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In his new film, Twist in Bamako, French director Robert Guédiguian exports his obsessions to the newly independent Mali of the 1960s. We follow Samba, a fervent activist who preaches socialism led by President Modibo Keïta, and the young Lara. A feature film in which the director wanted “Show that reason and sensuality are not opposed”.
While your work is inseparable from Marseille, where the majority of your films were shot, this time you have chosen to anchor your story in Mali. What is the starting point of Twist in Bamako ?
All the stories I tell in Marseille, I could transpose them elsewhere. The universal comes in particular forms. For the taste of adventure, I have already made a few trips to Lebanon to A crazy story , in Armenia for The Trip to Armenia … The Malian click occurred with the discovery of photos of Malick Sidibé, which we called “the eye of Bamako”, during an exhibition [à la Fondation Cartier, à Paris, en 2017]. These magnificent images of young people dancing in all directions, with their extravagant clothes, struck me. I discovered this time when Modibo Keïta and a few others looked for an original path to socialism and the development of Africa.
What was your relationship with Africa before the idea took shape?
I have a childhood memory, that of the arrest of [l’homme politique congolais] Patrice Lumumba, whom I had seen on the ORTF in 1960. These images shocked me a lot. I experienced independence and the anti-colonialist struggle. I had approached Africa symbolically in my film The Snows of Kilimanjaro , but i had never been to the mainland before Twist in Bamako. I only had an intellectual connection.
What did you want the character of Samba, played by Stéphane Bak to embody?
I told Stéphane Bak to play what I was at his age: a young idealist, hard worker, convinced, who wants to be an activist, understand things… and dance the twist! I wanted to make him embody the idea that a revolution can only be total. It is not only a question of improving material living conditions, but of revolutionizing all practices.
Samba is a serious character who speaks very lyrical, sometimes a little naive, and who, in the evening, dances and loves like crazy. Many forces oppose what Samba thinks: those who advocate repression, those who reject changes in mores, the emancipation of women, romantic and sexual relations … I wanted to show that reason and sensuality cannot not oppose. In my eyes, Twist in Bamako is a reflection on socialism, freedom and sensuality.
What about the character of Lara, played by Alicia Da Luz Gomes?
I wanted to show how a revolution liberates mores and bodies. Right from the start, at the time of writing, we said to ourselves, with [le coscénariste] Gilles Taurand, who had to be told through Lara about the complexity of fighting against tradition. The film gives a lot of his point of view.
What does the twist symbolize in the film?
There is in this dance the idea of bodies in movement, but also of intellectual contortion. It seems to me like a metaphor for what I believe we all need to do: think against ourselves.
Did you first consider filming in Mali?
No, we immediately decided to shoot in Senegal for security reasons. After several scouting, we filmed the village scenes in Podor, in the north of Senegal, the administrative places in Saint-Louis, which is the former political capital, as well as in Thiès and its surroundings, whose vegetation makes one think in Bamako. There is something magical about reconstructing a country through imagination and the power of editing.
Can we say that Twist in Bamako tells of an unfinished utopia of revolution as well as of decolonization?
I tried to figure out what had gone wrong. For a revolution to be successful, it seems to me that you have to go faster, harder and never give up your convictions. In my eyes, politics consists of always asserting your ideas and trying to convince, which Samba tries to do all the time. I often say, to paraphrase the historian Thucydides, that one must “choose between resting and being free”.
As in many of your films, there is something tragic in the question of good intentions …
For me, the fact that socialism has not succeeded is tragic! So I can’t conceive of the film without constructing it as a tragedy. These eight years of Modibo Keïta’s presidency have been a great moment that must be brought to light, reassessed and studied. There is also something aesthetic that interests me in tragedy.
Did you have the opportunity to show the film in Mali or Senegal?
I plan to show it after the end of my next shoot, which takes place in Marseille. We also had the film dubbed in Wolof and Bambara so that the general public could see it.