- CANNES 2021: Simon Coulibaly Gillard delivers a traditional yet unusual coming-of-age tale which borrows from the documentary form in terms of its method and from fiction in terms of its power
Aya (Marie-Josée Kokora) was born and has grown up on the island of Lahou, fifty or so kilometres from Abidjan. Here, she lives with her mother and little brother, in tune with the rhythm of the waves, moving in and out, soothing and all-effacing. For, little by little, the sea is nibbling away at the land. The beach is disappearing. Only fragments remain of the town which the elder folk once knew, and which is now nothing more than the dregs of a village, just a handful of fishing boats and a cemetery whose graves are being emptied out day after day.
Aya wishes she could counter this slow erosion. But instead, she loses herself in daily life, carries out her chores and plays games. She helps her mother, takes care of her brother, climbs the coconut tree and dreams upon the sand. She doesn’t dream so much of an elsewhere than of another time, a serene and joyful past when the sea was an ally. Taking refuge in her cheerful childhood and days spent on Lahou, Aya will nonetheless need to grow up and leave the world of childhood behind her, both literally and metaphorically.
The closing title of the 74th Cannes Film Festival’s ACID selection, Aya [+see also:
interview: Simon Coulibaly Gillard
film profile] is the story of a transition to adult age which doubles up as a tale of exile. A dual change which consists of a forced departure rather than an escape and a wrench rather than an abandonment, and which leads to a loss of bearings and of identity which is even more painful for it.
This first feature film by Simon Coulibaly Gillard is just as convincing for Aya’s infectious vitality as it is for the beauty of its images, the ocean air - an ocean which is as versatile as it is voluble and which seems to whisper in the ears of the locals. A demiurge ocean, which takes charge of rewriting their destiny.
The film oozes formal beauty, all the more so upon learning it was shot by a tiny team, which you’d never know when you see it on screen. The director turned his hand to photography, sound, continuity and artistic direction, while two assistant directors handled translations, liaising with the island’s inhabitants, amateur actors who reconstructed their present-day reality. Just like the sea - the main antagonist in the tale - the landscapes are inscribed within the story and tell their own stories, big or small.
The nocturnal scenes where we see men silently opening graves in order to transfer the remains of ancestors who have died on the island into plastic boxes, act as helpless guardians of history who try as best they can to hold onto memory, which is slipping through their fingers like sand.
The immersive qualities of the film’s mise en scène plunges the viewer into a far-away reality which blends together universal themes and seals the destiny of West Africa, plagued by a rural exodus. Aya will end up having to leave, like so many others before her. She will leave, but she will never forget. Disoriented by the nightlife of the urban jungle which she contends with with courage, a thirst for life and determination, Aya subsequently turns a corner. Aya, a daughter of Abidjan, and forever belonging to Lahou.
Aya was made with the support of the Wallonia-Brussels Federation and its fund for lightweight productions, which was launched several years ago. The film is produced by Michigan Films (Belgium) and Kidam (France), while international sales are managed by Tavskoski Films.
(Translated from French)
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