|Index||5 reviews in total|
A wonderful depiction of the life of a young black boy in the Martinique in the '30s. The film gives an impressionist view of life in the French colony and of the uneasy coexistence between the two worlds of the descendants of slaves, kept in a de facto economic slavery, and of the békés (whites). The fact that a lot of issues are just suggested and not described at length makes the movie even more interesting. One could argue that the general story may be too optimistic and that the direction of children groups is not perfect. I found that this adds to the charm of the movie. The too main characters, the young boy (Garry Cadenat) and his grandmother (Darling Legitimus), are wonderful. One of the most moving film I have seen in a long time. Note that one the characters in the movie longs to become an actor in Hollywood, while the director Euzhan Palcy eventually went herself to Hollywood to direct with success inter alia A dry white season.
Few films capture the hope and desperation of a people. Even fewer can
venture into the hearts and souls of their characters to reveal
humanity. I have heard many stories, and seen many movies, but Sugar
Cane Alley stands above many others, for it uses film as a canvas for
emotions, realities, and dreams.
The actors in this movie glow. All of them from Jose to his grandmother to Medouze to the children of the plantation system. It is hard to picture these people in any other place: their voices, their actions, their feelings, the way they run, laugh, swim-it all seems to come naturally. It feels real and true.
The camera work furthers our understanding of the characters by juxtaposing the lush landscape of Martinque with the routine of plantation work. There will be times when the viewer will want to pause the film to look at a scene as one might view a painting, Sugar Cane Alley is a true motion picture. Every shot showcases perfectly balanced lighting and color.
Then there are social messages, messages that cannot be as well described as viewed, about justice, hope, opportunity, and determination.
I cannot rank a film I have seen higher than this one. It is simply a must-see.
A bright youth, living in grinding poverty in a shanty town among the cane fields of Martinique, has the chance to escape, thanks to a heroic grandmother and teachers who admire and foster his potential. While the audience sympathises with Jose's desire to get out of Black Shack Alley, it is treated to the richness of the Alley's life, to Medouze's sonorous tales of life in Afrique, to the antics of the village children, and to the kindness of its adults. It adds up to an affirmation of life that makes this an enjoyable film. If I have reservations, they are that every issue is dragged in for an airing, however brief and undeveloped (bright girl having to leave school; 'Mulatto' son of French planter unacknowledged; exploitation of workers), and that big events, e.g., deaths, are contrived to occur predictably, and at the 'right' time. Some of the direction, e.g., of the children's scenes, is a bit clunky. These things having been said, this film is a pleasant experience, and one that I recommend.
Martinique, in the early 1930s. Young José and his grandmother live in
a small village. Nearly everyone works cutting cane and barely earning
a living. The overseer can fine a worker for the smallest infraction.
I know nothing about Martinique, but imagine that what this film depicts is not all that far off from the world of Haiti, which is more familiar to me. The overall story seems the same: poor folks who must work the sugar cane fields to survive. Not quite slaves, but not all that much better off.
The film shows the way out as education, which is fair. But the only real way out is to leave. It is a story bigger than Martinique. We see it in the slums, we see it on Indian reservations. No amount of education can make a home more bearable if the home has little to offer. It's an awful conflict.
Haiku: Thank you Grandmother / For not sugar-coating our / Trip out of
shanty FOUR PLUSES & A NEGATIVE: 1) French language film with Black
Afro-Centric Themes. 2) Strong performances by actors and non-actors,
both young and old . 3) Film is directed by a Black woman, Euzhan
Palcy, who would go on to direct "A Dry White Season"... becoming the
first Black woman to direct a Hollywood movie (according to IMDb
trivia). 4) Uplifting themes about the importance of education, self
respect, etc. for the betterment of Blacks in Martinique in the 1930s
(that still ring true for Blacks everywhere today!) 5) Runtime of 103
minutes needed more consistent pacing as there were moments that felt a
Random Thoughts: I had just dropped out of college (SUNY Buffalo) for the umpteenth time. It was difficult for me being young, Black and gay in Buffalo circa 1985. My biggest struggle was succumbing to my parents desire to see me pursue a major (Accounting) that would lead to employment versus one that I was interested in and passionate about (French and languages). After dropping out, returning home, working a series of meaningless jobs and wondering aimlessly through some local community colleges, I decided to take French lessons at the Alliance Francaise in NYC. Like in France, they "released " movies on Wednesdays and that was the highlight of my French school week.
It was at the Alliance Francaise that I first saw "Rue Cases Nègres" and it was after viewing that film I dedicated myself to becoming fluent in French, living in France, finishing school, living my life, etc. My rating of seven (7) reflects more the impact and importance of this movie for me.
If you'd like to read more of my haikus, please visit my blog at richardwallenhaiku.blogspot.com
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