Anne Rice's The Feast of All Saints
...And as that is the limit of my middle school French, the rest of this review will have to be in English! ;-)
"The Feast of All Saints" is a very solid adaptation of the novel of the same name, by Anne Rice. I was already a huge fan of Ms. Rice's Vampire Chronicles and Mayfair Witches novels when I discovered TFOAS. As a young "Yankee" African-American girl, I was immediately surprised and fascinated by the discovery of the 'gens de couleur libres,' or 'free people of color,' a large, prosperous Creole population descended from the French and their African slaves in antebellum New Orleans. Though it took me a few tries to make it all the way through the heavy book (I was about 12 when I first tried), I ultimately fell in love not only with Ms. Rice's gorgeous prose, but the strange, privledged, oppressed, beautiful and tragic world of the gens de couleur libres. I would now rate this novel as one of my top 5 favorites books ever.
TFOAS takes place in 1840s New Orleans and primarily centers around the teenaged Marcel Ste. Marie, the son of a wealthy French planter and his elegant Creole mistress of African and French descent. Though clearly illegitimate, Marcel and his sister are provided for very generously by their father. In fact, Marcel is very dependent on this man for everything and believes that he is entitled, particularly to the Holy Grail of well-to-do American men of color: a Paris education, which he dreams of day and night. In Paris, a Negro man is just a man, with no racist laws or crippling prejudices to stop him from seizing the world.
This story tells of Marcel's coming-of-age, what he is taught of the world as a child of priviledge, and what he (often painfully) learns as Truth as the blinders of wealth and entitlement are slowly ripped away.
The whole film is beautifully done. The costumes and hair alone are DAZZLING!! It is all very historically accurate and really transports you to 1820s and 1840s New Orleans and its countryside. It's true that for a Showtime presentation, it may now be considered a bit sub par. This is most evident in the opening battle scene that depicts the Haitian Revolution of 1804. Though it is pretty impressive, it seems a little cartoonish compared to what Showtime can now do. Production values have come a long, long way since then!
The actors are wonderful. The casting in this film is amazing! As far as big names go, we have Ben Vereen, Peter Gallagher, Gloria Reuben, Jasmine Guy, Eartha Kitt, Forest Whitaker, Jennifer Beals, Ruby Dee, James Earl Jones and the incomparable Ossie Davis, just for starters! The younger actor and actresses also do well. Yes, some are better than others. This film also uses accents, and, well, some actors do their accent well, some absolutely nail it, and others are pretty terrible. But hey kudos to all of them for trying, especially the younger ones.
Robert Ri'chard was wonderful in the role of Marcel. Not only was he exactly a physical manifestation of what I imagined him to be (honey skin, blue eyes, African-textured blond hair) but he did a very good job of expressing Marcel's exuberance, moodiness and intellectual curiosity.
Bianca Lawson was also wonderful in the role of Annabella Monroe. She is a beautiful actress who did a great job at expressing Annabella's sensible, sweet, down-to-earth nature as well as her quiet, dignified strength and defiance against society's expectation of her.
Though I enjoyed Daniel Sunjata's depiction of Christophe Mercier (Daniel is absolutely gorgeous to look at..that helps!), I didn't think it was complete. This is most likely the fault of the writers, but on film we get plenty of Christophe's intellectual,gentleman-to-his-fingertips image, but we do not get to see the darker, slightly unhinged, non-conformist side to Christophe's nature that was so evident in the novel. Christophe was very much a part of the gens de couleur society, but at the same time he saw through the facade and was equally depressed and amused by what he saw. We don't really see this in the film, unfortunately.
Gloria Reuben was great as Marcel's mother, the beautiful yet internally ugly Cecile Ste. Marie. As her carefully crafted financial support starts to unravel, Ms. Reuben does a great job at expressing Cecile's self-righteous anger and selfish sacrifice of her own children's happiness.
And the late, great Ossie Davis IS Jean Jacques. It is such a thrill to see this fine actor perform. Mr. Davis's character has a small but a very important role, describing his 1st person account of the Haitian Revolution...and, for the first time, causing young Marcel to question things that he's been told.
As an African-American woman, I love to see other women of African descent portrayed beautifully, and this film is full of dark beauty! The actresses glow in this film, representing all hues from ivory to deep walnut. They truly do justice to the legendary power of seduction that the free women of color possessed! :-)
As you can tell by my ridiculously long review, I really enjoy this film! I am so glad it was made! I would have liked some of my favorite scenes from the novel included in the film (the funeral of Dolly Rose's child; the first conversation of Marcel and Christophe, where Christophe is in a tree and Marcel in a cemetery; the beautiful, mad Juliet Mercier cursing out a carriage driver and hurling her cat into his face!), but it is still a pretty faithful adaptation of an important book, in my mind.
Highly recommended! :-)
P.S. Another very enjoyable film about the New Orleans gens de couleur libres is "The Courage to Love," a Lifetime film starring Vanessa Williams, Diahann Carroll and Gil Bellows. If you enjoy "The Feast of All Saints," you should check this one out as well.