How to Conquer America in One Night Review




AKA: Comment Conquerir l’Amerique en Une Nuit
Genre: Drama/Comedy/Slice-of-Life
Year Released: 2004
Distributor: ArtMattan/Facets Video
Origin: Haiti/Canada
Running Time: 91 minutes
Rating/Recommended Audience: 13+
Related Films/Series: On the Verge of a Fever
For Fans Of: Sangam, How to Make Love to a Negro Without Getting Tired, Coming to America, Grigris, A Sense of Humor, Milk and Honey
Notes:
-Spoilers will be mentioned in this review.

-How to Conquer America in One Night is a sequel to On the Verge of a Fever that takes place at least 30 years after that movie and Fanfan is a main character in both films. However, one can watch this movie independently for the most part. Also, spoilers from On the Verge of a Fever will be mentioned which I’ll explain in the intro.
Fun Facts:
-How to Conquer America in One Night is the third film adaptation of Dany Laferriere’s books, but the first one where he got to direct it. Laferriere is an author, journalist, and filmmaker originally from Port-au-Prince, Haiti, but resided in Quebec, Canada for most of his adult life before moving to Miami, Florida after the creation of this film. He makes a cameo in the talk show footage. Some of his other works include How to Make Love to a Negro Without Getting Tired, Dining with the Dictator, and The Return among others. Also, Laferriere is an officer of the National Order of Quebec and Order of Canada.

-The adult version of Fanfan is played by Cameroonian-Canadian actor/author/politician (yes, really) Maka Kotto. He has also acted in movies such as Lumumba, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, and interestingly enough played a Macoutes officer in On a Verge of a Fever. Yes, a member of Duvalier’s secret police would eventually be Fanfan himself in this sequel movie which came out the same year. Kotto was a former Minister of Culture of Communications in Quebec.

-Montreal has a 10.3% Black population in that city. It also has the largest Haitian population compared to the rest of Canada from both a city population and metro area standpoint. Interestingly enough, Haitian Creole is the seventh most spoken language throughout the entire province of Quebec. To put this in perspective besides the obvious official language spoken in that province (French), Haitian Creole is just under Italian and two spots under Arabic.

Here’s a double whammy with a review like this. I get to cover a Haitian film that isn’t a documentary while simultaneously counting as a French-Canadian movie with most of the action taking place in the Land of the Maple Leaf’s 2nd largest city of Montreal, QC. Hooray for unlikely firsts, I guess? It all happened while checking out one of ArtMattan’s many 2-DVD sets, but this time, both films are actually connected from a canonical standpoint, so that was a nice twist. With that said, I was originally planning on reviewing On the Verge of a Fever, but I scrapped it after doing research after my viewing of it. Long story short, I loathed that movie. The story was convoluted, most of the comedy wasn’t funny, the plot twist at the end was insulting and I was fuming at the fact that an adult woman had sex with a 15-year-old boy even though they do cut away from those scenes. Even The Garden of Words didn’t go THAT far (both respective male leads are the same age, too!), and everyone would scream bloody murder if the genders were reversed in that situation! Things got even worse when doing my Googles and finding out that cast member/composer Luck Mervil pulled off a Rob Lowe and got a soft sentence for fooling around with a minor when he was convicted over a decade after that film was released. (I’m shocked that a Black man would get that light of a sentence anywhere, but that’s a story for another day). Yeah, I wasn’t going to bother with that I want to keep problematic reviews away as much as possible even though sometimes the dirty laundry comes out after I watch and review something even years after the fact. I hate having to scrap reviews especially after I watch something. However, I didn’t feel comfortable writing a review on that movie especially knowing what I know now even though I would’ve given it a 1/10 if the Mervil issue didn’t happen. I did wonder if the sequel would be an improvement especially with a different cast and crew for this go around.

Will this film conquer both Haitian and Canadian cinema?

