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An important and fascinating ethnographic document
'Moi un Noir' is an important cinematic document by renowned French anthropologist and filmmaker Jean Rouch. It is highly significant because it has been acclaimed not only as one of Rouch's finest works of 'ethno-fiction', but has also quoted as one of the inspirations for the films of the French Nouvelle Vague. Jean-Luc Godard has quoted this as being one of his biggest influences; the central characters have much in common with his protagonists in features such as 'A bout de soufflé' and 'Le Petit soldat'. They are unsure of where they are or where they are going.
During the Second World War, Rouch had served as an engineer in Africa and he became fascinated with the lives of African immigrants in France and its colonies. From 1947 onwards he had engaged in producing a countless number of films about African life. These films attempted to capture the everyday lives of residents in Niger, Mali and Ghana. He was interested not just in the effects of colonisation on the young of the countries, but also in looking at the contradiction in life between the young in France and those in these colonies.
'Moi un Noir' chronicles the everyday life of several young Africans in Treichville - a poor section in Abidjan, the largest city in the Ivory Coast. These men are immigrants from Niger who have travelled to this large city in order to become successful. The central character is Edward G. Robinson, who speaks to the audience in a voice-over narration, which gives the film its unique style. Throughout the film there is a sense that the young protagonists wish to be somewhere else, but are unable to get anywhere. It seems, however that the residents of Treichville are much the same, with the sections of town being called New York and Chicago.
These young men are also people who long to be somebody else. The central characters in the film are named after famous 'tough-guy' actors such as Edward G. Robinson and Eddie Constantine. The kids talk like these tough guys, but their encounters with others repeatedly tells us that they are a far cry from their heroes. The film also follows 'Robinson' in his attempts to find a mate and the problems which arise as a result.
'Moi un Noir' is a fascinating film and acts as a snapshot of what life was like for those residents of the colony in that decisive time between the war and independence. In addition, it is highly recommended if you are interested in the history of 'cinema verite' or the ethnographic film.
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