This narrative feature debut by established Cameroonian documentarian Rosine Mbakam is a moving portrait of fortitude and care centred on a valiant seamstress and single mother in Douala.
Over the past decade, Cameroonian filmmaker Rosine Mbakam has established herself as one of the finest documentarians of her generation through a series of generous and incisive portraits of African women. With her feature narrative debut, Mambar Pierrette, Mbakam’s shift to fiction feels like less of a rupture than a considered continuation, sharing not only a commitment to her women protagonists and an emphasis on beautification as a form of care, but also an eye trained to subtle, unexpected moments of grace.
The eponymous Pierrette (Mbakam’s cousin, Pierrette Aboheu) lives in rain-soaked Douala. A talented seamstress, she works to support her small children and her mother. While her life is strewn with misfortune and mountainous challenges, including a nighttime robbery and a flooded workshop, she’s unwilling to give up and instead endeavours to find solutions or moments of reprieve from her strife. In particular, the bright colours of her dresses and other creations often provide bursts of joy in the lives of those around her, as they also punctuate the otherwise desaturated palate and environment Mbakam has meticulously crafted.
For all the adversity that befalls Pierrette and her friends, woes never manage to subsume the valiant, no-nonsense protagonist, kept afloat by the consideration of others just as she cares for them in turn. Assured, understated, and heartening, Mambar Pierrette is among the year’s most rewarding features, with a quietly political vision that refutes tired portrayals of hardship by way of its tenacious hero, whose spirit will not be broken.
Official Selection, 2023 Toronto International Film Festival