Set in nineteenth-century New Orleans, the story depicts the gens de couleur libre, or the Free People of Colour, a dazzling yet damned class caught between the world of white privilege and black oppression.
Magloire Dazincourt, the owner of Bontemps, the largest sugar plantation of the entire South, asks his favorite cousin, Philippe Ferronaire, to marry his daughter Aglae Dazincourt and take over most of its management and family, including his colored mistress Cecile Ste. Marie, for whom he has a cottage build in New Orleans. When Magloire dies, Philippe becomes her lover and the father -not in law- of her son Marcel, named after his own father though, and promises her to get the boy educated in racially egalitarian Paris from age 18. However while still living in the decadent creole society in New Orleans, Marcel Ste. Marie gets in touch trough a colored carpenter with both his white and black roots, both of which bloodlines suffered greatly in the bloody racial civil wars on Haiti, a subject the American society refuses to deal with publicly, and the more people he gets to know or hears their past, the more he gets aware of social and racial matters. Then his father Philippe gets in ... Written by
I know that originally, this film was NOT a box office hit, but in light of recent Hollywood releases (most of which have been decidedly formula-ridden, plot less, pointless, "save-the-blonde-chick-no-matter-what" drivel), Feast of All Saints, certainly in this sorry context deserves a second opinion. The film--like the book--loses anchoring in some of the historical background, but it depicts a uniquely American dilemma set against the uniquely horrific American institution of human enslavement, and some of its tragic (and funny, and touching) consequences.
And worthy of singling out is the youthful Robert Ri'chard, cast as the leading figure, Marcel, whose idealistic enthusiasm is truly universal as he sets out in the beginning of his 'coming of age,' only to be cruelly disappointed at what turns out to become his true education in the ways of the Southern plantation world of Louisiana, at the apex of the antebellum period. When I saw the previews featuring the (dreaded) blond-haired Ri'chard, I expected a buffoon, a fop, a caricature--I was pleasantly surprised.
Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, the late Ben Vereen, Pam Grier, Victoria Rowell and even Jasmine Guy lend vivid imagery and formidable skill as actors in the backdrop tapestry of placage, voodoo, Creole "aristocracy," and Haitian revolt woven into this tale of human passion, hate, love, family, and racial perplexity in a society which is supposedly gone and yet somehow is still with us.
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