Madame Dakar

video projects
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Madame Dakar Never Comes Home

Jeroen Boomgaard

Gleaming and majestic, the brand new train glides towards us through the car wash. It is our first sighting of Madame Dakar and although it is another train at another speed in another place and time, as a viewer you are transported to the enchantment once conjured by the very first film images: the magic and seduction of the moving image.
But Madame Dakar is not a film about film, no nostalgic reflection of loss and powerlessness. It is a film about desire, but desire as only film can show.

Joyce, the protagonist in Madame Dakar, cherishes an impossible dream – to drive a train. She roams the domain of the railroad surreptitiously, but is unable to move freely, forced to live her life by night. And this is really all we know about her – she has very little context and yet the camera follows her so closely that her unbounded desire is palpable. However, it is not until she journeys to Africa in search of ‘the Senegalese railway capital’ that her character begins to crystallize. Not because her identity emerges more clearly but because, as a present-day explorer, she attempts to throw off old notions that define her. The space she has entered is no longer the strictly regulated public domain of Dutch society where even the illegal has a clearly delineated place. In Senegal the rail network is not merely part of the country’s infrastructure; it is where people come to sell and transport goods, stable their horse, get together, spend the night and breakfast. Here, private and public hold an entirely different meaning and seem indistinguishable to Western eyes.
Just as the main character finds her place in the apparently chaotic reality of Africa by submitting to it, the film similarly yields to what it seems to encounter. At which point, the narrative is overtaken by action. But the film also reveals that the camera can take us beyond the well-trodden path of cultural traditions to a locus of desire, without recourse to either the exotic or anecdotal.
At the very end, when the protagonist crouches contentedly upon an ancient, rusty locomotive that has ground to a permanent halt in a hangar, the film appears to have ended. The train of the Lumières has evidently seen better days. But after the credits have rolled, Joyce gets back onto her feet, the magic of the image still in motion.