Black Girl (1966)

6 04 2008

It sounds a little mean, but I have a hard time believing that some people genuinely love this movie. Don’t get me wrong, it certainly left an impression on me, but still, not only is it fifty-five minutes long, it’s also plagued by really irritating good-vs-evil type characterization. Perhaps Sembene has some historical evidence to back-up how evil the main character’s employers are, but still, it’s done in the sloppiest manner, but somehow that eventually becomes part of the film’s charm.

Diouana is bored with her life in Darkar, it’s unremarkable but also financially unfit. She goes to look for a job as a maid, and a French women eventually hires her to take care of her children. Babysitting in Darkar is okay, but then the family relocates back to France and Diouana’s employer now expects more and more of her. Eventually, she becomes a slave to the family’s psuedo-cultured intellectual chit-chats. Fed up with her job, she begins to rebel.

Unsubtle would be a good way to describe this, it becomes pretty apparent within the first five minutes that the film is ultimately about racial tension in France, which I have to say isn’t quite engaging on its own, let alone when it is presented in the most heavy-handed of ways, as it is here. Fifty five minutes of how awful white people are, but Sembenne gets his point across within the first couple of minutes making the rest of the film’s narrative dull and repetitive. To make matters worse, the acting is pretty embarrassing. As a longtime MST3K fan, I’ve seen plenty of bad acting, but really there is not much of a difference between the performance here compared to the performance in any number of old, campy b-movies that I couldn’t be bothered to name-drop. Campy points have to be added for the film’s use of a postcard as a balcony shot.

The only redeemable factor for the film is more than likely, unintentional. Sembene crafts his film in the most straight-forward, basic, “bland” way that is too melodramatic to be truly considered minimalism. On the other hand, the really boring camera work is somewhat effective. I would be more eager to credit this as Sembene’s “style” but instances of fades and rotating angles disprove such a theory. If one jumps at the sight of s Regardless of how unintentionally good most of the film is, the finally sequence of a little boy running around with a mask on is genuinely amazing and definitely gives some hope for Sembene’s other films.

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