A major new film, Haïti chérie chronicles a Haitian couple's harrowing return from slave-like plantations in the Dominican Republic to their home country. The film is at once a riveting narrative and a damning political exposé.
Haïti chérie is a film which focuses on the deplorable conditions in the bateyes, shantytowns set up on the outskirts of the sugar plantations of the Dominican Republic where the cane cutters are forced to live or try to live. Most of the plantation workers are Haitian immigrants who have crossed the border to escape the poverty and violence of their home country.
Life on the plantations has been denounced as modern-day slavery by international human rights organisations.
The workers, who have no legal papers or union protection, are crowded together in the communal bateyes which usually lack running water, toilets and electricity. The cane cutters toil for up to 14 hours a day for ridiculously low wages while some are paid in vouchers which can only be used at plantation stores. Economic or transport difficulties also restrict freedom to leave the bateyes, which become virtual prisons complete with armed guards.
Jean-Baptiste and Magdaleine are a married couple who work on one of these plantations. When their baby dies from hunger, they start to reflect on the future. Magdaleine cannot bear batey life any longer and starts thinking about returning to Haiti. She is filled with nostalgia for her homeland, even though her family and that of her husband were murdered by the illegal militias terrorising the country. Jean-Baptiste, however, still hopes to build a better life for himself and his wife within the Dominican Republic, perhaps by finding a new job.
The attempted rape of Magdaleine by one of the plantation guards forces their hand. With the help of a militant doctor, Ernesto, the two manage to escape, taking with them Pierre, a 14-year-old cane cutter who is infatuated with Magdaleine.
The group make their way across the Dominican Republic, trying to forget the life of misery, bleakness and injustice they have known so far ; a life which appears all the more shocking when contrasted with that of the wealthy foreign tourists flooding the island, passing their holidays in a parallel, carefree world of sun and tropical beaches.
The Haitians short stay in a town on the way to the border brings nothing but more humiliation and the increased sensation that they are beings without rights, hunted fugitives.
Jean-Baptiste, his soul broken, finally gives in to Magdaleine and her desire to return to Haiti.
Ernesto takes the three Haitians to a farm owned by his friend Sanchez in the mountains on the border with Haiti.
Sanchez lives with Francoise, a beautiful young refugee who is expecting a child. However, it's not clear whether Sanchez has abused his position of power or is genuinely fond of the girl.
Claudio del Punta, 2008. Color. 104 min.
In Creole and Spanish with English subtitles.
With Yeraini Cuevas, Valentin Valdez, Jean-Marie Guérin, Juan Carlos Campos
2009 | World Nomads Haiti | NEW YORK, USA | May 5, 12, 19, and 26, 2009 | French Institute Alliance Française, 22 East 60th Street, NYC | www.fiaf.org/events/spring2009/2009-05-world-nomads.shtml
* Selection "CinémaTuesdays: World Nomads Haiti "