Saloum (2021) Review

Saloum Poster

I almost managed to see the Senegalese export Saloum on the big screen last year, before some schedule shuffling got in the way. Watching it now I wish I had managed to see it, and not just because of Gregory Corandi’s (Le Banc) cinematography. Writer/director Jean Luc Herbulot (Dealer, Munster Cake) has fashioned a genre-jumping film that would be perfect to watch with an audience.

Saloum opens with a voice thoughtfully contemplating the nature of revenge before abruptly shifting to the scene of a massacre as the mercenaries known as The Bangui Hyenas, Chaka (Yann Gael Loro, the French Boys 2), Rafa (Roger Sallah, Dancing the Twist in Bamako,  Renaissance) and Minuit (Mentor Ba, Sër Bi (Les Tissus Blancs)) are finishing off anyone who might still be alive while uptempo dance music plays.

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It’s 2003 and as a coup throws Guinea-Bissau into chaos they’ve been hired to get Felix (Renaud Farah, Staff Only) a cartel drug boss, and his stash of gold out of the country. It should be a piece of cake until they have to make an emergency landing to repair and refuel their plane in Senegal’s Saloum region where Chaka grew up. He gets them rooms at a commune/resort run by Omar (Bruno Henry, Safari Park, The Dark Castle) who he knew from back in the day. They just need to lay low for three, until they can get resin and fuel and be on their way.

But it’s obvious that something is resting uneasily on Chaka’s mind and that’s even before one of the other guests Awa (Evelyne Ily Juhen, Cacao), a deaf-mute who speaks in sign language, reveals to him that she knows who they are and why they’re there. But that’s just the start of it because nobody there is who they appear to be.

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Starting out as an action film, Saloum quickly moves into thriller territory as the viewer tries to figure out the character’s hidden agendas and possible motives. It turns out that another of the guests, Souleymane (Ndiaga Mbow, Angel, Sakho & Mangane) is a police chief, is he there by coincidence, or like Awa, does he know who they are? Why, given the risks does Chaka resist cutting and running for the border? And who sabotaged their plane forcing them to land here?

Starting out as an action film, Saloum quickly moves into thriller territory as the viewer tries to figure out the character’s hidden agendas and possible motives. It turns out that another of the guests, Souleymane (Ndiaga Mbow, Angel, Sakho & Mangane) is a police chief, is he there by coincidence, or like Awa, does he know who they are? Why, given the risks does Chaka resist cutting and running for the border? And who sabotaged their plane forcing them to land here?

This is all served up with a side of supernatural menace. Who, or what are the shadowy figures darting around at the edge of the film’s frames? What is the connection to Chaka’s vivid memories or possibly hallucinations?

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The answers will come eventually, but they’re wrapped in Africa’s bloody history of war, child soldiers, and colonial exploitation. Herbulot shoots it with images that, as you may have guessed from the poster, suggest a western though it never actually becomes one the way Five Fingers for Marseilles did. Indeed, Saloum’s last act moves into full-blown horror territory as the past comes back to literally and figuratively haunting the present.

Saloum is almost impossible to categorize as it shifts genres and weaves together a variety of themes that might seem incompatible at first glance. It may have been better off shedding a couple of them and developing some of the others a bit more fully, but there’s little to complain about in the finished product.

Saloum is currently available to stream via Shudder. And if you don’t have Shudder available to you, FilmTagger can suggest something similar to watch.

Where to watch Saloum
Our Score

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