Indoors. “Freda” by Gessica Géneus, a vibrant film in the name of all Haitian women

Applauded at the last Cannes Film Festival, Freda released in France on October 13. The first fictional feature film by Haitian Gessica Géneus, it features a young resident of Port-au-Prince who persists in not wanting to flee a country struck by all ills. A portrait of a woman more relevant than ever.

“At the 74e edition of the Cannes International Film Festival, a black woman came from Haiti, the world’s first black republic, to make her people proud ”, enthusiastically The Nouvelliste. Last July, 217 years after the former French colony of Santo Domingo conquered its independence and took the name “Haiti”, Gessica Generus climbed the steps of the Palais des Festivals in Cannes to present her film Freda, shown in the Un certain regard section. An event which, inevitably, did not leave the daily life of Port-au-Prince indifferent.

For almost three quarters of a century that the festival has existed, this is only the second time that a Haitian director has been favored by an official selection. The first time was in 1993: Raoul Peck, with The man on the docks, had competed for the Palme d’Or.

“A film made in Haiti, by a Haitian”

For her passage on the red carpet, Gessica Géneus, 35, had adopted “An afro look”, again The Nouvelliste, who comments: “Wearing her frizzy hair on the Croisette was meaningful for a black director at a festival where people of color can be counted on the fingers of one hand.” It was also part of the message sent to young Haitian women. “Of modest origins like her, who meet thorns on the way to their dreams”, adds the log:

Remind them that you are never too poor to nurture great ambitions, such as one day finding yourself at the biggest meeting of world cinema, carrying on your shoulders a film made in Haiti, by a Haitian, and played by Haitians. ”

For his first feature film, “An achievement which is an achievement if we take into account the moribund state of national cinema”, highlighted The Nouvelliste in another article, Gessica Géneus was partly inspired by her story to tell that of Freda (Néhémie Bastien, magnetic), a young anthropology student from Port-au-Prince. She lives with her mother Jeannette (Fabiola Rémy), her sister Esther (Djanaïna François) and her brother Moïse (Cantave Kervern) in a popular district of the Haitian capital. The children help their mother run a small street stall at the front of their tiny dilapidated house.

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Go or stay

“Individually and collectively, Freda’s family reflects the challenges facing Haiti today”, analyzes the specialist magazine Screen, published in London, which discovered the film during its Cannes screening. Through Freda and her family, Gessica Géneus paints a picture of a country undermined by the violence of overarmed gangs and corruption, crushed in an infernal cycle that has worsened further this summer with the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse and another deadly earthquake.

“When your homeland sinks into chaos, do you stay or do you run away?? This is the heroine’s dilemma ”, summarizes the British publication.

In the society portrayed by the young director, the men are conspicuous by their absence, whether they have left the country or are on the run. Daughter-mothers, abandoned wives and life-stricken matriarchs fight to prevent everyday life from falling apart. “The film mainly highlights the oppression suffered by women, in this country where beauty is a trophy that powerful men can afford, where education is considered an unnecessary luxury and where change cannot come. only women, on condition that they break with tradition and do not conform to what is expected of them ”, add Screen.

A path that Freda tries to follow. While her sister Esther applies whitening creams and tries to get her hands on a wealthy man who could support her and her family, the young woman displays “His determination to question the daily realities of a country at the mercy of corrupt politicians, gangs and a colonial heritage that seeks to erase their language, culture and identity”, underlines the magazine.

Gessica Géneus, a “promising”

Already known in Haiti as an actress, singer and documentary maker, Gessica Géneus left Cannes with the François-Chalais Prize, which rewards each year a film that reflects the values ​​of journalism and best reflects the reality of the world. A fair reward for a film “All in contrasts and dazzling”, as described Screen:

The scenes in front of the family store, which overflows onto the street with brightly colored facades, have a static and theatrical side, and yet other passages, in the streets of Port-au-Prince, for example, have the urgency of documentary.”

With Freda, filmed in Creole, Gessica Géneus is a talent to follow, “A promising”, according to The Nouvelliste. On behalf of all Haitians, the daily exclaims: “Success [du film] is a breath of fresh air brought to us by the artist in this troubling period of national life. ” The course of the feature film continues to intertwine with the sad Haitian news: on August 21, Freda was screened for the very first time in Port-au-Prince, at the Karibe hotel. At the initiative of the film crew, half of the evening’s profits were donated to a support fund for victims of the August 14 earthquake.

Freda by Gessica Génus will be released on October 13 in France, in partnership with International mail.

Marie Béloeil

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Indoors. “Freda” by Gessica Géneus, a vibrant film in the name of all Haitian women

Hank Gilbert