Based on the autobiographical novel by Dany Laferrière, “Le Goût des jeunes filles” tells the story of a teenage boy’s experiences in Haiti through a weekend in 1971, as the death of “Papa Doc” Duvalier causes social unrest and awakes old pains in Fanfan (Lansana Kourouma)’s mother (Mireille Métellus). Her husband having been murdered by government thugs, it made her overprotective of her son. One night, trouble finds Fanfan anyway when his hoodlum friend Gégé (Uly Darly) and him butt heads with the Tontons-Macoutes and are forced into hiding. But sometimes bad things can lead to good ones, as Fanfan finds out when he takes refuge at his neighbor Miki (Koumba Ball)’s house and discovers the world of sexy young women.
The film’s literary roots are evident, as Laferrière’s words come through voice-over, characters talking directly to the camera and text printed on screen. It’s most effective though when it takes a more visual approach, making us feel the warmth of Haiti, the overwhelming colors, the festive music, the beauty of the girls… There’s also a darker side to the country, which deals with much poverty and violence. Duvalier’s gone, but he’s immediately replaced by his son, who proves as cruel and repressive, and there are plenty of petty tyrants who are more than willing to do Bébé Doc’s dirty work.
“Le Goût des jeunes filles” takes a few wrong steps, notably the subplot involving a white photographer played by Dan Bigras, who doesn’t cut it as an actor. Luck Mervil (who appears as a Tonton-Macoute) is also a better singer than an actor and many of the other performances are uneven as well, but young Lansana Kourouma does a good job as Fanfan. Director John L’Ecuyer only had a $1.5-million budget and, in his own words, “broken equipment” to shoot with, in a foreign country (Guadeloupe substituting for Haiti) and with every other cast and crew member speaking a different dialect. He still managed to make a movie that is like a little cousin of City of God, clumsier but obviously heartfelt and effectively evocative of a time and a place.