REVIEW: Mali Twist is a story of impossible love in revolutionary Mali

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Mali Twist is set in Bamako in 1962, where Samba (Stéphane Bak (Farewell to the Night AFFFF2021, Elle, AFFFF 2017)), a young socialist, spreads the word of socialism and its benefits to the villages of Mali. The story depicted in Mali Twist appears to take place over only a short number of months of 1962. The Malian president Modibo Keïta’s socialist movement lasted from 1960 to 1968.

Mali Twist - the official film poster shows a girl in orange dress dancing facing a man in a beige suit against a black and white striped walls and on a black and white tiled floor

Dreaming of a better future for an independent Mali freed from the colonial grip of France, Samba and his co-workers try to educate villagers about how socialism will benefit everyone, not just the rich. On his travels, he meets Lara (Alicia Da Luz Gomes), who hides in their ute and escapes her forced marriage fleeing to Bamako.


Mali Twist is director Robert Guédiguian’s 22nd feature film and was written by award winning scriptwriter Gilles Taurand (Heal the Living, Farewell My Queen). The film was inspired by the photographs of Malick Sidibé, whose work covering the 50s, 60s and 70s, was collated into an exhibition and book of the same name, Mali Twist. The exhibition at Paris’ Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain showed more than 300 photos and portraits taken by Sidibé.


The film opens in black and white on the streets of Bamako where workers provide the sounds. The click-clack of sewing machines, the thumping of fabrics, the sound of footsteps as a man walks across the street and back again laying down threads on the road. But soon the world turns to the colours we are accustomed to seeing on our screens.

Mali Twist / Twist à Bamako

Their inevitable love story is told against the backdrop of a modern Bamako where clubs play 60s rock ‘n’ roll and Malian youth dance the twist. Quite a change from the village from which Lara has just fled.


Knowing going into this film that neither their love story, nor Samba’s socialist revolution, are likely going to be easy, we found ourselves second guessing certain actions and questioning motives. Would the photographs taken by the photographer at the Western nightclubs lead to their demise? Will that lead to Lara’s actions and adultery being found out? It’s at least an hour into the film before we have any idea of what is going on in the village from which Lara fled. Upon learning she is in Bamako, her brother and her husband are sent to Bamako to find her and bring her back. Samba seeks advice from women about how to divorce and when the family code may allow divorce and stop marital rape. He’s informed that many women in those villages would prefer death to divorce.


Samba comes up against a lot of troubles in trying to convince people that socialism benefits everyone. People don’t understand what benefits socialism could bring them. Traders, including Samba’s father, Lassana (Isaka Sawadogo)) are demonstrating against the regime eager to impose new social rules and a national currency. His Dad tells him early in Mali Twist that he’s “sick of your revolution”. Villagers given a plot of land refuse to work it as it will all be taken by the government.


The Western music that the youth are listening to and the clubs they attend wearing western clothing, dancing in the Western way and drinking alcohol raise the eyebrows of the political committee of the ruling party who consider it to be be counter-revolutionary.

Both Stéphane Bak and Alicia Da Luz Gomes were impressive in their leading roles. While Bak has played important roles before, to our knowledge this was Alicia Da Luz Gomes’ first leading role and she did it justice. We will be watching their future works with interest to see how they develop as actors.


Mali Twist has quite an interesting soundtrack. The sounds from the opening scenes set in Bamako come from the sounds of workers threading, sewing, dyeing fabrics. It is only in Lara’s village that we hear traditional African drumming, as well as the sounds of animals. Otherwise, the soundtrack is an entirely Western soundtrack fitting for the period when the youth of Mali, though freeing itself from France’s colonial rule was happily enjoying Western music like Let’s Twist Again from which the film’s title is inspired. The soundtrack features French 60s hits such as Le Twist à Saint Tropez by Les Chats Sauvages and Souvenirs, Souvenirs from Johnny Hallyday as well as English language 60s hits from The Supremes, Ray Charles, The Beach Boys and Otis Redding among them. Unfortunately, though, some of these songs were not released at the time that the film was set, but in the year and years after.


Mali Twist is an interesting film giving a glimpse into a period of Malian history which many may not know about. The film was quite long running at 2 hours 9 minutes and it could have been shorter without losing anything important. Some tighter editing may have made this an even better film.


Matilda Marseillaise watched a digital screener of this film


Find out when Mali Twist is screening in your city via this link.



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WHAT: Alliance Française French Film Festival


  • Adelaide: 24thMarch to 24th April (Encore screenings: 25th to 26th April)
  • Brisbane: 16thMarch to 13th April (Encore screenings: 14th to 18th April)
  • Byron Bay: 30thMarch to 14th April (Encore screenings: 15th to 16th April)
  • Hobart: 9thto 20th March
  • Canberra: 2nd March to 6th April (Encore screenings: 7th to 10th April)
  • Melbourne: 3rd March to 6th April (Encore screenings: 7th to 10th April)
  • Parramatta: 7thto 10th April
  • Perth: 9th March to 6th April (Encore screenings: 7th to 10th April)
  • Sydney: 1stMarch to 6th April (Encore screenings: 7th to 10th April)

HOW: Discover the AFFFF 2022 programme here.




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