How to Conquer America in One Night involves the life of a young man named Gege (not the same character from On the Verge of a Fever) who’s from Port-au-Prince, Haiti. He dreams of leaving the country and planning on conquering America. Not invading the country by force, but by living there, escaping poverty, eating burgers, and the biggest goal being to score a blonde white woman as a girlfriend/wife. Fortunately for him, he has an uncle living in Montreal, Quebec who happens to be a middle-aged Fanfan who moved to Canada twenty years prior to the events of this film. Gege is able to fly from Haiti to Canada and reunited with his uncle. He stays at his small apartment in the city and is enamored by the ennui of Quebecer culture with TVs, taxis, and experiencing snow for the first time. Fanfan isn’t exactly a poet like in his life goals, but rather a cabbie although he still reminisces over Haiti through cooking and having some Haitian flags around his place. Two neighbors come to visit Fanfan and his nephew that day and they are the Tremblay sisters. They are middle-aged fraternal twin sisters who live upstairs from Fanfan. There’s Denise who is a shy woman that harbors a ton of internalized sensuality and her sister Andree who can be off-color at times, but does her best to be welcoming. Gege quickly adjusts to living in Canada although he’s still naive about how the country works. Things take a change for him when he sees a blonde woman in passing as well as the learning about the history between Fanfan and the Tremblay sisters.

For starters, I will definitely say this was a massive improvement from On the Verge of a Fever. The indie production gave it a grounded feel, there was great acting in multiple scenes, and the comedy featured was actually funny. It was hilarious with Gege being so oblivious about the culture and having unrealistic expectations. Him thinking a burger being a luxurious thing was funny and Fanfan warning him that it’s pure cholesterol wasn’t heeded as he still wanted to experience eating it. Even his reactions of the talk show on TV were fascinating like temporarily muting the immigration debate while answering questions as an immigrant before un-muting it with uncanny timing with one of the politicians “answering” Gege’s question or when a blonde model shows up, he pulls himself within point-blank range of the TV. Fanfan’s character was interesting with his go-around being disillusioned in Canada while at the same time not losing his heritage. He does act as a voice of reason for Gege as well as being hospitable, but even he has his issues when interacting with the Tremblay sisters, mainly Andree who is later revealed to be his ex-wife even though she still talks to him. Andree was a complex character of sorts with her being a bit of a loudmouth at times and can be a bit too extroverted, but she had her own unique things going on. During the dinner scene, she is self-aware of her weight like owning up to being called “fat” despite Gege telling her she’s not (Andree is visibly on the obese spectrum). Even though it was revealed that Fanfan cheated on her, she actually cheated on him at the same time which she takes responsibility for and even then she wasn’t fully over that divorce. Basically, their relationship backstory has become the cinematic form of a certain mid-tempo R&B ballad by Sheffield’s favorite synth-pop band if you really think about it.

Sorry, the parallels were right there and I had to point it out. Going back to the film in question, I did like the realistic indie film-style of cinematography where everything was grounded, yet never felt low-budget. The usage of Haitian music even in the Montreal scenes was quite symbolic as it shows how Haiti never left Fanfan whenever he’s shown on camera. I did like some of the critiques of the West looking down on Haiti like Andree calling out her own sister for addressing that Caribbean nation as a “living hell” even though she had never been there in her life or how Fanfan makes little comments about how Haitians having to massively adjust to Quebec even though there’s technically not a language barrier with both the province and the island nation being Francophone spaces. The ending was positive with Fanfan and Gege living their own lives even with the issues of being in different places. There was certainly a good amount of effort put into this film and I would put this on a list of sequels better than the original movies, so good on Dany Laferriere being in the director’s chair for a story he wrote to begin with.

