Aluku Liba Review

AKA: Aluku Liba, Maroon Again; Rebuilding the River
Genre: Docudrama/Docufiction/Experimental
Year Released: 2009
Distributor: ArtMattan
Origin: Canada/French Guiana/Suriname
Running Time: 90 minutes
Rating/Recommended Audience: 13+
Related Films/Series: N/A
For Fans Of: The First Rasta, Akwantu: The Journey, Queen Nanny. Stones Have Laws
Notes:
-Aluku Liba is part of a 2-disc DVD set called Rastas & Maroons and is unrelated to The First Rasta film.
Fun Facts:
-Aluku Liba is directed by Canadian filmmaker Nicolas Jolliet. He directed, edited, and scored this film. Besides that, Jolliet directed Harvest and Inside the Haiti Earthquake.

-The Aluku people are a Maroon group which refers to an autonomous ethnic group consisting of freed African slaves. In this case, they’re based in South America. The Aluku language (which is the majority of the dialogue in this film) is actually a Creole tongue that borrows from Dutch, French, and English. Given that they’re based in Suriname and French Guiana respectively this makes sense. The English aspect comes from Britain taking control of Suriname from the Dutch at one point..

-One of the locations filmed was Cottica, Suriname. It’s on the Suriname/French Guiana border and is an Aluku settlement which was refuge for the Maroon fighters who rebelled against slavery and Dutch colonialism.

-French Guiana is the only country in the Americas that isn’t an island that is commonwealth for another nation (France in this case). It is also the only South American country to use the Euro as currency. The capital is Cayenne which is named after the pepper.

-Hilarious in Hindsight: Near the end of the film, a baby is born for a new couple (spoilers avoided). Later that day, someone comes in with an ointment mixture from different plants. The next thing that happens is this person puts the mixture on his thumbs and marks it over the baby’s forehead. I surmise that it’s an Aluku tradition or at the very least a tradition passed down from an African tribe, but it’s hard watching that scene and NOT thinking about Rafiki doing the same thing to baby Simba. Tell me I’m not the only one who sees that!

This 2021 geography challenge is complete! Let’s break it down with the things I’ve reviewed this year with countries I’ve never covered before per continent. There was the Armenian/Russian short film Mountain Vigil (Armenia is a transcontinental nation, too!), the Guadeloupean/Trinidadian documentary The Black Mozart in Cuba, I-Kiribati experimental short film Aranuka Mermaid, and the Egyptian drama film Scheherazade, Tell Me a Story. That’s not even counting countries that got co-production credits in other films I checked out such as Portugal with Gurumbe: Afro-Andalusian Memories or Martinique with The Last Rumba of Papa Montero despite those two films being primarily of Spanish and Cuban origin respectively. Now I managed to get a double whammy with two South American countries for the price of one even though the director is from Canada. However, this still counts since they do have co-production credits. Enough of the congratulatory stuff though. This particular film covers a new subject in addition to featuring places from two new countries: the Maroon community. No, I’m not talking about the color and certainly not Adam Levine and friends…I mean, Maroon 5. I’m talking about groups descended from emancipated slaves of African descent. I knew they existed in multiple Caribbean island nations and I was even surprised that there were communities even in America like the town of Lakewood, Illinois of all places (the Southern Illinois town, not the neighborhood in Chicago). It was fascinating that a film would cover one of the many Maroon communities in South America, but in hindsight it does make sense with the aforementioned French Guiana and Suriname since those cultures are far closer to Caribbean culture than Latin American like most other countries in the continent.

Despite having a film background and loving geography, Iridium Eye gives me an opportunity to learn so much about different kinds of cinema as well as the cultures featured there.

Aluku Liba is a film that documents the life of Aluku-French Guinean Loeti Mais. He moved away from his home village years ago to get a job in the gold mining industry. Unfortunately, the mine he worked for was caught doing illegal activity in the rainforest and the French government was about to shut it down. Disillusioned by that job, he quits and vows to return to his village with the other Aluku people. Loeti does his best surviving in the rainforest until he’s found by one of his Aluku compatriots who recognizes him. He’s invited to the village where he is accepted as well as participating in the ceremonies, hunts, and sightseeing. While it wasn’t his hometown, he has a connection as he begins to appreciate his Maroon heritage before going back to where he was born. How will this re-assimilation back into the Aluku culture affect him as he moves away from the major cities and towns?

