Close Up

6 - 20 October 2019: Le Franc + La Petite vendeuse de soleil


Le Franc
Djibril Diop Mambéty, 1994, 45 min
Wolof with English subtitles

"After Hyènes, an immense and exhausting adventure that took seven years of his life, Mambéty returned to telling stories about contemporary urban Africa in a smaller format with the series Histoires de petites gens. The project included three medium-length films that together would form a feature film, one film being shot per year: Le Franc in 1994, La Petite vendeuse de soleil in 1995, to celebrate the centenary of cinema, and L’Apprenti voleur in 1996. Unfortunately, Mambéty only completed up to the first cut of La Petite vendeuse de soleil, which Silvia Voser finished in 1999, a year after his death […].

In "a time of uncertainty" – quoting the radio announcement inviting people impoverished by the CFA franc’s devaluation to try their luck playing the lottery – Mambéty went beyond mere observation and elevated his anarchic and rebellious vision by creating the anti-social character of Marigo. With his easy-going walk and Chaplinesque clothes, Marigo immediately expresses his irreverent nature: he spits on the floor of his shack and blows his nose on a towel like an unruly teenager. His comic nature turns into an art like in Chaplin’s silent films, almost without words. Marigo speaks through facial expressions, and he does not give in to the bad luck that seems to chase him. Like Chaplin, there is always a glimpse of optimism: the strength of Mambéty’s characters lies in their dignity, courage and rejection of fatalism and resignation. They are parables of hope in contrast with Afro-pessimism, the lack of faith in the continent’s capability to develop, which was emerging at that same time." – Alessandra Speciale

La Petite vendeuse de soleil
Djibril Diop Mambéty, 1999, 45 min
Wolof with English subtitles

"La Petite vendeuse de soleil is the second part of a trilogy Djibril Diop Mambéty had intended as a celebration of the "little people" in the grips of a global economy, which, in his words, had “gone mad”. The film was shot in the last year of a long and debilitating illness, with little or no funding, and it was still on the editing tables when he died, on July 23, 1998. It was completed and placed on the distribution circuit for African films by a group of his longtime collaborators, including his musician brother, Wasis Diop [and producer Silvia Voser]. Yet, La Petite vendeuse is a film teeming with life, extending to its audiences a bounty of love, showing affection for the blind, the paraplegic and the disabled in general. It features actors ravaged by alcohol abuse, and even corrupt police officers portrayed in a sympathetic light. In fact, in this last creative gesture of his life, Djibril Diop Mambéty reasserts the dominant features of Senegalese filmmaking of the 1990s and choreographs two of the most pervasive topics in his films: the fate of street children in the city, and the value of musical experiences of all kinds." – Sada Niang

"Mambéty describes what would be his final film as "a hymn to the courage of street children," but like all of his works, it is also a hymn to Senegal, to post-colonial Africa and to resourceful visionaries like the courageous girl of the title. Undaunted by poverty or handicap, the young Sili Laam leaves her blind grandmother begging in the street to seek out a better existence for them both. As the only female newspaper seller, she encounters constant obstacles along the way, yet reacts by simply standing up for herself and others. Nonchalantly fighting for equality and justice, Sili’s courage and resilience are depicted with a mix of joy and hardship, but no saccharine. The second in his unfinished Tales of Little People trilogy after Le Franc, this film – like Hyenas before it – mixes realism with allegory, taking a "small" story and making it as powerful as the sun." – Harvard Film Archive

Part of our season on Djibril Diop Mambéty

Le Franc and La Petite vendeuse de soleil were restored at 2K resolution in 2019 by Waka Films with the support of the Institut français, Cinémathèque Afrique and CNC – Centre national du cinéma et de l’image animée, in agreement with Teemour Diop Mambéty, at Éclair laboratories from the original negative.