SIFF Film Review – Tey
Have you ever wondered what it would be like if there was a place where you knew the day before you were going to die, and you were able to say goodbye to everyone first? Thanks to SIFF you can imagine what that would be like, as this is the world that is presented in Tey.
The story follows Satché (Saul Williams) as he goes about the last day of his life, knowing that when he goes to sleep that night he will never wake up again. The film follows him as he says goodbye to his family, hangs out with his friends one last time, and catches up with an old love.
Don’t let the presence of death in the synopsis fool you; the film is not meant to be a mystery. This manner of death is simply treated as a fact of life, with no explanation needed or given, and used as a mechanism to drive Satché’s actions; it’s almost like a macguffin—in a film about a death, the story is all about living. It is just one of those opening points, like setting up a world in a fantasy film—but it just so happens that everything else here is set in the “real world.”
I really like the film’s concept, but Saul Williams is what most attracted me to this movie. If you are not familiar with him, he is an acclaimed poet and musician, as well as a notable political activist, so I was curious what it meant for him to appear in the movie. For the most part, it isn’t a political movie, though there are shades of the rebellion occurring in Senegal. Williams is really on display as an actor, as his role is virtually a silent part and he has to make use of his features to communicate his thoughts and feelings.
It is weird to think about, but in its own way the film is a thriller. There is a constant specter of death hanging over the story. Mortality is a timeless theme. Death is one of the few inevitable events in life that we all share, so despite the film taking place halfway around the world and in a foreign language (don’t worry, there are subtitles), it is very much understandable. Despite it being a slow and methodical burn, every time Satché blinks or closes his eyes, there is anticipating that this might be the last moment. Additionally, as Satché connects with each of the other characters, you can’t help try to anticipate how the moment is going to end, because it will be his last interaction with them.
It can sometimes be challenging to make a slice-of-life film engaging, but it works here and a lot of credit has to be given to the director, Alain Gomis. Born in Senegal, he does a wonderful job of making a very personal story but also painting a picture of the environment. The photography does a great job of compensating for the simple story, and at times the film really feels more like a documentary than a narrative feature, as it weaves between the lush landscapes and the political strife. Besides Williams, I would say the cinematography is the breakout star of the film. I’m ignorant towards the world of Senegalese film, but I’m curious to check out more of it.
Regardless of how much or how little story there is, this is clearly one of those “concept” movies. The film makes the viewer reflect on how they would handle imposing death, and ask them what they would do. Despite the fact that it is Satché’s impending death, it is fascinating to see the supporting characters bounce their emotions off of him, from his mother’s sadness to his friends’ acceptance to his wife’s anger. It’s not entirely clear to me whether it was intentional or not, but the film does a pretty good job of displaying the five stages of grief—denial, anger, depression, bargaining and acceptance—both in Satché and through his interactions with those around him. At the very least, the film is a discussion of coming to terms with one’s mortality.
One thing that you should be aware forewarned about is the pacing of the film. It is only 86 minutes long, but it feels like two hours. This isn’t really a problem until the last quarter, when what little narrative there is begins to become a bit more experimental, as the film looks at the world around Satché and becomes less about his personal story. It is still moving to see others struggling, but it might have been better to create the story of Satché and a story about the current state of things in Senegal separately. By the end of the movie, the length of the day begins to feel eternal and the stakes don’t feel quite as pressing.
If you are willing to venture a little bit outside of your comfort zone, this film is pretty engaging. It certainly won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but it should surprise a lot of people.
Tey screens tonight at 6: 00 PM and tomorrow at 2: 30 PM at SIFF Cinema at the Uptown.
Final Grade: B