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Little by Little cover image

Little by Little 1969


Distributed by Icarus Films, 32 Court St., 21st Floor, Brooklyn, NY 11201; 800-876-1710
Produced by Pierre Braunberger
Directed by Jean Rouch
DVD , color, 92 min.

Sr. High - General Adult
African Studies, Anthropology, Architecture, Ethnography, European Studies, International Studies, Film Studies, Race Relations, Sociology

Date Entered: 09/11/2013

Reviewed by Jennifer Dean, Graduate of the CUNY Graduate Center MALS program with thesis on female filmmakers.

Little by Little is Jean Rouch’s follow-up film to Jaguar. Rouch along with Nigerian collaborators, Damouré Zika and Lam Ibrahim create a hybrid narrative documentary that critiques and satirizes ethnographic studies while at the same time examining French culture and turns the tables on what was commonly considered at the time a study of cultures outside of Europe by Europeans. Little by Little views French culture through the lens of the Nigerians and calls attention to the oddities of traditions that a French viewing audience would accept as the norm.

In Jaguar Zika and Ibrahim formed an import/export company Little by Little which at the start of this follow-up film has become immensely successful leading to the desire of the company to build a multistory building in order to compete with another successful business in the country. This provides the pretense of Zika’s journey to Paris where he will learn about skyscrapers and in the process he investigates French culture and people. He takes to the streets interviewing and literally measuring the citizens of Paris. Just as French scholars and anthropologists did with the people of Africa, he measures the skulls and asks to examine the teeth of the citizens of France, resulting in some awkward exchanges. One young man questions why he wants all of this, asking if it is for television to which Zika responds in the affirmative. There must be an explanation for African study of the French although the reverse is accepted practice.

In the narrative fiction created by Zika, Ibrahim and Rouch, Ibrahim must join Zika because the directors of the company in Niger fear that Zika has gotten lost in Paris and is spending all of the company money. The two of them together explore France in new ways, going to see snow (something they would never have experienced in Niger) and analyze, as a duo, what appears to them to be the social oddities of the city. As the film strays from the anthropological analysis of Paris and gets into more narrative fiction it becomes somewhat convoluted. Zika and Ibrahim meet several characters that they bring back to Niger – a Senegalese clothing designer, a white French secretary, and a white French vagabond, all of whom follow Zika and Ibrahim back to Africa to work for Little by Little. The clothing designer and the secretary also form romantic relationships with the two but the vagabond leaves in a huff, complaining that he is overworked. The women become frustrated with life in Africa, having grown accustomed to life in France, and also leave.

Little by Little even with its narrative imperfections serves as an excellent example of cinema verité. Rouch as one of the founders of the movement, was likely influenced not only documentary but narrative filmmakers (John Cassavetes, Barbara Loden and others) as witnessed through his melding of documentary and fiction forms. The more controversial aspects of Rouch representing African culture in a way that not all Africans are happy with, is also evident in this film but neither the French nor the African culture are immune to his critique.