Film Review: Le bonheur d’Elza

Le bonheur d’Elza (2010) is a French film directed by Mariette Monpierre. The premise of this film is Elza’s search for identity. After moving to France as a child due to unpleasant conditions, a young woman, Elza, decides to return to her native Guadaloupe, in order to find her roots—and the father she has never known. After arriving at this small Caribbean island, she finds a way to get closer to her father by becoming the babysitter for a little girl named Caroline, her father’s granddaughter—and Elza’s niece. Once Elza’s father, Mr. Désiré, finds out that the babysitter is actually his illegitimate daughter (whom he never recognized as a child of his own), drama breaks in the family, eventually leading to an accident where Mr. Désiré is hospitalized, and Elza seems forced to leave the island. However, Elza decides not to return to France and instead, goes to the hospital where her father is to try to resolve their broken relationship.

Director Mariette Monpierre is originally from Guadaloupe, an overseas department of France. Thus, the views portrayed in this movie can be expected to be accurate, to an extent. The development of the plot is moderately fast, resulting in many plot holes that the director never addresses.

Plot holes aside, the movie does a good job portraying the journey for identity. Throughout the movie, the audience is capable of connecting to the emotions, feelings, struggles and victorious moments Elza experiences. The audience is also exposed to the images, sounds, and sensations of a culture that is not theirs, getting a glimpse of life in a French island in the Caribbean. Thus, the audience can see how culture and lifestyles differ between an island and the French mainland.

This film was part of a series of films shown at the French Film Festival at McDaniel this month. As part of the festival, the film gave the McDaniel community a vision of a francophone nation and its culture. Any culture around the world where the main spoken language is French is considered a francophone culture, whether or not the culture was influenced by France or Europe. As it is seen in the film, the fact that Guadaloupe is an overseas department of France does not affect or influence the way culture develops in the island.

The main cultural differences seen in the film are in regards to music and leisure time. Throughout the movie, the audience can see how the people in Guadaloupe spend their free time; they go to the beaches, hike in nature, have late night parties in the outdoors, etc. In the beginning, the few minutes that France is shown, Elza gets a haircut, but nothing else is mentioned about how the French people in mainland France spend their leisure time. This can be interpreted as French people in the main land not having much to entertain themselves with, thus making Guadaloupe an exotic escape from dullness

The film also touches on family relationships, portraying Guadaloupe as a place where good family relationships are few or nonexistent. Guadaloupe is also portrayed as a place where immorality is tolerated, almost as if it was the norm in the island. However, not much is shown about the culture in mainland France as to say that immorality is not present the mainland.

Overall, Le bonheur d’Elza is a perfect film for those who have some extra time in their hands and would like to learn a little more about the francophone culture of the French islands.