Cette Maison is a reflective, almost cathartic film that handles the death of a loved one who passed too soon. Miryam Charles debut is a beautifully experimental, thought-provoking, poetic film that moves you greatly.
Bridgeport, January 2008. A teenage girl is found hanged in her room. While everything points to suicide, the autopsy report reveals something else. Ten years later, the director and cousin of the teenager examine the past causes and future consequences of this unsolved crime. Like an imagined biography, the film will explore the relationship between the security of the living space and the violence that can jeopardize it.
A semi-ghost story of what happens to someone after they have passed away, Cette Maison sometimes feels jumbled, scattered here and there as it tries to make sense of itself. But in truth, isn’t that how grief is? Even over a decade after the fact, grief keeps a hold of you, unwilling to let it all make sense. Charles and her family are still burned by the death of Tessa. While this may be a cathartic method of letting it out, it remains a film that will ring true to anyone who has lost a loved one in such stirring circumstances.
Schelby Jean-Baptiste is haunting in her performance as the deceased Tessa. She talks to us almost as if it is a stage play. In fact, much of Cette Maison feels that, and it surprisingly works very well. We watch her roam around her old room, an obvious set showing us that while Charles wants to talk about this passing, even now, the wounds are still far too raw to place in an actual room. When Tessa watches over her family, hearing her autopsy report on her covered-up body, the room is black. Void of colour and any semblance of joy. That scene is heartbreakingly brutal, and as her mother screams her lungs out, our ghost turns away, unable to watch her mother be so distressed.
There are some fantastic editing choices placed within the stillness of the film. Tessa’s body, adorned with a large white blanket, is superimposed over a transition of Haiti. As if now the child Haiti never had can return to her family’s homeland to be at hopeful peace. This stunningly beautiful film pulls you in and tears your heart apart with every waking minute it plays. You can understand if audiences become a tad frustrated in Cette Maison, but this is a film that purposefully sets out to unsettle its audience. To break us from the typical narrative mould to free flow around picking up pieces here and there. Personally, it works very well.
When Charles integrates the loss of Tessa with her mother, Valeska has left Haiti. Plants and flowers are everywhere in her house like her uprooted from where she should rightfully be and struggling to cope with being where they are now. Tessa never got to understand her home country, whereas her mother mourns it as much as her daughter. The Haiti she knew is no more, and with each passing day, it fades from her memory.
We are continually kept at a distance in Charles’ film, which could be by design as she is so weary of getting too close to it all that it will awaken those hurtful feelings again. Regardless, Cette Maison succeeds in evoking a sad emotion out of her audience. There is such a stark fragility to the film that, at times, it loses itself in getting across its whole meaning. You understand why, of course, but it slightly hurts the viewing experience. As if this was more made for those within Charles inner circle than a wider audience. It feels personal; we are in her grieving subconsciousness, and it is as unsettling yet poignant as you can imagine.
Cette Maison is showing at the Visions of Haiti Film Season at the Barbican Cinema on Sunday 29 October at 18:30. Tickets are on sale now.
For more information about the season please click here.
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