Touki Bouki & Black Girl are experimental films from the late 20th century. The paper aims to offer a comparative analysis of the films in regards to many aspects, including the politics within each film and the aesthetics of each film. The films were released within ten years of each other and illustrate two distinct yet related styles of filmmaking and narrative structure. Both films pursue issues of freedom and bondage; the urban vs. The rural; and differences among gender roles. The paper describes and explores the content of the narratives as well as filmmaking aspects such as editing, cinematography, soundtrack, and message(s) to the viewer.
There exists a primary dichotomy in both films where Africa is on one end of a spectrum and France, specifically Paris, is on the opposite end of the spectrum, serving as a dreamland or wonderland. Both films explore the dreams of young Africans seeking a more independent and comfortable lifestyle than the often harsh life in Africa, specifically the country of Senegal, a French speaking country. The protagonists from both films are from Dakar, Senegal, the capital city of the country. All protagonists are dissatisfied, bored, and unfulfilled by life in Dakar, which is why they seek escape and a new start in Paris, the city of lights. The protagonists of the films learn blunt and visceral life lessons regarding choice and freedom. The paper argues that these films effectively demonstrate respected styles of filmmaking and that while the films may differ superficially, they are ultimately linked in theme and mood.
The release date of Black Girl is 1966. The film is shot in black and white. The filmmaker had the option of shooting in color, but a specific choice was made to shoot the film in black and white. This choice is intentional underscoring themes and tensions of the narrative and among the characters. The protagonist, Diouana, is very dark skinned. Her skin is clear, healthy, and very dark. Her features are very distinctly African. The day of her arrival in France, she wears all white. There is extreme contrast between her dark skin and her whites clothes & accessories. Her white boss wears a dark suit and dark glasses. Again there is visual tension and contrast between his skin tone and Diouana's. Viewers may interpret Diouana's white clothes as her attempt to integrate into the white, European, French world.
At the dinner party the couple of the house throws, they and their guests discuss both their interest and disdain for African culture. The couple collects African art; they attempt to connect with a culture through material consumption. Viewers may further interpret the dark clothes worn by the "Monsieur" upon meeting Diouana is yet another attempt by the white French characters to connect with African culture through material items. The couple consumes African cultural artifacts, yet destroys an actual African person. They wish to connect and be a part of her culture, but yet still retain a safe distance and privilege of the white European world. Contrast between white and black is an aesthetic choice that is repeated and expressed throughout the course of Black Girl, also known as La Noire de
Touki Bouki, with release date in 1973, is a film that is highly saturated with color. Where as Black Girl is intentionally shot in black and white, color is essential in Touki Bouki. In fact, one may argue that the colors themselves are so much a part of the film; they are characters in of themselves. Nature is certainly a character in this film. In Black Girl, most of the scenes take place within the city. The viewers see Africa as part of flashbacks in Diouana's memory, yet we never or rarely see Africa or any countryside in the present of the film's narrative. In Touki Bouki, the situation is opposite. The setting within this film is mostly in Africa. The viewers sees very much of the countryside, the desert, the beach & ocean, and much of the general landscape. To see urban areas in Touki Bouki is the rarity whereas it is the opposite case in Black Girl. This is one way in which the films differ aesthetically.
Both films are about young Africans believing that a better life awaits them in Paris. Diouana awakens, literally, to a nightmarish life of captivity and slavery. When the mistress hires her, she tells Diouana that she will take care of the children only. The couple of the house demand Diouana take up servant and maid responsibilities. Both the husband and wife mistreat her, but the "Madame" of the house does more than mistreat Diouana; she tortures Diouana. While the film on a larger scale is a discourse upon the tension between Africa and Europe, on a smaller scale, the film is about the struggle between two women.
Though not directly expressed, Madame feels just as trapped and enslaved as Diouana does. This is why she takes out her frustration upon Diouana and spreads her misery; she wishes Diouana to feel in the same manner as she does. Though the women are separated by ethnicity and class, they are both women and thus share some of the same discrimination, prejudice, and violence that all women experience. Because Madame is a position of power, she expresses her desires for freedom by restricting the freedoms of Diouana. Both women seek to exercise power in some way. The Madame exercises power over Diouana and over domestic matters. Diouana exercises power over her body, as she does not eat regularly as a form of resistance against Madame's tyranny and as a strategy to get out of working. Many people who develop eating disorders do so because they feel their bodies are one area of their lives over which they have ultimate power and control. Madame brutally demands things of Diouana ceaselessly; she is alone in France. She has no friends and no family; as a result, she feels that the only place over which she can exude control and Madame cannot is over her body. Diouana is silent and obedient; she does not put up a direct struggle with Madame. Madame perceives her as weak; she is African; she is very slender; she is a servant. Madame perceives Diouana as both weak and vulnerable taking every opportunity possible to wear her down and terrorize her needlessly.
Mory, the protagonist in Touki Bouki, is terrorized and humiliated throughout the course of the film as well. Mory and his girlfriend, Anta, dream of relocating to Paris for a more glamorous and sophisticated lifestyle than the lives they have in rural Africa. Early in the film, the leader of a gang of young men lassoes Mory off of his motorcycle. The young men pull Mory into their vehicle; he is grossly outnumbered and anxious. It is implied that the young men inflict physical harm upon Mory, ultimately tying him and the cow skull mounted on his motorcycle to the back of their truck. They drive through the city chatting and laughing while Mory fades in and out of consciousness, dehydrated, injured, and humiliated. Aunty Oumy also humiliates Mory throughout the film, emasculating him with her mockery and laughter. Thus, humiliation and suffering are a common theme between Touki Bouki and Black Girl. The protagonists from both films suffer from repeated humiliation that they wish to escape. Diouana is humiliated on a daily basis. Mory is humiliated sporadically and randomly, yet regularly -- he almost expects it to happen, which is another reason why he and Anta seek freedom in France.
Black Girl seems very much influenced by the French New Wave or Nouvelle Vague movement in cinema. Black Girl and films of the French New Wave are contemporaries. Thus, on another level, there is yet another conversation between France and Senegal. The narratives of the films are indeed discourses on the relationship between France and Senegal; at the same time, the styles of filmmaking between France and Senegal converse as well. Black Girl has a very documentarian or verite type aesthetic. This film resembles a documentary and not a narrative, fictional film in the ways the film is shot, the ways the shots are composed, and the ways the shots are edited together for a scene or sequence.
The editing style of each film is distinctive in its own right while also paying tribute or homage to other movements in film, art, and politics. Also because most of Diouana's dialogue is voiceover, serving as her internal monologue or stream of consciousness to which the audience is privy, the aesthetic of the film is all the more of reality leading audiences to perceive that what happens to Diouana actually happens in a non-fictional manner. This trait or aesthetic practice is indicative of the French New Wave. Filmmakers of the French New Wave used real people who were not formally trained actors as cast members of their films. The film director Jean-Luc Godard and his film Alphaville are…