FESPACO 2011 WATCH: Official Competition - Documentary
Paris mon paradis: Une Burkinabè à Paris by Claire Diao for Africine. Translation from French by Beti Ellerson
She arrived in France with her head full of dreams. But her eyes saw something very different. Éléonore Yaméogo, young Burkinabè filmmaker having recently completed her studies at the Burkina Faso-based film school, l'Institut Supérieur de l'Image et du Son de Ouagadougou, started a project in 2008 with as many risks as ambitions: to debunk the myth of Paris as the Eldorado maintained, by many African immigrants.
Initially captivated by the French capital, the opening scenes of the film remind us of the typical stereotypes: accordion music and street performances, overflowing fountains and brightly lit façades. Éléonore Yaméogo recounts how she quickly discovers the other side of this picture. In these symbolic Parisian spaces such as Château d'eau or Sacré Cœur, street vendors hawking roasted corn on the cob or fabricants of wire bracelets, are occupations with scarce income on which they try to survive. And while the numerous expatriates maintain the illusion of success back home, those in Paris mon paradis testify to the contrary.
From the young Burkinabè actress Bintou who gives up her job in a theater troop to try her luck in the Parisian capital, to Chaba a house painter from Casamance who has lived from hand to mouth for the last ten years in an amusement park and abandoned apartment building as his only home, he is only one step away from.... They dream of a better life in France although their situation, undocumented, jobless black people, offers them the opposite. Such as Traoré, valiant retiree of the French state, who waits on a mattress on the floor for worker's compensation benefits from an accident on the job, which he has yet to collect. Or Ansoumane Sissoke, spokesperson for the Committee for the Sans-Papier of Paris, who makes demands for the rights of immigrant workers.
For the viewer who does not expect this vision of France, these images are striking. To a Parisian who regularly navigates the streets of the capital, they are commonplace. How many bana banas (Senegalese street vendors) in tourists spots? The undocumented who are often on strike in the streets? The touts in front of the beauty shops? Éléonore Yaméogo asks as her camera scans the faces of the passersby: "But in order to succeed, how many failures?" We think back to Med Hondo shouting "black invasion" in Soleil O or the character of Innocent in the graphic book Aya de Yopougon who realizes that his brothers are not the same as in France. Or still, the shame of Otho in Aprés l'océan, who returns home without a cent.
The testimonies discovered in Paris mon paradis are striking in their truthfulness and their emotion. Chaba fights to prevent his brothers from trying to pursue the dream of immigration that led one of them to be expelled from Belgium. Bintou, in a beautifully-filmed scene in Ouagadougou, wonders about this happiness that she went to get in France while she was happy in Burkina Faso. Traoré affirms that when he finally collects his worker's compensation he will be out of Paris within twenty-four hours. And Éléonore Yaméogo, the first Burkinabè to have benefited from the "controlled" immigration policy of the French government, questions from a fresh perspective as an African, about the widening gap between the dream of some and the disillusionment of others.