A fishing boat in which Senegalese men from different ethnic backgrounds will have to huddle for two weeks during an ocean crossing. Filmmaker Moussa Touré ‘s “The Pirogue,” currently shown in the Un Certain Regard section, incites dialogue in a dramatic climate of unpredictability and lives in the balance. The stakes are very high, this narrative fiction being very much based on reality.
Thirty men (a mixture of Peuls, Guineans, and Muslims) pay their way to rejoin Spain, their journey to be made aboard a fishing boat (the “pirogue” of the title). Why are they leaving? There’s no work in Senegal and living conditions are desperate. As one of the travelers says, remain in Senegal and your life will be a failure.
As they start their journey, one man points to a decorated bottle hanging from a rope in the boat; it’s our good-luck charm, he says. Once at sea, there’s a dispute after a woman is discovered on board. Later, when things start going badly for the travelers men of different ethnic tribe try to push the woman overboard, claiming she brought bad luck.
Allegory, rituals, beliefs, all are represented heavily here, vestiges of ancient civilizations. Symbolism is ubiquitous in “La Pirogue,” from superstitions to the different approach classes, ethnicities and gender take to resolve a life-threatening situation.
The hankering for a better life is the thrust behind “Pirogue.” Put thirty men on long-distance sea travel aboard a vessel that’s not adapted to that kind of wear-and-tear and it’s going to make for gripping drama. As research, the director had the cast watch “Master and Commander.”
The real story behind “Pirogue” is that between 2005 and 2010 30,000 tried this sea crossing and 5,000 perished.