VIDEO: the trailer for Ghosts of Cité Soleil
Wasn’t Jean-Bertrand Aristide the good-guy Haitian president, democratically elected and then, in 2004, unfairly driven into exile by right-wing thugs backed by the Bush government? I’d always believed in Aristide’s martyrdom. However, from the mean streets of Port-au-Prince, we get a different, insidious picture of Aristide in Asger Leth’s jolting, mesmerizing documentary, Ghosts of Cité Soleil, which opens this Friday at the Kendall Square.
According to this work by the young Danish filmmaker, Aristide routinely paid off ruthless gangsters to roam the downtown, attacking, and often murdering, his political opposition. We hear of these hirings first-hand, from the cocky gangsters themselves. Stepping high with bloodlust, they rule by force Port-au-Prince’s squalid, impossibly dangerous urban sprawl of 300,000 known as Cité Soleil.
The protagonists of the film are brother gang leaders, Winson “2pac” Jean and James “Bily” Petit Frère — Cain and Cain. They’re in their mid 20s, and each controls key Cité Soleil turf, walking tall and proud in the rubble and mud, backed by rifle-toting posses. They’re obsessed with their mortality (as they should be), charming in a spooky way, and camera-crazy, which is why they allow themselves to be filmed, and so freely.
2pac is not just a gangster but a gangsta rapper with credentials; he’s hoping for a second career as an international recording artist. His connection with Haitian politics is opportunist. “Aristide’s a motherfucker, a stupid motherfucker,” he tells the camera.
Bily is more hitched to Aristide’s Lavalas Party. He wants to be a Haitian president.
This film was shot at a seminal moment in recent Haitian history, during the months in 2004 when the rebel Cannibal Army marched from the countryside into Port-au-Prince, sending Aristide scurrying out of the country. Shot with a handheld 16mm camera, Ghosts of Cité Soleil is a marred, messy, sensationalist work of tabloid photojournalism. But we’ll probably never get a closer look at the death-trip craziness that’s today’s Haiti.
Here’s what Variety had to say about plastic surgery in South Korea: “Fifty percent of women in their 20s have gone under the knife, and a growing number of men, too.” Kim Ki-duk’s Time — which is getting eight screenings, August 3-12, at the MFA — is a grim, rather unlikable narrative film that addresses this depressing phenomenon. Ji-woo (Ha Jung-woo) and Seh-hee (Park Ji-Yeon) are 20ish lovers, but Seh-hee gets violently jealous whenever another young woman comes around her boyfriend. Deciding that he’s bored with the way she looks, Seh-hee goes under the knife, disappears for six months of surgery recovery, then returns to Ji-woo with a new face. What sounds compelling becomes intensely boring, as the ex-boyfriend and ex-girlfriend descend into coy and evasive masquerades and head games, spoiling much of the movie’s second half.
Had Michael Wilmington, a long-time film critic at the Chicago Tribune, quit his job? “Not exactly,” Wilmington told me on the phone, indicating that he’d been somewhat squeezed out, just months after losing the first-string reviewer spot to Michael Phillips, previously the Trib’s drama critic. Wilmington doesn’t blame Phillips (“He’s a very nice guy”); he traces his hard times to the newspaper’s arts editor, Scott Powers, formerly arts editor at the Boston Globe. In Wilmington’s view, Powers has a great contempt for film critics, and that goes back to his Hub days. “Powers hated your reviews, Gerry,” Wilmington informed me.