In her directorial debut Mountains, Monica Sorelle approaches the story of a Haitian family confronting gentrification with a delicate and discerning eye. The languidly paced feature observes Xaxier (Atibon Nazaire), a demolition worker contemplating buying a better home while navigating the implications of his Miami neighborhood’s changing dynamics.

Xavier, his wife Esperance (Sheiler Anozier) and their adult son Junior (Chris Renois) live in Little Haiti, a vibrant enclave in Miami that’s home to tens of thousands of Haitian immigrants. The neighborhood’s name is credited to Viter Juste, an activist who moved to Miami from Brooklyn in 1973 and convinced other Haitians to join him. The area’s proximity to both the beach and the city’s downtown made it attractive. Today, its protection from major flooding — it’s 10 feet above sea level — has caught the eye of developers and real estate agents. They’ve marketed Little Haiti as a residential dream and threatened its rich history and present.


The Bottom Line

Quietly beautiful.

Venue: Tribeca Film Festival (U.S. Narrative Competition)
Cast: Atibon Nazaire, Sheila Anozier, Chris Renois
Director: Monica Sorelle
Screenwriter: Monica Sorelle, Robert Colom

1 hour 35 minutes

As a demolition worker, Xavier is on the frontline of this rapid change. We meet him while he is at work, overseeing a crane as it crushes an abandoned home. With her DP Javier Labrador Deulofeu, Sorelle portrays a construction site’s operation as one filled with balletic movements. There’s a certain gracefulness to these and other scenes in Mountains, which indulges pleasurably in the details of a family’s life.

Helen Peña’s picturesque production design and Waina Chancy’s costuming reward this way of seeing, especially in Xavier’s modest home. The space’s organization resembles the kind of tight geometry of many immigrant homes. Xavier and Esperance’s bedside tables are overflowing with prescription bottles, framed photos, reading glasses, Blue Magic hair gel and other styling products. The walls of their kitchen display more photographs and cultural ephemera, and another room, from which Esperance, a seamstress, works, is filled with vivid fabrics, a sewing machine and scraps from past projects. The kitchen, cramped with appliances and a table for meals, is where big family conversations take place.

It’s at this kitchen table, later that night after work, that Xavier tells his wife about the beautiful house with the “For Sale” sign he spotted on his evening commute. Seeing the bigger place activated his imagination. What if they sold their current home and bought the new one? What if they put their savings toward it? What if they could live a different version of their lives? “Let’s do a little dreaming together, love,” he says.

Esperance is skeptical. The crux of Mountains revolves around Xavier trying to convince his wife that they should take a risk, but Sorelle, who cowrote the screenplay with producer Robert Colom, covers other ground too. The results are uneven. Xavier’s dicey relationship with his son Junior, who dropped out of college to become a stand-up comic, gets some screen time but not enough to match its telegraphed stakes. The same goes for the drama of Xavier’s workplace, which is rife with racism, micro-aggressions and inter-ethnic suspicions. And then there’s the tension stemming from the broader community’s change, which Sorelle feeds us through flashes and snippets of party conversations.

The number of these intersecting threads is exciting — a sign that Sorelle, a filmmaker who worked in the casting department of Moonlight, has a lot to say. Her film bears the aesthetic mark of Barry Jenkins’ meditative feature (also set in Miami), but it also has echoes of the patriarchal isolation explored in Mahamat-Saleh Haroun’s A Screaming Man, as well as the intimate family drama of Lorraine Hansberry’s play A Raisin in the Sun and Gabriel Martins’ recent Mars One. Mountains reaches for a similar energy as these works, whose protagonists must make crucial decisions against the backdrop of rapid social change. Like Mars One especially, Mountains renders the working-class immigrant experience as one filled with as much — if not more — joy as external pressure.

Even when Mountains’ narrative, which often feels more like a series of beautifully conjured vignettes, doesn’t hit its full potential, the way Sorelle thinks of gentrification rewards our close attention. The director portrays it as a slow creep, showing that the process not only changes the physicality of a neighborhood — with its constant trading of the old for the new — but also affects its sonic and emotional landscapes.

Exterior shots of Xavier’s house early in the film show one Haitian neighbor ambling through the street, excitedly gossiping on the phone, occasionally waving to Xavier and his family. Later, he is replaced by a younger white woman, loudly chiding her friend and casually leaning on Xavier’s fence. She does not see or acknowledge the older man with the quizzical look on his face.

The news on the local radio station Xavier listens to on his drive to work also changes, delivering increasingly dour news about businesses closing and churches being shut down. These are the signs — subtle and otherwise — of a community’s extinction. But Sorelle’s film isn’t necessarily a premature elegy for Little Haiti; it is a quietly moving proclamation of presence.


Source link

(This article is generated through syndicated feeds, Financetin doesn’t own any part of this content)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *