La Pirogue: Lost at sea

Our reviewer finds the Cannes-praised drama about a sea voyage from Africa to be lacking in the dramatic department.

Soulemayne Seye Ndiyae in La Pirogue

There are heavy films, and then there are films that deal with heavy matters. By “heavy films,” I mean the type of movie that is very depressing but that you can appreciate nevertheless because of the actors’ skill or the stunning cinematography, for example Clint Eastwood’s Mystic River (2003), or this year’s Oscar frontrunner Amour by Michael Haneke. And by “films about heavy stuff,” I mean such stories whose subject matter renders them nearly unwatchable, and which rely solely on the story for appreciation, like Lee Daniels’ Precious (2009).

Director Moussa Touré’s La Pirogue is an ambitious small movie, but it inevitably falls in the latter category. Set at sea, the film tells the story of a group of 30 Senegalese men and one woman who decide to flee their country on a small fisherman boat and head to Spain (a practice that is unfortunately common; between 2003 and 2011 there have been thousands such journeys, most of which have seen a tragic end). Once in Europe, most of the passengers would be able to make their way to the jobs they think await them in France.

Led by Baye Laye (Soulemayne Seye Ndiyae), the boat is filled with people of different Senegalese ethnicities, which makes the relationships between the characters rather strained. There is also a woman on board, Lansana (Laity Fall), who has sneaked in without paying her fee to cross the Atlantic, and who causes dispute because women are supposed to stay back in Senegal with their children, due to the fact that the journey is very dangerous.

This whole setup leaves a lot of room for character development and actors’ play, considering that this crossing of the Atlantic is no joyride and that there is an abundance of purely physical obstacles that the fishing boat and its passengers could go through. However, La Pirogue is a deceptively simple film. The actors are not particularly good, and the only real nuisance on board is a man who is very afraid (or very seasick) and does not stop crying. There is a storm that kills a few passengers, but not the one chicken on board, which in reality would probably be the first to drown. I will not reveal the film’s end, but I will say that is just as disappointing and unsatisfactory.  Although the story is based on real events, there is no cinematic pleasure derived from its heaviosity. ■

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