Posted on | november 30, 2011 | No Comments
On the Aesthetics of Sovereignty and Independence: Wan Pipel (One People): Suriname after Independence as Envisioned by Filmmaker Pim La Parra (Scorpio Movies, 1976)
The premiere of the Movie Wan Pipel in Suriname, after the Independence of Suriname was a gift from its director Pim de La Parra to Suriname. A Homage to the Surinamese sovereignty and the idea of a multi-racial society indeed! The first movie about Suriname, a comedie-noir so befitting, laughter, sadness and tears rolled into one sublime Epos, welcomed by the Surinamese society, or so it seems.
The movie indeed exemplified the mood that preceded the Independence a mood of hope that Suriname would be finally on its road to total independence from the Netherlands; Suriname was finally on its way to become a sovereign nation!
This blog is in the first place about my personal perspectives on the movie ‘Wan Pipel’, rather my perspective as a child in the 1970s and then again today anno 2011. Did my perspective change and how? What transformed my vision and outlook today?
The movie Wan Pipel seen through the lens of a twelve year old in 1976 when the movie premiered indeed brought on feelings of exuberance and joy! Pim de La Parra, a Surinamese film director, made a movie about all the places so familiar, the Waterkant, the Airport, Nickerie, Coronie…..Funny languages, profane language…we hollered!
Granted the bulk of my enthusiasm was kindled by my family, my parents, whose viewpoints Suriname, the Independence and colonialism mirrored that of the filmmaker and his scriptwriter Rudie Kross. My father, a born and bred nationalist, had fervently challenged colonialism and Dutchification of Suriname and had in that capacity been one of the architects of Independence. Watching the movie with my family therefore occurred in an ambiance of triumph, “no we did not need the Dutch” ! ‘YES we could eat dirt as long as we could determine our own destiny’, no longer could “p’tata” tell us, Surinamese what to do”!
My family’s attitude mirrors that of the main protagonist, Roy Ferrol, who returns home from Holland upon the passing of his mother. But Roy is a torn man, a man with two hearts, a man who’s in constant limbo: Roy struggle with his two ‘hearts’, rather identities. One identity developed at the Dutch university and one dormant identity, reawakened and discovered upon his return back in Suriname. The battle ended as he arrived home, back from Holland his discovery of Suriname, his country in all its majestic Glory. Roy was battling with the dilemmas that were also part of my parents’ generation, the first generation of Surinamese who went to study abroad, and who had returned to work for their country. A generation forced to negotiate between their European educational background and between their Surinamese rooting. For them, the adage that the nation had to be ‘built’ had determined their decision to return to Suriname, and stay, despite the many set-backs. But Roy Ferrol feels that finishing his degree in economics will not serve the greater good, because he can serve his country in every capacity, even as lowly laborer. Only Rubia and his father question and challenge his decision to drop out of university. The character Roy, his struggle with his father, his sister, Henna, her husband Norman and her three babies, their household, were seen as typically Surinamese. Indeed Surinamese interpersonal relationships are full of conflict and mayhem but in the end always benign and amusing. The inner-conflict of Roy, fueled by his experiences as a black man in Holland facing discrimination seem to drive his decision not to return, but this aspect is veiled, cloaked and part of the subtlety of the movie.
But as Roy Ferrol becomes more involved with Rubia, a Hindustani nurse, discrimination again rears its head. But now its accepted, part of the Surinamese reality! Her parents, his father, the neighborhood, her extended family, they are all against this inter-racial relationship. He is a Kafri and she a Coolie and never the two races shall meet in the bedroom, seems to be the creed. Her struggle with her family, the fact that she was an independent woman, with her own car, working as a nurse, typifies the Surinamese woman in all her glory. Seen through the lens of a twelve year old, the relationship Roy- Rubia is not very interesting, it is part of the culture of veiled discrimination, a society where inter-racial Creole- Hindustani relationships are tolerated, but not widely accepted.
