Dedicated to the thousands of men and women who have attempted escape from African poverty, the ocean set drama La Pirogue certainly has it’s heart and mind in the right place, but it’s a shame the characters and their motivations aren’t more than mere sketches. For everything it gets right in terms of gritty details, it feels more punishing than transformative and insightful.
Baye Laye (Souleymane Seye Ndiaye) is a Senegalese fisherman who reluctantly agrees to navigate and pilot a boat (known as a pirogue) carrying over thirty people illegally from the African coast to the shores of Spain where they can all live our their dreams of becoming athletes, rock stars, or reuniting with their families. Not only is the boat drastically overweight and the equipment faulty at the best of times, but not even all of the passengers speak the same language, some of which have never even seen the ocean before. He seems to be the only one capable of keeping a level head since the trip’s organizer (Laity Fall) is more fashionable than reasonable and the ship’s back-up “captain” (Babacar Oualy) is nothing more than a boy.
In a situation where only 9 out of 10 boats are able to actually live through the ordeal, it’s only a matter of time before disaster strikes and director Moussa Toure certainly knows how to make the passengers’ plight harrowing to watch, but aside from Baye Laye, everyone else is either underdeveloped or interchangeable. Some people have brief personality sketches about what they want to do once they get to Europe, but we know nothing of most of them from before they set foot on the boat. It makes the almost inevitability of the plot a bit harder to take when there isn’t very much to invest in the people stuck in such an awful situation.
There’s nothing particularly bad about La Pirogue, but it’s decidedly half baked instead of engaging. It’s all about hitting the high dramatic notes without adding any real depth to them. It’s very competently made, but not nearly as impactful as it could have been.