Say French Nouvelle Vague and immediately you think of Godard and his French colleagues who changed the form for a generation. The Senegalese filmmaker Ousmane Sembène may be better known as the father of African film, but his work deserves to be known outside of a regionalized category that says little about his style. His classic La Noire de… [Black Girl], released in 1966, could (and in my opinion should) be added to the New Wave canon.
Regardless of whether you’re interested in films from the 50s and 60s, you should consider watching this one. The social issues that emerge are still problems that mainstream media only occasionally grazes. The story is of a young, Senegalese woman who finds work as a caretaker with a French family in Dakar. She moves to France with them only to find herself washing dishes and cooking rice for a family that barely recognizes she had dreams of seeing the world outside a five foot square room. Sembène milks the tropes of the Nouvelle Vague style to push the social issues of a postcolonial world to the fore.
The film combines a kind of documentary look with minimal dialogue and voice overs that offer insight on the rapid change in the heroine’s psyche – the immigrant talks back. What I find particularly interesting is the use of fashion in the narrative, the only way the heroine Diouana finds to express her aspirational dreams. I won’t give away the ending, but it’s a hard look at the dreams and disillusions of immigrant life, an issue that sadly still needs to be part of a greater political discussion.
The film’s up on Netflix, so get your fix and tell me what you think.