A Senegalese woman is eager to find a better life abroad. She takes a job as a governess for a French family, but finds her duties reduced to those of a maid after the family moves to the south of France. In her new country, she is constantly made aware of her race and mistreated by her employers.
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In Dakar, a mask is a mask and a woman is a woman. But in France, the mask ceases to be a mask and becomes a wall decoration and Diouanne ceases to be a woman and becomes essentially a slave. It isn't until the beautiful haunting ending when the boy follows Diouanne's old boss like a ghost, that he makes sure the Frenchman never forgets that the mask was always a mask and Diouanne was always a woman.
Essential cinema. Sembene's debut feature has lost none of its power in its examination of a young Sengalese woman brought to France to be employed as a domestic by a young couple. Her internal monologue throughout is fascinating and the deep meaning and layers to that examination and to something as simple as a mask is masterful. Diop is so expressive but its the filmmaker's choices that make this a masterpiece.
The film says a lot about race relations in Africa, and especially in France, one of its colonizers. Left with no option but quiet revolutions, the girl passively follows fate, allowing others to dictate over her. The film, only one hour long, is powerful and tries to dissect racist attitudes but falls short on several points.