Set in a country just liberated from French colonial rule, director Robert Ghedigian tells the story of two lovers who fight to be together no matter what. The premiere of the film took place on February 24 at Kinoforum.
French director Robert Guedighian’s Twist Dance in Bamako is set in 1962 in Bamako, Mali, and follows the country’s history immediately after independence from French colonial rule. Set in a post-colonial backdrop, the film’s main focus is a beautiful story of two star-crossed lovers.
The cinematography in the film is excellent, capturing Bamako in a fascinating light. Director of cinematography Pierre Millon’s cityscapes appear to reflect a sun-drenched ocean overhead. The shadows cast by Bamako’s buildings and the dynamic clothing of the characters reflect the vibrant nature of the city’s inhabitants. It is in these elements that the audience meets the film’s lead character, Samba (Stefan Buck), a bold young man who seeks to spread President Modib Keita’s socialist agenda in the 1960s.
The twist in the title is a dance inspired by rock and roll music, and it brings lightness to the film’s heavier themes, namely sexual assault and forced marriage. Lara (Alice Da Luz), a charming and intelligent young woman, runs away from home to escape an arranged marriage to a violent man. Seeking refuge, she hides in the back of Samba’s truck to travel with her comrades to Bamako. When Samba discovers and properly meets Lara, he agrees to help her start a new life, away from her abusive husband.
Samba and Larry’s bond is strengthened when they dance a twist at a disco called the Happy Boys Club. Era-defining songs by The Beach Boys, The Supremes and Otis Redding are featured in these series. Every joyful moment Samba and Lara share is captured in shots inspired by the photographer’s work Malik Sidibe, which was known for documenting live moments of the Malian people and their culture, including their dances in the 60s. Bright black and white dance pictures convey the movements of the characters and evoke joyful feelings in the viewer.
In addition to these moments of youthful exuberance, the film doesn’t hesitate to explore the political tensions of the time. Samba, a staunch socialist, sees dance as a way to celebrate and enjoy post-colonial optimism. However, the conservative governing body decides to dance the twist, ‘The music of the 60s and disco, all of which are clearly associated with Western culture, are damaging to the youth. At a cabinet meeting filled with officials, Samba declares, “A turnaround is a revolution!” The whole hall laughs at his apparent naivety, but it is this idealism that reveals Samba’s romanticism and love for his homeland.
The post-colonial state of Mali is fragile, affecting how Samba and Lara’s relationship develops amid the country’s changing politics. They dream of a future together, but Larry’s husband and brother search for her to bring her back to the village. Samba, deeply in love with Lara, does everything he can to protect her from this fate.
While Ghedigian manages to portray a heartfelt romance, it’s hard to ignore the questionable decision to let a French director portray a story about Mali, a country that has recently become independent from French colonial rule. The depiction of such a complex and tumultuous political moment loses its authenticity when filtered through the lens of a Frenchman. It’s safe to say that if a Malian director had been behind the camera, the film could have felt more honest about the local stories.
A questionable choice for this particular director to portray the fragility of post-independence Mali ‘The 60s undoubtedly cast a shadow on the viewing experience. However, thanks to the chemistry between Samba and Lara, the romance saves the film. Twist Dance in Bamako captivates the audience with an intuitive story as the film’s lead couple hopes that they will end up together no matter what.
Contact Sanam Estakhrian at [email protected]