S IS FOR SENEGAL: La Petite Vendeuse de Soleil, dir. Djibril Diop Mambéty, 1999.
I have not had this bittersweet feeling in my chest since I was a kid and read Soviet books about smart, enterprising kids overcoming adversity. “The Little Girl Who Sold the Sun” is the story of little Sili, a disabled girl who wants to earn money the same way as able-bodied boys do. Despite obstacles, like bullies, the police and prejudice, she is successful, and manages to help others out, too. And guess what, I now have a new favorite badass woman in a yellow dress, so move over, Beyonce. Sili has swag, she is benevolent and determined, and watching her dance to Wasis Diop’s music, command grown-up uniformed men around and never lose composure is a treat.
Mambety called this film a “hymn” to the street children. It is, indeed, a beautiful portrait of the street youth, and an uplifting parable on why being kind matters. This is my first Mambety, and I'm brokenhearted that he died during the filming. One of the two Senegal’s biggest film directors, he was being treated for cancer in Paris when the film was finished but did not make it. Happy to learn that Lissa Balera, the girl who played Sili with such sass and relish, was able to attend school with the money she made filming.
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