Driven by the hypnotic energy of percussion and a frenzied blur of edits, Senegal’s Badou Boy reflects its political motivations through a dizzying manipulation of form, stitching together a comedy of exaggeration from the scraps of the French occupation. Wielding Western cinematic technique as a weapon, Djibril Diop Mambéty mocks the constraint of Gallic social strata through the lumbering of an entry-level police officer, one too overwhelmed by weight and blinded by aggression to capture his perp, the roguish “Badou Boy.” Motivated by the perpetual groove of Dakar’s street performers and an enthusiastic imagination, our crafty protagonist’s perseverance acts as a symbol for Senegal’s renewed vitality; a defiant smirk in the face of oppression.
Utilizing sound design to heighten narrative pace and experiment with scene transition, Mambéty juxtaposes incongruous voice-over with dialogue-free action sequences, allowing discussions to run through multiple scenes without relying on expository shots or talking heads. He also employs cheap post dubbing in a radical fashion, lending a surreal nature to characters’ damaged, off-beat vocalizations, effectively morphing the hacking cough of an old beggar into a churning, bestial din.
The Godardian self-awareness of his soundtrack works two-fold, both referencing genre and place in time, while permeating, even interrupting, the plot’s progression. An allusion to the American Western illustrates this technique brilliantly, creating a wall of Ennio Morricone-style guitar and yelping cowboys for Badou Boy’s one-horse carriage race, manifesting a musical accompaniment for his fantasy tangible enough to overshadow the Kora of a roadside busker, who comically scowls at the rambunctious racket.
The use of non-diegetic sound is jarring in its ambiguity, requiring the viewer to think about the placement of sound effects and their application into the narrative. When Badou Boy breaks to urinate on the bicycle of his adversary, in one of his many acts of defiance, we hear the flush of a toilet, despite the al fresco location of the transgression. Our initial response is laughter, assuming the gag to be a brief passage of potty humor, but pondering the sequence reveals solemn intentions. Mambéty is applying the formality of domestic life to the squalid conditions of Dakar, dignifying Badou Boy’s behavior by aligning it to middle-class amenities, despite the sharp contrast in environment.
Mambéty loves sneaking his agenda into inconspicuous settings, using benign objects like boomboxes to function as his mouthpiece. Interjecting acerbic barbs between Bossanova tracks, the acid-quilled satirist takes foreign and domestic on in equal measure, airing grievances with cowardly French politicians and the Senegalese officials that mimic their opulence. His bitterest indictment lies at the feet of administrative wealth, a powerful faction of society uninterested in public well-being, superficial enough to abandon peacekeeping conferences to revel in the glory of an “African species of luxury dog.”
The amplification of sound and subtlety of message make for an interesting contrast, especially when considering that the story is seldom motivated by the conveyance of dialogue. Plot and character operate as a canvas for symbology and the foot chase that occupies most of the film’s lean 55-minute runtime functions as a metaphor for conflicts between the old guard and new, the past and present, and the organic and inorganic.
Badou Boy is representative of both Senegal’s past and future, adorning the grill of his bus with a bundle of polychromatic flowers (pairing organism and machine) and defiantly riding a horse into oncoming traffic. Officer Al is his polar opposite, perpetually in a state of consumption, wiping his sweat-soaked brow with the petals of flowers before stuffing the crumbled remains into his mouth, subjugating the powerless as a means to attain authority.
The featurette begins and ends with portions of Al’s daydreams, glacially-paced murder fantasies that find the recalcitrant Badou Boy cowering in fear as the public servant looms over him. As Al chokes the breath from the boy’s lungs, the dying child clings tightly to the chainlinks of an adjacent fence, arms stretched out in an "X," equivalent to the crucified Christ. The violence of Al’s reverie betrays itself, carrying a prophetic image of the future of Senegal, one led by the collective resilience of the people and sustained tradition, only capable of imprisonment in the dreams of corrupt leadership.
Badou Boy (Maag Daan, 1970)
Written and Directed by Djibril Diop Mambéty
Photographed by Baidy Sow