Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Ça twiste à Poponguine

1994, Senegal, directed by Moussa Sene Absa

On the surface, Ça twiste à Poponguine appears to be a conventional story of teenage rivalries, a benign Senegalese riff on youthful beach comedies, with a hint of mild gang rivalry (though none of the violence of a West Side Story). The simple façade is deceptive, however, with a strikingly cogent commentary on post-colonial realities, as well as an amusingly satirical take-down of various authority figures (most obviously the local religious notables).

Set in 1964, the film celebrates a kind of golden age in Senegal's history, a period of great stability and hope in the immediate post-independence era, but that independence, it is clear, is only nominal. The teenagers at the heart of the film are steeped in the French education system and in French popular culture to the complete exclusion of their own culture, and those figures - particularly the imam - who rail against outside influence are, in the end, most complicit in fostering the further entrenchment of that influence. The presence of a French teacher in the village further underlines the former colonial master's continued role in Senegal, though Absa probes at the teacher's own sense of identity in ways that challenge the divide between the West and Africa.

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