Sébastien Godron’s film Scratch (un hip-opéra) is a musical drama that follows the trials and tribulations of Leslie, a young Haitian, whose immigrant parents arrive in Montreal during the 1990s. This is essentially an immigrant story of learning to belong, finding oneself and tracing how the identity of a Haitian (Creole/French) speaking hip-hop artist finds his narrative in the by-lanes of Montreal’s neighbourhoods of Montréal-Nord and Côte-des-Neiges.
Leslie has dreams of riding the wave of musical success and being the next celebrity. His constant battle with his mother (and father) is that he is living his dream, while she (they) feels disappointed of having sacrificed her life back home to find her two sons squandering away theirs on the streets. Leslie pursues his dreams of hip-hop stardom while his brother Frantz works the streets, becoming involved in illegal activities.
Leslie soon puts together the band Light and Shadows, and their music is the reason why music thrives in our cultural veins. It questions, critiques, wonders why we are, who we are and why everyone seems to want to fit in. They fire up the screen every time they sing/perform. Their music is the highlight of the film.
The film constantly goes into flashbacks of the family’s early days in this foreign land. Like any starry-eyed immigrants, they arrived in Quebec, Canada to make it their home. The first thing that they observe when being shown around their apartment is, ‘how does one chose to leave one’s home and trade it for living in a box in a distant land?’ This for me spelt out a lot of what immigrant families go through and feel when they are served the reality of the ‘better life’ that they dreamed about. The sense of belonging is always like a distant dream, continuously unfulfilled.
While the film follows the trajectory of Leslie and what comes of his dream to become a hip hop star, there is this underlying thread about the immigrant experience; both its inherent pitfalls and challenges that traps a lot of people in the never-ending struggle of poverty and just trying to survive. It’s interesting that when Leslie’s father goes to a Service Canada office the first day after his arrival in search for a job, the first question he is asked is if he has any Canadian work experience. Having none, he has to settle for working illegally for a cab owner, using the owner’s permit and splitting profit with him in turn.
While Leslie’s brother Frantz is in prison, after he is busted for a pimping racket, Leslie is fatally wounded after an altercation with a rival at the end of a concert performance. This event shakes the foundation of everything Leslie and his family knew and had built. While Leslie braves through this near death experience, everyone around him must confront the truth of the dangerous realities that surround their everyday living.
I found Scratch poetic but tragic, for the realization of an innocent dream is never as easy as it seems.
The film opens at Cinema du Parc on September 25th and runs until Oct 1.