Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB. France/Senegal, 1966. Filmi Domirev, Les Actualités Françaises. Screenplay by Ousmane Sembene. Cinematography by Christian Lacoste. Produced by Andre Zwoboda. Film Editing by Andre Gaudier.
Ousmane Sembene is one of the most notable figures in the history of twentieth century African art; he is credited with having made the first film by a Sub-Saharan African (his short Borom Sarret), the first feature by a Sub-Saharan African (this film), and the first African film in an African language (Mandabi). This excellent debut feature, despite rickety production values that show off the very limited budget that Sembene had to work with, shows immense filmmaking skill right from the beginning of his career. Using verité, documentary-like technique, the artist adapts his own novel to tell of a young Senegalese woman who works for a French family in her homeland, then moves with them to Antibes when they are relocated back to their own native soil. The voyage to France is one she anticipates with excitement, but once there she finds herself closed in within the walls of their cramped apartment, working non-stop without pay, constantly criticized by her mistress and completely cut off from society. Sembene tells a heartbreaking story in 65 short minutes without yanking on heartstrings, eliciting a fine performance from Mbissine Thérèse Diop and making each image memorable.