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80 minutes, 2001, Gabon Producer/Director: Imunga Ivanga in French with English subtitles
ABOUT THE FILM
Dôlè offers a Gabonese perspective on the global crisis facing today's youth. With familial and societal structures crumbling, young people are increasingly thrown back for support on each other and an all-encompassing international pop culture. This film reveals that, whether in Libreville or in our own inner cities and suburbs the underlying causes of youthful disaffection can be remarkably similar. With Ça twiste à Poponguine, Dôlè provides one of the most affectionate and affecting portraits of African youth poised precariously on the cusp of modernity. Winner of the first-place Gold Tanit at the 2000 Carthage Film Festival, It has already been widely compared to François Truffaut's iconic coming of age film -- a kind of "Le quatre cents coups" in Gabon.
Dôlè begins not with plot but with performance. On a rooftop overlooking the city, in a scene which could happen anywhere, a group of young men vent their frustrations in instantly recognizable rhythms. Performing only for themselves, they aggressively search for an identity through the universal patois of hip-hop. When they plot a robbery to obtain one of the necessary accoutrements of that lifestyle, what they call un ghettoblaster, one cannot help but wonder if the image is reflecting reality or has begun to determine the reality. This begs the question: What does it mean to be "real" if this is essentially a pose, one stance among many for approaching a particular reality?
The main character, Mougler, seems almost to be a sociological study of a ghetto youth slipping into a life of petty crime. As is so often the case, there is an absent male figure, a dissolute father who has abandoned his family; there is also a strong, long-suffering mother who, however, is slowly dying from an unspecified disease. The larger society represented by school does not appear to offer Mougler any better support system. Once an outstanding student, he now affects the truculent stance of a gangbanger, reading rap magazines rather than his texts in class.
Mougler finds an alternative to family and school among his peers, specifically in a not very intimidating gang. The four boys in his group are each following an unrealistic or at least unlikely path out of poverty and obscurity. Joker is still young enough to live out his fantasies through toy boats and tales of buried treasure. Baby Lee, the gang leader, dreams of becoming a rap star. Akson, like so many poor boys before him, looks to prize fighting as his route to fame and fortune. Mougler's mother has given him a name "that sounds like a movie star" as a talisman for success.
For the millions of people like Mougler living on the margins of the emerging global economy, a lottery can seem like their only hope for financial success. Looked at in this light, a lottery is a kind of travesty of a healthy economy, where the connection between work and material rewards has become purely a matter of luck. In Le Franc, Djibril Diop Mambety used the lottery to symbolize the dependent relationship between Africa and international finance capital. In Dôlè we see how the media cynically collaborate with the lottery to divert desperate people's economic aspirations into a spectacle, a contemporary combination of "bread and circuses." When Mougler urgently needs money to buy medicine for his mother, he decides to up the stakes and even the odds by robbing the cash box at the lottery kiosk. What has up until now been a fairly light-hearted look at the follies of youth suddenly turns somber. The kiosk has an armed guard, nicknamed "Rambo," who kills Baby Lee in the heist (what makes the situation so dangerous is that pop fiction and reality interpenetrate everywhere in this world). Although Mougler succeeds in purchasing the medicine, it comes too late to save his mother.
Dôlè ends, however, not with this denouement but with a dream. It is as if the filmmaker cannot bring himself to consign his young cast to its dreary fate. In a coda or epilogue, the scene shifts abruptly from the congested city to the open sea; Mougler and his friends relax on the deck of a ship slicing through the water. The ship belongs to Mougler's Uncle Charlie, the positive male role model in his life. The director even draws attention to the arbitrariness of this ending by having Baby Lee magically reappear from the dead through a hatch. As a final gesture, Mougler throws a lottery ticket into the sea because he "doesn't want to lose anymore." Perhaps he is remembering Uncle Charlie's observation: "There are two kinds of people in the world; those whose destiny is shaped by events and those who shape their own destiny."
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"Provides a rare peek into life in Gabon's capital, Libreville. This likeable first directing effort by Imunga Ivanga has a laid-back authenticity missing from more dramatized tales of African youth."
"Dôlè is a droll film that knows how to turn the tragic into candid satire. In the director's hands the narrative often takes on the demeanor of a documentary."
"African cinema is moving into cities and rejuvenating its characters. Between high school and delinquency, rap and dysfunctional families, we recognize familiar figures and situations...The director hits the right spot."
"Pure and abrasive like everything produced with real modesty."