Cinéma du Réel 2022 review: Crossing Voices (Bouba Touré & Raphaël Grisey)

“Touré passed away last January, and what is now his swan song is a fitting reminder of the way his past struggles have not ended and will not end until new forms of justice are achieved.”

Spread throughout Bouba Touré and Raphaël Grisey’s Crossing Voices are various aerial images of the land around the Senegal River. These are not fixed images: as the camera moves, new squared parts of the map start loading at different speeds and different resolutions, as happens when one gets too close on Google Earth. The landscape is not a fixed entity but constantly changing, and to know the landscape requires more than just having a look at it from above. It is necessary to actually inhabit it.

Touré would know. He was one of the co-founders of Somankidi Coura, an agricultural cooperative established in the ’70s by workers from Mali, Senegal, Mauritania, and Guinea who had migrated to France but had decided to return to their home countries to work the land with an organization based on solidarity and exchange of knowledge. A proud peasant in a world where peasants had been made to feel ashamed of their work and to strive for a supposed progress that entailed leaving the land and heading towards European cities, Touré also had an interest in photography and film, and became an artist on par with being an activist and an agricultural worker.

Crossing Voices gathers many of the materials shot by Touré during different political struggles in France and back home in Mali, with the input of Raphaël Grisey, who joined Touré later on, interspersed with their own and other people’s testimonies, archival footage, and the aforementioned map views. The collage does not follow a linear trajectory but takes shape as a mixture of different timelines combined: the fight in the ’70s for better living conditions in the foyers where migrant workers lived in France; the sans-papiers protests today; the forceful participation of African soldiers during World War II in the French military; the current situation with African migrant workers coming to Europe; the droughts in the Sahel, worsened by the introduction of industrial agriculture with development aid that didn’t keep in mind the particularities of this terrain, and so on. What may seem at first a chaotic jumble takes clearer shape in a section of the film where all these timelines are rapidly mixed, with a sign on the screen showing the date going back and forth from the ’70s to the ’50s, to the ’00s: the oppression of African workers today has a historical depth and has taken many shapes in the past, always with the purpose of upholding a colonialist structure that needs these bodies’ sweat and tears for it to exist.

The film doesn’t stop at diagnosis though. The focus shifts to the Somankidi Coura collective, and to the ways in which agricultural knowledge and cooperation with farmers from France could help these peasants recover their lands and achieve food sovereignty. The aerial shots through the territory are paired with a voice, a sort of griot storyteller, increasingly auto-tuned (a wink towards the future?), who sings about how to cultivate the land. Touré passed away last January, and what is now his swan song is a fitting reminder of the way his past struggles have not ended and will not end until new forms of justice are achieved. His working together with a younger filmmaker such as Grisey is a call for future generations to continue the struggle.