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Rosine Mbakam Mambar Pierrette Review


Mambar Pierrette | Review

Mambar Pierrette | Review

In Fabric: Mbakam Conveys a Season’s Struggles in Cameroon

Rosine Mbakam Mambar Pierrette Review“In the ant’s house, the dew is a flood,” might be the proverbial dilemma faced by the titular character of documentarian Rosine Mbakam’s narrative debut Mambar Pierrette. As a new school year begins and she readies her children for their studies, itself an annual economic burden, the neighborhood dressmaker suddenly faces a veritable scourge of additional issues threatening her home and livelihood. This includes, of course, a minor flood, which would be insignificant to some, but causes a disastrous ripple effect for Mambar. As matter-of-fact as Mbakam’s documentaries, which often involve a stationary camera simply drinking in its subjects in real-time during their daily grinds, it’s a narrative in the vein of the starkest Neo-realism—unfussy, sobering, even frustratingly phlegmatic. And yet, in this stark sensibility of ‘life goes on’ despite everything, Mbakam maintains a sense of resiliency rather than miserabilism which often harshly underlines the reality of working class struggles.

The toxic concoction of misogyny and poverty defining the lives of (often immigrant) women have been the defining elements in the lives of Mbakam’s subjects, including her personal 2018 documentary, The Two Faces of Bamileke Woman, an homage to her mother, and 2021’s Delphine’s Prayers, examining the realities of sexual colonization through the story of a titular Cameroonian woman. Her foray into narrative filmmaking plays like a sister film to her 2018 doc Chez Jolie Coiffure, which similarly centered on a business owner whose salon provides the intersectional locus for a variety of people, each arriving with their own significant set of issues. Money, or the lack of it, along with the inability to easily obtain visas to leave behind desolate circumstances, tend to be common themes among Mambar’s clients, some who can’t afford to complete payment for the products she’s commissioned to create.

Rosine Mbakam Mambar Pierrette Review

Mambar’s trajectory plays into the neo-realistic territories of the Dardenne Bros., or even Ken Loach, a straightforward portrait of a solitary woman who’s got the world on her shoulders. There’s an energy which recalls Eyimofe (My Desire), the 2020 Lagos set drama from the Esiri brothers juxtaposing characters struggling to immigrate and/or deal with impossible circumstances in their chosen occupations. “A woman has to be a fighter,” someone confirms in an attempt to assuage her increasing desperation. After an off-camera assault results in her nearing destitution, the shop she must relocate from in the near future is flooded, irreparably destroying precious materials clients are waiting for. To make things more precarious, her archaic sewing machine is on the fritz, and a ‘friendly’ repairman attempts to extort her desperation, for even two hours of repair time means she’ll lose precious chances to sew her garments. It’s akin to De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves (1948), this dependence on an apparatus which takes on a terrifyingly sacred dimension.

Rosine Mbakam Mambar Pierrette Review

Lording over her shop in the alleyway entrance is a stern looking white mannequin (which shares a striking resemblance to Betty Gilpin), the presence of which seems to spook her neighbors (to which Mambar seems mostly amused by). There are brief moments of levity, usually through her camaraderie with those also dependent on their skills for survival, such as an out of work actor who entertains children on the streets. Her own family is highly critical of her complaint filed to social services to reach out to her ex-boyfriend, the father of her three children, for assistance. These matters, to her elders, should be taken care of in-house. But Mambar, who cares for her own mother and delivers food to other relatives, is soon to be left without one. While her circumstances suggest tragedy, Mbakam attempts to showcase her characters’ ability to prevail, even if the odds are against tomorrow.

Reviewed on May 21st at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival – Directors’ Fortnight. 93 Mins.


Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2021: France (Bruno Dumont), Passing (Rebecca Hall) and Nightmare Alley (Guillermo Del Toro). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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