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Review: 'Stones in the Sun' Is A Gripping and Observant Tale About Haitian Immigrants in the U.S.

Reviews
by Vanessa Martinez
December 3, 2012 8:22 PM
13 Comments
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James Noel and Patricia Rhinvil as Ronald and Vita in 'Stones in the Sun'

It’s seldom we get to see authentic, complex and tactful character representations from the West Indies on the screen, especially in cinema. In her compelling and heartfelt feature film debut, Haitian filmmaker Patricia Benoit follows three Haitian immigrant families seeking refuge in Brooklyn NY from the sociopolitical upheaval surrounding them in their native country during the 1980’s. 

Benoit – who also wrote the screenplay - has crafted a movingly poignant and observant film.  Stones in the Sun, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in April earlier this year, just screened as part of the 3rd Annual caribBeing event at the TriBeCa theaters this past Saturday. 

The finely interwoven stories – all three ultimately linked - begin with Gerald (a superb performance by Thierry Saintine), who is also at the center. He is the impassioned host of the anti-Haitian government show “Drums of the people”.  What’s fascinating about his story is that aside from his close involvement in the sociopolitical matters of his native country, he has acclimated himself to a new life in an upscale Brooklyn apartment with his pregnant, Caucasian wife. Yet, his heart and soul remains with Haiti and its people.  Their story - much like the other two - is paced just right, evoking a sense of intrigue and unpredictability. His wife listens to him daily “just to hear his voice”, since doesn’t understand/speak Creole. Their story begins to unravel when his wife welcomes Gerald’s father – to his son’s chagrin - who has unexpectedly showed up from Haiti at their doorstep.

What’s also fantastic about watching this film is how penetrable it becomes; you get the feeling that you are taking this journey alongside these characters.  Riva, played by newcomer Patricia Rhinvil in gripping film acting debut, travels to Brooklyn to join her husband, a cab driver. The story of this genuinely loving couple is endearing to watch.  In one tender scene, Riva is bathing her husband in the tub, yet she is confronted with her own psychological devastation caused by atrocities in her homeland.   One of the elements that I appreciated the most was her husband’s patience. It’s unfortunate that many of us are almost programmed to “assume” (you know the saying) how a husband would react in certain situations. A lesson of love is learned in this case. As Riva also struggles to adjust to living in the city, when we later find out the reasons behind her inner turmoil, the results are heartrending, yet inspiring.

Edwidge Danticat delivers another fine performance as Yannick, a teacher who is caught in her students’ political movement. She flees the chaos to move in with her sister in the suburbs. Micheline (a superb Michele Marceline) lives in a wealthy neighborhood with her overprotected daughter. The sisters were witnesses to tragedy and struggles growing up in their native country and Micheline, a realtor, has embraced a pretentious lifestyle of a “high class” American. Unlike Micheline, Yannick is unwilling to put her past behind and she is fervent on bringing justice to her students back at home. And, no matter how “different” these sisters’ paths in life may seem, the very convincing acting between the two actresses pave the way to some riveting and touching scenes. The tensions in their rivalry are clearly palpable, and the complexities of their differences become well understood.

Raw and understated, Stones in the Sun is handled with sensitivity in regards to its subjects. The well-developed drama has plenty of powerful performances and climactic scenes to keep you on the edge of your seat. But aside from this, hopefully you will come out of this experience with a new appreciation and respect for Haiti, its culture and the many realities its immigrants have undergone.

Stones in the river cannot know the problem of stones in the sun”.

STONES IN THE SUN from Ciné Institute on Vimeo.

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13 Comments

  • Marsha Voltaire | December 13, 2012 8:58 PMReply

    GREAT FILM!

  • Haiti Libete | December 12, 2012 10:03 PMReply

    Tender is the word that comes to mind to characterize Patricia Benoit’s extraordinary new film “Wòch nan Soley” (Stones in the Sun), despite its wrenching scenes and disturbing themes.
    From Haiti Libete
    http://www.haiti-liberte.com/archives/volume6-22/Wòch%20nan%20Soley.asp
    This beautifully constructed and shot film examines the political violence that has accompanied Haiti’s emergence from the Duvalier dictatorship 25 years ago and how it bleeds into the life of Haiti’s diaspora in places like New York City, where the film is principally set sometime in the late 1980s or early 1990s.

