AFFFF review: Wùlu

Breathtaking West African thriller with political clout signals a new directorial talent. Ibrahim Koma is also excellent.

Announcing a talent to watch, French-Malian director Daouda Coulibaly’s debut feature Wùlu, currently screening as part of this year’s Alliance Française French Film Festival, is both a heart-starting thriller set in the West African capital of Bamako and a sharp commentary on the corruption that led to Mali’s political collapse and the complexity of the country’s subsequent civil war.

In French and Bambara, it’s also a brilliant showcase for the leading man chops of Ibrahim Koma who plays Ladji, an impoverished bus driver whose problem solving smarts mean he spies a way out for him and his sex worker sister Aminata (musician and activist Inna Modja) through cannabis then cocaine smuggling, under the menacing glare of brutally territorial mob boss Jean-François (Olivier Rabourdin).

Refreshingly complex characters, writer/director Coulibaly refuses to morally judge them, even as the escape route that sees them rapidly climb socially spirals just as fast downwards, towards the insidious involvement of the country’s officials with Al-Qaeda.

The paces pops, economically edited by Julien Leloup, and Coulibaly ensures that Ladji’s willingness to cross the line, even to the point of betraying friends, is understandable in the circumstances, so much so that the promise of love with public servant Assitan (Mariame N’Diaye) is still welcome. But this is a harsh time, full of harsh people, and Ladji is his own harshest judge.

Pierre Milon’s cinematography catches the both the beauty and the grit of Bamako’s ruling classes mansions and the hard scrabble of its underworld denizens, and the line Ladji crosses between them, with Koma’s performance commendable and Modja’s radiant despite Aminata’s tougher surface. But it’s Coulibaly who is the biggest star here, and hopefully we’ll be seeing a lot more from him in the coming years.

Stephen A Russell @SARussellwords

★★★1/2

Book tickets to see Wùlu at AFFFF here.