Review: "Aya" by Simon Coulibaly Gillard

Climate change in Africa as seen in the film of the special event Africa Talks

Simon Coulibaly Gillard (born in Bulgaria and raised in Brittany) has an intimate and enduring relationship with Africa. In fact, West Africa has become a familiar place for him to spend a lot of time in. Over the course of a decade, he has worked and filmed in Senegal, Mali, Benin, and Ivory Coast, creating both short and feature films. 

For his most recent work, Aya (the film of the sixth edition of Africa Talks), he chose a particular setting: the island of Lahou in Ivory Coast. The island, along with the young woman whose name gives the film its title, is the protagonist and central figure in all of the scenes. The sea, the beach, the wooden houses, the cemetery, the church, and the palm trees are a constant presence, a natural backdrop in which the inhabitants of the small community, who live off fishing and have a close and daily relationship with the sea, act. However, the sea is eroding the land, gradually approaching the village to the point where families are forced to make a radical choice: abandon the place where they were born and raised, dismantle their homes, and move elsewhere, taking with them the remains of their deceased loved ones, who must also be saved from destruction. 

Coulibaly Gillard’s gaze is simple and accurate, discreet and respectful, as he weaves a story of fiction brought to the screen by adhering to the poetics of cinema verité. Aya describes both the coming-of-age journey of a girl – who would never want to leave that island, who lives with her mother and little brother (her father is dead), and spends much of her time with a boy her age whom she reciprocates love for – as well as the transformations of a territory and the inevitable exodus of people in the face of the inevitability of environmental changes

Aya will also reluctantly decide to leave, eventually accepting her mother’s suggestion to start a new life in the city. But always with the island and loved ones in her heart. From the urban frenzy, after a night in a club, Aya moves away, reaches a beach, looks far away, and closes her eyes. She is now suspended between two worlds, here and there, the seduction of the city and the call of her origins. 

Giuseppe Gariazzo
Film critic 

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