The Little Girl Who Sold the Sun

Djibril Diop Mambéty | Senegal | 1999

1999 Rotterdam, Berlin, San Francisco, Wellington, Toronto, Pusan
2000 Aspen, Hong Kong
2021 (restored version) Taipei

The world of this unassuming but powerful little film, originally conceived as the second part of Mambéty’s planned “Tales of Little People” trilogy (the first part, Le Franc, was finished in 1994), is the world of Dakar’s street people. Not just the bullying newsboys and beggars, but also the wheelchair-bound boy (Moussa Balde) with a boom-box whose radio he’ll play for you – for a small fee. Mambéty brings all this to life without a trace of sentimentality, but with the utmost empathy, admiration and, most of all, respect for those who may be downtrodden, but never helpless. With an eye for striking settings – like the almost surreal landscape of empty refrigerators outside an appliance vendor’s – and complex color arrangements, Mambéty finds beauty and a certain aesthetic order amid the grinding poverty and riotous sounds and colors of his native city.
– Ken Fox, TV Guide

If the synopsis makes this sound like a bleak and unforgiving affair, do not be fooled. Mambéty’s final film is brimming with colour and optimism, carried through by a central character blessed with ferocious resilience and executed with a glorious eye for detail.

The film follows Sili (Lissa Balera), a polio-ridden little girl in Dakar, who decides that she is going to sell newspapers so that she can support her blind grandmother. Fitting, then, that the paper she is selling is called The Sun – she is selling and giving out rays of hope to the rest of the world, so unburdened by disappointment, nor thwarted by her circumstances. This sensational hopefulness defines the film, fittingly for one made just before the millenium clicked over. It would be easy to label the film as overly naive, but it is this breeziness that makes The Little Girl Who Sold the Sun such a compelling watch. For modern times burdened with pessimism, the unapologetic aspiration of this short feature is awe inspiring.

Balera has such a starring role. Her calm sincerity and confidence is a stark contrast to the crass showmanship of the boys around her. Balera gives a magnificent performance characterised by emotion and confidence. The backdrop to this determined journey is a kaleidoscope of vibrant, bright colours, Mambéty seemingly unwilling to sacrifice a single detail. Mambéty contains so much activity and colour into a single frame, the rich texture of life captured in a dazzling manner – life complete with imperfections, but not defined by them. The result is such a rich film that does not ignore reality, but rather wants to improve it.

The story features some golden moments. Sili giving a police officer a firm talking to is a particular highlight, as is seeing her giving money away to other children begging in the street. Mambéty covers a lot in the 45 minute running time, yet the film never feels overstretched. You do wish that it was longer, but only so you can lose yourself in the film’s vibrancy for that little bit longer. It is a testament to the strength of the story that you feel so immersed and engaged in a tale that will stay with you for a length of time that betrays the few minutes of your life that it will take.

A gem of African cinema, The Little Girl Who Sold the Sun is an uplifting and expertly crafted short feature that leaves you feeling hopeful of a brighter tomorrow. Quietly extraordinary and thematically still relevant, Mambéty’s final film will live on for a long time as a testament to courage and aspiration. This was a much needed antidote twenty years ago, and its strength has only increased over time. An essential classic of world cinema.
– James Hanton, Outtake Magazine, 23 September 2019.

The Little Girl Who Sold The Sun was restored at 2K resolution in 2019 by Waka Films with the support of the Institut français, Cinémathèque Afrique and CNC – Centre national du cinéma et de l’image animée, in agreement with Teemour Diop Mambéty, at Éclair laboratories from the original negative.

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