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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Sugar Cane Alley
Sugar Cane Alley
New Yorker Video // PG // October 5, 2004
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Robert Spuhler | posted April 12, 2005 | E-mail the Author
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Quick: Identify Martinique on a map. Could you?

Liar.

Alright, maybe that's harsh. I'm sure DVDTalk readers are more sophisticated and learned that the average American. But to most, the Caribbean nation's cinematic contribution has been a few moments in The Truth About Charlie and The Thomas Crown Affair.

In Sugar Cane Alley, a French film from 1983 getting top-notch DVD treatment from New Yorker Video, we get a glimpse at the workings of the Caribbean island in the 1930s through the eyes of a child trying to rise above his impoverished family life, and it is at times heartbreaking and life-affirming.

Director and novel-adapter Euzan Palcy's film tells us the story of young Jose, an orphan who moves in with his grandmother. The depth of the village's poverty is overwhelming, but Jose sees a way out through his education and, eventually, a move to the nation's capital and a prestigious private school.

The children in Sugar Cane Alley are, not surprisingly, amateurs in terms of acting. Therefore it must have been up to Palcy and editor Marie-Jos├Ęphe Yoyotte to make the performances of the children into something watchable. They both succeed brilliantly, as the children seem completely natural and at home in front of the camera.

This could have very easily descended into the depths of melodrama and, in the hands of a less capable director, probably would have been so sentimental that the story would be lost. But by relating to the setting (Palcy is a Martinique native), she is able to be incredibly truthful about Jose's life, keeping it specific to him and not just generally about the impoverished.

The DVD

Video:

For a 22-year old French film, Sugar Cane Alley looks tremendous. By today's standards, the colors are a bit faded and there is considerable grain, but it is hard to imagine a film of this age looking any better than this without considerable (and considerably expensive) restoration.

Audio:

The French 2.0 track does all it needs to do to be successful, especially in the ears of an English speaker. The background sound is faithfully relayed, and the French dialogue is separated nicely.

Extras:

None.

Final Thoughts:

An interesting, if sometimes slow, film, Sugar Cane Alley is a portrait of a time and place very unfamiliar to present-day Americans. It's a journey captured with spirit and energy by Euzan Palcy, and one worth taking.

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