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77 min. French, Dioula.

Ivorian Inza has come a long way – from the Ivory Coast through Libya and across the Mediterranean to Italy. Now he’s stuck there with his girlfriend, her child and other refugees and is trying to cross the mountains either by train or on foot to get to France, where a friend and another woman are waiting for him. Joël Richmond Mathieu Akafou stays very close to his protagonist, following him wherever he goes and whatever he does – organising things by phone, watching football, calling his family back home. The abstract nature of such concepts as safe third country regulations, curfews and residency status have a mirror held up to them here in concrete, highly personal fashion: we watch Inza having to sit and wait or make another attempt to cross; we see the inner turmoil of his desire for a future and his sense of being tied to the past; there are conversations about escape, identity and questions of belonging. But Traverser does not stylise Inza’s struggle, observing him instead in a life that chafes between romantic entanglements, attempts to escape and the rules of European asylum law; a life that never really finds peace. (ab)

Joël Akafou was born in Bouaké, Republic of Côte d'Ivoire in 1986. He completed a master's degree at the Institut Supérieur de l'Image et du Son (ISIS) in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. Afterwards, he studied at the Institut National Supérieur des Arts et de l'Action Culturelle (INSAAC) in Abidjan, where from 2008 to 2011 he was head of the CEAA (Coordination des Étudiants Artistes Africains). After the Crossing is Akafou's first feature-length film.

Europe, the gloomy Eldorado

TRAVERSER is the story of a young Ivorian, nicknamed Bourgeois. He has survived the crossing of the Mediterranean Sea and now lives in Italy. He cannot wait two or three years before going in front of a commission which is highly unlikely to grant him refugee status. So he dreams of going to France and is ready to do anything to get there.
It is the second documentary I make where Bourgeois is at the centre of my focus. In my first film, VIVRE RICHE, I filmed a group of young guys who were online dating and then scamming Europe-an women. It is called “grazing” in my country, Ivory Coast. Among the four of them was Bourgeois.
Before, they were able to live on online scams and a few other small jobs. But “grazing” has become more difficult. Bourgeois has decided to go to Europe, and has to face the dangerous journey through the desert, Libya, and the sea. His mother gave all her savings to help him.
In November 2016, I was in France when Bourgeois texted me, saying he was in jail in Libya and asking me to pay for his bail. I agreed to pay on the condition that he would return home. He told me: “I’d rather die at sea trying to make my mother happy than die in front of my mother without succeed-ing.”
I found him back on the streets of Turin, where he was stuck between the legal way (living in a mi-grant shelter, waiting for the refugee commission) and the crossing of the Alps. Then he decided to leave the camp, to try and find ways to cross without being caught by the police, and that’s how the film starts.
I tried to make a film for those of my generation who think they can have a better future on the other side of the Mediterranean, but also for Western spectators who live alongside these migratory flows. The Eldorado that Bourgeois dreams of is going to be gloomier than what he imagines.
With TRAVERSER, I tried to show a powerful and ambivalent character, who has put the word “honour” at the heart of his journey (the honour he doesn’t want to lose in front of his mother, if he fails to send her money to support her), who has complicated relationships with women, but who is also someone who epitomises very important aspects of north-south relationships. Bourgeois and his friends make us discover, in close-up, the daily lives of migrants hidden in the European cities, their feelings towards the colonial and neo-colonial power, the nightmare they have endured in Libya and on the boats out at sea. (Joël Akafou)

Interview with Joël Akafou: “Being as immersed with them is not possible for every filmmaker”

How did you meet the main character of TRAVERSER?

I met Toure Inza Junior, alias Bourgeois, the main protagonist of my film, during the shooting of VIVRE RICHE, my first documentary, where I tried to grasp the life of young people called “brouteurs” (grazers) in Abidjan.

Why did you decide to keep filming Bourgeois after VIVRE RICHE?

A few months after I finished editing the documentary, Bourgeois decided to leave Abidjan and to start a long journey through the desert and the sea to come to France. I had lived very intimate moments with him and his friends. All of them became like brothers to me. It was quite difficult for me to know that he had decided to risk his life in order to save his family and provide them with money if he managed to come to Europe and find a job. So I decided to make another film about him.

You worked with a very small crew. Why?

Filming in the style of direct cinema, I tried to immerse myself into their lives in Italy, which they did not choose, and all the obstacles that they had to face. All the disillusion that came with it allowed me to better capture their feelings. And, above all, as we were kind of friends after our shared experience on the first film, that approach allowed me to avoid ruining their private life and becoming too obtrusive. In a sense, knowing the language they use, knowing the way they behave helped me render their own reality on screen. Without much filter.

In the middle of the shoot, a new government was formed in Italy, and the Northern League of far-right politician Matteo Salvini came to power. Did it influence your work?

Yes. At that point, Bourgeois became aware he had no other choice than to leave, even though he did not express it clearly. The pressure was high and I was attacked during the shoot. I was arrested by the Italian security forces and they asked to watch my footage.

Why is it important for you, as an Ivorian filmmaker, to show your work in Europe?

My look at their migrant journey shows the lost illusions of these young African men. I tried to show how hard it was for them to make the journey, which is often full of death, loneliness and disillusion, as well as how painful it is, for those who manage to land on European shores, to realise how illusionary the Eldorado they believed in really is. I feel some pain when I think about how their countries, in Africa, can’t manage to offer them something better.

What can be the impact of your film on an European audience?

Being as immersed with them is not possible for every filmmaker. It allowed me to grab some pieces of their real lives. Showing their faces to a European audience can contribute to fostering a debate about the impact the western world has on the conflict.

There is a strong moment in the film about their memories of their stay in Libya. Which impact did these conversations have on you?

Still today, I remember how much this must have been some kind of hell for them. Something that strikes me is how much they try to laugh about these events in order to escape the trauma, the deep trauma they live with.

(VraiVrai Films)

Production Faissol Gnonlonfin, Florent Coulon. Production company VraiVrai Films (Saintes, France). Written and directed by Joël Richmond Mathieu Akafou. Cinematography Joël Richmond Mathieu Akafou, Mateo Tortone. Editing Jeanne Oberson. Sound design Ivan Broussegoutte. Sound Joël Richmond Mathieu Akafou, Corneille Houssou. Assistant director Laurent Bitty. Production manager Faissol Gnonlonfin. Executive producer Faissol Gnonlonfin. Co-producers Berni Goldblat, Quentin Noirfalisse. Co-production Les Films du Djabadjah, Dancing Dog Productions. With Inza Junior Touré (Bourgeois), Kader Keita, Michelle Bawa, Loulou Bawa, Assamoi, Papys, André, Amara, Chanella, Binta Touré (Bourgeois' Mutter).


2012: Bia n’de (13 min.). 2015: Zara (7 min.). 2016: Nourah (26 min.). 2017: Vivre riche (53 min.).

Photo: © VraiVrai Films, Les Films Du Djabadjah, Dancing Dog

Funded by:

  • Logo Minister of State for Culture and the Media
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