The Movie Waffler Tribeca Film Festival 2023 Review - MOUNTAINS | The Movie Waffler

Tribeca Film Festival 2023 Review - MOUNTAINS

Tribeca Film Festival 2023 Review - MOUNTAINS
A Haitian immigrant works for a demolition crew involved in dismantling his community.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Monica Sorelle

Starring: Atibon Nazaire, Sheila Anozier, Chris Renois, Serafin Falcon

At time of writing a class war is playing out on the roads of the UK, with middle class Just Stop Oil protesters infuriating working class people, whose path to their workplaces they're regularly blocking. The protesters, most of whom are white and comfortably retired, certainly mean well, and they'll no doubt be proven to have been on the right side of history. The trouble is, history and indeed the future, are concerns working class people don't have the luxury of worrying about. Working class people are too worried about the present, about how to pay this month's rent, this month's escalating electricity bill, how to afford their kids' new school books and so on. This often puts the working class in the unfair position of digging their own graves.

Director Monica Sorelle's featured debut Mountains (co-written with Robert Colom) is about a working class man demolishing his own community and digging its eventual grave. The film is set in the Miami district of Little Haiti, which as its name suggests is home to a community of people whose background lies in that troubled Caribbean nation. Its central figure is Xavier (Atibon Nazaire), a middle-aged Haitian immigrant who moved to the US as a young man. He's currently employed by a small demolition crew that is dismantling the district one house at a time. The bungalow homes of the Haitians are being knocked down and replaced by high-rise apartments stuffed full of young white hipsters.

Mountains review

The cultural effect of his job isn't something Xavier appears to give too much thought to. He doesn't have the luxury of activism. He has a wife, Esperance (Sheila Anozier), and teenage son, Junior (Chris Renois), to take care of. When a friend asks him if he would demolish his house if his job required him to do so, Xavier wastes no time in answering in the affirmative. He also turns a deaf ear to the blatant racism directed the way of his black co-workers by the Cubans they work alongside.

Those who live privileged lives and spend most of their time online rather than in the real world will probably scold Xavier, but they'd be directing their ire in the wrong direction. After all, Xavier's community is ironically being replaced by the sort of middle class white class liberals who would look down on his actions, or rather inaction.

Mountains review

Sorelle isn't interested in scolding Xavier, though his flaws are certainly exposed. He treats his son with contempt for dropping out of college and pursuing a career as a stand-up comic while working as a hotel valet, because he can't understand why Junior wants a life of his own rather than the one he imagined for his son. He also can't appreciate why his wife is content to live in a home he considers too small (it might be small by American standards but it's positively palatial to the rest of us). Over the course of the narrative Xavier comes to appreciate the life he's built. He sits on the end of his son's bed and talks with pride about all he's built for his family. He looks longingly at his wife before taking her hand for a dance at a communion party. Nazaire's performance is objectively amateurish but subjectively compelling. There's a naivete to some of his interactions that adds an element of realism, and his raw chemistry with Anozier will have you wondering if they aren't a real life couple.

In the background of all this there's a quietly developing offscreen tragedy, that the world Xavier is finally growing content with is disappearing around him, and with his help. The district is literally being levelled and his son refuses to speak in French Creole with his parents, answering questions posed in their language with English and working their old-fashioned ways into his comedy routines. The greatest irony comes when a home for sale Xavier has set his eye on is purchased, but only for the purposes of itself being demolished by his own crew. This home represented a dream of social climbing for Xavier, but like so many working class people he finds that the ladder has been pulled up before he can grasp the first rung.

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