Saturday, June 11, 2016

The Good Life / La Belle Vie [2015]

MPAA (UR would be PG-13/R)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing

Miami Times (E. Johnson) article about the director

South Florida Times review
The Lioness (K. Hersey) review

The Good Life / La Belle Vie [2015] (written and directed by Rachelle Salnave) closed a day dedicated to Haiti at the 14th Annual Chicago African Diaspora Film Festival held recently at Facets Multimedia here in Chicago.

A documentary, it tells the story of the American born (of Haitian parents) writer/director Rachelle Salnaye's struggles with her Haitian-American identity.  Her family that had been "bourgeoisie,"  hence educated, relatively wealthy (but also still job holding) had left / was at least partly forced to leave Haiti in the 1970s during the Duvalier Regime.  A good part of Salnaye's childhood involved trying to reconcile the stories of her grandmother about their previous wealth -- her grandmother had actually spent much of her childhood studying in boarding schools in France and arguably, skin color aside, considered herself more white than black -- and her own experience of growing-up quite poor in Harlem of the 1970s, both clearly _black_ and _with heavily accented Haitian immigrant parents_, hence both _black_ and "not really African American" either.

Then her family's relationship with "the old country" was quite complex.  She apparently only visited Haiti for the first time _after_ the Duvalier Regime had fallen (unsurprising really, if the family had had to flee).  But then came the instability of the Aristide years, when basically the leftovers of the Haitian middle class were leaving the country, uncertain of what future was really left for them there. Finally in 2010 came The Earthquake.

The sheer tragedy of that Earthquake seemed to make settle a number of things for the writer/director (and for a fair amount of the Haitian-Americans of her generation):  It seemed impossible now to let the mother-country go.  It simply needed them.

But then the rest of the film is about some of the tensions / divisions that exist today (perhaps inevitably) between Haitians "born and raised" / living their whole lives in Haiti and the "members of the Diaspora," who sometimes the native-born Haitians would sometimes call, "blons" ("blondes" even if they clearly were not). 

Anybody from an immigrant household - my parents were Czech - could relate to a good part of the story and the inevitable conflicts between "the residents" and "the expats."

Haiti, of course, has its specific challenges unique to its particular situation (as do all countries have their own specific challenges as well). 

But what is very nice about this film is that it despite Haiti's problems and poverty, the film maintains a sincere / hopeful tone throughout.  Yes, Haiti may have enormous problems facing it.  Yet it does have a lot of educated people now -- if often in that Diaspora.  And as difficult as it may be, one day all these people are going to get together (indeed the trend is toward that now) and all of Haiti will have some of that "La Belle Vie" that writer/director Rachelle Salnave heard her grandmother talking about when she was young. 

Very nice film!  Good job.

ADDENDUM - I would like to add here that I fondly spent the first 3 1/2 years of my priesthood working in a parish in Central Florida that included a significant Haitian immigrant community.  I could not but be impressed by the Haitian community's almost _heroic work ethic_ and then _commitment to education_.  I do honestly believe that this bodes well for Haiti in the future.  Those talents will not go to waste.

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