While the title Akounak Tedalat Taha Tazoughai translates approximately into "Rain the color of blue with a little red in it," this is more of a homage than a direct adaptation. The plot loosely follows that of Purple Rain, but is distilled down almost to the point of minimalism. Mdou Moctar essentially plays a fictionalized version of himself trying to have a career as a guitarist. While his father disapproves of guitarists, Mdou rides around on a purple motorcycle and wears purple robes, gaining notoriety after his performance at a wedding is traded between cellphones.
By mixing in some of star Mdou Moctar's personal life and using the Nigerien city Agadez as a backdrop, this film doesn’t ever feel like “just” an interpretation of the classic Prince vehicle. Each choice in the film seems to reinforce the authenticity of Akounak, but admittedly, it is likely enhanced by how little the average Westerner knows of West Africa.
Before gushing about the music in this film, it's important to know that even those who have never heard of the 'desert blues' genre, this film is a must see. While there are moments of amateurish acting, it never distracts from the film. Rather it gives the film a more organic feel, grounding the fable-like story in a sense of realism. All of the characters are rounded out enough to make them knowable and relatable, which reinforces this feeling. Mdou himself is the only character that feels somewhat unknowable. There is an air of mystery about him, but his drive and passion for music still keep his character in focus.
Although filmed in eight days, Akounak feels much more polished, borrowing liberally from French New Wave and Italian neorealism to capture the spontaneity of both the musical performances and Mdou's story. It would have been a more obvious choice to borrow from documentary filmmaking, but the chosen techniques by the filmmakers appropriately underlines the tone of the film.
And so the music. While I am only a bit familiar with Tuareg music, mostly through the band Tinariwen, the music in this film absolutely shines. An entrancing mix of Islamic rhythms, roots blues guitar, and unconventional sensibilities, the music feels both accessible and complex. And most importantly for the cinematic experience, the film does a spectacular job capturing the energy of the performances in the film.
Akounak Tedalat Taha Tazoughai is already one of my favorite films of the year, and I know I'll be revisiting over and over. Don't miss it next week at the Cinedelphia Film Festival!
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