As part of the ongoing Tournées Film Festival, the Department of German and Roman Languages hosted a viewing of Jaguar on Sunday, March 4. The festival aims to expose students to the full breadth of the French cinematic experience, and Jaguar is a particularly interesting and diverse inclusion. The film depicts life in the states that comprised French West Africa during the end of colonial control and the onset of independence, and it provides a complex interpretation of the de-colonization. It is a lovely film that has left behind a legacy of inspiration and more than deserves its spot in the festival’s lineup.
Jaguar follows a group of young Nigerian men as they travel to the Gold Coast (present-day Ghana) in search of work and adventure; it’s a kind of pseudo-documentary. The characters in the film are portrayed by actors, yet they really did undertake the journey around which the narrative is structured: Much of the footage was actually captured during the trip. As such, the film emphasizes the actors’ experiences and the people and cultures that they interact with in real time during the journey.
The documentary-esque format does an excellent job of absorbing the audience into its world. The camera would sometimes simply film their surroundings, which results in some beautiful and organic shots. All of the narration was recorded after the fact, allowing the film to take on a more casual and nostalgic tone. As such, the film’s unusual format is one of its greatest strengths.
Although it doesn’t have any dramatic tension or narrative push, the laid-back structure of the film is engaging in its own way. The actors all have great chemistry, both in footage and in voice over, and their interactions help elevate a lot of fairly mundane scenes to new heights. One scene simply depicts the first time that the group encounters the ocean, and they quickly begin playing in the water and messing around with one another. It’s simple, but the antics feel organic and enjoyable in a way that a more scripted piece would have difficulty reproducing.
Jaguar’s context of de-colonization makes for interesting commentary by the characters. On the one hand, the film is fairly optimistic and emphasizes the shared culture and languages of the people in front of the camera. At the same time, it is critical of colonialism and presents an uncertain view of the future. On their travels, the characters must cross borders that didn’t exist prior to colonialism; later, they crack jokes about having their valuable natural resources stolen from them. The depiction is nuanced and does really seem to represent both the joy and unease of the period. The film ends with the group returning to their hometown, adorned with gifts and stories of their adventures, and resuming life as normal. It is a simple but powerful resolution to their journey, and it’s one that paints a bright picture of the future.
Following the screening, Ousseina Alidou, a professor from Rutgers University who specializes in the study of Muslim women in Africa, answered audience questions about the film. Alidou touched on the role of communal languages in Jaguar and discussed the legacy of the film’s director, Jean Rouch. She also emphasized the film’s preservation of a specific cultural moment in West Africa, highlighting its depiction of hairstyles and clothing that were unique to the period. Generally speaking, Alidou provided a lot of contextual information, and her love of the film really shined through in her responses.
Overall the screening of Jaguar was an excellent showcase of a very unique film that definitely represents the diversity and talent that the Tournées Film Festival aims to promote.