Burn It Up Djassa: Berlin Review

Burn It Up Djassa Still - H 2013

Burn It Up Djassa Still - H 2013

A stark slice of African street life.

Raw, dark and positively DIY, Ivorian director Lonesome Solo's debut is a grim portrait of modern-day Abdijan.

BERLIN -- Burn It Up Djassa (Le Djassa a pris feu) is a gritty, bare-knuckles plunge into the menacing streets and alleyways of the Ivorian capital of Abidjan. Directed with hand-held immediacy by nom de camera Lonesome Solo, this bleak portrait of a young cigarette seller caught up in a pointless murder provides a freshly desperate vision of modern-day Sub-Saharan Africa, where kids are left to fend for themselves while police come around only to pick up the bodies. Following stints in Toronto, Berlin and the upcoming edition of New Directors/New Films, Djassa should burn it up in fests and film weeks, with small-scale distribution possible in a handful of territories.

Part of a recent wave of African movies like Djo Tunda Wa Munga’s Kinshasa-set thriller Viva Riva! and Alain Gomis’ Dakar-set death march, Today, not to mention such ultra-low budget French banlieue flicks as Rachid Djaidani’s Rengaine (also screening at ND/NF) and Djinn Carrenard’s Donoma, this debut effort from writer-director Solo (real name Souleymane Bamba) turns the camera on a side of third world life that’s rarely depicted so grimly in contemporary movies, especially fictional features.

Recounted by a shadow-boxing narrator (Mohamed Bamba) who blurts out the events in a mix of slamming French and local slang, the film follows the travails of Tony (Abdoul Karim Konate), a wide-eyed street vendor who hocks his wares throughout the Abidjan ghetto of Wassakara, where men sit around drinking, getting high and playing cards, while women prostitute themselves on underlit corners, hoping to make enough to pay for their next meal.

The script -- co-written with Soumahoro Yacouba, Sanogo Ange Ali and Delphine Jacquet (also credited as cinematographer) -- is as scaled down as they come: Tony wanders the neighborhood and falls for hairdresser/street walker, Ange (Adelaide Ouattara), who he runs into later on when she’s being accosted by a local thug. Without thinking, Tony stabs and kills the guy, taking off with Ange in tow as his older cop brother, Mike (Mamadou Diomande), tries to track down the killer, all the while unaware that the culprit -- who’s known on the street as “Dabagaou” -- is his own flesh and blood.

Clocking in at just under 70 minutes, Djassa is clearly less interested in such a well-tread storyline than in its telling, and the innovative use of the narration, combined with crude, documentary-style scenes that rely heavily on improvisation, is what makes it a rather compelling watch. Not unlike French anthropologist Jean Rouch’s 1958 classic Moi, un noir (also set in Adidjan), the movie offers a cinema-verite immersion into an unwieldy urban setting that’s framed by the crude patois of the raconteur -- a technique that holds the viewer at bay before tossing them back into the fight.

Grainy and attentively handled HD camera work by Jacquet allows the sequences to play out in extended takes, capturing the randomness of dingy street scenes where violence could break out at any moment. This is particularly flagrant during a late taxi ride that gradually turns from playful to treacherous, revealing how little it takes for Tony and his cohorts to contemplate killing a stranger, in a world where such killings seem to be part of the daily routine.

Production companies: Wassakara Productions, Banshee Films

Cast: Abdoul Karim Konate, Mohamed Bamba, Adelaide Ouattara, Mamadou Diomande

Director: Lonesome Solo

Screenwriters: Lonesome Solo, Delphine Jacquet, Soumahoro Yacouba, Sanogo Ange Ali

Producer: Philippe Lacote

Executive producer: Soumahoro Yacouba

Director of photography: Delphine Jacquet

Editor: Delphine Jacquet

Sales Agent: BGP Film

No rating, 69 minutes