Le Franc / La Petite Vendeuse du Soleil Review

Le Franc (the Franc) opens on the room of Marigo, a player of congoma, His beloved instrument, a hybrid between a drum and a kalimba, is however no longer by his side but in his landlady’s posession for non-payment of rent… With no means of survival left, Marigo sets off for the centre of Dakar and decides to spend his money on a lottery ticket… With a strange mix of dream sequences and reality, Le Franc works effectively as a short piece – the lively cinematography makes an excellent use of strange angles and facial close-ups to enhance the storyline whilst the natural African acting ability is put to great use by the cast. Although Diop-Mambety adds a resolutely optimistic note to this film, but with the characters frenetic lust for an easy way out of his situation, you can feel the artist’s caveat throughout.

La Petite Vendeuse du Soleil (the Girl who sold the Sun) follows the life of a young girl who moves from her village to Dakar - having permanently lost the use of one of her legs, the only job she can do, is beg on the streets. One day however she sees boys selling Le Soleil, a national newspaper. Although no girls do that job, she manages to convince those in charge to give her a try… But can she survive in a cut-throat world where only aggression pays off? Offering a loving vision of modern day Dakar, Diop-Mambety takes us through all of the highs and lows of the sprawling city. His gentle, tender touch is evident but the tone doesn’t become sickly sweet with the film ending as realistically as it honestly could.

Djibril Diop-Mambety only managed to make 2 feature length films and a handful of shorts in his lifetime. The making of Hyenas, his second feature film, was so chaotic that he decided that his next project would be made up of three independent short films – the common theme to the three films was the power of money amongst the Senegalese “petites gens” (lit. small people) – an affectionate term for the lower classes. His premature death in 1998 curtailed all these plans, with the editing of La Petite Vendeuse… being finished without him. His avant-garde style made him one of the most influential African filmmakers of his generation but his meagre output is sadly representative of the underfunding of the continent’s cinema…

The DVD:

The image: Seemingly somewhere between 1.66 and 1.75, the image quality varies between the two films. The first is quite sombre and seems to have been filmed through a badly positioned filter causing some form of anti-aliasing throughout the film (like dust from an imaginary wind). Whether this was a defect from the source material or not, is impossible to ascertain but bar that problem the transfer is acceptable with a relatively clean master (occasional flecks and spots do appear). The colours are somewhat muted and the overall image seems rather dark although that could have been intentional.
The second film is a great improvement on the first film with vibrant colours and the disappearance of the filter problem… The image is also notably brighter than the first and, despite showing the same limited print damage, gives off a better global impression despite no anamorphic enhancement being used.
Despite the criticisms made above, the image is more than watchable and you may not even notice the filter problem. Given the difficulty of sourcing decent masters, M3M have done a very good job under these circumstances.

The sound and subtitles:The original soundtrack in Stereo Wolof is sensibly the only option available – there are optional subtitles in English, French and Spanish but these have to be selected before playing the film and cannot be changed on the fly. The sound is pretty basic stereo but the mix of voices and music is effectively done.

The menus:With music from the films playing in the background, the menu is basic but includes some rare artwork from the director himself…

The extras:The following are solely in FrenchA detailed filmography is included as well as a bizarre 10 minute long interview-cum-masterclass from Diop-Mambety. It’s unclear whether he’s completely smashed or having a mystical experience but the initial lesson in film making (“close your eyes – see the lights there – watch them become characters – now you have your film!”) is thankfully abandoned for an excellent exposition of the 3 films that he hoped would make up the trilogy…
Finally an excellent booklet about the director comes in the DVD box. Clocking in at almost 70 pages long this is much more than your average folded sheet – but it is only in French. The booklet features film reviews, a biography, an interview with Idrissa Ouedraogo, exclusive artwork and loads more. An excellent extra but of little use unless you have good French…

Conclusions:This was M3M’s first release on DVD and is an excellent first effort for a company that seeks to release African films to a wider audience. For those interested in World cinema this is definitely worth investigating and can be ordered either via M3M or Cinéstore. Their subsequent release Tilaï also comes highly recommended and can also be ordered from the same sources.

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