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Zouzou

(French 1934 b 93')

En: 5 Ed: 5

Based on a novel by G. Abatino, a Creole laundress becomes a star singer and saves her foster brother from a false murder rap.

Papa Melé (Pierre Larquey) brought up white Jean and black Zouzou in the circus as twins. Jean (Jean Gabin) dreams of being on a ship and finds himself in the navy. Zouzou (Josephine Baker) gets a letter Jean is coming home. Confined to the ship, Jean escapes to visit Jean and Papa Melé; but he is soon caught and locked up. Zouzou gets a job in a laundry ironing. She sings, imitating Barbara, the entertainer. Jean gets a job as electrician at the theater, and chorus girls ask favors of him. Jean takes Zouzou and Claire (Yvette Lebon) dancing. A man forces Zouzou to dance, and Jean hits him. Jean kisses Claire goodnight.

When Barbara (Illa Meery) is not at rehearsal, theater owner Trompe (Marcel Vallée) gets upset. On the phone Barbara says she is sick, though she is in bed with a man she wants to marry but who wants to leave. In the laundry Claire tells her mother that Zouzou loves Jean, and she does too. Zouzou puts on a costume at the theater, and Jean tests his lights on her as she dances. After the curtain is raised, she continues and then runs off. Trompe yells to find her. Jean tells Barbara to go on the ship with her man, and he helps her to escape out the window. Zouzou tells Claire that Jean was unfaithful with Barbara. After work Jean goes out with Claire. Melé is brought home hurt after a fall, and Zouzou watches him die. In the rain she looks for Claire. She witnesses a man being shot on the street. Jean, going out to get cigarettes for Claire, picks up the gun and is arrested. Zouzou goes to Trompe for money, and he puts her on a poster.

Chorus girls dance in revealing costumes, and Zouzou sings "Haiti." Zouzou sees the robber's photo in the newspaper and leaves to save Jean, identifying the murderer for the police. Trompe is frantic, but Zouzou comes back and sings. The next day Zouzou sees Claire greet Jean as he comes out of jail. Sadly Zouzou runs off. In the final scene Zouzou in her feather costume is singing in a gilded cage.

The French recognized the talents of Josephine Baker before the Americans did, and this story shows how an entertainer may succeed when racism does not prevent it. Yet jealousy toward Jean makes Zouzou's success feel empty.

Copyright © 1999 by Sanderson Beck

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