Borderlands (Zev Berman, 2007): 6.5/10

The Magic Flute (Ingmar Bergman, 1975): 7/10

La Guerre Est Finie (Alain Resnais, 1966): 7/10

Speed Racer (The Wachowski Brothers, 2008): 8/10

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Location: milwaukee, wi

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Black Girl (Ousmane Sembene, 1966)

Black Girl has the distinction of being the first African-directed film made in sub-Saharan Africa, and it is a more than worthy start. Directed by Ousmane Sembene, a Senegalese radical who also wrote the short story on which the film is based, the film is a startling condemnation of French colonialism and racism toward Africans, even after the supposed era of colonization has ended. Amateur actress Mbissine Therese Diop plays Diouana, a young Senegalese woman who goes to France with her employer under the expectation that she will be taking care of the children in France, just as she has in Senegal. When Diouana arrives in France, however, the couple's children are nowhere in sight, and Diouana is expected to be the cook, the washmaid, as well as take care of all the other tasks in the house, for little pay and respect.

Diouana is treated terribly by her employers, but in different ways. The madame of the household screams at Diouana, calls her lazy, and has utterly no respect for her. The husband, however, is a clever representation of the two-faced nature of colonialization. He seems to treat Diouana better, by not yelling at her like the mother does, but he more or less ignores Diouana in every day life. When Diouana gets a letter from her mother, the husband reads it to her (because it is assumed that she doesn't speak French, but her French seemed fine to me!), and offers to write a response. The response ends up saying only what the husband wants to write, and it is a startling representation of the patronization even people who claim to respect black people. Obviously, the husband thinks he knows better than Diouana what to say to her own mother. At the very end of the film (without revealing any crucial plot points), the husband goes back to Senegal to give Diouana's family some money. They refuse the money, and the man cannot understand why. When a little child, perhaps Diouana's brother, tails the man back to the airport while wearing a tradition African mask. It is the spectre of colonialism, of racism, and of Africa following the man home, and he cannot run away from it fast enough.

Semebene's portrait of white French treatment of this Senegalese girl, who represents Senegalese people in general, is shocking, depressing, and sbsolutely necessary. I was struck while watching the film about how little has changed in the forty years since the film was made. It's a well-crafted, New Wave-esque film, important both historically and culturally.


RIYL: New Wave, the emotional punch of Ingmar Bergman

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