On the other hand, Carina, Roy’s Dutch girlfriend receives the brunt of criticism; the fact that she did not accept Roy’s decision to stay in Suriname was viewed as typical, the fact that she wanted him to return home, back to Holland is seen as Dutch insolence. “no, these people did not accept Surinamese and Suriname, they always wanted to impose norms and rules”. And then, her dancing, her yelling was viewed as typically Dutch, in your face, always over the top! The brutal break-up in the dark waters in one of Suriname’s many rivers invoked laughter, as Carina yelps GODVERDOMME ROY!!!!!! And after that, her sad departure did not bring on sympathy, on the contrary, the audiences in Suriname scornfully and maliciously helped wave Carina goodbye….Good Riddance!
Watching the movie today, in the twenty-first century, through the lens of a forty-seven year old woman, whose experiences are influenced but also tainted by travel, education and political change and upheaval in Suriname, a different reality creeps up! I see beautifully shot scenes, picturesque and overwhelming, indeed Surinamese natural beauty, perhaps an attempt to cover-up the really lousy acting? All the ideas on sovereignty and independence, the clichés about sovereignty, a nation where all races live together and inter-marry today seem grotesque and part of post-colonial ideas and critique (I will write on that later). I don’t see Roy Ferrol, the character struggling with his two hearts. No I see his two-timing, his indecision, his indifference instead. What I see are his sister Henna and her husband struggling to make ends meet, the fact that they have no resources to rent their own home. I see Norman, the hustler, making money to take care of his wife and children as a cab-driver and party-organizer. I know also see the ‘prasi-oso’, or the old slave courtyard, and Mr Ferrol as a slumlord who rents out these small shacks to poor lone mothers. I see Mr. Ferrol, Roy’s ultra-conservative and not to mention, racist father, whose love for his children gets overridden by fears for the future and conventions. And I see Rubia’s parents and her extended family putting their honor above the happiness of their daughter and niece. I see racism, bigotry and dogmas. And not once do I laugh, the acting is horrid and the depictions of a sovereign and bountiful nation are too much to bear. Instead the invokes outrage, because how dare these people, to toy with the ideas of independence without the slightest clue on how things would work out! What gave the previous generation the idea that Suriname would be an exception, that independence would bring prosperity and democracy? After 1976, Suriname went downhill, forcing the likes of Norman out of the country, to HOLLAND, to the council-flats of Amsterdam South-East, in hopes of finding a job, in hopes of a better future
Carina’s clairvoyant advice to Roy to hold on to his KLM- ticket foretold the course of Suriname after Independence. Indeed their relationship would never be over! Indeed Suriname would never be free of the Netherlands. Between 1976- 1980 more than half of the Surinamese population left the country, because no jobs, no perspective, no future. The people leaving in drones were people like Mr Ferrol, people who sold their homes to pay for plane tickets, all in search of a better future for their families. Placed in the context of today ‘s reality Roy Ferrol is no longer the nationalistic figure who tries to support his country, Roy Ferrol in today’s reality symbolizes an egotistical man, a man whose seeks instant gratification at all cost, eyes wide shut, trampling though life in total oblivion. A man by no means a nationalist or an idealist but an individualist pur sang. Roy is a man who abandons his loved in a New York minute, in his endless search for something intangible, hoping to find it hidden, in the arms of a woman, or perhaps between her thighs! A man who professes his love for his country by pretending to eat dirt, while at same time holding on to that what is secure, that what is safe, his connection to Holland. Roy did not give back the KLM ticket to Carina, nor did he at any moment in the movie offer to pay her back to reimburse her for the car that she sold to help him out of his penury. While in Suriname he drives Rubia’s car, eats her food, lives in her house, because he does not have a job, and he has no idea where he’ll find one, he simply has no clue…..so what will his future be like?
On Pim de la Parra
One of the sad and most striking aspects of this movie is that the Scorpio-films went bust because WAN PIPEL went way over budget. The movie bankrupted Pim de La Parra and pushed him off of his vortex as Hollands leading film-maker, the man who worked with the likes of Martin Scorsese. The film further received a cold reception at the CANNES film festival, and movie flopped at the box-office. Indeed a tragedy for the film-maker, whose visions and aesthetics are exceptional and vanguard. But Pim wanted to make Black movies as post-colonial critique, so common of the 1970s zeitgeist he wanted to tell the story of colonialism and oppression. He wanted to showcase Suriname as a nation that could embrace multiraciality. But Wan Pipel is what it is, a film noir about a country on the brink of Independence!
AUTHOR: Natascha Adama
E-MAIL: nataliapestova23 [@] yahoo.com