Ghosts of Cite Soleil

Format: Cinema

Release date: 20 July 2007

Distributor Revolver

Director: Asger Leth

Cast: Winson ‘2Pac’ Jean, James ‘Bily’ Petit Frí­Â¨re, Eléonore ‘Lele’ Senlis

Denmark/USA 2006

88 minutes

In February 2004, after months of violent conflict and large-scale political protests, Haiti’s president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was overthrown and forced into exile. When US and French troops entered the capital, Port-Au-Prince, as a UN peacekeeping force, they faced a state in which corruption, violence and desperate poverty had combined to completely undermine the rule of law.

Asger Leth’s documentary, Ghost Of Cité Soleil, follows these events, concentrating on their impact on 2Pac and Bily; brothers, rivals and gang-leaders in the Cité Soleil slum area of Port-Au-Prince. Their gangs, known as Chimí­Â¨res (or Ghosts) were originally armed by President Aristide and employed by him as bodyguards and to intimidate opposition groups. As the film begins the two gang leaders are reaping the benefits of this connection. They have cars and guns and effectively run Cité Soleil themselves, Aristide having brutally subverted the city’s police force.

These characters, 2Pac and Bily, are the main focus and strength of the film. 2Pac, in particular, senses how precarious his position is, even as he enjoys its privileges. Both are vividly aware that everyone in Cité Soleil has only a tenuous grip on life, irrespective of their status. ‘Whatever I do, I die’, says Bily. Their attitudes towards the more wasteful and murderous instincts of their gang members are contradictory, like their attitudes towards the possibility of peace in Haiti and the future in general. 2Pac dreams of leaving. Inspired by his idol, Tupac Shakur, he works on his rapping skills, embracing hip hop as a voice and as a possible escape route. He even phones Wyclef Jean, who has Haitian roots, and raps to him.

We also see the attempts of Lele, a French relief worker, to help the people of Cité Soleil and her involvement with 2Pac and Bily. She relies on their influence to let her operate safely in the slums (presumably like Leth himself) and she becomes 2Pac’s lover and also an intermediary for the gangs as the UN and the new regime seek to disarm the Chimí­Â¨res.

Leth shows us his three main characters and their ambiguities straight. A gallery of talking heads give political context but otherwise we are left to ourselves to judge 2Pac, Bily and Lele’s actions and speculate about motives and unseen events. At times this is frustrating as questions go as much unasked as unanswered. Lele’s decision to work in Haiti is undoubtedly courageous but her links to the gang leaders must have compromised her position and the implications are not explored. Nor is the involvement of Wyclef Jean fully explained. He provides the soundtrack to the film and is seen talking with 2Pac on the phone but the background to this remains obscure.

Leth doesn’t explain his own decisions either. His father made several films in Haiti but neither this nor the path that led him from his home country, Denmark, to the Cité Soleil is revealed. Nor do we get any sense of whether the director, like Lele, was compromised by his closeness to the Chimí­Â¨res. It feels like his approach is consciously meant to emphasise the actions of 2Pac and Bily, reducing those around them to witnesses rather than protagonists. The advantage is that we get a well-focused portrait of the two brothers but is this justification enough to reject potentially intriguing lines of enquiry? Perhaps Leth was uncomfortable probing moral niceties in the middle of a slum with no food, no water and no justice. Alternatively, with the situation in Haiti being described as a ‘silent emergency’ it is possible that Leth was reluctant to dilute or confuse his attempt to break that silence. Either way, Ghosts of Cité Soleil feels like a brave and dangerous undertaking rather than skilful film-making, its efforts to engage undone by the simplistic viewpoint and the perplexing omissions.

Nick Dutfield

7 thoughts on “GHOSTS OF CITE SOLEIL”

  1. This is a horrible pro-US propaganda film that really overlooks all the violence done by the ex-military CIA backed people. It demonizes the poor and the elected government of Jean Bertrand Aristide. After the illegal overthrow of his government something like 8,000 people were killed according to the british medical journal the lancet. THe interim government after the coup was backed by the US and killed thousands of people. What a horrible time Haiti had. This documentary is real propaganda.

  2. I watched the document and I really feel sorry for the people who died. Bye the end of the Document 2pac(haitian 2pac) made it out of haiti, When his brother bily got out of jailed 2pac decided to stay with bily, after 2pac got shot bye an chief. Like 2pac said “It’s time for me to go”.

  3. An intellectually dishonest film. The director uses sources such as Andy Apaid and Chalito Baker without describing them as anything more than “political opposition.” Their actual roles and socio-political commitments are quite situated and worth at least acknowledging. (Do any Google search to learn more.) The roles of Guy Phillipe and Jodel Chamberlin are similarly glossed over (in fact, their human rights records in Haiti are appalling) because the film is more interested is portraying a nihilistic gangsta rap dream.

  4. Warum sollte dieser Film Propaganda sein?
    Vieleicht aus dem falschem Blickwinkel betrachtet aber man sieht doch wie die Menschen dort hintergangen und in Gettos zusammengefercht werden.
    Fí¼r mich waren die Anti-Aristide Bewegung, die britischen und die amerikanischen Truppen(Regierung) die wahren Verbrecher. Wenn man den Film nicht kritisch genung betrachtet, kí¶nnte jedoch ein umgekehrter Eindruck entstehen.

  5. Watching this mess of a film leaves one without pity for any of the principals. The Haitian gang chieftains are wretched murderers and Lele is an utterly stupid woman with no redeeming qualities either.

  6. to Lamonte Eagan:

    it is people such as yourself that perpetuate the righteous existence of “wretched murderers” like them. Do some homework before you judge the disenfranchised and the oppressed.

  7. I watched the documentary last night and amongst all the mess that’s depicted, I’m left with haunting questions about Lele! I wonder what her outlook on life is now! How does she justify her actions?! Does she feel that instead of part of a solution she instead became part of the problem?! Does she reflect upon this at all?! Some how I think not! I’m left to believe that rather than being a relief worker she is merely one of those thrill-junkies. She comes across to me to be a person without so much self-worth. I wonder what goes on in her mind when she watches portraits of her in the arms of a gang leader in such filthy circumstance ?! Any regrets Lele?!

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