Director: Daouda Coulibaly
Language: French, Bambara
Runtime: 95 mins
Like many a drug trafficking saga, Wùlu, the feature debut from Marseille-born French-Malian writer/director Daouda Coulibaly, threatens to be a mere meditation on that age-old Biblical question; 'What…if a man gains the whole world but loses his soul?'
Not only does this film take the above query and wrap it in a West African fable with gangster-thriller trimmings. It also asks a series of similarly pertinent questions about the parallels between terrorism, drug smuggling, migration and class conflict.
Wulu’s plot seems to bloom in a series of expositional colours. As the film opens there’s a lively surfeit of green as we meet Ladji (played with stoicism and brilliance by Ibrahim Koma), a young and ambitious minibus driver who is an orphan, desperate to make enough money smuggling class B drugs around Mali, to get his audacious and troubled younger sister Aminata (Inna Modja) out of prostitution.
The plot continues to proceed in colour-coded cues, where we see Ladji and his colleague Zol take refuge in a bedroom draped in an ochre-gold hue. Zol’s addiction to and consumption of the supplies the pair are yet to deliver exposes their muddied partnership, corruption is afoot.
It becomes evident that Aminata is as addicted to seducing and sleeping with stray men and the power that comes with controlling them, as Ladji is to the thrill of sneaking Cocaine through national borders. Cinematographer Laurent Cantet (who worked on Palm D’or winner ‘The Class’) highlights the parallel between the two characters in magnificent fashion, often showing them mirroring each other in the same shot.
If you've seen Breaking Bad, Scarface or any other televised examples of a rising and falling drug-fuelled empire, you’ll know what’s coming next and you’ll know how it’s all going to end. However, Coulibaly’s script has enough small nuances in it to save Wùlu from sheer predictability. In more than one scene, terrorists are depicted as unlikely heroes, as they come to Ladji’s rescue in a number of tricky altercations. The films assertion that drugs were used to finance a military coup in 2012, is also a significant point. Moreover, the way in which the film shows the sameness of power arrived at through unethical means (whether that is drug money or corrupt politics) is also somewhat unique.
Perhaps, after all, Wùlu is not a meditation on one man losing his soul but on a whole nation. The Malian flag is a symbol of pan-Africanism and is thus green, gold and red but in the film these colours seem to spell innocence, corruption and murder. Three traits which, unfortunately, have come to summerise the perception of politics in West Africa in recent years.
Words: David Kwaw Mensah