Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Carib Gourmet sees Elza: the film

A good subtitle for this blog post would be: "The day a Guadeloupe expat sees a meaningful film shot on her native island."

For me to travel all the way to west london, there must have been a good reason. The reason was a showing of "Elza" or "Le Bonheur d'Elza" as it is in its original title. The film didn't fail to disappoint.
I arrived at Ciné Lumiere in South Kensington slightly belated. (I have an excuse: sun in London isn't a regular occurence so I HAD to have a picnic that day in my village i.e Greenwich). I couldn't bring food in the theatre and thought "bummer how is a non-stop eating Carib Gourmet going to survive." But I digress.

The plot was very mysterious, my imagination drifted and I initially thought there was a story of incest involving the grandad and his grand daughter, and you could physically feel the discomfort portrayed by the characters. I loved the hazy feel, the anxiety, the tension... The duality of the characters, their vulnerability and the internal turmoil.

A young woman born in Guadeloupe but raised in Paris goes back to her native island to find the father she only has distant souvenirs of. She wants to meet him, make him love her and tell her she's beautiful. She wants her father. 
The father a somewhat mixed raced man, that has scattered child across the small (1500km2), enjoys entertaining adulterous relationships with gorgeous dark skninned women - including his bankers wife - yet reject his African heritage by showing no love to his matte skinned daughter, refuses custody to his other daughter's partner and father of grand daughter Caroline on the basis that his "too dark". His beloved fair-skinned daughter is in a mental instituion due to the pressure she felt from he rfather and the fact she forbid her to see a lover, the previously mentionned "too dark man".  Mr Désiré says things like "with kinky hair like yours, there's NO WAY you could be my daughter!"The entire film one awaits the moment the secret will be revealed.

Although the movie is about Elza and her quest to find her identity, my favourite character is this ambivalent, oh so tortured man, Mr Desiré. He represents the duality inherent to most Caribbean natives: the stigma of slavery and colonialism, the self hatred many experience in different manners, the difficulty of upholding standards in such a micro-environment, the womanising aspect of the culture, the difficulty of being a good father and the loneliness...

I felt understood by watching this film. Although it isn't my story it reflected the environment I grew up in. The Q & A sessions after the showing revealed even more sentiments of inadequacy from the audience who I think probably was not comfortable enough in their skin to witness the telling of a story just for the sake of it. No mandate and no masterplan to diminish the women pertening to what they called the "darker hue" which I actually found quite diminishing as a statement anyway.

It just felt really good to see my island, my culture depicted in a different manner (as in not just a paradise-like, everyone-happy-drinking-rum-and-dancing-zouk type of portrayal). It was good quality cinema, I feel we should see more of these initiatives. Not specifically made to revendicate, lobby or fall into communitarism but just narrate the accounts of characters who happen to be based in the Caribbean and fall into a plot that happens to be tinted with local issues pertaining to their location. I don't understand why there can be so many amazing books by awfully talented Caribbean authors, yet films are such rare commodities and so underrated. I guess it comes down to the nerve of wars (that a frenglicism): the dough, the quids, the MONEY!

Vanessa with director Mariette Monpierre

Mariette Monpierre encourages the youth to take up their iPhone and start filming saying "if you want to tell a story, don't wait for funds, just do it."I salute Mariette for taking up your cross, making herself vulnerable by baring her feelings and some of her story for all to see (the film is partly autobiographical). She provided great entertainment in a lukewarm London Bank Holiday Monday night.  After the microphone is off and the questions are answered, that's all it, pure and simple - although very enjoyable and refreshing - entertainment.

I will be taking up my cross too!

Mariette, merci!!

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