Film Festival Film #8: Burn it up Djassa

I’m getting behind of my film blogging. Thursday night’s film was a shorter film called Burn it up Djassa. It’s a film from the Ivory Coast about young people in a rough neighbourhood. Tony is a young, street-smart cigarette hawker who works Princess Street’s active night life area of Abidjan. At some level, he’s a bit bitter that his brother, Mike, got formal education before their mother died, and thus Mike has a good job with the police. Mike financially helps both Tony and their sister, Ange, but the financial inequities often grate. As does the Mike’s expectation of being able to lecture his younger siblings on how they should live their lives.

Ange, for her part, resents her own job in a hair salon, and has been trying her hand at prostitution as an income stream. Tony’s heard rumours that this might be so, but it really comes to a head when a john gets into a heated argument with Ange about someone stealing his cell phone. Tony knifes the guy, and takes off with Ange; he later hears that the guy died and is torn up about having become a murderer. But! Guess who gets to investigate the murder?

Soon Mike gets a lead (but still doesn’t know that Tony’s involved) and there’s a chase and a gunfight and Tony lies dead. It’s only at that moment that Mike realizes that his suspect is his own brother.

It’s a very simple story, and a bit rough in places. It’s all shot in a kind of French New Wave style with handheld cameras and long shots. It also made a lot of use of local non-actors to play smaller roles. Also, interweaving this story, there’s a narrator who describes each chapter of the story before we see it — he’s performing the storytelling in a sing-song-y Nouchi slang.

Measured by Hollywood standards, it’s not a very sophisticated film. Instead, though, it’s an exciting example of the burgeoning African film industry. There hardly a film industry in the Ivory Coast (although Nollywood is bigger than Hollywood at the moment — at least in terms of number of movies created). The producer, Philippe Lacôte, certainly pointed to the Nigerian film industry as an inspiration.

When I go to TIFF, I tend to pick a lot of films from their World Cinema programme precisely for this reason: it’s very exciting to see countries exploring their own film narrative traditions.

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