Ghosts Of Cite Soleil

Movie Review by Zoe Fox

Starring: Wyclef Jean, Winson ‘2Pac’ Jean, James ‘Bily’ Petit Frere
Director: Asger Leth

Only two hours from Miami but worlds apart in lifestyle this film focuses on two brothers harsh lives in Haiti. This feature length documentary follows two brothers 2Pac and Bily as they are torn apart by the city around them, yet brought together by love and the will to survive.

1986 in Haiti saw the end of a brutal dictatorship under the Duvaliers and a series of interim governments – appointed, fraudulently elected, or who seized power – took control of the country from 1986-91.

Jean-Bertrand Aristide was elected president in 1991 in Haiti’s first democratic elections, bringing a glimmer of hope to Haiti’s inhabitants. Unfortunately though, this hope was not long lived, as Aristide was overthrown by a bloody, military led coup d’etat seven months later in September 1991. Aristide and his Lavals party successfully regained power in 1994.

However, Aristide did not fulfil his promise of a rise from “misery to dignified poverty”. Instead, as unrest grew he tried to silence the opposition unsuccessfully, and was finally forced out of office in 2004.

This film follows the last part of Aristide’s rule through the eyes of his most loyal supporters; the gangs based in the slums of Haiti – The Chimeres (meaning ghosts). The gangs are used as a political tool to control the people and keep power for Aristide and his Lavals party with only tenuous links coming back to Aristide himself. The people both fear and trust in these boys with guns.

Bily and 2Pac, living in Cite Soleil and in their early twenties, are both gang leaders in the Chimeres. Pulled apart as opposing ‘chiefs’ yet brought together by brotherly love and the naturalistic urge to look out for each other as other rival leaders may make a play for their lives and the opposing forces are closing in, determined to remove Aristide and any of his followers in any way possible. Everything in Haiti is answered with a gun.

This film is a stark look at the lives of Bily and 2Pac. Bily is highly community minded and a hardened supporter of Aristide, he obviously has a real desire to help the people around him and believes that he can do this through working for Aristide. 2Pac on the other hand is becoming disillusioned with Aristide and his regime, and with the world around him. He wants to leave Haiti and finds an escape through his music where he condemns Aristide and his own way of life.

The Chimere leaders work together as much as they are fighting for what little power they can grasp, constantly living with the fear that you must watch your back from your friends and even your brother. With the introduction of Lele, a French relief worker whom Bily has feelings for, the brothers’ story becomes even more complex, as Lele and 2Pac fall for each other.

With so many different aspects of the brothers’ lives under the microscope and no narrative to help explain some of what you seeing, it is hard to keep track of what is going on as an audience. Unfortunately this means that some of the story is lost. Although all of these factors contribute to build up a bigger picture of what is happening to Bily and 2Pac it perhaps tries to cover too much and consequently doesn’t seem to delve deep enough.

The love triangle with Bily, Lele and 2Pac seems a little brushed over and with the relationship becoming strained between the two brothers, you are aware that this will be having an effect but cannot determine to what extent. Although as a documentary the makers must remain impartial behind the camera they are asking questions and perhaps could have asked more about the situation and its effects on the three involved.

One of the biggest questions that arose was 2Pac’s contact with Wyclef Jean. During the film he makes a couple of phone calls to Wyclef to get him to listen to his music. How he managed to get hold of Wyclef’s number is a mystery, and making calls to a major American music star seemed somewhat out of place with the harsh poverty and violence of his day-to-day life.

Although there are a few points in the film where the story either does not coincide with the rest, or are confusing for the viewer, the overall effect is undoubtedly compelling.

This particular story however is similar to stories that we have heard before and although you feel for the brothers you are not totally absorbed by their story. There is a lot of good material but the final product does not live up to its own promise and because it only touches on the different parts of the story it does not effectively convey all that the makers are trying to tell us, resulting in a lot being missed.

3 out of 6 stars