Monday, 5 October 2009


Diouana, played by the statuesque Mbissine Thérèse Diop, is a spirited Senegalese nanny who jumps at the opportunity to work in France, hoping to mingle with the upper echelons of society there. Upon arrival, she is treated as a servant by her employers, who tie an apron around her waist and insist on taunting her with monosyllabic commands. Diouana’s narrations and reflections upon the past show us her disillusionment and increasing oppression in her new job, and soon she begins to act up in the hope of being treated more like a human being.

Though it’s not the most admonitory film, it still makes for quite a heavy-handed experience, as almost immediately we are greeted with echoes of post-colonialist racism. Diouana’s employers discuss her as if she were an animal, knowing that the language barrier will prevent her from climbing the rungs of society. Stylistically, the film evokes a number of French New Wave films, representing the romanticised world that Diouana had envisioned for her sojourn in France. Her gift to her employers, a tribal mask, sits through the film as a reminder of her origins, and is perhaps emblematic of her – and Senegal’s – refusal to hegemonise to French culture. On the other hand, the soundtrack is maddeningly cheap, constantly flapping between the cultural extremes of a shrill honky-tonk piece and a kora riff. This is on many counts an excellent film, but those looking for an introduction to the West African cinematic experience might want to start somewhere else.

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