A breathtaking aerial swoop over Haiti that seems to beckon the pain of poverty, war, and revolution to thrive and wreak havoc on the serene land. The traumatic image of a woman struggling ...
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A breathtaking aerial swoop over Haiti that seems to beckon the pain of poverty, war, and revolution to thrive and wreak havoc on the serene land. The traumatic image of a woman struggling with an enormously pregnant stomach is soothed by images of waterfalls on the tropical island. The viewer is then plunged into the thick heat of a voodoo ceremony, a beautifully quiet burial ground, and finally into the bedroom of an isolated chateau, where an elderly white woman lies on her bed, ruminating about her motherly power over black children. When a troupe of young black boys arrives at the chateau, the colonial games of sex and race begin. There is a muscular confidence and inspired dreamlike quality to Quay's filmmaking. He evocatively blends gorgeous imagery with an infectious musical energy to create a story that is largely free of dialogue and entirely visceral in effect. Eat, for This Is My Body is sure to trigger emotions and mark your imagination in mesmerizing and unforgettable ...Written by
Sundance Film Festival
Eat, For This Is My Body heralds the arrival of a major artist: Michelange Quay
EAT, FOR THIS IS MY BODY heralds the arrival of a major filmmaker, Michelange Quay. He was born in Queens, New York in 1974 to Haitian parents. The family moved to South Florida as Quay was entering his teens. At the University of Miami, while majoring in anthropology, Quay took a course in film studies that changed his life. He returned to New York and obtained a Masters in Film from NYU. His parents retired and moved to Haiti while Quay settled in Paris. The young man has maintained very close ties to Haiti throughout his life. In 2004, he released The Gospel of the Creole Pig, a short dealing with Haiti-USA relations in a unique poetic parable style. It won Best Short Film at the Milan and Stockholm festivals and a cadre of influential admirers. Most importantly, it became a calling card that secured funding for Eat, For This Is My Body and facilitated the casting of Catherine Samie of the Comedy-Francaise and A-list actress Sylvie Testud in it.
Quay's feature debut is a bona fide art film in that poetic parable mode of his that marks him as an iconoclast and a visionary filmmaker. It opens at sea with an aerial tracking shot that takes you past the shore over a shantytown populated by black people and continues over hills and a barren landscape; it's Haiti but it could be Martinique, or Jamaica, or any number of former European colonies in Africa or the Americas. A match cut, made imperative by the fact we are actually over France's Loire Valley, takes us past more empty terrain into a plantation manor. It's helpful to think of the scenes that follow as the stanzas of a poem and to think of the characters not simply as individuals but also as archetypes. There is a matriarch (Catherine Samie), a pale, frail old lady who bathes in a vat of cream and delivers an intense monologue while sitting in bed in an all-white room. Her diatribe conveys her sense of entitlement and racial superiority over the natives. It's shot in close-up, not unlike monologues in Ingmar Bergman films like Cries and Whispers.
The other white woman at the manor (Sylvie Testud), who could be the matriarch's daughter, is addressed as Madame. She displays a more outwardly benign view of "the others" and will, before the end of the film, leave the manor to circulate among them, perhaps in an attempt to understand them. But first, perhaps the film's centerpiece: a dozen boys arrive at the manor to dine with Madame, are made to bathe, shave their heads (evocation of comparable scenes in Salo and Full Metal Jacket might not be coincidental since Quay openly admires both Pasolini and Kubrick), and wear what Quay describes as "monkey suits". They sit around a table but the white plates remain empty while Madame in ritual form teaches them gratitude by having them exclaim "Merci" repeatedly, like a mantra. Cut to same setup with Madame replaced by a big sponge cake with white icing. The boys stare at it, poke it, then taste it, eat it with their hands and finally fling it all over the place.
If the scenes as the manor look like tableaux vivants, the scenes outside have a naturalistic, almost anthropological quality. A woman gives birth; a group of old women perform a raucous santeria or voodoo ceremony as Quay's camera draws circles around them; a hand-held camera follows Madame as she walks the town streets observing all kinds of quotidian activities, the natives stare back at the unusual presence in their midst. These scenes serve to establish a contrast. Eat, for This Is My Body constitutes a mostly visual dialectic between first world and third world, white and black, master and servant, empire and colony. It makes ample use of symbolism, some of it ambiguous enough to sustain different interpretations. It is however, shortsighted to describe it as an essay or non-narrative film because however poetic and, perhaps, digressive, Eat, For This Is My Body adds up to a parable with recognizable story elements.
The great auteur Robert Bresson made this exhortation: "Make visible what without you might perhaps never have been seen". Michelange Quay has done just that. His feature debut is a resonant work of supreme beauty and power that couldn't have been made by anyone else.
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