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  • Arnold Antonin: Le Cinéma de la liberté by Virginie Hémar
  • Sophie Saint-Just
Arnold Antonin: Le Cinéma de la liberté. By Virginie Hémar. Port-au-Prince, Haïti: Les Editions de l’Université d’Etat d’Haïti, 2013. ISBN 978-99935-57-75-3. 197 pp. $50.00 paperback.

Virginie Hémar’s Arnold Antonin: Le Cinéma de la liberté (Arnold Antonin: The cinema of freedom) is a comprehensive catalogue and biography of Haitian filmmaker Arnold Antonin. A prolific documentarian who currently works from Haiti, Antonin began making political films in the mid-1970s while in exile and now also directs fiction films (popular comedies).1 Hémar achieves the goal announced on the book’s back cover to “retrace the life and work of the Haitian cinéaste Arnold Antonin.” While this book is not intended for an academic audience, its fluid and engaging prose underscores the relevance of Antonin as a subject worthy of further study and research by framing him as a major figure contributing to Haitian filmmaking. In addition, it highlights how his documentaries—and now fiction films—not only contribute to a wide range of disciplines but also interrogate the “idea of Haiti,” to borrow a phrase from Millery Polyné’s recent edited volume.2 One of the points that Hémar’s essays make is that Antonin’s “cinema relentlessly attempts to thwart a plot, to shed light on history, memory and the truth of this country: Haiti” (39). Hémar’s background in literature (classics) and communications informs her framing of a filmmaker inspired by “[an] obsession with the patrimonial and historiography” (40).

The cover page, a portrait of Antonin by the painter Guiliano Juste, sets the tone for the volume by illustrating Antonin’s predilection for portraiture. The book highlights as “uncommon” the focus, in his documentaries, on Haitian artists and intellectuals, political and historical figures, and “common people” (the working and struggling poor [39–40]). Its numerous illustrations, chiefly in the form of color photographs, also help to visually demonstrate the scope of Antonin’s career. They feature him at work, filming, abroad at international film festivals, and at home in Haiti; he appears with celebrities involved with NGOs, artists, and other filmmakers, as well as in the company of Latin American filmmakers and intellectual figures.

The title of the book, Arnold Antonin: Le Cinéma de la liberté, is a play on words referring to Antonin’s first feature-length documentary, Ayiti, men chimen libète (Haiti, the path to freedom, 1974). This seminal work—“the first Haitian feature-length film” (30)—chronicles the Haitian people’s quest for freedom, from Taino resistance to the Spanish conquest to the Jean-Claude Duvalier regime. The book itself is loosely organized, including a wide [End Page 195] range of texts that present the filmmaker through a favorable lens. It begins with three forewords, which serve as tributes, from veteran Radio France International (RFI) journalist Catherine Ruelle; leading Haitian author, playwright, and painter Frankétienne; and prominent Cuban filmmaker Rigoberto Lopez. The body of the book contains two essays by the author, a 2012 interview with Antonin along with film reviews culled from the Haitian press and beyond, and in-depth film synopses written as short reviews and critiques. It ends with Antonin’s proposal for a film school in Haiti: his effort to establish a legacy and give greater access to the film medium as a mode of storytelling.

Antonin’s essay “Le Cinéma et mes réalités haïtiennes” (Cinema and my realities about Haiti [49–66]) sheds light on the intellectuals, artists, and filmmakers who influenced him; how he understands his own work; and the ways in which, as a documentarian, he wishes to “preserve part of the memory of the Haitian people, [as] a part of [the Haitian people’s] patrimony so that both the memory of the Haitian people and part of this patrimony do not fade into oblivion in a country where a plot against History is perpetually hatched” (53). It also brings into focus his recent embracing of fiction films as a way “to move and...