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I am very glad I finally saw "Black Girl." I missed seeing it when it
was first released in the U.S., and now--36 years after it was
produced--the film found its way to Upstate New York (Rochester
Labor Film Festival).
We cannot judge this movie in 2002 terms--by those terms it is technically crude, and too short (only 65 minutes). The print shown in Rochester was of poor quality--especially just before and after reel changes.
Despite all these hurdles, I found "Black Girl" compelling and disturbing. The basic themes are the conflict and contrasts between White and Black, European and African, rich and poor, literate and non-literate. The contrasts are not subtle, but neither are they violent or brutal. There is no physical violence, but rather emotional and psychological violence.
Sembene--who had to learn his cinema craft in Russia because opportunities were denied him by the French--is a master. A master working without star actors and without state-of-the-art technology can still produce a masterpiece!
On the injustices one culture can do to another. The film is about an African woman who gets a job with a white family and agrees to follow them back to France, only to be disenheartened in the end. While, the production values were not great, the messages of this film are stronger than most major US motion pictures. The characters (especially the French) do seem to be a bit shallow, and don't have much depth to them. Yet, the theme of loneliness from displacement and cultural injustice ring powerfully loud in the end. An 8 out of 10.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Apparently, the movie is supposed to show us how black Africans are
mistreated by white French people. Diouana is desperate for work as a
maid in Dakar, the capital of Senegal. She has doors slammed in her
face, and finally is told to sit on a particular corner and wait for
someone to come by who wants a maid. Day after day, she and a lot of
other desperate women sit and wait to be hired.
Along comes "Madame," a white French woman looking for a governess. She selects Diouana, presumably because she is the only woman who does not crowd around her trying to get the job. After taking care of the children for a while, Diouana agrees to go to France with Madame and "Monsieur." Though Madame makes Diouana a lot of promises about how nice it will be for her in France, when they get there, Diouana discovers that she is expected to be a maid and a cook as well as a governess. As a result, she never gets to see France. In fact, she never even gets to leave the apartment. She feels like a slave. Furthermore, Madame is very demanding, and always complaining that Diouana is lazy. Granted, this is not a great job, but it is a job. It's better than the desperate struggle she endured trying to find work in Dakar.
After what appears to be several months, the situation has deteriorated to the point that Diouana begins acting insolent, and she refuses to work out of resentment for the way she is being treated. Monsieur, who seems much nicer than Madame, has apparently been holding her wages for her, which amount to twenty thousand francs.
It is at this point that the clash of cultures really leaves me bewildered. I don't know what twenty thousand francs was worth in 1966, but it sounds like a fair amount of money, presumably enough for Diouana to book passage back to Dakar. If that is not enough money, she could just keep working there until she does save enough to go back home. If she saves a little more than that, she will have enough to cushion herself until she finds work with a nicer family. But no. She commits suicide by opening up her veins.
Monsieur tries to do the right thing by returning Diouana's belongings to her mother, along with the wages she earned. But her mother, whom we know to be desperate for money, refuses to take it. I guess it has something to do with pride, but after all, Diouana earned it, so what's the big deal?
In other words, while I agree that Madame was not a nice person to work for, I just don't see that Diouana's situation was so bad that she had to give up and take her own life. I would have just taken the wages and split.
Black Girl (1966)
*** (out of 4)
Impessive feature from Ousmane Sembene about a black woman (Mbissine Therese Diop) from Senegal who goes to live in France as a servant but soon begins to feel the abuse of her "owner." Some people have called BLACK GIRL one of the greatest films ever made but I'm going to fall well short of that type of praise. With that said, there's no question that the film has a pretty strong message and gets its across without having to preach or wag fingers in the viewers face. Some people have complained about the look and style of the picture but I personally thought this was one of the highlights. I really liked how the thing almost came across as a documentary as we often just see the woman as she is working or being abused and then we hear her narration afterwards. I also liked how the flashbacks were used to give us more information about the woman and of course this leads us to the ending, which I'm not going to spoil for those who haven't seen the film. It's certainly a very effective one that will lead people to have their own views on what it actually means. I liked how the film isn't just about a black and white issues but there's also the issues of differences between people of different countries as well as a issue of money. Director Sembene does a very good job at telling the story and doing so in a rather original way. The performance from the lead actress is simply wonderful as is the supporting one from Anne-Marie Jelinek.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Black Girl is a simple film. A synopsis of the entire story would take
only a few sentences. And the main character is rather lifeless
throughout most of he film. Still, I found myself thinking about the
film and its implications afterwards--a measure of success that prompts
me to rate this film "7".
Except for some flashbacks to life in Senegal, the film is told in a linear fashion. Most of the action is confined to the interior of the apartment where Diouanna works. This reflects her lifestyle and creates a tension that corresponds to her emotional state.
Most of what we know about Diouanna's feelings come from voiceovers. Her character does not talk much. I am not sure why. Is it a cultural thing? I don't think so. For the most part, she seems an introvert. Does that make her as much a prisoner of her own personality as of her circumstances?
Spoiler: It is nearly impossible to discuss this film without discussing its ending. Her suicide is her most important statement. Especially since she could have gone back to Senegal. The suicide seems to be a matter of honor. This issue could prompt some interesting discussions.
In the end, we are left with some questions. And some obvious comments about the insensitivity of the French she encounters in France, who make it easy for themselves to demean her by minimalizing her humanity because she is different from them.
This Senegalese film is very important. It's a film made by black
filmmakers and espouses a very strong black nationalist attitude.
Because of this, it must have really struck a chord for African film
"Black Girl" is a film about a young woman from Senegal that has taken a job working for a white French family. She thinks she was hired to take care of the children but the woman of the house sees Diouana as a personal servant and soon this young lady finds herself working as a maid--and an under-appreciated on at that. Part of the problem is a communication barrier between the white family and Diouana as often neither quite understands the other's expectations. Part of it is the wife is rather cold and sees the Africans as being dumb and beneath her. Where does all this end up? Well, in a sad way it's a giant 'I'm not gonna take it any more' from Diouana--much like the attitude through the continent towards their colonial or former colonial masters.
While this is a very important film and it would be great to use in a class about African cinema or world history, technically speaking it has a few small shortcomings. It's not the smoothest or highest quality production--but considering its humble roots, I can easily look past that and it's still worth seeing if you are patient and can appreciate the context for when it was made (such as the Patrice Lumumba banner briefly seen in a tiny portion of the film).
The print I saw was a bit erratic and grainy, and included one jumpy sequence in color, whereas the rest was in black and white. This is the deceptively simple story of a woman from Senegal who joins a French family in France to be their nanny touches on many cultural, colonial, racial, and emotional issues, and if you look for easy answers, or answers at all, you'll be disappointed. There's a bit of French New Wave to the film, though it's really mostly African, featuring Senegalese music on the soundtrack. The only real flaw I see is that the story is told rather sketchily, with little in the way of clues as to the timing. Do the events take place over the course of a few days or weeks? The ending comes up so quickly that it feels a little forced, though not entirely unexpected.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I am not exactly sure what would considered to be "feature length," but
this film is a good example of a shorter film - close to 60 minutes.
The key to this gem is the idea of tension between social
classes/ethnicities when the titular "black girl" doesn't believe such
a tension would be created.
The protagonist is picked up from Dakar, and she expects to be working as a maid when her client is looking for workers. She tells the audience her internal thoughts with voice over and we know her expectations are to not be treated like a slave. This is a tragic story with a never-ending loop, where the girl refuses to work until she can eat or be paid while her employer refuses to feed her until she works. We feel for Diouana because she is told to do work that is not even part of her duties such as watching the children; she believes that responsibility should be the mother's, and she is right.
What is upsetting is that she slashes her own throat so that she will not live without her dignity. This movie was so short there isn't much to say; it is a good tragedy but one I would only like to see once.
"Black Girl" ("Borom Sarret") (French/African, 1966): Read any book about film, and this one is cited as a GREAT work. Well folks, the King Has No Clothes. A brain-damaged college freshman could've done better. Here's what the STORY tried to be: an African woman is hired as a child caretaker in Africa, and later follows the French family to France to continue working for them. She doesn't like it. She complains a lot, thinks of herself as a slave, and eventually does something drastic. I'm telling you this isn't just a yawn... it is story full of plot holes, no character depth, no situational empathy (although I suspect viewers were EXPECTED to have strong feelings and side with the "poor girl"), continuity problems, and a motivational mess. That's not all. The movie has TERRIBLE camera work, crappy lighting, editing equal to a monkey with scissors, scoring that makes no sense and has no subtlety, acting that just plain stinks, location shots that are perhaps the worst I've ever seen I'm simply ASTOUNDED at the kudos given this terrible mess of a lousy film. I can only surmise that in this case the "King has no clothes" Syndrome was the 1960's politically correct social agenda in the Euro/American sphere for recognizing black/white equal rights - which caused it to be held high for its (possible) intentions when in reality it deserved to be tossed in the garbage can as a failed attempt.
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