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Looking for Legba

I spent more than two months in Port-au-Prince, looking for Legba, walking all day long in the streets. I think I know every basketball court and soccer field in the city, every school yard, every place where young people gather. I met about 200 boys between the ages of 16 and 22, and did a screen test with each of them. I must admit I was really discouraged. And then, a boy I had met the day before arrived with his cousin, Ménothy. As soon as he came through the door, I knew it was him. He had the grace I had been looking for the whole time, combined with the necessary shyness to be Legba. There was just one problem: Ménothy didn’t want to audition, he was just there to be with his cousin. My first job was to convince him to do a screen test. At the first improvisation, my intuition was verified: the way he spoke was real, he was comfortable in his body. He also had a very impressive sense of rhythm, he was able to be quiet, wait, look, which is very rare, at the beginning for a non-professional actor.

Later on, we had to push back the shooting for one year and I lost Ménothy. No more telephone, his friends pretended they didn’t know what happened to him… It took me a month of investigation to finally find him. Stubbornness sometimes pays!

‘Tourists never die

One particular scene sums up the essence of the film: the one where the inspector, who has come to investigate the death of the young couple, refuses Ellen the right to play any role in this story. It is terrible for her. She says that she and Legba argued, that she feels responsible for his death; she claims a role that the inspector denies her. It is impossible for her to have any importance whatsoever in this country that turns its back on her, that will not recognize her. The words that the inspector says in Creole, and which Albert translates for Ellen, I heard them from the mouth of Dany Laferrière. At one point we were afraid of going to Port au Prince to shoot and he said to us, «Go ahead, tourists never die.» We rewrote the scene with the inspector while we were there to include this line. It really is a terrible blow, it forces the tourist (the spectator) to acknowledge his condition as the eternal observer who will never have the possibility of taking part in the story that is unfolding, even when he has the feeling he is living it.

This reminds me of when we were shooting in Port au Prince, and the market scene in particular. People would walk by, only inches from the camera, without even acknowledging its presence. There was no aggressiveness towards us. More like a negation of our presence, comfortable, yes, for shooting, but quite astonishing to experience. When you do not exist in the eyes of others, you feel as though you no longer exist at all.

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