Wùlu – Review
Directed by Daouda Coulibaly, Wùlu follows the story of Ladji (Ibrahim Koma), a likeable Malian bus conductor turned drugs smuggler, in a desperate bid to better not only his life but also his sister (Inna Modja) who is forced to work as a prostitute In order to make ends meet. As this gritty narrative unfolds, we watch as he works his way from simple smuggler to drug kingpin. However his journey is fraught with desperation, isolation and ultimately tragedy.
Wùlu is director Coulibaly’s third foray into film production, and whilst on paper it would be easy to assume that he is inexperienced, this assumption does not translate to Wùlu. The film itself has been likened to a ‘West African Scarface’ and this is understandable what with its moments of intense and bloody violence coupled with the rise and fall of its protagonist within the drug trade. However, in my opinion the journey of Ladji in comparison to Scar-Face is far more intimate and traumatic. This can be attested to its cinematography which captures the majority of exchanges using deep focus, helping to keep the characters and settings crisp and clean with a glint of harshness. In addition to this, there is a distinct lack of non-diegetic sound which further keeps Wùlu grounded within a seemingly tense atmosphere.
This harshness is immediately evident near the beginning of the film in which Ladji abandons his role as bus conductor and can be seen walking home to tell his sister of his new found calling as a drug smuggler. However, this seemingly normal shot is spliced together with the pants and groans of his sister’s client in action, with continual cross cuts to more and more voyeuristic shots of the act versus Ladji’s walk. This scene not only exudes a feeling of abject misery and somewhat justification of Ladji’s assumption of his new illicit trade, but also gives a raw insight into the poverty that racked Mali in the run up to the collapse of the national government; further complicated by civil war in 2012, which the film makes subtle commentary on throughout.
Whilst the film explores a plethora of heavy themes throughout and in graphic detail, it is punctuated with humorous moments (or at least before the last quarter of the film). One scene which had me trying to supress an onslaught of giggles was when Ladji’s friends/associates (Ismael N’Diaye, Jean-Marie Traoré) test their latest batch of cocaine and accidentally get high on their own supply. This then cross cuts to them attempting to pack up the merchandise, in broad daylight and in public, with all the stealth of a powdered nose bull in a china shop. His friends prove to be the bedrock on which these comical moments are built upon, however as Ladji’s rise to success increases, sadly so too does his isolation.
Daouda Coulibaly has crafted something which not only provides commentary on a number of issues relevant to Mali, but has made a film which also works as a straight up genre flick. This can be accredited not only to the visual direction of Wùlu, but also to the great performance of French born Ibrahim Koma who acting in both Bambara and French manages to make Ladji a likeable character with whom we wish well despite his grievous flaws. All of which makes his tragedy ever more heart-breaking. Wùlu is a must watch.
Reviewed by Oliver Leigh