Meditation on the troubled relationship between humans and mother nature
This peculiar film has no apparent narrative. It is an assemblage of extended vignettes, a few documentarian in style, the rest fiction. The formal and deliberate acting taunts us for an explanation. It's anyone's guess. The goings-on are sufficiently elliptical to be interpreted according to one's prejudices.
My own overall take and attempt at extracting meaning was to see the film as a long meditation on the difficult relationship between humans and mother nature. She says "eat, for this is my body". Humanity, as played in part by nearly a dozen orphan boys, is most willing. Offered a very large cake, the boys start tentatively at first to sample the gooey icing but it doesn't take long for the tasting to degenerate into wasteful and wanton trashing. An apt metaphor for our times.
The metaphorical imagery keeps on coming: mother earth boiled to death (global warming?), a fun scene of carnival and jam packed streets (overpopulation?), etc. Others are harder to decipher and may only be intended as side commentaries on the human condition: an ember eating shaman of sorts during a religious ceremony (the power of magic?), a keyboard instrument that makes repeated appearances (human industry?), various scenes with what is purportedly milk (life sustaining mother's milk?), etc.
One character I was unsure of was mother nature's daughter. I eventually placed her as a carrier for political interpretations that did not exclude racial, class and first-versus-third-world issues. The racial overtones seem particularly salient even though somewhat oblique. In a beautifully shot scene a black man is transformed to have white skin while otherwise retaining other features (was an albino man used?) and that allows him to approach the daughter no longer as a servant.
If all this tentative interpretation sounds far-fetched, don't worry. The film can be experienced purely as an art-house visual and theatrical construction. The color dichotomy of black and white for example can be limited to an aesthetic. The music is well chosen, enjoyable and even exquisite. There are a few sound design surprises of which the male piano player is the most memorable example.
The only time I fidgeted in my seat was the "merci" scene when hungry kids are asked to imagine food in their empty bowls and give thanks (another political/religious metaphor?). It goes on for too long. I came close to leaving the theater, but gladly I did not.
This is the director's first feature. It's nice when someone new comes around to nudge conventions. It's all more powerful when it's done with competent camera work and intriguing sound design. It's impressive when young kids can be directed to largely improvise a critical scene, that of the cake, in one single take.
Shot partially in the Loire valley, where the castle we see is located, and Port-au-Prince.
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