Murder in Pacot No drama à la Hollywood, but political film from Haiti
Murder in Pacot is set in Haiti immediately after the earthquake in the year 2010. Like an intimate theatre it is confined spatial to the villa of a bourgeois, black Haitian couple in Pacot (Port-au-Prince), four leading characters and nine days. For a rare short moment the natural disaster jolts and rouses the Haitian society - hierarchically structured by class, racism and gender. New encounters are made possible by similar experiences: everybody has to mourn deaths, fears aftershocks and suffers from material losses. But this, what might have become a chance for change, soon burns up, while people follow their well-known paths. The old structures are strong and quickly the systems of domination functions again. So called aid agencies, which "invade" the country, meanwhile position themselves in that hierarchy and play their own, self-serving game.
The earthquake itself is not shown in the film. This decision by the team around Peck is exemplary for the concept of dramaturgy of the whole film. It could have been the emotional starting point of the story. But - a bit in contrary to his latest documentary film Fatal Assistance about the aftermaths of the earthquake - the aesthetic of this fiction film by Raoul Peck features to be unvarnished. And indeed it can trust in the quality and depth of its dialogues and pictures, that touch without being sentimental. Clever decisions about what is explicitly shown and what is not, but however made imaginable, gives Murder in Pacot its strength.
So Peck decides to locate the "intimate theatre" in the ruins of a villa - not in one of the numerous Slums, that, dominate the picture of Western reports about Haiti anyway. From the beginning on he rejects the danger of voyeurism. Nevertheless Murder in Pacot talks about the struggles and situations of the lower class - for example by the figure of Andrémise. In hope of a better life in the western world the young black woman messes around with Alex, an assistant of an aid agency. The young white man rents some still intact rooms in the villa of the bourgeois Haitian couple, that sleep and stay in their former garage. By renting some rooms the couple tries to save money to renovate the house, which otherwise would be torn down.
Josef is another figure representing the lower class. He is the former domestic worker of the wife and husband. After the earthquake, the black couple hopes he is alive and fine. If it's the case, does he continue serving other people? That Josef, who sympathises with his employers, nevertheless stole some money and clothes from the bourgeois family in the past, is not only a rejection to the cliché of the "happy servant", but also a reference to a Marxist analysis, that underlies the film: peoples behaviour is shaped by the structural constraints in a capitalist society - it is not about good or bad characters of persons (although certain habitus are developed- as well a theme in the film), but a material problem. Not surprisingly, the upcoming Peck' film is a biopic on Karl Marx.
Andrémise and Josef are not shown as passive victims, who are in need of help. They are subjects, they decide for their own and they make their own mind. It is Andrémise, who again and again criticises Alex work and personal partly racist behaviour. Also Josef is shown as a sympathetic person.
Following this perspective, poverty is contextualized in the film. It broaches the issue of class contradictions for example when Andrémise asks the bourgeois Haitian woman at the swimming-pool "You are not used to work, aren't you?". This time, it's the formerly rich woman, who is taking the water out of the pool for domestic use, whereas Andrémise is just passing maundering. Andrémise now starting to call herself "Jennifer" a western, well known name, that she thinks is pretty. Another example how the film reflects this domination structure is in revealing the paternalistic manner, in which the bourgeois Haitian woman talks about her adoption of a young boy from a poor Haitian family in the past. In her perspective, she wanted to "safe" him from poverty. The bad smell visitors complain about, is it caused by his dead body or not? It is this simple mentioning of the stink, that keeps the horror of the earthquake present. It makes it impossible for a - especially Western - audience to "misunderstand" shortage and the living under the plain air as something "romantic".
The role of aid agencies are revealed as being self-serving and useless for the poor Haitians in the film. It s caricatured in a scene, in which workers of an NGO sweep the clean street in the rich neighbourhood. When asked, why they are doing it, their pragmatic answer is, that they are getting money for doing it. The film manages to talk about this issue without reproducing pictures of "white heroes" and "black victims". It is broached in dialogues and with the help of some rare photos, that Alex took of himself at work, - his "trophies" as Andrémise is calling them.
The situation escalates when Andrémises black Haitian Lover tells Alex, that she will leave the white man and start a new life with him in Haiti (the countryside of Haiti is appealing for another character also). Alex' pride is hurt and so he refuses to help her, when she was traced and threatened by the bourgeois Haitian man. As usual in the films of Raoul Peck, there is no black or white, still black and white, here in gender issue. A pessimistic perspective is assessed, when the two men can even find an ally in the Haitian bourgeois wife, against Andrémise / Jennifer. The bonds of classes are thicker than the solidarity between women.
As in Fatal Assistance also in Murder in Pacot Peck keeps silent about the unhealthy and as well self-serving actions of the political leading class of Haiti. But while it has been a weak point of the documentary film, the neglect is acceptable when it comes to a fiction film, that does not serve and follow analysis only. A great idea was choice of the actor Lovely Kermonde Fifi, who played the role of Andrémise. The only Haitian actor within the main characters outshines mainly Ayo, who stays colourless next to her professional colleges.
Although the story of the film is brutal, it contains many tender and humorous moments, that reveal the handwriting of Lyonel Trouillot. With commissioning the Haitian author to write the script, Peck gave the film the profound basis, that makes Murder in Pacot strong and touching. For the title of that political feature, go and watch the movie.