A film that was high on my must watch list at the Sydney Film Festival was TODAY – the Senegalese film by French-Senegalese filmmaker Alain Gomis. The film which was competing in the Official Competition stars American artist and poet Saul Williams in the lead character Satche.
The film had been described as a mystical surrealist story based in Dakar, Senegal. I had pictured what the film would be like in my head, but it did not match up to those images. However once I slowly took in the film, pondered over it for a few days and removed all my earlier preconceived perceptions, I found it to be a subtle, contemplative and well executed film.
TODAY follows a Satche (Saul Williams) as he wakes up fully aware along with the entire village and his family that it is his last day on earth. He snakes around the streets of Dakar saying final goodbyes to friends and family. The film moves gently showcasing a picturesque and vibrant Dakar with emotions bubbling up slowly in short bursts.
His loved ones around him feel the intensity of his death the most with his wife refusing to be touched by him as she can’t stand the thought of her impending loss while his mistress is consumed with bitterness and anger.
I found the choice of using Williams instead of a local Senegalese actor to be interesting and I got the chance to question Gomis about it the following day. He gave an insightful response that putting in a foreigner forces a different level of understanding as the actor is forced to interpret thoughts, actions and conversation differently, moving and behaving in Dakar uniquely as opposed to a local.
The opening scene is both confronting and humorous as Satche is confronted with loved ones speaking out about his life, his achievements, his weaknesses and his failures. Gomis refers to the film as a ‘celebration of life’ in the Q&A which followed the screening. The focus wasn’t on the impending death of Satche but rather the celebration of his existence so far.
There is a beautiful scene where Satche meets a Sufi body washer, whose job is to wash the deceased before burial. The gentleman performs a practice wash on Satche. There is indeed something surreal about experiencing a ritual reserved for your death and the magnitude of this spoke in loud volumes to me.
In the end the silence and the lack of dialogue in the film leaves you to your own devices to fill in the gaps and the unexplained encounters and finally with the ultimate question. How would you spend the last day of your life?