I’m not sure how many Malian movies I’ve watched but I’m going to assume this is my first. Which based on the quality on show here, is a real shame. Yet another quality debut at this year’s festival, Daouda Coulibaly’s Wulu (which translates as ‘Dog’ in Bambara - the non-colonial language spoken in Mali) tells the tale of Ladji (Ibrahim Koma), a young man, making a living as a bus conductor and looking to graduate to driver. When he is overlooked for a driving position by his boss (the owner’s nephew gets the gig), he pulls in a favour with a local gangster and starts a more productive but equally more lethal job as a cocaine smuggler.
The first run goes south when it transpires that the local gangster had betrayed his bosses to the authorities when he was refused a raise but Ladji’s quick thinking averts a disaster and his new bosses open up a brave new world of contacts to him as thanks. Desperate to keep his sister out of prostitution and happy to take his friends along for the profitable ride, Ladji is drawn to ever more dangerous routes and bigger payoffs. It isn’t long before it becomes clear that the price he is paying to fund his friend’s blossoming drug habit and his sister’s expensive housing tastes is a great deal more than the money he is bringing in.
Coulibaly’s movie is a genuinely impressive piece of work for a first time director. Elegantly laying out the horrible lack of options for young Malian’s and at the same time brilliantly highlighting the insatiable appetite for drugs that is skewing the labour markets all through northern Africa, this is very much not easy watching. Central to the movie is Koma’s perfectly measured performance as Ladji. Already having spent time in prison for an undisclosed crime (the afore mentioned favour to the gangster), Ladji is no innocent victim but the price of his decisions is brilliantly articulated by Koma.
Standout performances and a blistering script highlighting very real and very pertinent issues, Wulu is a superb piece if work, I look forward to Coulibaly’s next.