“Tirailleurs” with the Fulani actor Omar Sy: A look back to the history of these Africans who died to liberate France


The movie “Tirailleurs” with Omar Sy and Alassane Diong was released Wednesday in France theaters. This historical drama by Mathieu Vadepied pays tribute to the African soldier of the First World War (Les Tirailleurs Senegalais). Starring Omar Sy and Alassane Diong, the feature film takes place during the First World War. In 1917, Bakary Diallo (Omar Sy) enlists in the French army to join Tierno (Alassane Diong), his 17-year-old son, who has been forcibly recruited. Sent to the war front, father and son will have to face the war together. Galvanized by the ardor of his commanding officer who wants to lead him to the heart of the battle, Tierno will free himself and learn to become a man, while Bakary will do everything to save him from the fighting and bring him back safe and sound.

The movie pays homage to these men enlisted by force to protect France during the Great War and perfectly shows the difficulty of arriving in an unknown country whose language they did not speak. But the feature film also deals with the father-son relationship and the need for the emancipation of children.

A strong and necessary film which, 15 years after Indigènes by Rachid Bouchareb – which paid tribute to the soldiers recruited in Africa during the Second World War -, highlights the heroism of these men torn from their families to defend a country that was unknown to them.

The movie also highlights how war separates families through the main characters who will be caught up in the war, in this forced exile, far from their village, their country, and their landmarks.

Answering questions of AlloCine on why did the cinema take so long to tell the story of these West African soldiers of the First World War? The film director Mathieu Vadepied responded: “I’m not sure I have an extremely constructed answer. Most certainly, it was not the right time. There is a memory that is painful. Like all painful memories, it remains somewhat buried for many reasons and it needs to express itself, to be transmitted, to be known, to be watched, and to be formulated. So, it’s true, it seems very late, but, I think that, like many traumas, it takes time. If it’s buried, it’s because it hurts. And then somewhat telluric forces bring things back up like that, somewhat inexorably. I think there is something that made us do it today.”

Shooting in Fulani helped the story to move forward and the viewers’ understanding

In most French war movies, all the soldiers speak French for convenience, in “Tirailleurs”, however, Omar Sy and Alassane Diong speak Fulani. As a Franco Senegalese of Fulani origins, the favorite French actor Omar Sy felt reconnected with his origins.

 When asked whether it was important for him to shoot in this language? Mathieu Vadepied answered:  Yes, from the start I wanted to keep their original language. It was a way of transmitting a feeling, of preserving a form of dignity of the characters, of also transmitting the richness of this language and showing what it is, trying to connect with the strangeness.

What is it for people who belong to a world, to a universe, to a culture, to be immersed in another? In a world where they don’t have the codes, not the language. They don’t really know why they are there. In any case, the question of the enemy is a question a little foreign to them, because, in this case, the Germans did nothing personal to them.

Shooting in Fulani helped the story to move forward and the viewers’ understanding. And then, filming in this language also allowed the actors to have a different kind of acting. They have a way of being, looking, and playing, which I find is not the same.

Omar is very expressive and exteriorized in his life or in his roles. And his acting was different in Tirailleurs. He had that in him somewhere no doubt, even if it’s a part that he never really revealed or that he was never led to show or express.

But the fact that it was shot in Fulani created a kind of connection with his mother tongue that echoed many things, through his personal history, that of his parents, and of previous generations.

And language is a vector for a whole host of things: a way of expressing oneself, looking at the world, and being. Among the Fulani, there is – as in all cultures – a particular way of behaving, and certain social relationships to respect… and all of this is conveyed by the language.

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