A deconstruction of one of the grand narratives of civilization - liberalism - Bertrand Bonello's Zombi Child is a provocative and profound experience, one which invokes Haitian pathos and Voodoo mysticism to reflect on colonialism, the global south, and abstract notions of progress. A story of reclamation, Zombi Child is pointed and pedantic from the onset, detailing the ubiquitous nature of liberty, progress, or any ideal when it is implemented in material terms. Clear-cut and resolute in establishing that history itself isn't linear but a constant and continuous struggle between the powerful and the powerless, Bonello's film draws from the life and legend of Clairvius Narcisse to tell a multi-generational story of past and present, with the ties of history reverberating throughout - a reminder that we as individuals in the present are not disparate nor detached from the past. Zombi Child is highly ambitious and while one could certainly argue it becomes a bit unwieldy in its constructional narrative cadence, the film's expansive nature is endlessly impressive, managing to be grandiose and piercing thematically while never obfuscating the intimacy of the main characterization - a Haitian-born teenager living in France. Formalistically, Bonello's film is beautifully rendered, with an aesthetic that injects an atmospheric dream-like quality in certain moments, reinforcing the themes of this film centered around an unjust world build off of exploitation and oppression while also evoking the internal psyche of its central protagonist, a character who doesn't quite fit in due to her own cultural background and unique identity. Through the central protagonist, Zombi Child traverses horror film sensibilities to deliver a poignant study of identity, one in which the implicit ostracization of the outsider is prominently felt. Assimilation is nuanced, and the film wonderfully embraces the strained relationship between one's past and present spatial and metaphysical environments, as this young woman balances these two worlds, each of which via for her identity. While Zombi Child may not be perfect from a narrative perspective, Bonello's ambitious film is one that should be praised, providing a vision of Haitian culture and a sense of liberty which is fundamentally social, one which by-and-large is not confined to any economic or political entanglements.
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