So the event of the week is most certainly the Avant-Premiere of Les Enfants de Troumaron, which I had the chance to attend thanks to the Institut Francais de Maurice. I have always loved Ananda Devi, ever since I read Pagli more than a decade ago. Her prose is like poetry, and the fact that she writes about Mauritius in a way that no one has ever written about Mauritius before, especially how she turns the underlying cultural tension into art, makes her one of the most unique and refreshing Mauritian authors I have ever had the pleasure to read. One of her books has been turned into a movie previously: La Cathedrale. Les Enfants de Troumaron is based on her book Eve de ses Decombres. I have never read it, and wanted to discover it firsthand watching the movie.
The Avant-Premiere was held at Bagatelle, and the cinema was packed, not a single seat was free. We showed up early and… Ananda Devi was there! Clad in a sky blue sari, she looked more beautiful than ever. I had never seen her this close before. If I wasn’t practically forced to talk to her, I would have shied away for sure. What do you say to one of your favourite authors when you finally get the chance to talk to them? Well, I had so, so much to say to her, but only managed to tell her that I was a big fan. I guess that would have to do for now.
The movie was directed by Harrikrishna Anenden and Sharvan Anenden, Ananda Devi’s husband and son. Harrikrishna could not make it to the Avant-Premiere because he was presenting the movie at some festival in Canada. And Sharvan Ananden, in Ananda Devi’s own words, preferred l’ombre a la lumiere, being behind the camera instead of being in the spotlight of the stage, and he preferred to let his work speak for itself…
The movie opened on Eve, played by Kitty Phillips, casually pacing in the dark streets of colonial Port Louis, dressed in shorts and boots, smoking, waiting for her next customer. Seeing these familiar places in this light was quite an experience. Little things so beautifully portrayed, like the SDF (homeless) casually raising his head from his outdoor bed to check out Eve’s customers, not really interested, just out of passive curiosity. The movie is about 4 youngsters living in Troumaron, a rundown National housing Corporation set of flats on the outskirts of Port Louis, and how they all want to run away. Literally Troumaron means “brown hole”, but in the local slang, it has a dirtier meaning, which suits the place depicted in the story.
Eve is beautifully played by Kitty Phillips. I cannot imagine anyone doing a better job at impersonating the jaded 17 year old prostitute Eve. She is the backbone and the soul of the story. Her nonchalance, her resignation, her strength, her despair, which were no doubt intricately described in the book, were tastefully portrayed in the details of the scenes: Eve staring at the ceiling while smoking in her trashy room, Eve talking to her customers in night-time Port Louis, Eve shaving her head to renounce her feminity… The other actors, considering that none of them had real previous cinema experience, were really good as well.
But the beauty of the movie is the way the whole thing is packaged. The locations were beautiful and unique: Baie Du Tombeau, Apravashi Ghatt for the prison scenes, NHDC flats for Troumaron, Caudan (the steps leading to the water), the streets of Port Louis, the roof of the NHDC flats, next to a Resiglas water tank… Being a Mauritian and walking through these places every day, the scenes had a special meaning. I am not an expert, but I think the movie was filmed in a very professional and modern way. The way the killer was filmed slicing his vegetables for dinner made me think of Dexter’s opening credits. The soundtrack included a few of Menwar’s songs, which contributed to the “ghetto” atmosphere of Troumaron, and some Indian ghazal type songs which added depth to some of the scenes.
All in all, the movie was Ananda Devi material experienced in a totally different and beautiful light. And a first for Mauritian cinema. Les Enfants de Troumaron is proof that, given the right support, there might be hope for the industry. And being a young Mauritian always looking to be inspired, this movie made me feel so much more than I would have been able to feel with a non-Mauritian movie. That is why I feel the first step towards developing a sense of belonging to a country is to invest in the local arts…