Safi Faye | Senegal 1996 | 1h45m | Wolof with English subtitles | 15 | DCP
In this classic Senegalese drama, a beautiful village girl finds herself torn between potential husbands, and between tradition and modernity. Mossane is in love with Fara, a young student, but she has been betrothed to another. Ske dislikes her rich fiancee, Diogoye, but he sends money to the villagers. Unable to follow her dreams and bound by tradition, Mossane takes action and tragedy ensues.
Safi Faye was the first woman from sub-Saharan Africa to direct a feature film in 1975, Letter from My Village. Mossane, her latest film was first screened in Cannes in 1996 and has never been screened in the UK. Africa in Motion worked with the filmmaker to restore the film in collaboration with Titra Film in France.
This screening was part of AiM’s focus on Africa’s Lost Classics, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).
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Mossane is a beautiful 14-year-old Serer girl who has just reached marriageable age in a rural village in Senegal. She has many suitors, including a simple-minded farmer's son and her own brother Ngor. At birth, she had been promised in marriage to Diogaye, who went away to work in France. Mossane however, falls in love with Fara, a poor student who has returned to the village while the university is on strike. When Diogaye sends a dowry and asks that she first be married to him in his absence and then sent to France, she refuses and tragedy ensues.
Director info & context
Safi Faye (*1943) is a Senegalese filmmaker and ethnologist from Dakar. As a teacher, Faye attended the First World Festival of Negro Arts in 1966 in Dakar where she met French ethnologist and filmmaker Jean Rouch. Famous for his style in docufiction and cinema verite, he encouraged Faye to pick up film as an ethnographic tool. A year later Faye travelled to Paris to act in Rouch’s film Petit a Petit, but returned to her career as primary school teacher after shooting was finished. However, the art festival and work with Rouch had made an impact on her, and made her aware of the importance of preserving African history and culture. Studying ethnography in Paris, Faye discovered the camera as an important tool in understanding what she observed:
“During that time there were many abstract things in the course of events that could not be explained, such as African ceremonies. One observes them but cannot actually explain them. I thought perhaps that in analysing these elements, I might find the foundation of these things. I decided that the best solution was to do film.” (Faye in Cisse & Fall 1996, 6)
But not only did Faye want to learn more about her continent through exploring it with a film camera, she also acknowledged that film would be more accessible to the predominantly oral society of her country.
While studying ethnography at the Sorbonne in Paris, Faye also took filmmaking classes at the Louis Lumiere Film School in 1972. In the same year she shot her first film La Passante about her experience as a foreign woman living in Paris. While La Passante is an essayistic short fiction film, it already shows Faye’s interest in the docufiction genre, which she has chosen for the majority of her films. It is significant that Faye acts as the main character in the film and selected Paris as the setting. As such, the film is partly auto-ethnographic and echoes her own experiences as a woman divided between French and Senegalese cultures.
Faye continued to develop her film career in France and immediately gained attention for her work. At the time she was possibly the only African woman making films and she found it relatively easy to enter the industry. For her first feature film Kaddu Beykat (1975) she received funding from the French Ministry of Cooperation. It was the first commercially distributed feature film directed by a black woman from sub-Saharan Africa. Yet, on release the film was banned in Senegal. Faye is the female pioneer of sub-Saharan African cinema and still figures among the most significant representatives of African Cinema, on a par with her compatriots Ousmane Sembene and Djibril Diop Mambety. Yet, her works are far better known in Europe than in Africa and are rarely available for screenings on the continent.
While Faye is a proponent of women’s rights and describes her work as affirmation of women’s rights and opportunities, she does not use the word ‘feminist’ for herself or her films. She criticises Western feminism as being unrelated to the realities of many African women, and emphasises the different experiences of African women. She particularly focuses on the contrast between urban and rural life, and argues that in rural parts of Senegal women take on many responsibilities for their families and their households. They are active partners rather than submissive dependents, as the Western feminist discourse of emancipation likes to assume.
The women in her films are torn between tradition and independence, between societal expectations and self-sufficiency. Faye’s last film Mossane is a good example of such a heroine. It was produced in 1996 and selected to premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in the same year. While her earlier films privileged the documentary and docufiction style, Mossane tells a completely fictionalised story and does not correspond to any actual events. Even the rituals and ceremonies depicted in the film were a product of her imagination. This baffled some European audience members at a FESPACO screening in 1997 so much that they demanded anthropological explanations for them. They rejected the fact that Faye’s latest work was not based on anthropological research and debate ensued. Faye also draws on her own personal experiences and Serer mythology. She reflects on her sexual education in rural Senegal as well as her relationship with her own daughter. Still, with Mossane Faye refused to comply with the superficial tradition/modernity dichotomy often impressed onto African storytelling by Western viewers. For Faye, Mossane is an adolescent like any other, and her resistance to her parents’ wishes is a universal coming-of-age story.
Today, Safi Faye lives in Paris and continues her profession as a teacher.
Mossane was never screened in the UK before its inclusion in the Africa’s Lost Classics programme. ALC fully restored it in collaboration with Titra Film in France.
Ellerson, Beti: ‘Africa through a Woman’s Eyes: Safi Faye’s Cinema.’ Focus on African Films. Ed. by Françoise Pfaff. Bloomington, Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2004.
Cissé, Alassane and Madior Fall: ‘Un film en Afrique, c’est la galère.‘ Sud Week-end [Dakar, Senegal], 12 October 1991: 6-7.