Sunday, November 28, 2010

Black Girl

La noire de...(Black Girl), 1966
Dir: Ousmane Sembene

I saw this like two weeks ago, and as you've might have guessed, the holiday and laziness have sort pushed off writing reviews of anything. But I was also put off by some Harvard dill-holes stroking each others dicks as I was leaving the theater. Seriously: shut-up. Just 'cause you're talking loud enough for everyone to hear your pompous opinion doesn't make it valid. It makes you a fucking loudmouth, and probably one of the very people that this film is trying to make the viewer aware of. Anyway, it has given me time to think about about this, as it is the only film of recent viewing which is actually worth thinking about. In hindsight, it may seem like an obvious statement for a black African director to make a film about race relations, but the racism that is explored is specifically about obviousness, and the lack of awareness that some people have with it in this (relatively) modern age.

The French New Wave comparisons are probably a little over blown, but you can tell where people are coming from (language being the most glaring one). The structure of the film is broken up into three parts (present-past-present) and in doing so tries to elaborate on the difficulty that Diouana (Mbissine Thérèse Diop) has once she leaves Sengal with the French family that she works for the south of France. She has an idea about what her job is (which is to be a nanny for the children), but once back in France, the family (particularly "Madame") sees fit to stick her with a bunch of other remedial task, and makes a show of using her in front of guests. She becomes bitter and apathetic very quickly in her voice-over monologues (another New Wave device that might have been handled a little better).

When it shifts back to Dakar, before the the move, it centers on Diouana's search for work and a relationship that will be cut short when she decides to leave with her newly found employers. The scene in the bedroom with the frustrated guy is very Breathless (1959), just to throw out another comparison (though I'm sure I'm not the first to do so). It really is the most interesting part of the film, very restless and almost optimistic, as compared to the bracketed sequences in the Riviera, which are apathetic and, to a point, angry. That is the whole point of the film as I see it though. This family thinks that they are helping Diouana, giving her a chance. But in France they cage her, and "put her in her place," seemingly without even realizing it. It is a racism that is barely talked about but is probably the kind that is still most prevalent today: the ennui, the complete intellectual stalemate of being a society boring enough to be racist.

The ending is the most demonstrative thing that I could have expected, and the film loses any of the nice subtlety that it had. Diouana's apathy and anger turn into depression pretty quickly and then everything snowballs in her mind. Luckily, the very end has a redeeming scene where the "Monsieur" is forced to walk through the slums of Dakar looking for Diouana's family, and is followed, to his unease, by a little boy with a native wooden mask on. It hits the spot pretty good. The overall tragedy of Diouana is really about the African, where colonialism put him and how, even in "setting" them free, they are still seen as lesser souls in the eyes of modernity.

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