Dir: Raoul Peck. Germany-Haiti-Norway. 2014. 127mins
It has been more than five years since the devastating earthquake in Haiti left an estimated 220,000 people dead. Following on from his 2012 documentary Fatal Assistance, the country’s foremost filmmaker Raoul Peck has delivered his verdict in a searing chamber piece, Murder In Pacot, and time has not diminished the precision of his narrative.
Murder In Pacot is languid but provocative. There’s a real sense of place here, crumbling and hot in the ruins.
Screening at the Berlinale in the Panorama Special programme (which housed his last fiction narrative, Moloch Tropical), Murder In Pacot is another political piece of filmmaking that makes direct, often unsubtle, points. It is long and frequently repetitive, at 130 minutes. But it is also a compelling statement about power, collusion and the crushing force of the establishment. It mocks the naivety of the aid agencies even as the country is depicted literally strangling the life from itself. Haiti’s foundations are rotting, and Murder In Pacot is more than the simple allegory it initially appears; it will appeal to the politically engaged, on the festival circuit and select arthouse, particularly France.
Inspired by Pasolini’s Teorema, with a more recent antecedent in Von Warmerdam’s Borgman, Murder In Pacot is set in the immediate aftermath of the January 10, 2010 earthquake, in the tropical vegetation of the upmarket neighbourhood of Pacot, where residents live with their servants behind high steel gates. Here we have a Man, (Alex Descas) and a Woman (Ayo), scrabbling through the rubble in the midst of crushing aftershocks. A radio delivers the news that a child has been found alive three days after the initial earthquake. Jehovah’s Witnesses come calling with messages of divine retribution.
Peck, once Haiti’s Culture Minister, is both disillusioned and infuriated by the repeated attacks on his country, under assault from nature, its own ruling classes and external meddlers. NGO worker Alex (Thiebault Vincon) arrives in the devastation of Port-Au-Prince to rent an apartment in the middle-class Man and Woman’s crumbling pile. He is insensitive to the fact that the building is about to collapse, that the smell pervading the building is from the body of the couple’s dead, adopted son in the basement. He likes to take pictures of himself dispensing aid to grateful natives, all of whom are employed by foreign agencies - there being no other commerce left in the country.
Alex brings with him the young hooker (“it doesn’t count with the white man”) Andremise, who fashions herself as Jennifer (Lovely Kermonde Fifi). She is life, she is Haiti, she is the future, and she wants to spend it overseas, with Alex. She is alive in the midst of the rubble and her youth, beauty and fundamental decency prove sexually attractive to the corrupted inhabitants of a decaying house. The affluent couple’s former servant, Joseph (Moleon), may have once been a thief, but he is the only one who will attempt to find the dead child over the course of eight days (each is identified with an inter-title).
Like Moloch Tropical, Murder In Pacot is languid but provocative. There’s a real sense of place here, crumbling and hot in the ruins. Sound is evocative and mostly ambient.
Production company: Velvet Film
International sales: Doc & Film International, firstname.lastname@example.org
Producer: Remy Grellety
Screenplay: Lyonel Trouillot, Pascal Bonitzer, Raoul Peck
Cinematography: Eric Guichard
Editor: Alexandra Strauss
Production designer: Benoit Barouh, Frederic Vialle
Music: Alexei Aigui
Main cast: Ayo, Alex Descas, Thibault Vincon, Lovely Kermonde Fifi, Albert Moleon