Jean Rouch


Soukey is just taking her final exams at a secondary school in Dakar when she learns that her father has chosen a better fate for her: She is to become the third wife of the old director of a peanut factory, the very elegant Mr. Gueye. Soukey refuses and runs off. Her friends decide to foil the plan. When Soukey meets a young lawyer from Paris, it is love at first sight. And when, in addition, Mr. Gueye is arrested for getting rich too quickly, Soukey is beside herself for joy. Only her parents are in the depths of despair. But the young people forgive them and force them to follow Farandole, which also leads to Gueye’s release. „With Jean-Claude Carrière and Peter Brook, we thought it would be fascinating to transpose this musical comedy, performed at the Café de la Danse in Paris, to a natural setting and to film it as a ‚live‘ happening. It was an attempt to conciliate a stage production with street theatre, a theatre of the wind, sun and sea, respecting the elementary rules of documentary film-making: to shoot only one take per frame, with no rehearsal, leaving a door open for the ‚wind of events‘“. Jean Rouch and Tam-Sir Doueb read more


Damouré Zika, Lam Ibrahim Dia and Jean Rouch formed their own company, DALAROU, in order to produce this picaresque, feature-length narrative film in which a market peddler (Lam) takes a friend (Damouré) to the countryside for an outing. Instead, they meet with a series of supernatural adventures, including an encounter with a sorceress, and don’t return to Niamey for a year. The three travel through the countryside selling chickens in an old 2CV that takes on an almost character-like role in the film. Structurally, the film is composed of ten-minute sequence shots with very little editing.
“The subject of this film is the “marginals” of Africa. I have come to the conclusion that changes in society are due primarily to those few people who are on the fringe of society, those who see the economic absurdity of the system… They have to find some way to make a living without being trapped by the system. The plot deals with how three men go with their car into the countryside to buy chickens for resale in a large city… The car you see belonged to Lam, the main character… The car had no license, no brakes, no lights. I thought it would be most interesting to show the routine of the marginal economy.“ Jean Rouch read more


This film was shot around the same time as Les Maîtres Fous (1954) and marked Rouch’s departure from a straightforward ethnographic approach to his distinctive “ethno-fiction” approach in which the film is improvised with his West African friends.
In Jaguar , Damouré, Lam and Illo play the roles of young Africans who, at that time, migrated from the interior during the dry season to the Gold Coast in search of work. Their picaresque and rambling adventures along the way provide the antic story-line of the film. The different episodes of the film were worked out by the actors at the time of shooting.
„A film like Jaguar was fun. It was shot as a silent film and we made it up as we went along. It’s a kind of journal de route – my working journal along the way with my camera. We were playing a game together, we were all in the same car going down to the coast. … We shot the film like that in one year. The narration was done later on, and the film was not edited on a beach but was actually filmed in the camera in the final order you see it on the screen. I brought the film back two years later… we improvised the commentary in one day and it was first class.“ Jean Rouch read more


Jean Rouch recounts three dreams of friendship and Dionysian adventures. First dream: Damouré, the man who introduced Rouch to the rituals of the River Niger, returns home after making his fortune in Ghana. He drives through present-day Niamey in his black, open-top Jaguar. Damouré soon realises that things are not what they once were. So in order to rectify this, he decides to make a ritual sacrifice. Second dream: Rouch and his friends take a trip down the River Niger, but they can’t take Damouré along because he doesn’t have permission to leave the country. So Damouré’s place is taken by Lam Ibrahim Dia, a young Peul cowherd. During the trip, he tells of his marabout journey to Nigeria, where he discovered marvellous white cows that came from India. They even spoke Hindi, but the locals didn’t trust them because they didn’t have horns. Third dream: in an ancient theatre, a multicultural group of actors gives a strange performance of Aeschylus’ ‘The Persians.’ “Barbarians“ dance and speak in adapted ancient Greek and the modern Peul language. For the sake of convenience, the accomplice poets have translated the dialogues into the language of their colonisers. Close by, in the shadows, the actors’ ancient doubles from 25 centuries earlier seek out the light. read more


Les Maîtres fous is set in the region of Accra, in Ghana, and chronicles the great annual possession-ceremonies of the Hauka (spirits of power) and of the winds who are said to bring madness. During the ceremonies, the Hauka spirits seize the initiated, who, entranced, take on the identities of colonial authorities like the guard, the general, the admiral, but also the locomotive – all those roles are played by the possessed.
It was toward the end of the twenties that the Hauka cult emerged in the Niger region. During the thirties, many of its followers, persecuted by the French colonial regime and ostracized by orthodox Moslems, moved to the coastal region, where they lived as migrant workers.
“Rouch’s commentary tries to interpret the cult as a sort of adaptation-therapy. The film itself has lost nothing of its astonishing power, a power that resembles an intense vortex forcefully attracting the unknown .” M. Friedrich read more


Madame L’Eau is an improvised feature film with a strong documentary style. As in previous films, Rouch follows his three friends (Damouré, Lam and Tallou) with his camera. And despite the pervading ironic overtone, the principal issue is serious: drought. Damouré, Lam and Tallou are no longer able to endure the drought ravaging their fields in Niger, and set off in search of a solution. Damouré suggests they contact their friend in Holland, the country of water and windmills. How do the Dutch manage to transport water (for free) from one point to another?
The three men decide to visit Holland. Very impressed, but still a little disappointed by the height and size of the mills, they continue their search. Finally they find what they’ve been looking for: a wooden windmill which they can even make themselves! Together with a Dutch engineer and some African carpenters they set out to build this windmill on the banks of the Niger river. Their dream becomes true. The film crew, the engineer and an “assembly kit” travel to Niger. In a combined effort they manage to build the mill in one month and there stands, in full splendor: a windmill; initiated, built and maintained by themselves. read more


This film is a sequel to Jaguar and offers a comic yet moving foreshadowing of Madame L’Eau (1993). At the end of Jaguar , Damouré and Lam had founded a company known as “Petit à Petit” from the proverb: “little by little the bird makes his bonnet” – the bonnet being the turban of a chief. Petit à Petit, the company, has prospered and Damouré is sent to Paris to see how people live there on the occasion of a skyscraper being built in the Ivory Coast.
Damouré, Lam and Illo play contemporary African businessmen who want to build a tall building in their village of Ayorou Niger, and decide to go Paris to see how people live in multi-story buildings, and to investigate Parisians in general. While in France, they assemble a team of expatriate Africans and French bohemians and return to Ayorou. The group eventually disintegrates under the tension of building construction, and the three men retire to their straw hut on the river to contemplate how to create a modern Africa not inspired by Paris.
The film develops many of Rouch’s recurring preoccupations: the creation of a “reality” by starting from fiction, the confrontation between blacks and whites, although this time in Europe and not in Africa, and the development of a “shared anthropology.” read more