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SAINT LOUIS BLUES is set in Senegal, and turns out to be a mind-numbing exercise in whimsy. The French love this sort of thing (see: 8 WOMEN as a prime example), where people burst out in song or dance in a realistic setting, unlike the elaborate MGM musicals of old. But director Dyana Gaye delivers embarrassing amateurism.
The plot hook, meager as it is, concerns a group of travelers headed by cab to the town of Saint Louis, near Dakar. They share the fare, and later admit a seventh passenger (a Caucasian guy). In an extremely dubious interracial love-at-first-sight shtick, the white fellow is smitten with a hairdresser, who is trying to escape from her domineering aunt who owns the salon and is traveling separately on a parallel route.
Nothing much happens, except the untalented cast singing off-key and shuffling along in the most perfunctory of would-be dance steps, sashays and arm waving, that would have Alvin Ailey rolling in his grave. I name drop the legendary dancer and choreographer merely to contrast with real talent; when one watches folks like these clunking along without a clue, it is major groan-time.
The lyrics, written by the director, are banal in the extreme, and the film proves exceedingly pointless, even as a window onto another culture. I had seen many quality Ousmane Sembene films about Senegal throughout the 1970s when he was riding high on the film festival circuit, and this latter-day effort does not measure up to the high standards he set.
I caught this at a New York Public Library festival of African movies, and it was perhaps the weakest in the bunch.
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