The minimalist, beautifully photographed, Canadian-French production Dreams of Dust (Reves De Poussiere) was a Grand Jury nominee at 2007’s Sundance film festival. The film, directed by French filmmaker Laurent Salgues – his impressive feature debut - won prizes at Spain’s 2007’s Tarifa, France’s 2006’s Amiens and Belgium’s Namur film festivals.
It’s not a film for everyone. It’s one of those laconic narratives that permeate into your psyche and gain your appreciation for days after watching it. The splendid cinematography by Crystel Fournier showcasing the film’s wind-swept motifs is so striking that it’s almost like viewing a piece of art.
Dreams of Dust takes place in the West Africa Burkina Faso desert, where our protagonist Mocktar, played with grim stoicism by Makena Diop, has come from Nigeria to find work in a gold rush camp, where men and women work arduously, overseen by a greedy and menacing boss.
In teams, the men dig below the sand dunes’ ground level, risking suffocation and death, into tunnels with only a flashlight on their head and a hand pick, in hopes to dig up a gold nugget.
Hence the reward for the life-threatening labor; upon finding gold, the team becomes rich.
We see Mocktar, a handsome man with arresting presence, valiantly determined to do the work against all odds. We later find out Mocktar left his life as a farmer in Nigeria after facing a personal tragedy.
The workers' pursuit to find gold has seemingly corrupted the townspeople’s morals and values, many who are addicted to amphetamines to endure the strenuous and tedious work. The men don’t dwell upon their oppressive circumstances. It’s the name of the game; it’s an understood game of power and hierarchy. As soon as one of the men strikes gold, he can turn around and boss others around at his whim, and become as tyrannical as their old exploitative bosses.
Mocktar meets a woman named Coumba (played by the beautiful Fatou Tall-Salgues) and her daughter in the camp. She also shares a history of personal tragedy, having lost her husband after a sand cave-in. He watches Coumba and her daughter, intent of making a connection with her. He offers her a cup of tea and she accepts. But besides glances, there is very little talk between them. There’s not much time, or rather the willingness from her part, to engage fully; although they have much to share.
He finds out more about Coumba’s personal tribulations through his team; they give her party of their earnings of a gold nugget as restitution for being unable to save her husband’s life. Mocktar and Coumba’s connection is subtle and understated. He wants to help her and be there for her; her daughter also represents part of what he’s lost.
And thus, Mocktar sees Coumba about to realize her dream of going to France with her daughter. There’s a whimsical sequence towards the end of the film that is open for interpretation.
I admit I was a bit underwhelmed after first seeing Dreams of Dust; I almost felt robbed of not seeing these two beautiful beings consummate their relationship. Alas, I understood the filmmaker’s intentions in crafting a quietly affecting, somber and intelligent story about grief, survival and hope.
Watch the trailer: