Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Fri Nov 21, 2014 1:12 pm 
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The legacy of Haitian corruption lingering in Eighties Brooklyn

In Stones in the Sun, a film about Haitian immigrants, three Brooklyn families in the 1980's are pursued by their past when family members arrive from back home. A very poor livery driver (Atibon) who speaks only Creole patois is joined by his sad-faced wife Vita (Patricia Rhinvil), who is traumatized by memories of rape. Gerald (Thierry Saintine), who has changed his name, gets an unwelcome visit from his alcoholic, ill father Max Mesir (Carlo Mitton), a politician guilty of crimes fleeing Haiti after a failed plot. Ironically, Gerald, wed to a pregnant, clueless white wife (Diana Masi), who speaks not a word of French, has an anti-Haitian government show "Drums of the People" that talks about the Duvalier regime's many evils: his first words to Max are (in Creole) "When are you leaving?" So involved, seemingly, with the political wrongs of his native country, Gerald has this white American wife and hides his family origins.

In this schematic, multi-plot story, the third visitor is also ironic: she's the activist and videographer Yannick Vanneau (Haitian writer Edwidge Danticat), who takes refuge with her apolitical would-be bourgeois sister Micheline (Michele Marcelin), a struggling real estate broker raising a native English-speaking half-white sub-teen daughter, who strives to be bright and cheery, aspires to wealth, and wants to tune out everything Haitian from her mind and life.

If Stones in the Sun, a film about the legacy of suffering Haitian émigrés carry with them from the Duvalier regimes, seems a little too much on the didactic and shecmatic side, this is understandable. It speaks of and for a people who are at a basic developmental stage. Hence their shared story, with its individual variations, needs to be told simply and collectively. This is parallel to the situation of other minorities in America, including African Americans, though the latter's story has of course been told more widely and for longer and by more writers and filmmakers.

Lorraine Hansberry's Raisin in the Sun is a classic, one whose basic elements were certainly symbolic. Rainin focuses on one family, not three; it thus can revel more richly in the individuality and theatricality of its family. And while Raisin is passionate and dramatic, Stones is downhearted and may seem, as Michael Atkinson wrote in the Village Voice, "over-earnest." It is also sometimes awkward. (Stephen Holden's review for the New York Times was glowing.)

But since the Haitian experience is still little known to Americans, Benoit's choice to depict three families is an understandable effort to get more facets of the story out. And though this "Paul Haggis-Crash-like topical weave," to quote the harsh (but here not inaccurate) Atkinson again, risks being schematic and superficial, it does of course writer-director Patricia Benoit the chance at some artful interweaving and contrasting. This is no always successful, however. Neither is the non-professional acting, which can be over-emphatic or, in the case of novelist Edwidge Danticat, inexpressive. Some of the interactions work powerfully. Though Vita (Patricia Rhinvil), the traumatized wife, is too relentlessly sad, she and her patient and understanding husband make a sweet and heartbreaking couple.

Nonetheless Stones in the Sun is an admirable effort, and a welcome contribution to our knowledge of Haitian émigrés and the past they carry with them, whether they try to avoid it or embrace it.

Some of the atmospheric flashback sequences of trauma and violence were shot in the artistic center of Jacmel, Haiti, at whose Festival de l'Amitié the film was shown in late 2012.

Stones in the Sun, 95 mins., in English, Haitian Creole, and French, debuted at the Tribeca April 2012, winning the Special Jury Prize for Best Narrative Director. The script had previously won the Sundance Time Warner Storytelling Award, the Sundance Annenberg Award, and a Jerome Foundation Grant. A limited US theatrical release began 21 Nov. 2014 at Quad Cinema (NYC).

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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