105 minutes| France-W. Germany-Cameroon| 1988| Subtitled| Colour| Dolby Stereo| 35mm

For her magically subtle first feature, Claire Denis recalled the world of her own childhood in 1950s Cameroon, where her father worked for the French civil service. Although there’s a young girl (named France!) in the midst of this portrait of a colonial administrator’s family, the essence of the story is about things a child would not necessarily have understood – the simmering attraction between a bored white wife and her handsome black manservant.

In a way, the film’s daring is that it rejects melodrama for a careful accumulation of illuminating moments, expressively registering the household dynamics so that we not only understand the emotional undercurrents at play but also grasp the relationships’ wider political connotations. Actor Isaach De Bankole, as the ‘houseboy’ Protee, subsequently became a regular for Jim Jarmusch, whose sense of telling stillness seems to inform Denis’ watchful direction. This is a treasurable debut.

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