The Adoras novel collection published by Nouvelles Editions Ivoiriennes (NEI) sell like hotcakes throughout French-speaking Africa. In the Mills & Boon vein, these soppy romances are mainly read by young women. They appreciate their empowering images of successful, working women who lead their love lives in an autonomous manner, women who act as men’s equals. But, when they get involved in passionate love affairs, they end up being duped the crux of the plot before finally finding the path of reason in a healthy happy ending.
In Le Pari de l’amour, Caroline is a hairdresser, wins the lottery, is suddenly catapulted into the world of winners, lets herself be seduced by a man who’s only after her money and cheats on her, leaves the man she was going to marry, but painfully has to wake up to reality before returning to her first love, who awaits her with open arms.
With costumes by Alphadi, Claire Kane, and other famous fashion designers, actors and actress each more good-looking that the next, champagne bubbling in every glass, and secluded palaces (Abidjan, Paris, Dakar), what happens to Caroline suddenly makes the impossible possible: the playing out of the perfect dream, tainted by the pitfalls of love alone. Indeed, far from realist sociology and beyond all credibility, that alone is the subject of the film. Like a love song, it tells the tale of a carefully demarcated slice of life where luck smiles, passion leads astray, and the return to earth is sad but happy because it helps to discover where real love lies.
A return to reality? No, because the image of perfect love to which everyone is entitled has to be preserved and necessarily leads to marriage. The problem is not to be duped by men, nor by one’s own desires either. Yet the exercise is tricky, as one’s confused feelings for the other have to be interpreted and one’s love identified. For whilst Le Pari de l’amour is highly prudish, sex and desire are present. Caroline succumbs although she kept a reasonable distance from her future husband. Naturally, it was divine. The dénouement is thus a saving, an ethical redemption, a return to normality, which nonetheless remains the illusion of ideal love.
The original Caroline/Jean-Baptiste couple is naturally changed by the separation experience. She learns to tame her urges and he loosens up, so that they converge towards greater equality.
If the return of the prodigal child is well orchestrated in the script, the affair was synonymous with rapture, ecstasy, and wonder. The seducer’s only fault was that he was a rogue, an unfaithful churl, a cheat and a liar (the game of scrabble played in the film even spells out the terms).
Opium for women? Mercantile alienation? Let’s not heap our intellectual or political contempt on a production that positively throbs with escapism and dreams. The message is, of course, perfectly conformist (find the ideal man), apolitical (the total lack of reality detestable), misogynistic (only the women are fooled), and deceitful (love solves all problems)! But does it deserve our anathema? We ought instead to see it as one opportunity amongst others to produce endogenous, alternative images to the soap operas and telenovelas that the intermediary televisions spoon out to African audiences. What’s the point of producing African images if only to repeat the same alienation? Because even though extremely conformist, the Adoras tales also contain a dose of modernity: a positivity that counters Afro-pessimism, calls for female equality, learning to be wary of male desire, and the couple as a free association of two autonomous individuals. It is in this respect that Caroline’s story is initiatory and that from a young easily influenced woman, she becomes a woman capable of making choices. Her passionate affair is a voyage: she accepts the adventure, the risks involved in delving into feelings, and also the test and the lessons learnt.
Le Pari de l’amour shares the contradictions of a modern-day griot: it is at the same time about emancipatory initiation and alienating integration.
Carefully shot and acted, it is a pleasure to watch and although thoroughly predictable, manages to keep the spectator completely involved.
Côte d’Ivoire, 97 min; 35 mm, 16/9, starring Isabelle Beke (Caroline), Djedje Apali (Jean-Philippe), Virgile M’Fioulou (Armand), Aissatout Thiam (Kady), Patrick Kodjo Topou (Guy), Virginie Racosta (Lucie). Prod. Dialogue Productions, Martine Ducoulombier ([email protected], + 225 22 44 18 49).///Article N° : 5661