Frankfurt, a horrible banking city. Babtou is being released from jail after a 2 year sentence. As he leaves, the prison guard says “See you soon.” There is a welcoming committee of one – Babtou’s old schoolfriend Dennis, who lights a firework in celebration. The bottle holding the firework falls over, sending the rocket smashing into the wall just next to the guard’s head.
Babtou and Dennis go celebrating with friends. They park their cars in the middle of the road and start to dance. The other cars can’t get past and people start to complain. Someone calls the police. When the police come, the Black people celebrating slink off, knowing they’ll be the ones who’ll be arrested. But a cop pins down Dennis, so Babtou returns to drag the cop off. He’s been out of prison for a couple of hours, max.
Back with the authorities, Babtou is reminded that although he was born in Germany, he never had a passport. And they’ve confiscated his residency document and replaced it with a one way ticket to Senegal – a country that he only knows from his father’s stories. There is only one way out – if he can get married to a German citizen.
Cue Babtou desperately chasing up all his ex-girlfriends and proposing marriage. The problem is, he didn’t treat any of them with much respect and they all refuse. Even the fat one. It looks like the only way out is for Babtou and Dennis to get married.
The early scenes of Toubab contain a number of dubious assumptions about sexuality and body image. The idea that two men getting married is in and of itself funny. The belief that of course Babtou’s fat ex-girlfriend would be just waiting for him to return and propose. There’s a case to be made that in both cases that the joke is on Babtou and Dennis, but we’re sailing very close to the wind here.
The film does get less dodgy, and as Babtou and Dennis conspire to trick the authorities, they do learn a little more respect for gays and lesbians as a neighbour introduces them to the LGBT scene. This is more than that can be said of some of their former associates, and Dennis ultimately get queer bashed and is left in a wheelchair.
Babtou is a comedy about very serious subjects like migration laws, homophobia and racism, and for all its good will, it just falls short in two areas. Firstly, its just not funny enough. It’s not just the early jokes or the assumption that hearing someone stutter. Is just hilarious Despite engaging performances, particularly from Farba Dieng as Babtou, the jokes are at best slightly amusing.
The other problem is that, for all the serious intent, the film doesn’t end up saying much. Yes, the migration laws are unfair, particularly to people from the Global South. But we aren’t shown any real depth to Babtou’s problems – in a sense, the decision to make this a comedy makes it much more difficult for a casual audience to take his situation with the seriousness it deserves.
Having said all this, it would be difficult to hate Toubab. As a character, Babtou is compelling, but the film’s heart lies with Seyneb Saleh as Yara, his doesn’t-give-a-fuck Iranian neighbour, who’s quite prepared to go head to head with homophobic gangsters. A scene towards the end of the film contains a photo of Yara with both middle fingers in the air staring defiantly into the calendar.
Toubab is a film which is on the right side, it’s leading characters are the good guys, people we should be rooting for. If only it could have been a little funnier, a little less superficial in the way that it deals with serious issues, then I would recommend it wholeheartedly. It isn’t, but it’s probably worth you making your own mind up. I would love other people to like it more than I did.