Cannes Film Festival 2021: “Freda,” the courage of the women of Haiti (Review)

[Many thanks to Veerle Poupeye for bringing this item to our attention.] Stéphane Dreyfus (in Cannes, for La-Croix.com) reviews Freda, directed by Gessica Généus. Presented in the official selection of the Cannes Film Festival, in the “Un certain regard” [A Certain Gaze] category, this chronicle of daily life in a popular district of Port-au-Prince offers a moving and funny look at Haitian women.

There are films that resonate more with the news than others. A few thousand kilometers from Port-au-Prince, where the mystery remains on the identity of those responsible for the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, the success of Freda, by Haitian director Gessica Géneus, leaves no doubts.

Presented in the official selection of the Cannes Film Festival, in the “Un certain regard” category, which highlights unique works and upcoming talents, this first film surprised festival-goers with the liveliness of its gaze on a subject that is little discussed in cinema: the conditions of women in a popular district of the Haitian capital.

Is misery less painful in the sun?

In Haiti’s patriarchal society, women do not always have a say. But Freda (Nehemiah Bastien) does not hold back, to the chagrin of her mother Jeannette (Fabiola Rémy), who would like to have her daughters marry in order to improve the life that she painstakingly supports thanks to her small shop. A difficult daily life, punctuated by shootings in the middle of the street and demonstrations against widespread corruption and endemic poverty.

“It seems to me that misery is less painful in the sun, especially when you’ve never lived in Port-au-Prince,” sings the mischievous Freda, mocking Charles Aznavour, who her sister, the beautiful Esther (Djanaïna François), will hear in a chic club in the capital. The humor is here, more than anywhere else, a polite expression of despair, even with the rounded melodious Creole accent.

Less politicized than Freda, who studies anthropology at university, Esther prefers to lighten her skin and flirt in the evenings, even if it means leaving the one chosen by her heart for a prominent politician. The wedding promises to be a good one: Jeannette is delighted, but Freda is wary …

Wonderful actors, extraordinary in accuracy and truth

Coming from the documentary genre, director Gessica Géneus films her formidable actors as closely as possible, extraordinary in accuracy and truth, all the more endearing as they are steeped in contradictions. On the gaunt face of Jeannette, the mother, one may read the rugged lines of a life of intimate torment and tremors, as devastating as the earthquakes of Haiti.

On her end, Frida longs to take flight, but, wanting to believe in the future of her country, hesitates to leave it to join her boyfriend in Santo Domingo. The latter has been gone since he was shot in his sleep by a stray bullet through the frail wall of his house. The cracks created in the wall are still there, to let the spirits protect the place and inspire its occupants, Freda’s lover hopes. “There is a crack in everything; that’s where the light gets in,” sung Leonard Cohen. That is the message of this beautiful film, full of energy and hope.

(1) From the song “Anthem.”

Translated by Ivette Romero. For original article in French, see https://www.la-croix.com/Culture/Festival-Cannes-2021-Freda-courage-femmes-Haiti-2021-07-15-1201166394

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