Although his films almost always deal with capitalism, Bertrand Bonello has never been “political” as one tends to think of the word. He is first and foremost an aestheticist, interested in the appearances and ideas of beauty as they relate to capitalism rather than the sociological and material conditions of it. Zombi Child maintains all the virtues associated with this approach — namely striking compositions and excellent use of pop music, whether to complicate the emotional state of a character listening to it or to simply channel the precise mix of feelings Bonello desires in the listener — while adding an insightful critique of colonialism and an exploration of the contradictions that liberalism and history create for liberty and revolution.
Bonello’s response to that contradiction sets not just timelines but also narrative modes against one another. The film opens in Haiti in 1962 with the story of Clairvius Narcisse (Mackenson Bijou), said to have been turned into a “zombi” and forced to work on a sugar plantation for years before returning to his family for a “second life” after the death of the Bokor (a Haitan Vodou sorcerer). These scenes are elliptical, opaque, and very light on dialogue, contrasting heavily with the present-day narrative in Paris, in which Narcisse’s granddaughter Mélissa (Wislanda Louimat) joins a sorority of four white girls at a boarding school for the daughters, granddaughters, and great-granddaughters of Legion of Honor recipients. The girls both condescend to and make genuine attempts to understand Mélissa’s culture, but as mounting horror tropes illuminate the irreconcilability of Enlightenment liberalism and the legacy of French colonialism, they instinctively drift toward skepticism and appropriation. Far from clinical or scholarly, however, Zombi Child is teeming with vivid hangout scenes and brilliant slices of life, such as when Mélissa recites a René Depestre poem as her tryout for the sorority and then, as the other girls deliberate next-door, dances in solitude to Kalesh’s “Mwaka Moon;” it is these moments that make the revelations visceral rather than didactic.
Zombi Child (2019), dir. Betrand Bonello, will screen on Oct. 1 and Oct. 2 at Film at Lincoln Center (165 W. 65th Street), as part of the 57th New York Film Festival.
Three Looted Antiquities at the Met Repatriated to Turkey
Nine other repatriated works were seized from Met Trustee Shelby White, whose collection was subject to a criminal investigation.
This week, the world’s lightest paint, Pakistan’s feminist movement, World Puppy Day, and were some of Vermeer’s paintings created by his daughter?
The Wider World and Scrimshaw
On March 28, join the New Bedford Whaling Museum online and in-person for a symposium on global carving traditions from across the Pacific Rim.
Who Will Decide on the Future of a Miami Native Burial Ground?
Native activists say sacred remains and objects dug up from a Brickell construction site should remain there, but mega-developer Jorge Pérez is pushing back.
How Can a Curator Approach South Asian Futurisms?
How do I acknowledge my shortcomings while reckoning with obscured histories and the exclusion of subaltern narratives in the fine art landscape? A working checklist for curators.
MCA Chicago Presents On Stage: Frictions
Will Rawls, Shamel Pitts | TRIBE, and Barak adé Soleil explore Blackness, queerness, movement, and dance in performances at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago.
The Complicated Legacy of Camilo Egas
The Ecuadorian painter, a leading figure of Latin America’s Indigenismo art movement, has been both praised and scorned for his representation of Indigenous peoples.
Tom Jones Zeroes in on Ho-Chunk Visibility
“I think about the young kids, the teenagers, and I think being able to see yourself represented in art is so powerful,” says the artist.
Haggerty Museum of Art Presents Tomás Saraceno in Dialogue With Dr. Somesh Roy
The artist and researcher will explore soot’s effects on climate change and public health in this online conversation.
Hundreds of Artworks by NYC Teenagers Go on View at the Met
The talented seventh through twelfth-grade students are recipients of the 2023 Scholastic Art and Writing Awards.
NYC’s Flatiron Building Sells for a Whopping $190M
The sale to outsider bidder Jacob Garlick puts an end to the protracted legal battle between the iconic skyscraper’s five former owners.
McKnight Visual Artist Fellows Discussion Series at the Minneapolis Institute of Art
The series features 2021 Fellows David Bowen, Mara Duvra, Rotem Tamir, Ben Moren, and Dyani White Hawk in conversation with renowned curators and critics.
The Best Memes Roasting the “We ❤️ NYC” Campaign
A graphic designer on Twitter created a hilarious send-up of the universally reviled logo, and the rest is history.
Did You Know These Museums Were Free for New Yorkers?
The “Free Admission” campaign is advocating to make ticket pricing information more transparent to visitors, who may be confused or misled by institutions’ language.