Alwina in the Bar

Princesse Tam-Tam 1 from Ally Navolio on Vimeo.

The scene of the film when Alwina goes to the bar and sees the African musicians is very interesting, for it gives an idea of how anonymity can be valuable to Alwina. Throughout the film, the “otherness” is apparent, but she rarely feels condemned or ostracized because of it. And yet, as the film progresses, one of the major goals is to “de-exoticize” her, or teach her how to be a proper Parisian. As such, she enters the bar wearing Parisian clothing and looking very covered up, in a way toning down her exotic nature. It is as if she is trying to not draw attention to herself and be unseen by others. However a truer anonymity comes into play when the African singers and musicians start performing. We see these musicians as well as other people of African descent sitting around the bar, and suddenly Alwina does not seem as conspicuous as she did in earlier parts of the film. Alwina is able to feel a racial kinship with others and is able to blend into the crowd. Although she is not completely anonymous, for there are white Parisians in the bar still watching her, she begins to become more indistinguishable from others in the bar.

The sense of anonymity that Alwina feels in this scene is important to her character for it allows her to succumb to her feelings of homesickness and her confusion about her identity in Paris. When she joins in singing the song about Africa, the audience begins to see the vulnerability and truth of her character. She is no longer an exoticized figure, but a real person with real feelings. We, the audience, become privy to Alwina’s true nature and self. Similarly to how anonymity allows a character to come to a true understanding, Alwina’s anonymity in this moment brings forth true understanding not only for her but for the audience. Through this anonymity, Alwina is given the opportunity to stop performing and thereby find greater self-understanding. She is given a moment of freedom from being an “other”, and is able to reconnect to her roots and true identity.

At the end of the clip, Alwina begins to dance to the African music. Although she is drawing attention to herself with her dancing, this act stems from her connection with the music and people around her. It is not that Alwina is purposely having herself be recognized, but that the kinship she feels with the other people in the room allows her to feel more open and free about her heritage. She’s not dancing to be an “other”, she is dancing because of the deep connection she feels to her homeland and the people around her.