Learning in Québec

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I'm someone who began learning French when I was 53. I took a BA in French at 60 but wasn't happy with my level of comprehension (though I read very well). So, having really become comfortable with Spanish only by living on the Mexican border, I'm spending more time in Québec and near the border of Quebec, in Vermont, to see if I can do that here with French. I want to encourage others to do the same.

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Pourquoi les images de l'eau? a demandé quelq'une. ("Why the images of water?" asked someone.)

Actually, as I learned later while waiting for the free Eco-Bus (top speed 35 mpg, operates all day for under $4.00), the someone who asked that question is named Eduardo.

The film festival Vues d'Afrique at Le Musée de la Civilisation ended last night with two great films from Haiti. The producers of both films, Giscard Bouchotte and Michelange Quay, were present to introduce the films and then answer questions, one of which was Eduardo's.

Giscard Bouchotte's film, La Vie Rêvée de Sarah, 26 minutes long, is a documentary of the life of a real woman, 65 years old, in the village of Mahotière, in southeast Haiti. Mahotière is a poor but lovely tropical place with a daily life very unlike what most of us imagine when we think of the poverty and distress in Haiti. Sarah is very poor, yes, as is everybody in Mahotière, but she's confident and happy with her life in the community. Giscard Bouchotte received sincere thanks from the audience for bringing out this picture of Haitian life in French and créole. He spoke of Mahotière, where he had spent time, though he did not grow up there, with reference to "la petite revière qui cour par le village." Early in the film, we see a little boy having a stand-up-sit-down soapless bath in this stream that runs through the village.

Mange, ceci est mon corps (Eat, this is my body), Michelange Quay's film, 105 minutes long, was well appreciated by most of the audience, including me -- I would have raved on about it if my French were up to it -- but a young woman also from Haiti --Stephanie, a student, whom I met previously while waiting for the EcoBus -- did not like it at all. "Je l'ai détesté!" she told the producer. Just like that. Then she went on to say it had ugly ideas and images, even that it was too violent.

Well. He was taken back (as was everyone else, I think). He was wounded, I think. He wanted a long discussion with her, which the moderator tried to end for other questions or comments -- but Monsieur Quay just told the event worker, "Look. Someone just told me they hated my film. I have to talk about this." It was something of a brouhaha.

Later, outside the museum, I told Stephanie that I loved the film, and part of what I loved was that it was NOT violent. I asked her if she'd seen Johnny Mad Dog, from the Congo, on Monday night. She hadn't. Well, neither did I nor another woman. We just could not watch it. The violence was too heavy, too terrible to watch -- though undoubtedly it did not match the horror of the truth. (Amnesty International sponsored this film, and Amnesty International members were there to ask for signatures on petitions in behalf of child soldiers. The people playing these child soldiers in the film had actually been such; maybe that's why it was so hard, too hard for me, to watch.)

Stephanie hadn't seen Johnny Mad Dog. I told her that if she had, she's appreciate how artistically and skillfully Quay had dealt with the violence that we all know is part of the reality in Haiti.

Michelange Quay received his degree in film from New York University in 1994 and then a degree in anthropology from Miami University (or the University of Miami? l'Université de Miami, reads the Vues d'Afrique festival brochure.) A 2004 film, L'Evangile du cochon créole, which earned prizes for the short film at Locarno, Stockholm, Milan, Rio de Janeiro, Sao Polo, Turin, and at the Tokyo Con Can Film festival.

And oh, the water. The film begins scenes of a woman in labor, whose water may be about to break, interfaced with low aerial pan shots of a dry but brush-greened countryside awaiting rain; then there's water from the sky in electric storms, water from the faucet an the old white colonial mansion, water in rivulets, waterfalls, puddles, buckets, water as milk, ... little boys taking showers to be presented at table where there'd be nothing given them to eat ...

oh, it was beautiful, the water.

Mange, Ceci est mon Corps. 2007. Michelange Quay. Haïti-France. 105 minutes. 35mm, créole, Français, English subtitles. with Sylvie Testud, Catherine Samie, Hans Dacosta St.-Val.

La Vie rêvée de Sarah. Giscard Bouchotte. 2008. Haïti, documentary, créole with French subtitles, 26 minutes.

"Well, what do you think?" was what Michelange said to Eduardo (this before Stephanie had her say). Eduardo said, "I really liked it. Maybe because water is life itself?"

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