towards the other and towards Marie. However, this is never used as a moral and Alfa’s openness is that of a man watching himself, first under the shock of terrible danger and subsequently under the shock of Africa. The river represents this revelation, as does Renoir’s moving on, light and replenishment.
2002, 35 mm, colour, 90 min, Photography : Octavio Esperito Santo, with Stomy Bugsy, Aurélie Coulibaly, Vincent Byrd Lesage, Kritchmar Georges, Karim Seghair, Doc Gyneco. Renaissance productions 155 (0033 1 48 58 43 09).///Article N° : 5648