How to Conquer America in One Night is better than On the Verge of a Fever, but me giving this a 10/10 would be very dishonest of me to do so. One minor flaw was the intro involving very dated CGI with the taxi and flora around it. I thought it felt incongruous to the filming style of this particular movie. The subplot of Fanfan reminiscing over the Rosaline woman felt very random especially after watching On the Verge of a Fever. There wasn’t a Rosaline character in that previous film, so was she a different woman he saw when he was still in Haiti? If one watches this movie in isolation, it will be no issue, but for someone who saw both, I was a bit confused there. The Rosaline subplot does play a big part especially in the final act with Fanfan deciding what he wants to do with his life, but it felt a bit tacked on even if it did lead to actual character development. This would also be a case of unintentional period piece syndrome with the big computers, the “giant TV” not being that big and clearly not a flat screen, or the cell phones looking straight from the early 00s. Not only that, but Uber and Lyft weren’t a thing yet, so regular cabs are more common and they clearly don’t have GPS devices like now. The title is a bit of a misnomer because Canada isn’t America nor has it been a colony of that country. One could argue that Gege being with his uncle in Montreal would be a stepping stone to being in America, but that’s a bit of a stretch. My biggest issue with this film was somewhat similar to the previous film based on Dany Laferriere’s work although for different reasons. It involves the Denise character. Although there’s technically no villain in this movie, I thought she went overboard with protagonist centered morality with her actions. Denise, I’m sorry to hear that you were widowed, but that isn’t carte blanche to be horny with two different men. She is sexually coercive to Gege when she finds out he’s alone due to his uncle at work which Gege thankfully refuses. Denise does even worse by dragging Dieusel (Fanfan’s friend) in her apartment room even though he was just asking about Fanfan, closes the door after the fact, forcefully takes his clothes off and has sex with him on the spot. How is this not false imprisonment let alone female-on-male rape? I found that scene to be insulting and nothing ever happens like it’s some sexual non-sequitur as if a man is supposed to “want it” at all times. I could make a reference to a certain random trope that originated with All Dogs Go to Heaven, but I don’t want to give anyone disturbing images, give props to Nostalgia Critic (even though Lindsay “Don’t call me Nostalgia Chick” Ellis was involved in that episode while making said reference), or give REALLY bad ideas to furries. With that joke aside, if the situation was reversed, everyone would be horrified and the fact that it would be a Black man forcing himself on a Caucasian woman would feed into racist propaganda that’s been around for centuries. The fact Denise got away with it is sickening and I diminished the score by a few points because of it.

This was a decent dramedy work, but I have seen much better with that fusion of genres. The acting and comedy was sound. There were certainly a few laughs here and there mainly involving Gege’s naivety to being in Canada or Dieusel’s superstitious theories about Montreal’s winters being a deterrent to Black immigrants. I did like some of the character development and social commentary about immigration. However, some parts have aged with the environment and technology. The Denise character became very insufferable in the final act and manages to be a Karma Houdini moment that men would NEVER get away with regardless if they’re fictional or real life. How to Conquer America in One Night was an improvement over On the Verge of a Fever which I appreciated, but some flaws diminished my viewing enjoyment.

Adjustable Point System:
-Add 1-2 points if you like Dany Laferriere’s work.
-Add 1 point if you like indie comedies.
-Subtract 1-2 points if you like bigger budget movies.
-Subtract 1-3 points if you don’t like social commentaries on race or immigration.

Pros:
-Competent cinematography
-Very good acting
-Sound social commentary

Cons:
-Awkward CGI in the opening credits
-Unintentional period piece
-Denise is a VERY loathsome character for the wrong reasons

Final Score: 6/10 points

Content Advisory: How to Conquer America in One Night is more tame than On the Verge of a Fever, but this would be better for teens and up. There’s some language and innuendo in the dialogue. Some drinking and smoking happens; Andree did hit the wine glass a bit during the dinner scene. The concepts of systemic racism and immigration are mentioned at multiple points. Denise is way too forceful with her sexual prowess by attempting to rape…I mean seduce Gege before succeeding in doing so with Dieusel in her apartment room where she keeps him inside despite him not wanting to be there and takes his clothes off before forcing herself on him.

-Curtis Monroe

All photos and videos property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws. How to Conquer America in One Night is property of ArtMattan and Facets Video. The poster is from IMDb and is property of ArtMattan and Facets Video.

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