" I’ll be monitoring your frequency "
— Zoe Saldana, Star Trek

MRQE Top Critic

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Two things are immediately apparent about Souleymane Démé, who plays the title character in Grigris: first, he has some sort of deformity with his left leg and hip that leaves him walking with a limp, and second, in spite of the handicap he is an amazing dancer.

Shot and set in the Republic of Chad, Grigris borrows its protagonist’s nickname. Démé plays a character named Souleymane Démé, but everybody calls him Grigris. He lives in a city as a studio photographer, but he says photography is done for. With digital cameras, everyone’s a photographer now.

Interlude showcases Démé's modern-dance chops
Interlude showcases Démé’s modern-dance chops

Still, he takes some glamour shots for Mimi (Anaïs Monory) who hopes to become a model. Grigris is smitten with her, but doesn’t pursue her immediately. She might be out of his league.

His boss is also his stepfather, and he is sick. Grigris would like to help pay the hospital bill, and keeping the studio open won’t do it. He dances at a club for whatever comes into the hat, but it’s not enough either.

He connects with Moussa (Cyril Guei), a gas smuggler, to try to earn enough money. The work is hard and the pay is slow to accumulate. Grigris is too nice a guy for a life of crime, but he sticks with it. One day his opportunity comes. He could make enough in one night to pay the hospital bill in full. It means double-crossing Moussa, but Grigris doesn’t care if he burns his bridges; he wants to pay the bill and then get out.

In the meantime, he has discovered that Mimi is a prostitute. Grigris nevertheless decides he’d like to try to escape Moussa’s gang, with Mimi, to a safer place in a small village where nobody will think to look.

The story is not very original, and the filmmaking is conventional. What makes Grigris worth sitting up and taking notice is Démé’s athletic performance. If Démé pursues a film career, he deserves to be showcased like a Buster Keaton or a Gene Kelly. Grigris does gives him room to shine, but I might have preferred even less plot and even more Démé. We get to watch Grigris bust a move in an opening scene at the club, then again at the same place later. A quiet interlude shows Grigris working out at a dance studio, doing some graceful and challenging modern dance. The costume design — form-hugging t-shirts and slim-cut jeans — highlights his strong, wiry physique and one withered leg.

Grigris is not the best film you’ll see this fall. But you’ve probably never seen a film from the Republic of Chad, and you’ve probably never seen a performance quite like Démé’s. Add some charismatic characters and a serious, satisfying ending that doesn’t come too cheaply, and you’ve got a truly international film worth seeing while you can.