I knew next to nothing about Maroon cultures prior to watching this, but I certainly learned a bunch of things. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to pigeonhole all Aluku much less other Maroon groups being one and the same regardless of their geographical location and I’m glad the director made a note of that before the end credits. It was fascinating seeing the traditional drumming, rituals, and that strong sense of community in the village even as other tribes visit briefly. One of the locals even has his own narration bits where he talks about the history of the slave revolts and affects of colonization hundreds of years ago while tying it into their culture. It was even funny when the Granman (tribal chief) points to the camera during his rum offering to the ancestors and gods to protect the white man (Jolliet) filming this project since he seemed to do this for the right reasons while at the same time warning him not to betray the community which he thankfully doesn’t. They may be hospitable, but they know how to use guns and machetes. Just saying. It was a great choice letting the Aluku doing all the talking with the narrations as well as the everyday conversations happening. I will say that the cinematography was beautiful as the shots of the villages, landscapes, and wildlife were very clear. There were experimental elements especially during the first act of the movie with Loeti traveling across the rainforest to get home. It looked like a big-budget cinematic work including some special effects with the music, transitions, and brief distortions like the scene where he is affected by a tarantula’s bite which gets quite psychedelic. The music itself uses a lot of traditional drumming, call and response singing, as well as some indigenous background music. There was so much information not just told, but shown with their ceremonies and why they have them for certain occasions such as a ceremony for those who were widowed at least a year which allows them to remarry for example.

Aluku Liba does have shortcomings that I couldn’t ignore. Loeti the de facto “main character” if you will takes a major backseat right in the middle of the film. There was nothing wrong with showing the other Aluku people or their traditions, but some of those times, I thought he was forgotten until a segment or two later. I noticed that not everything was subtitled or there were delayed subtitles during dialogue and musical moments which felt so inconsistent to me. The village scenes can come off as poverty porn with some shacks and some people being naked or only wearing underwear. The biggest issue I had was the tonal and dare I say genre inconsistency. Is Aluku Liba supposed to be a docudrama or docufiction work? Trust me, there’s a massive difference between the two. The first part of the movie with Loeti surviving in the jungle felt so staged even if it looked beautiful. Later on when he meets the other Aluku, it feels like a natural documentary with a slice-of-life sort of vibe. This gave me a ton of whiplash even with the quality content. I think there should’ve been a clearly defined filming approach and it felt like the filmmakers were trying to have it both ways. The people shown are listed as “actors” in the credits which really proved the docufiction tag right. Now, I’m not against docufiction on principle since I really liked The Last Rumba of Papa Montero and Taxi by Jafar Panahi, but it’s a very arduous task mixing reality and fiction especially when the subject matter involves potentially sensitive subject matter like a shrinking autonomous ethnic group. I will say that other directors in that field such as the aforementioned Jafar Panahi and British director John Akomfrah did a much better job of coalescing experimentation, reality, and fiction in their works.

I don’t find Aluku Liba to be an offensive movie in terms of racial representation, but I just think that there should’ve been a more consistent style of filmmaking going on.This film was certainly unique, but it was inconsistent. The cinematography was wonderful, but there were times where I thought it was too good for the content of this film. The soundtrack was pot on as well as the sound design. Aluku Liba had a lot of good things, but I thought there was a big identity crisis with the presentation. While I appreciate the respect and representation of the Aluku community, I do wish there would’ve been a more decisive vision in either making this a full-on documentary/docudrama or to make a realistic fictional work with this ethnic group. The good slightly outweighs the bad here, but I wouldn’t call this a masterpiece despite the good intentions in this film.

Adjustable Point System:
-Add 1-2 points if you find the Maroon culture interesting.
-Add 1 point if you like experimental aspects in your documentaries and docudramas.
-Subtract 1-2 points if you want your movies to be grittier.
-Subtract 1-3 points if you want your documentaries to have a grounded sense of reality.

Pros:
-Very educational about Aluku culture
-Wonderful soundtrack and sound design
-Great visual production

Cons:
-Some subtitle errors, omissions, and delays
-Some parts of the movie clearly feel staged
-Identity crisis if it wants to be a full-on docudrama or docufiction work

Final Score: 6/10 Points

Content Warning: Aluku Liba would be better for teens and up. There is violence with guns and machetes, but it’s mainly for hunting. There’s discussion of the slave rebellions that happened in their pasts which can be graphic at times. Some strong language is used and there’s innuendo in one of the songs where one lyrics talks about how “soft” a man is There’s also nudity near the final third of the film where Loeti returns to his home village. Cigarettes and alcohol are used especially rum which is used as an offering for the ancestors. Speaking of which, there is discussion about supernatural things and magic, so that might be a warning for certain viewers.

-Curtis Monroe

All photos property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws. Aluku Liba is property of ArtMattan. The screenshot is from YouTube and is property of ArtMattan.

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