Director: Simone Catharina Gaul | Germany | 2014| French, Mooré, German (Subtitles) | 64 Minutes | North American Premiere
HOT DOCS SCREENINGS
April 30, 2014 1:00 pm | ROM Theatre
May 2, 2014 6:00 pm | TIFF Lightbox Theatre 2
“I dream of becoming a famous couturier and that the whole world will know my name.”
Bintou offers an intimate look into the life of Bintou, a 26-year old woman in Burkina Faso. She makes her living as a dressmaker, mostly selling her creations to 20 and 30-something white women presumably working in Burkina Faso as aid workers. Bintou dreams of success and runway shows in Paris, and projects an image of a happy and easygoing woman to her foreign clients. Her private life is a little more complicated: she has a 7-year old daughter, Christiane, who was born out of a painful incident in Bintou’s past.
Children’s Services has been taking care of Christiane so that Bintou can get her life into a position where she can care for her daughter full time. The central conflict in this film pivots around Bintou being informed that Children’s Services will no longer take care of her daughter and that she has to find the means to care for Christiane herself. Bintou’s ambivalent feelings about this are clear as she struggles to fit her daughter into her life when she comes home on the weekends.
While the filmmaker, Simone Catharina Gaul, states her original intention about the film was to question the relationship between herself — a white ex-pat — and Bintou, the film came out quite differently.
“It was meant to be about the relationship between Africa and Europe. A relationship full of clichés and misleading information. […] Bintou and I became friends. We decided to make a movie together questioning the image we have of each other,” writes Gaul on her website.
It is unclear how much of Bintou’s questioning of Gaul actually made it to the final edit. What is clear is that there is a sort of intimacy between the filmmaker and Bintou, and it was perhaps this intimacy which didn’t allow the filmmaker herself to question her role in Bintou’s life. Gaul clearly empathizes with Bintou’s situation, but does not question the fact that it is precisely her and her friends that are keeping Bintou living in poverty.
The film starts off with Bintou explaining that she prefers to work with white clients because they don’t haggle over prices, but in another scene, two white expats are exclaiming to themselves how cheap her work is. Bintou is seen responding to their calls late at night and doing last minute alterations anytime they ask. Bintou seems almost ashamed of her daughter when her clients come over to pick up their dresses, and there is a sense that Bintou sees caring for Christiane as a sort of obstacle to achieving her dreams.
There are some beautiful scenes of Bintou as she returns to the village of her youth, or as she rides her bicycle throughout the city. And the viewer gets a glimpse of daily life in Burkina Faso. But what this film is missing is an analysis. An unpacking of the context. As beautiful as the idea of Bintou and the filmmaker deciding to make a movie together questioning their image of each other, the reality is that one of these parties holds total control over the storytelling: the filmmaker. Gaul’s own position within Burkina Faso is not explained, but we sense she is there on some mission to “help” or to “empower.” And it is precisely her own intentions which block her ability to achieve an objective view of Bintou’s situation or her own hand in constructing a complex world of power dynamics which do not empower anyone other than the ones who always had the power.
Andreea Muscurel is a visual storyteller and co-founder of The Love Studio. She is a first generation Canadian currently living in Toronto, and has called Bucharest, Barcelona, and Sarajevo home along the years.