“Elza” (2011, France, Guadeloupe, 80 min.), directed by Mariette Monpierre, premiered Thursday, Nov. 29, for a two-week run at the newly constructed MIST Harlem Entertainment Center, 46 W. 116th St.
Cinematically stunning, “Elza” is an endearing, timely and important feature film about the changing Caribbean family. Produced by Monpierre along with Gerard Lacroix, Eric Basset and Edgard Tenembaum, this uniquely conceptualized work, based on the filmmaker’s real life story, is brilliantly co-written by Monpierre and filmmaker Mama Keita, who is also the film’s line producer.
The film opens in Paris and shifts to Guadeloupe, a region of France, after the lead character, Elza (Stana Roumillac), takes the monetary gift received from her single mother, Bernadette (Mariette Monpierre), for graduating from college and travels to their native homeland. Her goal is to find her father, Mr. Desire (Vincent Byrd Le Sage), who abandoned the family in her childhood. Although he is a man Elza hardly recalls, she has daydreamed about him as far back as she can remember.
What Elza does have committed to memory is “Karukera” (island of beautiful waters”), the name coined by the island’s indigenous Carib Indians. The first thing Monpierre’s character does upon arrival to the scenically voluptuous island of Guadeloupe is stop her cab and plunge into the tranquil blue water. This ritual is the symbolic baptism Monpierre uses to show that Elza has returned home to her roots. Even her hair, which had just been styled in Paris before her departure, has returned to its natural, curly state, which her bourgeoisie father would later denounce, stating that no child of his could have hair of that quality.
“Elza” takes us on an insightful trip. And what a journey. As we get caught up in the cat-and-mouse story of a daughter trying to discern who the man that fathered her really is, and what he is all about, we simultaneously find out about Elza’s birthplace. And it is breathtaking! In fact, Monpierre presents a spectacular, postcard-pretty view of Guadeloupe with inviting beaches, verdant foliage, mountains, gorgeous people and exotic African, Caribbean and French Creole culture.
In addition to the visuals, “Elza” provides a tantalizing sampling of the island’s rich culture with an original 14-song soundtrack by some of Guadeloupe’s most talented artists, among them David Fackeure, Stevy Mahy and Victor O, Dede Saint Prix, Soft, Krys, Edith Lefel, Rodrigue Marcel, K’Koustik, Jenny Alfa, Malavoi, Neg’Marrons & Lynnsha, and Rony Theophile.
Nonetheless, while reveling in the island’s scenery and music, Monpierre also openly conveys the harshness of a class system based on color. In one instance, the darker-skinned men who work for Elza’s father have to fight for their wages. Another example is Mr. Desire’s discrimination against his daughter’s boyfriend, with whom she has a child. He is ostracized to the point of not being allowed to see his child, even on her birthday, because of his social status and because he is of a darker hue. Yet, at the same time, the father’s mistress is a dark-skinned woman, married to one of the wealthiest white Frenchmen on the island.
These are some the ambiguities and contradictions that Monpierre deftly tackles in a very imaginative way for Elza to experience her father up-close. She also gets to meet his immediate family and see all their prejudices and dysfunctions.
What is it about the father that has caused every member of his family to be dysfunctional? Perhaps the answer is to be found in this underlying premise, addressed by Monpierre, who states: “It is reported that 50 percent of African-American and Caribbean children are estranged from their fathers. A shocking number, given that in many cases these fathers are alive and have simply neglected their responsibility to their families. Is it a coincidence that in most cases these communities have a history of slavery wherein the father was taken from his family unit and used as a breeder?”
For anyone interested in answers to this noteworthy question, Monpierre’s “Elza” is a vital film to see. It is sure to spark thoughtful dialogue, provide insight and generate hope for the present and future generations of fatherless children. It is also a film to unveil a topic that though very prevalent in the Caribbean has remained hush-hush for far too long.
Everybody will enjoy “Elza,” winner of four film festivals. With its memorable cast, the film’s two leads are fantastic. Roumillac embraces her role with honesty. There is a natural sensuality about her, while at the same time she exudes an innocence that is a breath of fresh air. Le Sage’s portrayal of a selfish, ruthless man is compelling, yet his vulnerability is equally gripping.
“Elza” is a dazzling jewel that must be seen, chatted up, tweeted about and supported. It is an absolute winner! And the icing on the cake is seeing it at MIST Harlem, the first minority-owned entertainment center in the country, which consists of a multiplex movie theater and restaurant in a $21 million, 20,000-square-foot facility.
For more information on “Elza,” watch the trailer on YouTube or visit the official website at www.elzathemovie.com. For showtimes and ticket information, visit www.myimagestudios.com/home.