Koumba has lived in Paris from the age of 2 till 20 when a street brawl that goes awry invites a background check. Her immigration papers are revealed to be fake due to a negligence on her family’s part, and she is deported back to Senegal accompanied by her newly born son.
The life of the Senegalese community is seen through a white man’s lens, and the racial distance between the filmmaker and his subject was reminiscent of another film that screened at LDF in 2017, Pankaj Johar’s Cecilia, wherein the urban employer steadfastly helps his domestic servant fight a battle for justice for her daughter. The idea of the white man’s saviour complex was not far from my mind, and was duly brought up in the film’s discussion when it was attributed to the coloniser’s guilt, which begged the question: where does a documentarian draw the line? It is a tricky path to tread – the distinction between a filmmaker and an interventionist.
Froidevaux captures everyday moments in the lives of the Senegalese women; one particular lingering shot is that of Koumba and some other women doing their laundry by hand. While a native filmmaker would have shortened the duration of that scene, Froidevaux, as an outsider to the community, is fascinated by the act. But the gist of the documentary is to capture Koumba’s struggle to get back her passport and visa – all original this time – and take her son back with her to Paris. There are intensely private moments which the camera intrudes upon, or Froidevaux coaxes her to take a long walk in the scorching heat to try and procure her papers – an immensely interesting moment in the film that opens up pertinent questions on the distance that a filmmaker should maintain between his film and its subject.