Overcoming Boundaries and Defying Expectations
Reviewed by Brendan Daynes
In the world of ballet, where grace and tradition intertwine, Neneh Superstar shines as a radiant beacon of resilience, challenging conventions and soaring beyond limitations. Ramzi Ben Sliman’s masterful film, which played as a part of Melbourne International Film Festival, takes us into the life of twelve-year-old Neneh, a Black girl with a dream. Finding herself within a cultural landscape primarily dominated by whiteness, the youthful and exceptionally gifted Neneh, played by Oumy Bruni Garrel, steps gracefully into her ballet shoes and embodies the vigour and fervour of a determined young girl on a mission.
Right from the initial audition, Neneh’s determination radiates like a guiding light. The film’s exploration of her journey is an intriguing take on societal issues that resonate far beyond the realm of ballet. It’s a thought-provoking revelation of the systemic prejudices and the uphill battles faced by Black artists, even at a tender age. The story serves as a poignant reminder that dreams are not confined by colour, and determination can shatter even the most resilient glass ceilings.
What makes this film truly captivating is its unflinching portrayal of conflict, not just in the world of adults, but also in the tender hearts of children. The ballet boarding school becomes a microcosm of a world still grappling with change. Marianne Bellage, played impeccably by Maïwenn, a legendary dancer and teacher, becomes both a mentor and a challenge for Neneh. The tension between traditional perspectives and a changing reality is beautifully interwoven, mirroring the broader struggle for acceptance and representation.
The film not only delves into the ballet world’s racial disparities but also peels back layers of determination and love within Neneh’s family. Steve Tientcheu’s portrayal of Fred, Neneh’s father, adds a touch of warmth that resonates deeply. His steadfast support, as well as the poignant moments they share, enrich the narrative with heartrending authenticity. Their relationship is a canvas on which the broader theme of love versus societal pressure is painted with deft strokes.
In navigating the intricacies of societal norms, the film finds its strength in embracing conflict as a catalyst for growth. The filmmakers’ choice to present these significant social issues through the lens of a child’s experience is both bold and brilliant. It opens doors to discussions that must be had, conversations that transcend the screen and seep into everyday life.
Neneh Superstar isn’t just a cinematic triumph; it’s a work of art that pushes boundaries and dismantles preconceptions. It’s a rallying cry for diversity, a celebration of young talent, and a mirror held up to society. It’s a story that is sure to leave a mark on anyone —one that lingers, challenges, and inspires. In a world yearning for change, this film reminds us that revolutions can start on the grandest of stages or within the smallest of hearts. It’s a tale that encapsulates the essence of artistic achievement amidst adversity, and it’s a journey that should not be missed.
Neneh Superstar played as part of Melbourne International Film Festival which ran in cinemas in various locations around Melbourne and also in some regional locations from 3-20 August, with a selection of films also available to be streamed online from 18-27 August. For more information on the festival visit https://miff.com.au/