The Talibe referenced in the title of Daniela Kon’s documentary are young boys enrolled in dubious Islamic schools across Senegal. In order to finance their education, they are forced by the schools’ administrators to beg for money in the streets. Representatives from Human Rights Watch estimate that at least 50,000 boys under the age of 12 are subjected to this extreme poverty – and the youths that fail to collect the required sums to cover their education are subjected to beatings and the denial of food and shelter.
For some strange reason, Kon decided to switch scenes between color and black-and-white, almost at whim, and the result is extremely annoying. It also does not help that this DVD release comes with some of the tiniest English subtitles imaginable – and this itty-bitty print is hard to follow when the film shoots off into its monochromatic sequences.
But even with these silly artsy flourishes, the core story remains riveting, and several of the boys interviewed by Kon detail their terrifying experiences with uncommon eloquence and maturity. Kon avoids making harsh judgment calls on Senegalese society’s seeming indifference to child welfare, though the film stresses (perhaps none-too-convincingly) that the Islamic schools featured here are atypical of this corner of the educational world.
Ultimately, this is a strange but disappointing production, and it is easy to rue the absence of a more controlled creative artist behind the camera.