Monday, 22 March 2010



A new Haitian feature film, watched on tape for work, directed by Raoul Peck who has spent most of his life in exile in Congo, France, Germany, the United States but was briefly minister of culture in the mid-1990s under the current president, Rene Preval.

A thinly-disguised portrait of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the "slum priest" who was elected Haiti's president in 1991, deposed within a year, exiled, returned to power in 1993 with American muscle, and then stood down at the end of his term in 1996 (Preval, who'd been his prime minister, was elected his successor). In 2000 he was re-elected, but again deposed in 2004.

Like Aristide the film's protagonist, Jean de Dieu, has succumbed to megalomania and an inability to grasp that, despite his democratic mandate, he has lost the support of the people. He presides over an incorrigibly corrupt and violent regime (and society) like all of Haiti's previous rulers.

Shot in the Citadelle Laferriere, a magnificent cloud-shrouded mountain-top fortress built by an early 19th century Haitian dictator, Henri Christophe, and now by the look of it a luxury hotel. Our hero (Zinedine Soualem, convincingly mad, self-pitying and megalomaniac by turns) is about to be deposed. He has a little daughter and a beautiful trophy wife (Sonia Rolland, a former Miss France). Down in the city the television shows scenes of rioting. It is independence day and he has prepared a lunatic speech ("Shalom", "Haiti uber alles", "I love you all"). Foreign dignitaries are ringing up one by one to cancel their attendance at the ceremony.

In the morning he gets out of bed and steps on a broken glass, so spends the entire film limping. In one of the castle's dungeons he keeps fierce dogs, and an opposition journalist who is tortured and ultimately taken out and necklaced, but not before he's been dressed in one of the leader's suits (and daubed with TV make-up) and brought up to have lunch at a table for two with our hero.

Based, I gather, on a Russian film about Hitler's last hours called Moloch. Well-shot, well-enough acted, full of really black humour, a nightmare picture of personal and political collapse, but shot in an increasingly disjointed and impressionistic style.

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