François Marthouret’s “Port-au-Prince, Dimanche 4 janvier”


Port-au-Prince, Dimanche 4 janvier, directed by actor, director and producer François Marthouret and adapted from a novel by Lyonel Trouillot, will premiere in French movie theaters on July 29, 2015. The film follows the tragic fate of a Haitian student in the days of the protests against President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in January 2004; it reflects the intimate link between individual stories and the country’s history. [Many thanks to Peter Jordens for bringing this item to our attention.]

portf_jpg-q_x-xxyxxSynopsis (from Haiti Libre, 5 January 2014): It is the day of the bicentennial of the Declaration of Independence. President Aristide prepares the celebration of this major event, his supporters are mobilized, but for months, students and popular demonstrations protesting against the dictatorship, the confrontation is likely, the permanent tension. Two brothers—Lucien, 22, and Ézechiel aka Little Joe, 15—the two heroes of the film, will take different life paths. One, Lucien went to the demonstration in downtown Port-au-Prince, the capital, the other Little Joe, is recruited by the Chimères, a paramilitary group [. . .]. The event will turn into a riot and will be dissolved in violence, sealing the fate of the two brothers.

In “Les vibrants silences d’Haïti” (Africultures, 3 July 2015) Olivier Barlet reviews the film; here is the review, translated from the French original:

Two brothers on opposite sides, for a contrasting view of Haiti at a critical time: the Bicentennial in 2004, shortly before the departure of Aristide. Lucien is virtuous, a budding philosopher-lawyer; Ezéchiel (nicknamed Little Joe) is a thief locked into [a cycle of] mischief. The revolver against Spinoza. This duality threatens to be an oversimplification but the film courageously overcomes it. An insert at the beginning, from a foreword of Lyonel Trouillot’s novel Bicentenaire [Bicentennial] from which the film is adapted, warns: “Everything here only refers to the incommunicable, the silence that hides the noise and fury.” The word “incommunicable” was not included on the screen, no doubt to facilitate the reading, but it is essential because that is the problem of a film that wants to witness to Haitian revolts: How can it make us feel what the noise and the fury hide?

In the film, we find echoes of the voice of the narrator, who, in the novel, is so important: “Inside each of these people live the cries, but there is also a world of silence and not one of them hears the silence of the other.” Thus the challenge is to make images that portray this voice and the silence simultaneously, that is, to do the opposite of a speech. In fact, everyone is terribly alone in Port-au-Prince, on Sunday, January 4—a solitude oscillating between weariness and survival while, nevertheless, the group of resistance fighters is involved in the preparation and development of a new demonstration outside the National Palace to demand dignity and freedom. Students discuss nonviolence in face of repression. A protester prevents another from throwing a stone at the police, who are just waiting for this to happen before letting everything burst in flames.

The beauty of any revolution is the courage of each person: any Haitian aware of the history of his or her land knows that this will require sacrifices. Who is willing to risk his/her life? In the words of the blind mother of the two brothers: “It is in the flesh that one must inflict pain; it is in the flesh that the world changes.” It is the emergence of that courage that Marthouret captures, cleverly mixing archival images of Port-au-Prince with scenes filmed in Pointe-à-Pitre. The almost documentary time dedicated to the riots goes hand in hand with the immediacy that the film borrows from the novel as it recounts the layers of misery of Port-au-Prince, not to aestheticize them, but rather to give them a voice.

If François Marthouret—a great actor with an impressive filmography—convinced Lyonel Trouillot that he could do this, it’s because his plan was to take Haitian reality as a starting point, using Haitian actors, without trying to transform it. It was a dangerous gamble for this low budget film: Ezéchiel’s shaky French weakens the film where Creole would have sounded more genuine, and the film lacks fluidity in its staging and montage. But if Port-au-Prince, Dimanche 4 janvier achieves its goal, it is due to the magnitude that it gives to its title, that of one of those moments in Haitian history where resistance supersedes despair.

Even as the Chimères, Aristide’s armed gangs, terrorize demonstrators, the days of the “Prophet” are counted; he resigned on February 29, 2004, released by France and the United States. In an ironic counterpoint, Chimère member Ezéchiel bears the name of a prophet who sees men offend God and foresees punishment. In evoking 200 years of misery, neither the novel nor the film aligns itself with a past in which the populist Aristide drew on his speeches in his constant reference to the blood of martyrs. The brothers have no father and mother is blind—a mother who cannot guide them through her peasant lucidity. Therefore, there is no attempt to rehash a myth but rather to forge ahead with no illusions; the challenge being the establishment of the rule of law. As a law student, Lucien must go to France, backed by a scholarship and his girlfriend, who, aware that she may lose him, pushes him to educate himself to better serve his country. He saves a journalist assaulted during the demonstration, pushing her to see what she could not see, locked into her outsider’s gaze. In a human gesture, he sympathizes with a grocer who loves traditional music and in whose family the Haitian drama is concentrated: the cryptic religiosity of his wife, the repression practiced by his son enlisted in the police.

It is in this seed of humanity—that Ezéchiel can no longer see—where the incommunicability of silences resides, because hope does not live in speeches but rather in what is not said, what is not revealed, but it enlivens the people who are formed through these struggles. Beyond the sacrifice, another world is possible, in the impalpable horizon of the dignity of beings.

Olivier Barlet recommends another review by Yves Chemla:

For Olivier Barlet’s full review, see

See review in English, “Last straight line for the feature film ‘l’ampleur” (Haiti Libre, 5 January 2014) at

Also see

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