Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5.
France, 2019. My New Pictures, Les Films du Bal, Arte France Cinema, Playtime, La Région Île-de-France, Canal+, Cine+, Canal+ International, Indéfilms 7, Cofinova 15, Cinémage 13. Screenplay by Bertrand Bonello. Cinematography by Yves Cape. Produced by Bertrand Bonello, Judith Lou Lévy. Music by Bertrand Bonello. Production Design by Katia Wyszkop. Costume Design by Pauline Jacquard. Film Editing by Anita Roth. Online Film Critics Awards 2019. Toronto International Film Festival 2019.
In early sixties Haiti, a young man dies and is brought back to life through local voodoo practices, his zombielike form taken and put to work in the sugar cane fields. Decades later in modern-day Paris, Melissa is a young girl from Haiti has moved there to live with her aunt following the devastating 2010 earthquake and is attending a private school for the children of France’s most honored citizens (her mother is a Legion of Honour recipient). Melissa makes her way into a friend group of popular girls, one of whom, Fanny, becomes obsessed with her Haitian origins and wants her to use her cultural traditions to help rid her of her obsession with a boy she’s in love with. As time goes on, we learn more about Melissa’s background and, eventually, the truth about the scenes from the past and her connections to them come out into the open. Bertrand Bonello’s fascinating combination of a popular genre with more resonant themes gets plenty of points for style, it’s a dynamic and charismatic movie but far from a deep one. He throws in racism, colonialism, classism and coming-of-age adolescent pangs into one bucket and doesn’t make a mess of them, but he doesn’t really create a structure out of them either, his film has barely scratched the surface of what it has touched upon by the time it’s over and his flimsy plotting fails to satisfy (the climax of Fanny visiting Melissa’s mambo aunt isn’t quite the big moment we’re lead to believe it is).