Classroom Classics: Les Caprices d’un fleuve and Burn!

Somewhat surprisingly, no films deal directly with the Haitian Revolution – although a biopic on Toussaint Louverture is in the works. All the same Burn! transparently alludes to it, and Les caprices d’un fleuve, set in a slave-trading port in Africa, potently displays French racial prejudices in the age of the French Revolution. Neither film is new, and they would surely be markedly different if made today. But that is why showing an historical film – in both senses of the adjective – can be so helpful to students. In an old cliché, the context becomes the text. The time and place in which the story takes place is doubled by the time and place in which the film was made. And as our reviewer points out, showing such movies alongside ones of a similar genre creates a third layer of contextualization. Pretty soon nothing is just black and white – not the characters, not the prejudices, not even the older films themselves.