As Tambay so rightly said when the New York Film Festival last fall announced that it would present a brand new restoration of Ousmane Sembene’s "Black Girl" (here), the film (original French title, "La noire de…") is "rich with symbolism and complexities that are essentially reactions to, and analysis of, the cultural legacy of colonialism – a recurrent theme you’ll find in much of Sembène’s work, as well as commentary on the untapped strength and abilities of African women."
What starts out as a deceptively simple story about a young Senegalese woman, Diouana (played by Thérèse M’Bisine Diop), who works as nanny for a couple and whose hopes of an exciting life in France are dashed when her white employers expect her to work as their servant, transcends its premise to become an uncompromising and powerful portrait of the everlasting and tragic consequences of colonialism.
Though it was not Sembene’s first film, it was the film that brought him into the international spotlight as an important filmmaker, as well has heralding the emergence of an African cinema that was mostly unknown.
And now, just in time with BFI Home Video’s release of "Black Girl" on a duel Blu-ray and standard DVD package, a new 4k restoration from the original camera and sound negatives via Janus Films is hitting theaters around the country. BAMcinematek in Brooklyn NYC will house a 1-week run of the film from May 18 to May 24, 2016. It’ll screen with "Borom Sarret" (1963), Sembène’s first film.
The Blu-ray will also include "Borom Sarret," which is credited as the first film made by an African filmmaker. However that claim needs a little history lesson – if you don’t mind.
One can argue that the first film actually made by an African filmmaker was the short "C’etait il y a quatre ans" ("That Was Four Years Ago"), directed by Beninese/Senegalese film director and historian Paulin Soumanou Vieyra in 1954, which he followed up with "Afrique-sur-Seine," another short film in 1955. But both of those films were made in Paris, while "Borom Serrat" was the film first to be made in Africa by a black African filmmaker.
Though again, there were Egyptian commercial films made during the 1950’s by Egyptian filmmakers and Egypt is in Africa right? So talk about splitting hairs.
Regardless, "Borom Sarret" was Sembene’s first film, which displayed a remarkable talent and a bold indication of the great films to come, and which is an "allegorical" tale exploring poverty and inequality as it charts a day in the life of a hard-up cart driver in Dakar, whose good deeds are rewarded with great injustice.
On the BFI DVD, both films will be presented in the new 4K restoration, and among the extras included will be theatrical and alternative color-sequence versions of "Black Girl," as well as "Snatches of a Conversation" with actress M’Bissine Thérèse Diop, the documentary "The Making of African Cinema" on the work of Sembene, and an illustrated chronology of the director’s life in film.
However, there is a catch; and that of course is that the BFI DVD, being a British release, means that it is a locked region "B" disc; so unless you have a mutil-region DVD player, you will not be able to play it on your regular domestic (American) DVD blu-ray or standard player.
Hopefully Criterion, or another similar DVD label that regularly releases classic foreign films here in the States, will release it sometime next year.
In the meantime, if you live in NYC, go see "Black Girl" – the new 4K restoration – on the big screen, in May, when it’ll have a 1-week run at BAM. As it screens in other cities, we will alert you.