TIFF 2022: Saint Omer, Hawa, Daliland

Which transitions nicely to what works so beautifully about “Hawa,” Maïmouna Doucouré’s follow-up to her Sundance hit “Cuties.” As in her debut feature, Doucouré’s film follows a young first-generation girl as she navigates modern France. Born to stand out from the crowd, the titular Hawa (a fierce Sania Halifa), with her voluminous blond afro and Coke-bottle glasses, moves through the world with such innate strength and determination that shortly after meeting her everyone calls her “extraordinary” or “exceptional.”

Hawa lives in Paris with her grandmother Maminata (Oumou Sangaré), a Cameroonian griot, who spends her life singing the stories of the past. In the final stage of a terminal illness, Maminata is determined to find a new home for her rebellious 15-year-old granddaughter. Unable to cope with this impending loss, Hawa rejects all the options offered, eventually setting her sights on the impossible goal of being adopted by Michelle Obama. While the former First Lady is in town for her book tour, Hawa sets out to meet her, a journey which takes her all over Paris.

Peppered with cameos from contemporary celebrities like Grammy-winning chanteuse Yseult, rapper Mister V, and astronaut Thomas Pesquet, Doucouré’s film explores the allure of celebrity, and the escape they can offer us. In one particularly beautiful sequence, Yseult and Hawa look up at the stars in the sky and share stories of their connection to Cameroon, the people and the languages and the land that is always a part of them, just as their bones and their blood. 

At its core, “Hawa” is a movie about the importance of connecting through shared experiences and shared stories. Doucouré expertly explores this theme through the lens of celebrity, interrogating why we’re so drawn to icons for guidance when they are just as lost as anyone else.