Yesterday I did something I have not done for years - I saw two feature films in one day with a one hour break for a quick gulp of food. My movie partner gave me the privilege of choosing what to see. We began the evening with Director David Ayer’s horrific war drama, FURY - starring Brad Pitt as the lead honcho, a tough father figure of a Sherman Tank crew of 5 men, including a virginal, brilliant blue-eyed “rookie” as the gunner (Logan Lerman), a boy/man whose unshaven cheeks are as supple as his belief in the “goodness” of his fellow human beings, even in the most grisly of circumstances. His transformation into steeled “manhood” is a painful reality to observe.
Like the Battle of Thermopylae the odds are stacked against this team of hardened, profane, American warriors fighting the Nazis on German soil in April 1945 - a last ditch violent effort by the Axis to prevail, realizing that defeat was fast approaching. The cinematography with its deep, muddy browns and fiery oranges casts a blazing light which permeates into the conscience and hearts of the characters. War is not exonerated or laundered; it is bloody and dirty - one’s moral compass is abandoned in the effort to survive slaughter and death, be it by one’s own hands or at the hands of others. It is hard to imagine going through this experience and not returning home shell-shocked and psychically wounded.
In the platoon is a soldier who puts his belief in God’s will and protection, nicknamed “Bible” (Shia La Beouf,) an actor who has never been able to seduce me….until now. In FURY I finally understood La Beouf’s appeal, with those dark penetrating eyes and a smile that conveys the Divinity’s rapture; he is a symbol of underlying goodness prevailing over his own destructive power and the carnage of the “enemy.”
We then saw STONES IN THE SUN directed by Haitian filmmaker Patricia Benoit focusing on the struggling lives of Haitian immigrants in Brooklyn, NY who had fled the torture and repressive reigns of Papa Doc Duvalier and Baby Doc Duvalier, his generals and the Tontons Macoutes/death squads in the 1980’s.
“Duvalier authorized the Tontons Macoutes to commit systematic violence and human rights abuses to suppress political opposition. They were responsible for unknown numbers of murders and rapes in Haiti. He included among his opponents those who proposed progressive social systems. Political opponents often disappeared overnight, or were sometimes attacked in broad daylight. Tontons Macoutes stoned and burned people alive. Many times they put the corpses of their victims on display, often hung in trees for everyone to see and take as warnings against opposition…” (Wikipedia.)
STONES IN THE SUN makes clear that we can leave our land but the land remains steadfast in our hearts; memories are seared into the ex-patriates’ consciousness; the scars and beauty of the homeland weaves them to their past forever.
Benoit concentrates on 3 families to give a fuller dimension to the diaspora. I was particularly moved by a married couple, achingly played by Patricia Rhinvil as the wife Vita and her husband Ronald (James Noel,) a cabdriver who was forced to flee for demonstrating in Haiti, leaving his wife behind at the mercy of men in the dark who commit bestiality upon women’s flesh. The history of sexual brutality is wreaked upon Vita’s slight frame. She arrives at the Airport, shyly observing her husband with sideways looks - fear, love and apprehension flicker across her face; beautifully acted; words are superfluous. Glimpses of a more care-free time are cut into the frames - what might have been - and what was, and what is.
How each character deals with the past AND the future in both FURY and STONES IN THE SUN, is both poignant and eloquent. The impact of ruthlessness and savagery on society and the individual; whether it be in the 1940’s, 1980’s or the present are devastatingly traumatic and transformative.
Haitian proverb: “Stones in the water don’t know the suffering of stones in the sun.”