DÔLÈ/MONEY(2000, Gabon, 79 min.), directed by Imunga Ivanga; screenplay by Imunga Ivanga; cinematography by Dominique Fausset; edited by Patricia Ardouin; music by François NGwa and Emile Mepango; with David NGuema-NKoghe (Mougler); Emile Mepango (Baby Lee); Roland Nkeyi (Joker), Evrard Elle Okoue (Akson), Anouchka Mabamba Mboumba (Couri), Roméo Ndimbina Moussambi (White Scarf), Henrieete Fenda (Madame Lucky), Marie Françoise Mimbie (Maroundou), Fidèle Edembe Gomes (Uncle Charlie). In French with English subtitles.
The melodramatic adventures of Mougler in Libreville, a film that I wanted to connect to the renewal of neorealist cinema. It takes the form of a kind of document on certain African societies that have experienced accelerated changes without always being able to master them, thus putting in peril the identity of thousands of cultures which see nothing in life other than Nike. I use the filter of an adolescents gaze in order to better penetrate the social strata that are the family, the school, the street, the monstrous city. Childhood effectively allows us to cast an innocent gaze on the social spectacle. By means of a simplicity that I want to make visible. To me, it means being able to capture an ordinary story of ordinary people, in their everyday, and to connect them to an aesthetics of contemporary African cinema. Imunga Ivanga
The film opens with with what appears to be a rap video, four young men rapping in rapid-fire French, on a graffiti-covered rooftop. We could be just about anywhere in the world; we are in Libreville, capital of the West African country of Gabon. Gabon is one of Africas richest nations in terms of natural resources, but under the endless government of Omar Bongo, very little gets to the ordinary people. The action of this film takes place in a shantytown district of Libreville, which seems emblematic of the nations aspirations, and its trauma.
The young director of Dôlè, Imunga Ivanga, uses these four young men as his entry point into this world, and we will see it through their eyes, even as we see them. It is accordingly a very fluid world, and very frustrating. These young men repeatedly make bad choices, helpless to control their desires and their passions.
The crews leader is a rapper wannabe named Baby Lee. Then there is young Joker, who dreams of becoming a deep-sea captain. Akson (as in Action Jackson), wants to be the world boxing champion. And finally, there is Mougler, the central figure in the story, who of all the boys has the most potential, but little to show for it.
Mouglers life is a mess at this point. His mothers health is in decline, and he can do nothing about it. Perhaps if they had money, she could have the care that she needs. But his father, wallowing in alcoholic self-abuse, has abandoned them, and his fathers brother does not seem able to do much to help. Mougler and his mother are very close, but just when she needs him most, he seems to be drifting away from her, into the company of his wastrel friends, Baby Lee, Joker, and Akson. With them, he can lose himself in Baby Lees rap ambitions, desire for "un ghetto-blaster," and schemes for petty thievery. In fact, it is clever young Mougler who comes up with the actual tactics for pulling off these petty crimes.
Although he had been among the best in his class at school, for the last few months Muglers attendance has been spotty and his motivation nil. He has a lovely, bright, and affectionate girlfriend, Couri, but she is losing patience with him. Their moments together at the beach provide him with a respite from his troubles, but soon those moments exist only in his memories and fantasy. Every decision that he makes seems to be the wrong one.
What does society have to offer Mougler and his buddies as a better alternative? The latest and greatest of lottery games, a scratch-ticket game called DÔLÈ, the BIG MONEY game. Using loud, aggressive advertisements, mobile loudspeakers, beautiful ticket clerks, and flashy sales kiosks, the game provides an oasis of illusion at the heart of the shantytown. The film reserves its most pungent social satire for this manipulative and exploitative game (including the near-apotheosis of the first big-stakes winner into a kind of royalty), yet for the boys, the game clearly has a powerful attraction. In fact, it eventually seduces the increasingly desperate Mougler to an extreme act that produces the films tragic dénouement.
Overall, the films strength is its ability to bring us into the head of a young Gabonais like Mougler, to blend documentary realism with the inner reality of youthful yearning and frustration. Its conclusion brings us into the realm of escapism, as the film is overtaken by Mouglers need to escape awareness of the world that has crumbled around him. The result is ridiculous, childish, and very sad.
While painting a very real portrait of contemporary urban life in Gabon, of traditional cultures giving way to the allure of hip-hop, Nikes, and dreams of easy money, the film also suggests the universality of this condition. In part and in whole, many young people in this country and in many others could easily relate to what these kids are going through.
The young cast of Dôlè was in fact drawn from the crowds of Libreville high-schoolers who flocked to Ivanga when word of the casting call went out. Many of them doubtless saw this opportunity as their chance to hit the triple parrot on their lottery ticket. But by the time filming began, under the directors tutelage during extensive preparation, these non-professionals had become imbued with Ivangas vision. They were able to lose their preconceptions of what "acting" entailed. The result is a great deal of naturalness and credibility to their actions and reactions, which are reinforced by a deliberate roughness in the filming and editing. This again helps to communicate the awkwardness and inevitability of adolescence, its foolishness, energy, and slant-eyed dreams.
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Born in 1967 in Gabon, Léon Imunga Ivanga received a Master of Letters from the University of Libreville (Gabon). He then studied filmmaking and screenwriting at FEMIS in Paris. He has written scripts for celebrated directors Bassek ba Kobhio and Idrissa Ouédraogo, along with a number of short films and documentaries of his own. Dôlè is his first feature film. He is working on his second feature, LOmbre de Liberty (The Shadow of Liberty).
--Notes by Michael Dembrow
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