Guy Deslauriers :: France :: 2009 :: 1h50
A historical drama following André Aliker, one of the founding fathers of the French free press, and a good general introduction into the recent politically turbulent history of the beautiful French West Indies.
André Aliker (played by Stomy Bugsy) was born in 1894 in the French Caribbean. Surviving the atrocities of military service in the first world war, he returns to Martinique a changed man. On finding his island in its neo-colonial form with its unbearable poverty gap, he rebels, joining the local communist party to fight injustice and improve the living and working conditions of the impoverished majority. As he rallies at their side and writes for the newspaper Justice to spread the word, he discovers that there is something more dear to him than fighting for social justice: fighting for truth. Aliker uses the Justice newspaper to bravely turn it into the first independent news source of the island, and a turning point for its democratic future.
Aliker’s fate, and hence the film, is tragic. The filming style, from one emotionally charged theatrical moment to another, with mostly fill-up in between, is a little cumbersome, without peaceful moments of release. To match this harshness, the film does not show the expected palm tree and pastel painted houses caribbean image. The only release from the fear, intimidation and harshness of life is the community spirit of the people. In the suffering of the common man, there is a double issue – on the one hand they are not being paid their worth, keeping them in dismal conditions, and on the other hand they find themselves in an inherited racial divide, a remnant of the slave era. Aliker clearly sees these two sides of the coin, and consciously chooses the non racial “class struggle” vision as it is the one which offers a way out of the misery the people find themselves in.
Aliker’s wife, whether or not she was really like that, does not give a positive image of women. She might want to support him in his quest for justice and doing the right thing, but it is clear that her fear for them (and their children) exceeds any demand that the “right thing” may expect. In other words, she would rather he just ignored injustice to feed them, as her egoism trumps her altruism.
Doing the right thing in challenging times is the material for heros, like Aliker, but not only do most people not share his courage, they also are not prepared to pay the price. Where Aliker leads, few can follow, but we can protect what has been achieved – a free press. And there is no better time to remind ourselves of that, as we roll into the biggest newspaper crisis the modern times have known. The search for truth is, after all, the first step to combat injustice. It is, however, a pity that the film’s rushed ending leaves the viewer more with the sentiment of bitterness and injustice than the achievements of Aliker and his friends, but we will just have to remind ourselves… and Google him afterwards…