What goes on inside the head of a man who knows he has only 24 hours to live? Franco-Senegalese director Alain Gomis takes viewers through this final day in his new movie “Aujourd’hui” (Today).
American actor, singer and poet Saul Williams plays the lead role in the movie, which wrapped up filming at the end of June in the bustling suburb of Yembeul in Senegal’s capital Dakar.
“It’s the kind of tale that takes place in an imaginary society in which death comes looking for someone. The film starts when he opens his eyes and ends when they close,” said Gomis, director of the highly acclaimed “L’Afrance” (2001) and “Andalucia” (2008).
“The film is not set in Dakar, we never say where it is taking place,” says Williams who plays the role of Satche, the main character. The actor is best known for his role in the independent film “Slam” by Marc Levin in 1998.
According to Williams, Satche is a “man of great intelligence, with little ambition” who is not interested in the American dream and returns to his country after 15 years in the United States, to the unpleasant surprise of his family.
Though known as a master of words, Williams has little dialogue in his role as Satche.
“That was important because my French and my Wolof are bad,” he says in heavily-accented French.
“Much of the story is told through the eyes of Satche. And I thought it was a beautiful story,” he says, saying he was taken from the first reading of the script, which he pored over with the aid of a dictionary.
Thanks to this film, Williams has been able to live what he calls the African-American dream in Senegal.
“The American dream is success, money. The African-American dream is to make a connection between that which was lost and that which exists now,” he explains.
In one scene being filmed, Satche arrives home and passes through the door of his modest house into a sandy courtyard where dirty laundry lies waiting alongside bowls of soapy water.
He leans against a tree as the heat bears down, barely acknowledging his wife Rama, played by Anisia Uzeyman, a French actress of Rwandan descent.
His face lights up as his daughter runs towards him, into his arms, and rests her head on his shoulder.
“Cut,” shouts the director Gomis.
“‘Aujourd’hui’ is not a sad movie,” he tells AFP of his third feature film which moves from the populous district to residential areas, bustling markets and a stylish office with views of the city.
“To me it is a joyful movie,” which tries to make the theoretical concept of someone’s last hours a tactile, perceptible experience, says Gomis, who hopes to present the film in January.
Oumar Sall from the Senegalese company Cinekap which co-produced the film, financed mostly by French funds, strongly believes that “Aujourd’hui” will mark his country’s winning return to prestigious film festivals.
With a “super screenplay”, top names such as Saul Williams, Aissa Maiga (France-Senegal), Djolof Mbengue (France-Senegal), Doss Thierno Ndiaye (Senegal) and Gomis’ record of achievements, Sall expects exceptional results.
Gomis, he says, “is really the future of Senegalese and African cinema.”