Eat, For This Is My Body

Eat, For This Is My Body


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Described variously as exploring "the colonial relationship between black boys and white women" (Sundance 2008 catalogue) and being "an extraordinary visual poem on the turbulent history of Haiti" (EIFF 2008 catalogue), this avant garde "documentary" is about as subtle as a brick.

Like the equally flawed arthouse offering Manufactured Landscapes, it begins with its best shot - a long aerial take of Haiti, travelling across acres of impoverished housing into the island's interior. It's a set up which leads you to expect insightful considerations of the nation's history, or culture. Even as these scenes give way to images from a busy market, intercut with a woman giving birth, there is still a suggestion that this will be an (arty) exploration of director Michelange Quay's heritage - he was born in New York, but his family is from Haiti.

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Sadly, such potential is dashed when we are thrust into a colonial-style mansion, where an elderly matriarch lies, presumably dying, in bed, while still having the time to play a keyboard, silently. Elsewhere, a younger woman (Sylvie Testud) - a ridiculously obvious embodiment of colonialism - encourages a dozen black children to thank her for nothing.

There's something reminiscent of Seventies political theatre about this, as images of black on white, white on black, a black man putting his head into milk and a white woman threatening to put her head into milk and appearing as a black silouhette in a corridor, play over one another. Everything is black and white to Quay, who is doing little other than rehashing old arguments about race and power, without presenting any evidence, other than a general sense of a nation wronged.

It's the bare-faced pretension of the exercise that overwhelms, as it becomes more of a piece of look-at-me performance art than any genuine exploration of a country. There is an arrogant use of real people to bookend the film, since they are never given a say in the director's overarching polemic. Like a colonialist himself, he enslaves the populace to illustrate his point, without giving them the chance to find a voice. This is not to say that some of the images are not compelling. Many are exquisitely composed and Quay shows himself to have a keen visual sense that may work to better effect in future projects. Look at the wild and restless natives, dancing with burning logs! See the white man's evil colonialist posturing! These are a gnat's whisker from latent racism and, one suspects, do the Haitians a great disservice into the bargain.

There is nothing wrong with art for art's sake, but this has pretensions that far outstrip its ability.

Reviewed on: 18 May 2008
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Avant garde 'documentary' loosely exploring the colonialist history of Haiti.

Director: Michelange Quay

Writer: Michelange Quay

Starring: Sylvie Testud, Catherine Samie, Jean Noël Pierre, Hans Dacost Saint-Val

Year: 2007

Runtime: 105 minutes

Country: France, Haiti

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If you like this, try:

Manufactured Landscapes