With a stunning mix of the surreal and the naturalistic, Djibril Diop Mambéty paints a fractured portrait of the disenchantment of postindependence Senegal in the early 1970s. In this picaresque fantasy-drama, the disaffected young lovers Anta and Mory, fed up with Dakar, long to escape to the glamour and comforts they imagine France has to offer, but their plan is confounded by obstacles both practical and mystical. Alternately manic and meditative, Touki bouki has an avant-garde sensibility characterized by vivid imagery, bleak humor, unconventional editing, and jagged soundscapes, and it demonstrates Mambéty’s commitment to telling African stories in new ways.
Previously available in the first of Criterion's series of World Cinema Project box sets (paired on the same disc with Redes), Criterion now presents Djibril Diop Mambéty’s Touki bouki in its own individual Blu-ray edition, again in the aspect ratio of 1.37:1. The master used for their original edition—sourced from a 2007 2K restoration, scanned from the 35mm original negative—is the same one being used for this edition, encoded again at 1080p/24hz.
Based on the file information between the two editions (date and size, the file for the film on this edition being around a GB bigger than the file on the old disc), and a couple of minor differences in the final presentations, it’s clear Criterion isn't using the exact same encode, yet I still can’t say there is a significant difference between the two presentation. The clearest difference between the two is that the picture fills more of the frame, the old edition featuring a thin black border visible at the top and bottom, though no new information as been added; the picture is technically just larger.
There is also a slight difference digitally when you dig into the picture, yet when viewed on my 4K television I could not detect much of a difference: grain is rendered about the same, the level of detail is still very good, and colours and black levels show no differences. I still don’t put a significant amount of stock into comparing screen captures and usually try to avoid doing it, but I decided to compare new screen grabs from both editions just to see if there was any sort of difference. Doing that does show a subtle improvement in the digital encode, but I really need to stress the word “subtle”; it’s a very minor improvement and one must zoom in to notice it; film grain and the image overall can look a little bit blockier on the old edition. Again, on my television, I couldn’t detect any difference at all, the encode on the old presentation not being all that bad to begin with.
So, after getting past that, my feelings for the presentation are about the same, even if I had at least one new reservation this time around. Overall, I think the image looks great. Some minor issues remain (primarily some wear on the edges of the frame), but the restoration work has cleaned this up beautifully, and damage is not a real concern. Film grain is still rendered very well (if a bit coarse), leading to an incredibly sharp and highly detailed picture where sand granules found along the beach locations manage to look distinct.
My one new reservation this time around has to do with the colour grading, though it’s ultimately a minor concern and it could be the film’s intended look (the old presentation's colours, I should point out, look exactly the same). The picture leans warmer, with yellows coming off heavier, but it’s still toned down compared to other restorations that "suffer" from the same thing, like the restoration for Mambéty’s Contras’ City, which has been included on this disc as an extra (and I’ll get into ugly looking presentation in the Supplement portion). The skies still look blue and whites are noticeably warmer, yet still look white, not yellow. Black levels are also not impacted, looking deep and inky, still allowing for decent shadow detail.
In the end, the restoration is now around 13 to 14 years old, but it has held up remarkably well and I still think it looks strong, far better than I could have ever expected then and now. I just can’t say it looks significantly better than Criterion’s original release.
The lossless PCM 1.0 monaural soundtrack sounds the same as the previous Blu-ray’s. The film’s music soundtrack manages to be surprisingly dynamic, even the repeated excerpt of Josephine Baker singing “Paris, Paris,” but dialogue can sound a flat. The restoration has cleaned things up nicely, though, and there is no severe damage present.
Like the other titles available across Criterion’s World Cinema Project box sets, Touki bouki only came with a couple of features, I assume in attempt to keep costs down for sets that will have limited appeal. Those two features have been ported over to this edition as well: Martin Scorsese's 2-minute introduction to the film followed by a 12-minute interview with filmmaker Abderrahmane Sissako. Both end up touching on the film and the filmmaker, their places in African cinema, while also touching on its structure and characters.
Far more extensive is a 26-minute discussion between Mambéty’s brother and niece, Wasis Diop and Mati Diop. The two discuss the film’s production and Mambéty’s creative process, while also discussing the film’s structure and imagery, even the meaning or purpose behind some of the characters. Wasis Diop also touches on the casting process and how the two leads came to be in the film. The interview was recorded in 2012, I assume for a French release of the film, and I’m a little surprised it didn’t show up on Criterion’s original edition: it’s far more insightful and extensive than the other supplements they did end up including.
Another nice little bonus is the inclusion of Mambéty’s first short film, Contras’ City, newly restored in 4K. The film presents a 23-minute snapshot of Senegal’s capital, Dakar, post-colonization, showing how the French and Senegalese cultures have clashed and merged, both in a playfully humorous (especially through sound) yet critical way.
While Criterion has encoded the film well and the restoration has cleaned up the film impressively (it's in shockingly great shape), the film has a very heavy yellow tint to it, leading to this sickly yellow/green/cyan look that is just nasty, the only way I can properly describe it. The yellow tint also leads to severely crushed blacks. As I said in the picture portion, the warm look to Touki bouki could lead to a heavier yellow tint in some shots, but on the whole whites still had a white look and blues still showed up. The colours here are just a mess and the picture is ugly, a shame since other aspects of the restoration are impressive.
Criterion also replaces Richard Porton’s essay for the film found in the old box set’s booklet with a new essay in this edition’s included insert, written by Ashley Clark, writing about the film and Mambéty’s career overall. He puts a focus on specific elements in Touki bouki, like the use of Josephine Baker in the soundtrack, referencing another essay around the topic. I found it a more insightful essay compared to Porton’s, though I’ll make the one minor complaint regarding the layout: the black text on the red/brown background makes it a bit hard to read, though I am getting old and I need glasses now when reading, so, to be fair, my issue might have something to do with that.
Outside of that little complaint the material felt a bit more satisfying this time around, with a more in-depth look at Mambéty’s work and the film’s imagery. Having said that, a commentary would have still been appreciated.
The new supplements prove to be nice additions but I still can’t say I could detect much of a difference between the presentation found here and the presentation found on the old edition. On its own, it’s solid enough release.