Having just watched The Two Faces of a Bamileke Woman, I was eager to see what Rosine Mbakam’s next project would be like. I was pleased to find Chez Jolie Coiffure continues on the themes of strong women and female-centred community.
Chez Jolie Coiffure is this really enjoyable slice of life, set inside a hair salon serving Brussel’s West African community. Inside you see the whole of the ups and downs of life, from joyful pregnancies to marital troubles. Sabine is at the centre of it all. Her quick fingers braid her customers’ hair while she answers phone calls from home and directs other stylists. She is a woman who hates to sit still, and in the few times when the salon is empty, you see her grab a quick bite to eat while watching some melodrama on her phone, but soon she’s back up on her feet, tidying, cleaning, unable to stay idle.
For me watching the film had a real peaceable feeling, like I was there in the corner of the salon just listening to the chatter of the day. When it is busy, it’s calming just to sit and watch Sabine’s clever fingers work. When there is time to talk, people share news, who is doing well, who has fallen on hard times. Sabine is a canny businesswoman and is part of a tontine, she recruits members from among her customers. And when friends meet misfortune, they turn to her for level-headed advice and help. She helps the snack guy patch things up with his missus, helps a pregnant friend get a roof over her head when the landlord turfs her out, shares information about government schemes to help migrants get a legal, documented status. She warns others about mistreatment of migrants doing domestic work in Lebanon, and women who get sex trafficked in Canada.
Needless to say, Sabine’s salon is more than just a hairdressers, it’s a community hub, and a safe place for women dealing with life’s tumult. A bustling little island in the city of Brussels.