Black Girl, Night Scene

A while back, two internationally acclaimed directors, one (Senegal’s Ousmane Sembene) an old master, the other (China’s Zi’en Cui) a relative newcomer, made their DVD debuts thanks to New Yorker and Water Bearer Films, respectively. Both distributors now follow up those initial releases with more works from these two highly distinctive filmmakers. From New Yorker comes Sembene’s debut feature, Black Girl (1966), a stunning indictment of French colonialism that, in the wake of the recent Paris unrest, remains as damning today as it did then. Appropriating the rich, fluid black-and-white camerawork of French documentarian Jean Rouch, Sembene draws us into the inner world of Diouana, an African woman brought to the Côte d’Azur as a live-in maid by a French couple she worked for back in Dakar. Strikingly beautiful, she withdraws from her blond mistress’s domination into a claustrophobic, numbing routine, her life restricted to the kitchen, her small bedroom and the living room in between, with its taunting view of the coast. Barely speaking onscreen, Diouana bares her inner self through voice-over and flashbacks that repeatedly return to the question “What am I here?” As the answer becomes clear, Diouana grows increasingly desperate, setting the stage for Black Girl’s final, powerfully understated tragedy. A similar sense of dislocation and separation pervades Night Scene (2004), Cui’s intimate and haunting portrait of the rent boys of Beijing. Shot illicitly on video and proceeding from the barest hint of narrative — a son discovers his father having a gay affair, then finds himself immersed in the gay hustling scene — the film unfolds mostly as a series of moving testimonials and confessions: In spare flats, public parks and garish nightclubs, a flurry of young men reveal themselves before Cui’s camera to be on the leading edge of both China’s capitalist flirtations and the age-old pursuit of true love.

Other recommended new releases: The 40-Year-Old Virgin (VHS-DVD); Gallipoli: Special Collector’s Edition (DVD); The Simpsons: The Complete Seventh Season (DVD). Also released this week: VHS-DVD: The Island. DVD: Airplane!: Don’t Call Me Shirley Edition; The Bad News Bears: Special Collector’s Edition; The Five Pennies; Gilmore Girls: The Complete Fifth Season; King Kong: Peter Jackson’s Production Diaries; Sin City: Extended and Recut; Suze Orman: For the Young, Fabulous and Broke.

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