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Arts and Entertainment

Movie Review: Ghosts of Cite Soleil

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There is an unrelenting bleakness that inhabits every frame of Asger Leth’s Ghosts of Cite Soleil. As he notes in the film’s press materials, “Haiti has the third-highest rate of hunger in the world, behind only Somalia and Afghanistan. Its people have less access to clean water and sanitation than residents of Ethopia or Sierra Leone…life expectancy is lower in Haiti than in Sudan. By every measure, Haiti’s 8 million inhabitants are living in a state of prolonged and profound horror.” The only things that appear to be in abundance are heat and dust.

All of this misery is on full display as we enter the Port-au-Prince slum of Cite Soleil alongside two brothers, 2pac and Bily. They are two of the five gang leaders of the Chimeres (the eponymous “ghosts”), heavily armed groups of young men loyal to embattled president Jean-Bertrand Aristide (some say they are his private militia, though Aristide denies this--much to 2pac’s bemusement). We join them in 2004 as Aristide’s government begins to crumble under the threat of a rebel uprising comprised of men formerly loyal to his Lavalas party.

While this provides the context of the film, the true story of it lies in revealing the lives of 2pac and Bily. Both are somewhat reluctant warriors, but recognize the grim reality that in Haiti "power is a gun". Both also enter into an affair with a French relief worker, Lele, who works as the de facto nurse for the Chimeres. As for their aspirations, Bily hopes to stay in Haiti and enter into politics, while 2pac dreams of leaving the island and becoming a rapper (in one of the films more surreal scenes he raps over the telephone to one of the film's executive producers, Wyclef Jean). Of course, amid such misery and violence, the chances of either succeeding are remote. Aristide's government eventually falls and the Chimeres become the hunted.

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This is all captured by the remarkably daring Leth and his co-director and cinematographer Milos Loncarevic. Their access to the Chimeres is complete. In a way, that's the only fault to be found with the film. The filmmakers are so close to their subjects that no real objectivity or perspective is ever realized. We identify with the Chimeres--thugs really--because we are kept so completely in their world. That doesn't diminish the impact of the story--it is devastating and raw--but it does somewhat call into question the ultimate truth of the film. Still, Ghosts of Cite Soleil is a documentary not to be missed.

Ghosts of Cite Soleil opens July 13th in L.A.

Photo courtesy of ThinkFilm