Don’t volunteer to be the captain of a risky voyage at sea, says one character to another at the beginning of “The Pirogue.” Being in charge makes one responsible for human lives.
Lives indeed prove cheap against the ocean’s power in Moussa Touré’s engrossing disaster film.
Largely set on a long, open boat (called a “pirogue”) on a course from Senegal to Spain with 31 paying passengers — most of them would-be immigrants full of dreams and hopes for their future — the episodic story predictably throws one horror after another at ill-prepared travelers.
Touré’s moral touchstone is Baye Laye (Souleymane Seye Ndiaye), an experienced sailor who reluctantly leaves his wife and young son to pilot the overcrowded, canoe-like vessel.
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Typical of seagoing tales, “The Pirogue” instantly becomes a microcosm of humanity, with characters who prove — when under pressure — courageous, arrogant, stoic, terrified or selfish.
Huddled in the boat, the 30 men from different African nations (the group faces some internal language barriers) and one female stowaway from Baye Laye’s village, face a storm, starvation, engine breakdown, infighting and incremental losses.
In one of the film’s most powerful moments, these voyagers, faces full of shame, flee from another pirogue, this one long-stranded, leaving its desperate passengers crying in vain to be rescued.
Touré leaves no room for sentimentality in his tale of struggle, which has a lean but adventurous, docudrama look and feel.
There’s nothing some directors with a strong visual sensibility enjoy more than the challenge of shooting a movie set on a boat, and Touré constantly finds fresh angles without being obvious about it.
Tom Keogh: firstname.lastname@example.org