A bright-looking city movie about a single family, nice contrast to the dull-colored medium-shot rural Emitai. Rapid escalation of Sembene’s feminist filmmaking that would lead to the glorious Moolaade. Kine at first seems too harsh and rough to be a likeable lead, but after hearing her story and experiencing her kids’ party and meeting her ex-husband, she looks very much like a hero and deserves the happy ending she gets. Cool movie – I’d watch it again.
Faat Kine is a chic, sexy, and “liberated” woman. She is a forty-year-old single mother, born at the same time as Senegalese independence. From her humble beginning as a gas-station attendant constantly being harassed by male customers, Faat Kine has climbed a ladder reserved for men to become a successful station manager of a multinational oil company. She is financially in control, well-connected in the business world, and adept at manipulating the banking system. Le Credit Lyonnais keeps no secrets from her. When she needs it, she can afford boy-toys. She owns a car and a stylish villa littered with posters of Sembene’s revolutionary icons. She has adopted all the fetishes of the moyenne bourgeoisie, including telecommunication knickknacks, modern appliances, and, best of all, a servant who draws her a warm bath when she comes home from work.
The double success of her children is yet another achievement for Faat Kine, one which stirs memories of her own youth in 1981, “when Sanghor left and handed power to Abdou Diouf.” So, Sembene’s pendulum swings back to the time when Faat Kine was twenty, in her last year of secondary school, just months before her final exam. She had dreamed of becoming a lawyer. But this was not to be. Immaturity, perhaps, and weak social and educational safeguards conspired against her. She was instead seduced by Gaye, her philosophy professor, and left alone pregnant.
The foolishness of the past exacts its brutal price, Sembene reminds us, in the crippled form of Mammy who lives on in the present with Faat Kine, Aby, and Djib. She is Kine’s mother and another of Sembene’s pillars of strength. For once she was expelled from school, Faat Kine’s only protection at home came from her loving but powerless mother. When Kine’s conservative father wanted to kill both his daughter and her newborn, it was Mammy who shielded the children with her body from her husband’s vicious blows.
Crippled Mammy, ambitious Faat Kine, the fatherless Aby: Three generations of women, who have only each other for support in a world shaped by feudal and neo-colonial values, hold the keys to Sembene’s moral. At first to survive, then to succeed, Faat Kine entered a world forbidden to women. By breaking taboos, she unabashedly took control of her life. She faced the world, was rewarded with a degree of financial independence, and moved steadily toward the center of Dakar’s middle-class. What does it mean then, when Sembene lets the pendulum loose once more? Faat Kine becomes pregnant and is abandoned again. Her lover strips her of her savings and their son Djib of his paternity. Apparently, one lesson Kine has yet to learn is that independence can never be a gift. It is hard won.
In a film permeated by commercial transactions, Faat Kine exemplifies a model of economic self-reliance tempered with charity; she frugally refuses to take bank loans at usurious rates or accept foreign currencies in clear contrast with African nations’ growing indebtedness to Western banks and lending agencies.
Yet Faat Kine may have become so accustomed to relating to people through money her children fear she has cut herself off from deeper emotional attachments. In Djibril Diop Mambety’s Hyenas, for example, Linguère Ramatou, another businesswoman scorned by male society, retaliates by bribing a village to kill her dishonorable former lover in exchange for an international line of credit. Here, in contrast, Faat Kine decides to marry her male counterpart, Uncle Jean, a widower and businessman who has raised three children on his own.
This will finally be a marriage between equals as the unexpected last shot indicates. Held for a disquietingly long time, it shows only Faat Kine’s feet curled in pleasure. In contrast, to pornography where the woman’s body is fully exposed for the man’s pleasure, here we see only Faat Kine’s anticipated satisfaction. In fact, the audience could be seen as being placed in the unaccustomed position of the provider of that pleasure. This seems like an appropriate ending to a film which, after all, has been a tribute to women who for to long have had to do everything for themselves.