Cite Soleil is the most dangerous place on Earth and gangs called the Chimeres rule over it. We meet two of the gang members, Bily and 2Pac, and follow them as they try to stay alive during a time of war.
Haiti has always been a dangerous, poor country thanks in large part to the United States involvement. The first predominantly black country to achieve freedom, it was suppressed over the years and finally pushed into poverty when the United States believed its own interests were more important than that of the small country. It is as much the fault of the United States that the country is violent and corrupt as any other reason.
In 2004, the area of Cite Soleil was not only the worst slum in Haiti but also referred to by the United Nations as the most dangerous place on Earth at the time. With no police, no rule, no electricity and a life expectancy that was cut short due to disease and violence, the city was one of the last places you would expect documentary filmmakers to enter. It is lucky for us that Asger Leth and Milos Loncarevic would do just that.
The film focuses on three people when telling the story of [the] violence that surrounded Cite Soleil during this pivotal time period. First, we get James “Bily” Petit Frère and Winson “2Pac” Jean, brothers who deal with the revolution in different ways. Bily is a leader of a group of Chimeres, a word meaning ghosts. These men were supposedly armed and employed by the Haitian president at the time, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. It is said they were called Chimeres because they might as well already be dead. 2Pac believed that he needed to fight against Aristide, not through violence but through music. We see much of his time spent with Wyclef Jean working on this dream. The third person we meet is Eleonore “Lele” Senlis, a French aid worker who develops a relationship with both brothers.
It is a strange feeling to be in a documentary where we are asked to sit in the shoes of killers, in a town where violence takes the lives of many people before they ever reach their thirtieth birthday. The end of the reign of Aristide brought one of the bloodiest revolutions in recent memory, but that is not shown here as it is apparent that the filmmakers were forced to cut their work short as the military forces began to move in on the community. It amazes me that the filmmakers were allowed to come into the lives of these violent, almost amoral thugs, but that is just what happens. When you see the parts of the doc with 2Pac, you may begin to believe that it is the desire for fame and self gratification that lead Bily and 2Pac to tell their story.
What we see cannot be completely true. The camera focuses on the men telling their stories and also intercuts violence and war in the streets, but how much of what these guys are saying can be taken at face value? It is obvious that these people will kill anyone at any time for any reason. But the acts of heroism that they claim to exhibit are ridiculous when you see the situation that transpires around them. 2Pac wants to be a rap star and Bily wants to rise through the ranks of Aristide’s group to as high of a position as he can reach. The fact that they claim to be fighting for a higher good does not mask the violence and amorality that they exhibit. We can listen to them talk all day, but history proves what this battle was truly all about.
The main concern is the filmmaker’s seeming willingness to embrace the violence of the gangsters. I understand that the purpose of the film was to view the violence of the time from the inside, but it almost appeared that the filmmakers were trying to make the killers into heroes and embrace their lifestyle. You never see both sides of the story, you see the violence that the brothers bring to the streets and somehow feel that is what is important here. Even when you learn of 2Pac and Bily’s fate you almost see it as a tragedy despite the fact that they were indeed cold blooded killers.
What makes the documentary powerful is not the focus on the gang leaders but witnessing the situations the citizens of Cite Soleil are forced to live through. The senseless deaths that the camera records and even more deaths that it does not let us see hammer home the fact that this is a country, an area of the world, that seems to be without hope. It is a place that most people would not ever want to consider exists but is presented here in all its horrific details. This is a documentary that dares to shows us a place that no sane person would ever dare to venture.
The movie is presented in 1.85:1 and for a documentary shot in Haiti looks just fine. The transfer is pretty solid considering the source material. The sound is in 5.1 Surround Sound or 2.0 Stereo and sounds great with the music of Wyclef Jean shining throughout the film. The only extras are trailers.