Since the end of the war in Algeria, France has been repeatedly tempted to portray colonialism as an era frozen in (past) time. The post-colonial present has been invoked by right-wing officials to turn the page from metropolitan mea culpas and call for a renovated Françafrique, an association in which Africa is left to independently make the decisions that the West supports.The Empire is dead, long live the empire.

This interpretation of history neglects the fact that French (consumerist) modernity was in many ways supported by its post-colonial practices. Immigration -particularly, immigration from Africa- is of course, the most visible of these practices. The effect of the (black) Other on the formation of the French identity of the second half of the 20th century has been extensively discussed and is in fact a critical issue in today’s national agenda. I am interested in how the post-colonial “screen” affects the subaltern subject’s gaze on himself.

In 1974 Inoussa Ousseïni directed and starred in the film Paris, c’est joli, [1] which portrays the arrival of an immigrant from Niger. After a series of ordeals, he manages to get to Paris, looking for a cousin who has already settled in the city. The immigrant (who has no name) arrives to the African quartier, where he encounters another man from Niger who involves him with an “organization that helps” newcomers. It quickly becomes evident that the organization is in fact an expansive business, providing and charging young African men for a wide array of services, from accommodation to sex. The main character is consecutively robbed and ripped off, but when he calls home he summarizes his  his arrival in France -not unlike a tourist- with the phrase “Paris is pretty”.  It is left to the interpretation of the viewer to suppose that his appraisal will be the basis for more men from his home country to emigrate.

The short film is an early, first-person account of the role of the African man after the empire’s collapse.  Ousseïni is a disciple of French filmmaker and ethnographer Jean Rouch, who is credited with bringing cinema and filmmaking to Niger. This fact also brings into consideration how in post-colonial countries the relationship with the Metropolis remains to be a cathalyst of the reflections on one-self.

-alina


[1]                Unfortunately, I have not been able to find the video online.