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TORONTO 2023 Centrepiece

Critique : Kanaval


- Henri Pardo propose dans son premier long-métrage un récit attendrissant sur le traumatisme et le déplacement

Critique : Kanaval
Rayan Dieudonné dans Kanaval

Cet article est disponible en anglais.

Henri Pardo’s debut feature, titled Kanaval and world-premiered in the Centrepiece strand of this year’s Toronto Film Festival (where it won the Amplify Voices Award for Best BIPOC Canadian Feature Award as well as an Honourable Mention for Best Canadian Feature Film – see the news), tells of the trials and tribulations of a young boy, Rico (Rayan Dieudonné), who lives in a small port town on the coast of Haiti, before a traumatic event forces him and his schoolteacher mother Erzulie (Penande Estime) to flee to Quebec.

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This engaging diaspora-centred, coming-of-age drama is set in 1975, and the story’s main conflict arises during the annual celebration of the carnival. Despite his mother’s warnings of danger, Rico slips out into the night to immerse himself in the vibrant atmosphere of Haiti’s Kanaval. Once Rico is home, he secretly witnesses his pregnant mother being attacked by a group of soldiers, who accuse her of spreading communist propaganda in her classroom. The onslaught is so brutal that Erzulie loses her child.

Overall, Pardo writes and directs an endearing story of trauma and displacement. Rico and Erzulie are forced to adapt to their new environment, a place where they will receive support but also much hatred, as they are victims of different forms of discrimination, racism and – in Rico’s case – bullying.

Notably, Erzulie is unable to cope with the loss of her child and looks like a ticking time bomb ready to detonate. Rico is inevitably the victim of her tension and begins to suffer from a feeling of loneliness. Moreover, he feels disconnected from his previous life in Haiti and thus begins developing his own imaginary world.

Rico’s oneiric “safe shelter”, which gifts the picture with magical-realist nuances, is that of the Kanaval, and its colourful – yet mysterious and slightly disturbing – vibes will accompany Rico along the way. The “master” of this world is Rico’s imaginary friend, Kana, a half-human, half-animal creature who acts as a guide and empathises with Rico’s perception of being surrounded by “aliens”. In fact, this is exactly what Rico calls the inhabitants of the small, rural community where he ends up living.

Despite the genuine efforts of an older couple – Cécile (Claire Jacques) and Albert (Martin Dubreuil) – who take them in, Rico struggles to make sense of his new life, a place where hunting is one of the main pastimes, the climate is harsh and children his age are unfriendly – not to mention treacherous.

The imaginary friend/world trope certainly doesn’t dazzle in its originality and is something of a staple in many coming-of-age dramas sporting tormented protagonists. Nonetheless, here, it works well and is placed quite organically within the narrative. Even though these scenes are lensed decently by DoP Glauco Bermudez, some elements of this world – and the appearance of Kana – are rendered through not-so-impeccable CGI.

Luckily enough, this technical flaw doesn’t greatly affect the emotional impact of the film, which still feels heartfelt and sincere. Finally, it is worth highlighting Dieudonné’s compelling work on his role. Despite his young age, he manages to imbue Rico’s character with a commendable balance of tenderness, rebellious spirit and pride.

Kanaval was co-produced by Canada’s Yzanakio and Luxembourg’s Wady Films.

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(Traduit de l'anglais)

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