Hotel of Dreams, 2005

As a poor, underprivileged Catholic boy growing up in Senegal, Jeannot fondly recalls his family’s trips to the idyllic, coastal village of Popenguine where, on the day of the Pentecost, Senegalese Christians would descend en masse to the village on an annual pilgrimage to the site where the miracle of a Virgin Mary sighting had occurred – a childhood memory that would be tainted by a fateful encounter one year with a security guard who would turn him away from the grounds of a hotel as he tried to admire its luxurious splendor from afar. The episode would continue to haunt Jeannot even after leaving Senegal for a better life in Belgium at the age of eighteen, where he would, for the next 25 years, settle into a life of middle-class comfortability with his European wife and their daughter. Now recently divorced and their daughter now an independent, young woman, Jeannot has decided to leave his adoptive country and return to Popenguine to build his own hotel of dreams, an ambitious project that would not only pit him against European investors who have already carved out their own beachfront properties catering to exclusively European clientele, but also the distrustful local community who find Jeannot’s introvertedness and transgressive self-reliance (particularly in his failure to consult with the village elders before starting the construction project) too alien to be immediately embraced into the community. At the heart of filmmaker Helle Toft Jensen lighthearted, yet probing, observant, and illuminating chronicle of Jeannot’s professional – and personal – odyssey is the reality of an emigrant’s cultural transformation, uprooting, and native estrangement that occur with his assimilation into an adopted culture (a recurring preoccupation that surfaces throughout Trinh T. Minh-ha’s work). In the end, it is this erasure (and hybridity) of identity that would prove to be Jeannot’s most formidable obstacle in his lifelong journey home: a personal struggle to re-assimilate into the culture of his native land.

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