Murder in Pacot
The devastating aftermath of the 2010 Haitian earthquake forms the dark setting for an exploration of one couple’s struggle to rebuild their lives amidst rubble and aftershocks.
Director Raoul Peck, inspired by his visits to the wealthy neighbourhood of Pacot in Port-au-Prince while shooting a documentary, has created an intriguing story that steps away from the more familiar imagery of the homeless slums prevalent in the wake of the tragedy. Instead we are presented with the image of wealth in ruins and the unfamiliar forced unity now shared among all within Haiti’s divided class system.
Now living in the garden in the shadow of their severely damaged mansion, basic concerns over the absence of their servant Joseph mask real fear for their adopted son who is missing. Neither presume to assume his fate, instead focusing on surviving each moment as it comes and goes. The line “We are the servants now” sums up how their world has been turned upside down: the wealthy now forced to realise money offers no protection from nature and its aftereffects.
In danger of having their home demolished because of its unsound structure, they need to find enough money for repairs and rent out their only intact room to a foreign aid worker. Their new tenant causes a great deal of angst to the couple when he soon moves in a vivacious 17-year-old local girl, who calls herself Jennifer to attract foreign men. The continuing rumble of aftershocks add an unsettling level of insecurity to every scene.
The film is slow to move at points, perhaps deliberately focusing on the burning moments that endure for those coming to terms with loss, and, with most scenes set around the couple’s home, it begins at times to feel claustrophobic in location. Yet Peck has clearly made a conscious decision to hone in on the psychological impact of events for these four characters, choosing to ask the viewer to take a closer view of the divide between Haitian citizens that has blighted the country since its emergence from dictatorship.
As they are forced to face the reality of what happens outside the comfort of their security gates, the couple’s reaction to the relationship between their foreign guest and the local girl is fascinating to watch. But at times it feels like Peck is trying to focus on too many strands of this story, and the disappearance of the couple’s son seems to be an afterthought, creating an unsettling distraction for viewers trying to empathise with the main characters.
In the end it feels like the writers have hurriedly added in an unnecessary murder arch that leaves viewers with a confused finale. It’s hard not to feel like this could have been a very different film had it remained focused on its original themes. Instead it seems like it has in part lost its way, ironically much like its main characters have.
Murder in Pacot does not yet have a UK release date.
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Watch the trailer for Murder in Pacot here: