Ever since its golden era, the Western genre has been used by filmmakers to memorialize the final frontier of American expansion. The mountainous vistas and sunsets portraitures are allegorical eulogies for the “loss of adventure”. In the spiritual fantasy Western, Saloum, the iconography associated with the genre are on full display. Yet the typical rocky terrain is replaced with the empty deserts of Senegal, picked clean of resources by generations of foreign rulers. While the Western generally idolizes expansion, director Jean Luc Herbulot uses the genre to show the reverberating effects of colonialism, even decades after occupation has ended.
As with any great Western, Saloum open with three outlaws, nicknamed The Bangui Hyenas, on the run after they stole half a million in gold bars. The crew hides out in the village of Saloum until the heat regarding their heist wears off. The sanctuary of Saloum seems almost perfect. Every guest in the village has a chore to complete in exchange for room and board. It’s an anti-capitalistic structure where loyalty and community is currency.
It’s this very structure that hints to a murkier motive to the community. The refuge may seem harmless but there’s a reason it’s managed to survive through countless regime changes. It’s that reason that shifts Saloum into the fantastical, spiritual realm in the film’s second half. Without delving into spoilers, Herbulot explores the immense grip that foreign expansion can still have on a community even though Senegal is considered to be in a stage of post colonialism. While the surface may be revitalized, the roots are still seeped in vengeance.
There’s a common association between international cinema and a kind of inaccessible superiority; that foreign films are too snobbish to enjoy. But Saloum is a prime example of just how accessible and entertaining world cinema really is, while still opening audiences up to new cultural values and ideals. In a world where the biggest Netflix television show ever is a Korean thriller (Squid Game), Saloum hopefully finds the large audience that it so rightfully deserves.
The Silver Lining
The blood red leather gloves worn by the protagonist, Chaka (Yann Gael) are an excellent aesthetic decision by costume designer Malick Mbengue. The hue of red that Mbengue gives the impression that Chaka has blood on his hands, which fits into the character’s mysterious past. Given that they’re also on the run, the gloves visually symbolize Chaka’s fear of being caught red handed. There’s a reason that all if Saloum‘s marketing highlights the red gloves and it’s not just because they’re pretty. Having said that, Mbengue’s costuming is making me search for a pair online, which I haven’t done since Chris Evans’ sweater game in Knives Out.
Saloum is coming soon to a screen near you!