Le Franc


Djibril Diop Mambéty | Senegal | 1994

1994 Locarno
1995 San Francisco, Toronto
2021 (restored version) Taipei

In “a time of uncertainty” – quoting the radio announcement inviting people impoverished by the CFA franc’s devaluation to try their luck playing the lottery – Mambéty went beyond mere observation and elevated his anarchic and rebellious vision by creating the anti-social character of Marigo. With his easy-going walk and Chaplinesque clothes, Marigo immediately expresses his irreverent nature: he spits on the floor of his shack and blows his nose on a towel like an unruly teenager. His comic nature turns into an art like in Chaplin’s silent films, almost without words. Marigo speaks through facial expressions, and he does not give in to the bad luck that seems to chase him. Like Chaplin, there is always a glimpse of optimism: the strength of Mambéty’s characters lies in their dignity, courage and rejection of fatalism and resignation. They are parables of hope in contrast with Afro-pessimism, the lack of faith in the continent’s capability to develop, which was emerging at that same time.”
Alessandra Speciale, Close-Up Film Centre, October 2019.

Djibril Diop Mambéty has already produced two feature-length masterpieces of African storytelling, Hyenas and Touki Bouki. Now in Le Franc, he begins a trilogy of shorts, “Tales of Little People”, whom he describes as, “the only truly consistent, unaffected people in the world, for whom every morning brings the same question: how to preserve what is essential to themselves.”

Mambéty uses the French government’s 50% devaluation of the West African Franc (CFA) in 1994 as the basis for a whimsical yet trenchant parable of life in today’s Africa. For the millions of people impoverished by this devaluation, the national lotteries became the only hope for salvation. Mambéty symbolizes the global economy as a game of chance, which the poor are compelled to play, though the odds are heavily stacked against them.

The hero of this tale (and perhaps Mambéty’s alter ego) is Marigo, a penniless musician living in a shanty town, relentlessly harassed by his formidable landlady. He survives only through dreams of playing his congoma (a kind of guitar) which has been confiscated in lieu of back rent.

At the end of his luck, he buys a lottery ticket from the dwarf Kus, the god of fortune, and glues it to the back of his door under a poster of his hero, Yaadikoone, a legendary Senegalese Robin Hood. When he wins, Marigo begins a harrowing odyssey across a Dakar of trash heaps, dilapidated buildings and chaotic traffic. Stumbling along under the unwieldy door, he seems to carry the burdens of an absurd world on his shoulders. Played with slapstick gusto by the gangly, rubber-legged Dieye Ma Dieye, Marigo is both comic and poignant, a Senegalese Charlie Chaplin.

Marigo is told the ticket has to be removed from the door so he carries it down to the shore so the waves can wash it off. He is, of course, swamped in the surf and loses the ticket, only to discover it pasted to his forehead. In the last shot, Marigo is seen exulting on a barren rock, as the breakers which opened the film continue to crash around him. We, the viewers, are left to decide if he is a symbol of hope or its ultimate futility.
– California Newsreel

Le Franc was restored at 2K resolution in 2019 by Waka Films with the support of the Institut français, Cinémathèque Afrique and CNC – Centre national du cinéma et de l’image animée, in agreement with Teemour Diop Mambéty, at Éclair laboratories from the original negative.


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