The Agronomist

"Excellent"

The Agronomist Review


The Agronomist, a documentary from director Jonathan Demme (The Silence of the Lambs, Philadelphia), works for the same reason his previous non-fiction cinema (Stop Making Sense, Cousin Bobby) does. He picks an interesting subject, and then steps out of the way. Here he profiles the inimitable voice of Radio Haiti Inter, Jean Dominique.

In 1968, native Haitian Dominique bought Radio Haiti Inter and turned it into the one source of information unfiltered by the government. He broadcast his anti-establishment message in Creole, unprecedented in his country as all other stations catered to the wealthy by speaking French. This demonstrated his mandate to use the station to "serve the people" by being a consistent voice for democracy.

For his trouble, he was sent into exile on two occasions by the brutal regimes that successively controlled Haiti. Each time his station's equipment was destroyed, he returned, rebuilt, and started all over again. We are even shown the bullet holes that still riddle the station's edifice.

The only thing more fascinating than the story is the man. Dominique is a wonder to watch. His dynamic, percussive speaking style and wide-eyed visage of utter conviction is transfixing. And for all the tragedy that touches his life, he remains the most cheerful interviewee in the film.

This is why Demme's style works so well here. All he has to do is set up the camera and let Dominique speak. He could run two hours of that talking head and still have an entertaining documentary to show for it. Fortunately, he puts in a little more effort than that.

Music provided by Wyclef Jean and Jerry "Wonder" Duplessis is ubiquitous, yet unobtrusive. Demme uses not only the music, but Dominque's own rhythms and speech patterns to inform the editing. To accentuate the journalistic aspect, lettering appears across the screen like a teletype to introduce us to the major players.

Most of Demme's touches help, but occasionally he goes too far. Though repetition can be good for emphasis, cutting to Dominique saying the same couple of words three times in rapid succession reduces him to a Haitian Max Headroom.

A more fundamental problem involves the shrouded causes behind what we see. Demme does a good job of establishing connections between the CIA and the chronic coups that plague the nation. But the motives for U.S. involvement remain murky at best. Dominique's passion for justice and democracy is abundantly clear, but the roots of that commitment are only lightly touched upon in a brief discussion of his father. We learn a lot of the "what" in this film but very little of the "why."

What Demme does accomplish is similar to one of his subject's most effective strategies. Dominique would bring in news from around the world that his listeners would hear nowhere else, including news of similar plights in Latin America or the Middle East. These stories would shed light on what these people were experiencing at home. Like Dominique, Demme understands the power of allegory.

So, in telling us the story of The Agronomist, Demme reflects not only on Haiti, but on Iraq and countless other countries that have witnessed the bloodshed that's part and parcel of outside influence in political struggle. At one point in the film, the U.S. sets up an interim government in Haiti promising to hand over power to a democratically elected body at a later date. Demme doesn't have to highlight the implication. As with his subject, he need only step out of the way and let the events speak for themselves.

Reviewed at the 2004 Philadelphia Film Festival.



The Agronomist

Facts and Figures

Run time: 90 mins

In Theaters: Wednesday 31st March 2004

Distributed by: ThinkFilm Inc

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 94%
Fresh: 67 Rotten: 4

IMDB: 7.5 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

New Movies

Imperium Movie Review

Imperium Movie Review

First-time filmmaker Daniel Ragussis takes an unusual approach to this thriller. Since it's based on...

The Girl With All the Gifts Movie Review

The Girl With All the Gifts Movie Review

Like a 10-years-later follow-up to 28 Days Later, this small British thriller takes a refreshingly...

The Magnificent Seven Movie Review

The Magnificent Seven Movie Review

Director Antoine Fuqua brings his usual fascination with violence to this remake of the iconic...

Bridget Jones's Baby Movie Review

Bridget Jones's Baby Movie Review

As it's been 12 years since the last Bridget Jones movie, expectations aren't too high...

The Beatles: Eight Days a Week - The Touring Years Movie Review

The Beatles: Eight Days a Week - The Touring Years Movie Review

A-list director Ron Howard worked with the surviving Beatles to assemble this engaging documentary, which...

Blair Witch Movie Review

Blair Witch Movie Review

It's been 17 years since The Blair Witch Project shook up the cinema and created...

Anthropoid Movie Review

Anthropoid Movie Review

Outside the Czech Republic, few people know about Operation Anthropoid, a spy mission in 1943...

Advertisement
Kubo and the Two Strings Movie Review

Kubo and the Two Strings Movie Review

From Laika (The Boxtrolls), this is one of the most beautiful, sophisticated animated films in...

Captain Fantastic Movie Review

Captain Fantastic Movie Review

An offbeat comedy-drama with a timely kick, this charming family road trip takes on some...

Hell or High Water Movie Review

Hell or High Water Movie Review

Sicario screenwriter Taylor Sheridan delivers another fiercely intelligent, engaging story that maintains high suspense while...

The 9th Life of Louis Drax Movie Review

The 9th Life of Louis Drax Movie Review

With heavy overtones of Hitchcockian mystery and intrigue, this stylish thriller is the enjoyably melodramatic...

Kickboxer: Vengeance Movie Review

Kickboxer: Vengeance Movie Review

The 1989 Muay Thai action movie Kickboxer starred a young Jean-Claude Van Damme, who pops...

Julieta Movie Review

Julieta Movie Review

Iconic Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar is back with another powerfully complex female-centred drama, along the...

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping Movie Review

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping Movie Review

An astute satire of the pop music business, this raucous mock-documentary is consistently hilarious from...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.