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Ghosts of Cite Soleil

February 2008 SITE MAP   SEARCH

Ghost Of Cité Soleil

featuring: Haitian 2Pac, Bily, Wyclef Jean

director: Asger Leth

89 minutes (15) 2006
widescreen ratio 16:9
Revolver DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 5/10
reviewed by Michael Bunning
Ghosts Of Cité Soleil is a documentary (hence the bizarre-sounding cast list) following two slum gang leaders in the final months of Haitian president Aristide's rule in 2004. 2Pac and Bily are brothers, each the 'chief' of a gang (called Chimeres, which means ghosts), each wanting to achieve something more in their life than petty gangsterism. 2Pac aspires to rap-stardom, and Bily has political aspirations. Both are 'Lavalas Chimeres', gang leaders hired by Aristide to act as personal bodyguards/ armed squads. Bily's fervently pro-Aristide, but 2Pac is becoming more and more disillusioned with the ruling regime, and it's the escalating infighting between the brothers that is the basis for most of the film's narrative. So much so, in fact, that one or both of these brothers are in almost every shot, and the audience isn't shown anything other than disparate scenes of the brothers' day-to-day lives.

It's difficult to know what to make of this film. On the one hand, director Asger Leth doesn't bother trying to force a point of view on the viewer (although selective editing does lend the film an anti-UN slant) with the same intensity that people like Michael Moore have; but on the other, there's a complete lack of any explanation of the international events that lead up to Aristide's exile (or even national ones - there's no mention of the rest of Port-au-Prince, let alone the rest of Haiti). Because there's no wider context given for Aristide's departure or the gangs' involvement, unless you already know quite a lot about Haiti in 2004, all you'll learn from Ghosts Of Cité Soleil is that people are contradictory beings (both brothers make 'we want peace not violence' noises whilst, at the same time, threatening to shoot almost everyone they meet).

Leth makes no effort to explain why Cit� Soleil is so incredibly poor, how the Chimeres came about, what they want or what they even do (they're gangsters, which usually indicates a reasonable level of wealth, even if it is ill-gotten, yet these brothers live in abject poverty, without even running water). The audience are not told why the rebel forces wanted to oust Aristide, why 2Pac and Bily speak English while their counterparts don't, or any of the dozens of questions that the shambling narrative raises. Instead, Leth chooses to glamourise the Chimeres' way of life, with slow motion basketball games, rap sequences that are edited to look too much like music videos to sit comfortably in a 'pure' documentary, and no information on 2Pac or Bily's future aims for the parts of Cit� Soleil they control, or how they intend to achieve it.

More information would have been a real help to people who don't know the wider political situation in Haiti. Why are the rebels returning to Haiti now, and why did they have to leave in the first place? (Leth largely ignores the human rights abuses the rebels are accused of.) And why do they seem to have the backing the US and UN? Why did Aristide collaborate with the gangs in the first place (if indeed he did: there are suggestions that most if not all of Bily and 2Pac's claims regarding this are exaggerations if not fabrications)?

Essentially, this is less a political documentary, and more a too-localised look at what can happen when extreme poverty and easy access to weapons collide. Of course, if that's what you're after, you're much better off watching The Wire. It might not be factual, but at least it's coherent and offers a wider social criticism.

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