Daouda Coulibaly’s Wùlu is a must-see, tense, contemporary West African thriller.
Dog Daysby Alexa Dalby
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
France-based Malian director Daouda Coulibaly’s feature debut is a tense thriller set in Mali and Senegal. Ladji (Ibrahim Koma) starts as a lowly, poverty-stricken bush taxi driver and when he loses that job he becomes a drug smuggler. First he delivers cocaine across the Mali/Senegal border but then he graduates to even riskier deals for the big boss, a French businessman (Olivier Rabourdin) with a sideline. Ladji discovers he has a talent for cross-border drug trafficking and becomes very rich. He and his sister Aminata (singer Inna Modja in her first film role) start to live the high life of young professionals in the capital, Bamako – the new-build mansion, the swimming pool, the nightclubs, the art gallery, the upmarket girlfriend Assitan (Ndiaye Mariame). But Coulibaly shows that Ladji’s criminal activities are bound up in a web of relationships that permeate society at all levels, linking corrupt politicians, the military and connections with al-Qaeda and the insurgencies across the sands of the north of Mali and into Algeria. It’s a meteoric rise that carries the seeds of its own destruction.
Billed as a West African Scarface, Coulibaly’s Wùlu is a well-acted, fast moving, episodic depiction of some of the issues in contemporary Africa. Ladji’s rapid progress is conveyed by titles that show place and date as the story roves around West Africa, its capital cities and its remote countryside and borders. Wùlu means ‘dog’ in Bambara, as the opening titles explain, and, according to tradition, this so-named level is the last of various incarnations of a person’s place in society. Ladji is the embodiment Coulibaly’s vision of what can be the consequences of the harshness and rewards of that society. It’s a must-see film in new African cinema.
Wùlu premiered in the UK at the 60th BFI London Film Festival and screens on 6 November 2016 as the Closing Gala of Film Africa in London, the Royal African Society’s annual film festival.