Saloum (2021)

Director: Jean Luc Herbulot
Writer: Jean Luc Herbulot, Pamela Diop
Cast: Yann Gael, Evelyne Ily Juhen, Roger Sallah, Mentor Ba, Bruno Henry, Marielle Salmier, Babacar Oualy, Ndiaga Mbow, Cannabasse, Renaud Farah
Part of: SLASH Filmfestival
Seen on: 26.9.2022

Chaka (Yann Gael), Minuit (Mentor Ba) and Rafa (Roger Sallah) are mercenaries, known as Bangui’s Hyenas. Their most recent assignment has taken them to the coup in Guinea-Bissau, but now it’s time to get out. Unfortunately, plane trouble leads them to seek shelter in Senegal instead of Gambia as planned. They find a cluster of holiday cabins close to the Saloum river, owned and run by Omar (Bruno Henry). Among the other guests are Deaf Awa (Evelyne Ily Juhen), who recognizes the Hyenas and threatens to expose them, and a police officer. Despite that, they stay. Because Chaka has a very good reason to.

Saloum is an engaging, unusual film that takes some unexpected turns. I loved it.

A hand in a red glove holding up a revolver. The safety is in the shape of Africa.

Saloum combines African/Senegalese mythology with an action film. It’s not devoid Western influences, but it gives us a story that develops away from the beaten, Western paths to take unexpected directions (at least for the European viewer). Unexpected doesn’t mean illogical or out of nowhere, though – things fit very well together.

I also loved that one of the main characters is Deaf (though I would have liked it even better if that hadn’t been relevant to the plot). I don’t know if the actor playing Awa is Deaf herself (admittedly, her sign language makes me doubt it, as well as the fact that Awa follows all spoken conversations easily by lip-reading – a myth that somebody from the Deaf community would probably dispense with), but I did love that the Hyena’s know sign language as well in a natural extension from the multilingualism that is the standard in Africa. In this film, we get French, English, Wolof, Spanish and Sign Language.

Chaka (Yann Gael) aiming a revolver at something. Awa (Evelyne Ily Juhen) stands behind him.

But the heart of the film, for me, were the Hyenas. Chaka takes the central focus here (and Gael’s presence makes that focus easy), but there is a very real sense of friendship and companionship between the three of them that easily lets us know how much they have been through together (and makes one curious for a prequel or two). Plus, I just really liked them much more than I expected.

I did fall asleep for a bit during the showdown, unfortunately, which is not a judgement of the film (the long hours of the festival are starting to make themselves known). Luckily it was only a short moment and I woke in time for the ending that I found very touching indeed, rounding off a really excellent film.

Chaka (Yann Gael), Minuit (Mentor Ba) and Rafa (Roger Sallah) silhouetted against the setting sun.

Summarizing: lovely.

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