NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL 2020 REVIEW! Directors Louis Henderson and Olivier Marboeuf bring us the not-quite-a-documentary Ouvertures. The film was written and performed by The Living and The Dead Ensemble, which is composed of actors, poets, and performers from Haiti, France, and the United Kingdom. Ouvertures disguises itself at first, masquerading as a documentary about the ensemble’s translation of the play Monsieur Toussaint by Edouard Glissant from French to Creole. Essentially this is what the movie is about, but the film does not approach the subject or actions in the way that a typical documentary would. I would call the motion picture more narrative non-fiction than documentary if I felt like classifying it at all.
Ouvertures starts during winter in France’s Jura mountains, where Napoleon Bonaparte imprisoned famous Haitian General and revolutionary Toussaint L’Ouverture. We hear part of L’Ouverture’s letter to Bonaparte. We see a cell that represents his time in prison.
Act 2 takes us to Haiti. Collective members are singing a song about L’Ouverture. Then we see two other ensemble members rapping part of the play while another one plays the drums. From here, we are treated to several poetically philosophical vignettes where we are told about important figures of Haitian history such as Francois Mackendal and Macaya. We learn about “maroons,” a derogatory term for fugitive slaves. We learn not only about Haiti’s past but its present and where the country is headed in the future.
“…philosophical vignettes where we are told about important figures of Haitian history…”
Ouvertures is a philosophical, poetic dream of a documentary. It tells us so much through the performances of The Living and The Dead Collective. The discussions and actions are real, but they are also performative. The film could be seen as a giant performance art piece and is definitely one of the more interesting ones I have seen. It discusses Haitian identity, the perils of colonialism, the importance of black culture, and more things that all of us definitely need to familiarize ourselves with if we have not already.
If you enjoy documentaries that are a little bit more staged, rather than being direct documentation, you will undoubtedly enjoy Ouvertures. I feel like I mention him too much (oh well), but people who enjoy the work of William Greaves, particularly Symbiopsychotaxiplasm, will certainly enjoy this film. It stretches the fabric of what a documentary can be as it explores where reality meets fiction and how sometimes the two are indistinguishable. It also tells the story that it sets out to as well without drowning in pomposity.
I can admit that I feel like this film could have been just a tad bit shorter, but I’m just a big fan of the ninety-minute film. Other than that, I think Ouvertures is one of the most interesting documentaries I have seen this year, and I wholeheartedly recommend you see it.
Ouvertures screened at the 2020 New York Film Festival.
"…a philosophical poetic dream of a documentary."