a color that does not pass at the Paris Opera

Neneh (Oumy Bruni Garrel) in


No doubt classical dance had never been filmed under the prism of institutional racism. In Neneh Superstar, the director Ramzi Ben Sliman chooses to tackle it through the eyes of a child, Neneh, a 12-year-old girl from a working-class neighborhood who, from technique to passion, has everything to integrate school of the Paris Opera ballet – anything but the right skin color. She succeeded in her audition not without a hitch, because the debates were stormy within the Opera team: some teachers wondered if this black body would not stain the stage, damage the homogeneous line of white bodies.

After this cruel scene and rather well felt in his way of not going with a dead hand, Neneh Superstar seems to think that to unmask the xenophobia of an elite discipline, you have to push the sliders to the maximum – at the risk of shortcuts and caricatures. The director seizes an institutional racism which assumes itself and asserts itself loud and clear, whereas it is much more insidious and latent.

Opposite, Neneh is filmed as an explosive, unruly body, with familiar mannerisms and language that clash in an environment depicted as boring and corseted – this is again, taking up a cliché of what a young girl from the suburbs would be, incapable to internalize the norms of the environment that she claims to want to integrate.

Outrageous contrasts

The film tackles a delicate and fascinating subject, but prefers excessive contrasts to screenplay finesse. This is also evidenced by the character played by Maiwenn, a teacher who has denied her origins, but there again leaving the big clogs. Finally, we would like to put aside a detail as it seems extra-cinematic but which continues to hinder our appreciation: the role of Neneh is entrusted to Oumy Bruni Garrel, daughter of actors and filmmakers Valeria Bruni Tedeschi and Louis Garrel.

In the press kit, the director justifies this choice by explaining that he had to find a young actress who knew how to dance and act and that Oumy Bruni Garrel was the only one to meet these two conditions. There is something like a blind spot here (that of social reproduction, of cultural capital, of the racial question that we think we can grasp outside of a class reading), a denial that contradicts the political message that the film tries to deliver.

French film by Ramzi Ben Sliman. With Oumy Bruni Garrel, Maïwenn, Aïssa Maïga (1h35).

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