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Haitian Child Support

Javier Labrador

Mountains (2023)

The marketing describes “Mountains” as about the generational gap between immigrants and their children, but it’s considerably more nuanced than that. The gap is between parents who work with their hands – Xavier (Atibon Nazaire) works in demolition, part of a small crew tearing down unwanted properties in Miami’s Little Haiti, while his wife, Esperance (Sheila Anozier), is a crossing guard and dressmaker – and adult children whose job prospects are much more ethereal. Junior (Chris Renois) parks cars at a hotel and is attempting to build a stand-up comedy career by night, relying on a set that discusses how he is a disappointment to his parents. The physical realm is what previous generations are used to, while the younger people must search for their place in the cloud, the nebulous atmosphere where relationships are all. The mountains of the title are metaphorical, but this very good film knows how they rise up between where you are and where you want to be.

Director Monica Sorelle and producer Robert Colom cowrote the script, which shows its intelligence immediately: Xavier and Esperance speak Haitian Creole with each other and to Junior, who always replies in English. It’s a subtle but pointed act of defiance, identity and rebellion, made all the more irritating because Junior lives at home (with trophies still on display in his bedroom), eats their food and has dropped out of college. Xavier and Esperance are worrying themselves ragged, but credit the distance between them to his American ways and their absolute refusal to make Junior’s decisions for him. Besides, they are tired. Xavier’s decades of hard physical work are beginning to slow him down and his career trustworthiness and reliability have not paid off; his boss is promoting a hotheaded nephew over him and thinks Xavier won’t understand the racist remarks they makes in Spanish. Meanwhile Esperance is in a loop of part-time jobs, errands and constant movement; when she’s cooking (exclusively Haitian food) is the only time she stands still. Their cozy but cluttered little house – Dezray Smith’s set design does a wonderful job of making it feel organically lived in – is starting to feel like a trap to Xavier. All his hard work hasn’t gotten them nearly as far as he would like. So when he spots a bigger house for sale in the neighborhood, one that’s just about in their budget, he talks Esperance into attending the open house.

The realtor (Sydney Presendieu) also speaks Creole, but it’s not lost on Xavier and Esperance that they are the only black visitors there. And the question of the house, whether they will be able to purchase it and how that will – or won’t – improve their lives becomes the driving question of the film. Xavier is physically gentrifying the area, but while he is obviously not responsible for the changes, he’s visibly a part of it. How does it feel to be knocking down houses you can afford in order for houses you can’t to be built? Mr. Nazaire radiates a quiet intelligence that hasn’t curdled no matter how unappreciated it is; and Ms. Anozier makes Esperance’s support of her family clearly an act of love and not just a scriptwriter’s cliché. It’s nice to see a movie that treats middle-aged, working-class people with respect and their dreams with dignity – and also extends that dignity to the feckless younger generation, who have an entirely different definition of hard work. The movie was filmed entirely on location and Javier Labrador Deulofeu’s cinematography manages to be somber despite all the sunshine. There are serious issues at stake here, and they are considered seriously.

The most pleasing thing of all is that is never occurs to anyone in the family that the house might be a little more spacious if Junior moved out. That option simply does not come up. “Mountains” is a thoughtful little gem that deserves more attention than it got from the Tribeca Festival.


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