Rue cases nègres (1983)
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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.
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.
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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.