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

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Princess Tam-Tam (Edmond Greville, 1935)

In this simple tale, Max de Mirecourt (Albert Prejean), tired of his French socialite life, goes to Algeria to get some inspiration for his newest novel. While there, he meets Alwina (Josephine Baker), a native woman who strikes his fancy as extremely beautiful, yet naive in that way that colonialists thought of the colonized. He decides to "civilize" her, and when that task is complete, brings her back to France for her society debut, all the while writing a novel about it. In a related subplot, his wife is maybe having an affair with an Indian maharaja, yet becomes incredibly jealous of Alwina's place in her husband's life.

Sure, it's a complete rip-off of My Fair Lady, but the plot isn't that important here. The film is a showcase for Baker, who, although she was very famous in France at the time, was still, as a black woman, given mostly terrible roles. Alwina is no different; it has shocked me that the reviews (mostly on Netflix) that I have read have described the film as not racist. The film, while not blatantly racist (the Parisian women apparently base their dislike of Alwina on her beauty and not her skin color), the colonialist attitude in the film is out of control. Alwina is a child when the movie starts, not knowing what shoes are or what "confused" means. Only when Max enters her life does she learn the "finer things" in life. But on the other hand, even though these attitudes are present in the film, Alwina is really the heroine of the movie. The audience understands her eventual frustration with the boredom of Parisian upper crust society, and when she sneaks out to a jazz club and dances in a "native" way, we applaud her. Isn't it, after all, the exact same boredom that Max felt in the beginning of the film? So while the film and its characters patronize Alwina, she is shown as the wisest character in the movie. Quite revolutionary for its time!

The whole film, however conventional and uncomfortable to modern sensabilities it is, is incredibly gorgeous. And Baker completely steals the show - her face, her voice, her mannerisms, her dance moves, and her SMILE! This movie is worth twice the price of the rental just to bask in Baker for 80 minutes. So while the movie is only okay (although there is a very clever twist at the end that I admittedly did not see coming), it is worth seeing both as a historical document and an 80 minutes homage to the eternal majesty that is Josephine Baker.


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