Le goût des jeunes filles is most certainly one of tastiest coming-to-self films to radiate the big screen in recent years. The market list for its successful recipe includes Dany Laferrière’s poetry-laden story, Jean-Pierre St-Louis’s mirror-savvy camera, the energetic music tracks from Ned Bouhalassa and Luck Mervil, and a pair of engaging fifteen-going-on-thirty actors (Lansana Kourouma & Uly Darly)—all under the insightful eye of master chef John L’Écuyer, who has the great sense to let rather than force this thoughtful production seep into our consciousness.
Set in 1971 Haiti on the weekend that Papa Doc died and Baby assumed his self-righteous position as President/Dictator for Life, Fanfan—a white-shirt, grey-flannel student (Kourouma, whose considerable skills grow with the role)—is spirited away from the safety of his mother’s modest house by his fedora toting buddy Gégé (Darly—almost too cute to be “bad”), who eagerly tutors his wide-eyed friend in the finer points of adolescent life: booze, sex and machismo.
But Fanfan’s passion, in the alluring personage of Miki (Koumba Ball), lives with her drink and dance-loving colleagues just across the street from his god-fearing mother’s house. It’s one of several love nests established by a government minister, Papa (Maka Kotto) for himself and his fellow henchmen when they feel the need to relax between their arduous schedule of beatings, extortion and murder, which, much earlier, robbed Fanfan of his own father.
Through merged point-of-view voice-overs (one beautifully dissolved from B&W to colour), the ever-present radios, and a photographer/reporter team from Rolling Stone, the desperation of the people and their terrorizing Tonton-Macoute “protectors,” the political and social landscape is revealed like the memory of a bad dream, yet much less “on-the-nose” than Hotel Rwanda.
L’Écuyer has subtly painted his canvas with apt allusions to the “cowboy” mentality of North America; he uses long cigars and shiny guns, jeeps for horses and set dressing of a movie poster for The Wild West. On the spurs of those images, Fanfan’s immersion into the world of adult pleasures goes horribly awry, even as the banjo (evoking a distant echo from Deliverance) prattles on in the “saloon.”
From here the film, in concert with the aging vehicles of the day, sputters once in a while (the fancy-model photo shoot against shanty town backdrop; the stoic always crucifix-framed mother (Mireille Métellus) wondering if her only son will share the same fate as her husband), but finally hits all cylinders in the magical sequence where Fanfan’s fantasy blossoms into reality. With discreet, exquisitely lit close-ups the initiation of the student of Magloire-Sainte-Aude’s verse into physical union with another, the boy becomes man reciting lines to ensure pleasure for both and realizes that Gégé’s Siegfried-themed mantra (“Nothing can happen if I have no fear.”), may allow him to cross more boundaries than those constructed by cowardly oppressors.
This testament to what could be has a worldwide audience, if only the sheriffs would get off their high horses and let their “people” see.