For decades, political dramas have aped the look and feel of documentaries, growing ever more hot, handheld, and explosive, from Z to Salvador to The Constant Gardener. Ghosts of Cité Soleil, a spectacularly turbulent portrait of the chaos and bloodshed that have come to define Haiti (it was filmed in the tin-shack slums on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince), is a work of nonfiction, but watching it, I felt as though I were seeing some jagged new form of video-raw ”existential” storytelling. The movie was shot mostly in 2004, when 2Pac and Bily, brothers who are the main figures, were underworld kingpins hired as enforcers by the government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide. The no-mercy severity of 2Pac, a young man in thrall to American hip-hop, looks familiar at first, until you realize with a shudder that he’s a secret-police fascist brandishing rhymes and machine guns.
Directed by the Danish filmmaker Asger Leth, Ghosts of Cité Soleil is only barely coherent as a documentary, but then, I’m not sure I’d even use that word to describe it. It’s closer to a bulletin: nerve-shattered fragments from the edge. As Aristide is forced from power, a rebel army approaches the ghetto of Cité Soleil, eager to kill brutal young opportunists like 2Pac and Bily. It’s not clear what Leth even thinks of these two (or wants you to think), but that may express an honest view of a nation so consumed by toxic violence that it has begun to eat its young. B