  • sburrows | December 12, 2012 4:08 PMReply

    Just finished discussing this with my very small film group. Like a book club for indie films. We went last week and loved it. We saw ourselves. We cried. We laughed. We were overall quite moved. We are Haitian, but you don't have to be Haitian to be moved by this film. It is for everybody. I want it to come to a theather near me so I can bring my friends from other parts of the world. I think they will see this and finally understand who I am.

  • Mjean | December 12, 2012 4:04 PMReply

    Film reminded me of this story about torturers in exile
    http://www.hrw.org/news/2003/07/01/some-alleged-torturers-living-exile

  • Janine | December 12, 2012 4:01 PMReply

    Haiti Pride! Great job everybody. ONe day our stones will be in the water.

  • Albert Louimane | December 12, 2012 3:58 PMReply

    I just saw this film in Jacmel, Haiti, at the L'amitié Festival, with a Haitian audience. I googled it and came upon this review while trying to learn more about the people involved. I and many other Haitian and American friends who saw this film with me thought Danticat--yes the writer Danticat--was quite good in the film, a fine performance, as stated above. Her performance was nuanced and subtle, not over the top, quiet as befitting the type of character she is playing. This was a mostly non-professional cast so there were weaknesses in most of the performances, but over all everyone came out well. Certainly no one was bad enough to bring down this phenomenal film. Maybe it is within our knee jerk response to go after someone who is well known for other things, a person who is not an actor. Others couda had this role, we tell ourselves, professional actors, whose job it is to do this. How would she feel if we started writing books? In this case though, it is misdirected. Plus this is not Danticat's first time on screen. IDMB her, as I just have and you will see. And yes, yes Carlo Mitton and James Noel also great peformances and also deserve positive mentions. Overall, what I would say is Congratulations to everyone involved.

  • Albert Louimane | December 12, 2012 3:57 PMReply

    I just saw this film in Jacmel, Haiti, at the L'amitié Festival, with a Haitian audience. I googled it and came upon this review while trying to learn more about the people involved. I and many other Haitian and American friends who saw this film with me thought Danticat--yes the writer Danticat--was quite good in the film, a fine performance, as stated above. Her performance was nuanced and subtle, not over the top, quiet as befitting the type of character she is playing. This was a mostly non-professional cast so there were weaknesses in most of the performances, but over all everyone came out well. Certainly no one was bad enough to bring down this phenomenal film. Maybe it is within our knee jerk response to go after someone who is well known for other things, a person who is not an actor. Others couda had this role, we tell ourselves, professional actors, whose job it is to do this. How would she feel if we started writing books? In this case though, it is misdirected. Plus this is not Danticat's first time on screen. IDMB her, as I just have and you will see. And yes, yes Carlo Mitton and James Noel also great peformances and also deserve positive mentions. Overall, what I would say is Congratulations to everyone involved.

  • Sara McDonald | December 7, 2012 4:07 PMReply

    Who was the Caucasian actress in the film who played Gerald's wife? I wanted to see more of her story.

  • NinaG | December 5, 2012 10:29 PMReply

    saw this at Tribeca in April, really hoping for a theatrical release soon.

  • Amand | December 5, 2012 12:20 PMReply

    The father, played by Carlo Mitton was also superb!

  • Banta | December 4, 2012 3:49 AMReply

    THE Edwidge Danticat?

  • David | December 6, 2012 2:52 PM

    With all due respect, the decision to use Danticat was the film's hubris, a poor casting choice that almost took the entire film down with it. She's a brilliant novelist, activist and thinker, but actor? Seemed to be a textbook case of using a famous personality to, in effect, "play" themselves and lend the film instant publicity. Indie films need it so I don't blame the producers for leveraging Danticat's name but it was painful to watch.

  • Vanessa Martinez | December 4, 2012 9:24 AM

    Yes, award-winning author Edwidge Danticat.

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