In her first foray into cinema, Safi Faye acts in Jean Rouch’s 1970 comedy about two Nigerien entrepreneurs whose research trip to Paris becomes a sharp lesson in ‘reverse ethnography’.
Damouré Zika and Lam Ibrahim Dia, who have an import–export business in Niger, learn of a competitor’s plans to construct a multistorey building in the capital. Viewing it as a symbol of capitalistic success, they travel to Paris to gather ideas for their own building but quickly become bemused by the eccentricities of the French and their way of life, picking up a motley crew to bring back to their country.
Little by Little satirises Eurocentric ethnographic practices with fervour while displaying Rouch’s distinct ethno-fiction approach to filmmaking. Much of the improvised dialogue and events stemmed from the cinéma vérité pioneer’s close collaboration with his friends and subjects (Zika and Dia’s journey to Ghana to search for work alongside Illo Goudal was the subject of Rouch’s 1967 film Jaguar). Among them was Faye, who, after her involvement in this production, went on to study both ethnology and cinema, forging her own pathway into ethnographic documentaries.
A truly mesmerizing, frequently hilarious, and provocative masterpiece.
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