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Le Blog sur les femmes africaines dans le cinéma est un espace pour l'échange d'informations concernant les réalisatrices, comédiennes, productrices, critiques et toutes professionnelles dans ce domaine. Ceci sert de forum public du Centre pour l'étude et la recherche des femmes africaines dans le cinémas.


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01 September 2022

Safi Faye's "La Passante" 50 years on

Safi Faye's "La Passante" 50 years on
Notes by Beti Ellerson

The 10-minute film La Passante, completed at the end of the first year of film school, Safi Faye "made for herself, for her own pleasure, but also to put herself to the test." The African Women in Cinema Blog gives tribute to this “little intimiste film” which she “dared” to make 50 years ago in 1972.

She had this to say to me about how she came to make La Passante:
"I went to L’École Louis Lumière, one of the best film schools in France, in Paris. I learned like everyone else—I was the only African woman—how to handle a camera, and I became familiar with how to use the cinematography equipment. At the end of the first year I dared to make a little film…in 1972. Right away, everybody began to talk: “There is an African woman who is making films.” It is by chance and by choice that I made this little film, a little film, rather intimiste, that I made for myself. Afterwards, out of curiosity, people began to ask about the film.” (Sisters of the Screen, Beti Ellerson)

Safi Faye describes her film La Passante as influenced by Charles Baudelaire's poem "A une Passante,” about the fugitive beauty of a woman passerby.

À une passante

La rue assourdissante autour de moi hurlait.
Longue, mince, en grand deuil, douleur majestueuse,
Une femme passa, d'une main fastueuse
Soulevant, balançant le feston et l'ourlet;

Agile et noble, avec sa jambe de statue.
Moi, je buvais, crispé comme un extravagant,
Dans son oeil, ciel livide où germe l'ouragan,
La douceur qui fascine et le plaisir qui tue.

Un éclair... puis la nuit! — Fugitive beauté
Dont le regard m'a fait soudainement renaître,
Ne te verrai-je plus que dans l'éternité?

Ailleurs, bien loin d'ici! trop tard! jamais peut-être!
Car j'ignore où tu fuis, tu ne sais où je vais,
Ô toi que j'eusse aimée, ô toi qui le savais!

In an interview she had this to say about La Passante and Charles Baudelaire:
“[It is] the story of a beautiful African woman who arrives in Paris. Dreamlike, she notices that everyone watches her, admires her. Among her admirers she chooses a White man and allows him to dream, then a Black man who dreams as well. They watch her walk down the street. In fact, they are dreaming. That is not at all my reality; Baudelaire inspired me.” (Translation from French by Beti Ellerson)

In La Passante, Safi Faye interprets the protagonist with Paris as the setting. In some ways, the film reflected her identity as a woman "divided between two cultures—French and Senegalese," yet defining herself as neither, "a Westernized or liberated woman". She elaborates her positionality and the duality of her identity to Françoise Pfaff in this way:
"The female protagonist of La Passante is a foreigner who arouses a certain curiosity among the people of the country in which she is presently residing. She lives in a country where she is neither integrated nor assimilated. She is in Europe but her thoughts are in Africa. I am just like her, I define myself as a 'passerby'." 
Safi Faye’s identity as a passerby in Europe with thoughts of Africa is reminiscent of her role as “Safi”, when she partook in Jean Rouch's Petit à Petit, a cinéma-direct film during which the characters had the liberty of interpretation in their roles. When asked by her African friends Damouré and Lam about her origins during their visit to Paris, she reminisces during a dreamlike sequence as she promenades along a path next to the sea. Returning from her reveries, she describes to them the beauty of her country: “the women are beautiful, beautiful as the night,” invoking the poetry of Baudelaire that lauds the splendor of a woman. And like Baudelaire, Safi Faye’s film, La passante captures a fantasy moment as a beautiful African woman strolls down a Parisian street. ("'I dare to make a film,' a tribute to the life and work of Safi Faye." Beti Ellerson)

Safi Faye's poetic sensibility, viewed early in her filmmaking with La Passante, evolved into an important element of her cinematic écriture. And her desire to mythologize beauty in her early cinematic work, sets forth in full splendor in Mossane, her last oeuvre.

Image by Beti Ellerson

Works Cited

Cissé, Alassane, and Madior Fall. 1996. "Un film en Afrique, c'est la galère." Sud Week-end [Dakar, Senegal], 12 October, 6-7.

Ellerson, Beti. 2002, film: Sisters of the Screen: African Women in the Cinema.

Ellerson, Beti. "'I dare to make a film,' a tribute to the life and work of Safi Faye." Black Camera, an International Film Journal. 15.1. Fall, 2023.

Pfaff, Françoise. 1988. Twenty-Five Black African Filmmakers: A Critical Study, with Filmography and Bio-Bibliography. Greenwood Press.

Remy, Catherine. 1996. "Interview with Safi Faye." Amina [Paris] 315: 21, 34. In French.

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