To Do: Little Chenier at the Angelika
Little Chenier breaks your heart, one slow, swampland minute at a time.
The story of Beaux Dupuis (Johnathon Schaech), his mentally challenged brother Pemon (Frederick Koehler) and their unlucky lives, Little Chenier is set in the bayous of Louisiana, where the sheriff gets around by outboard and most people live on houseboats.
Johnathon Schaech carries Frederick Koehler while Clifton Collins looks on.
Beaux and Pemon scrape out a living by running a bait shop, living off the charity of fishermen who leave the boys overly generous tips. Their father swings by once in a while to raid the cash register and bully them. Their mother left, Pemon tells us, the day after he was born: “I didn’t come out right and she didn’t wanna have no baby like me. That’s what Daddy said.”
When a neighbor tells Pemon he needs some “boning,” a tongue-tied Beaux is left to explain. “[Say] fornicating, that’s the proper way to say it,” he tells a rapt Pemon. Once Beaux explains that fornicating is “like dancing with your clothes off, naked and you’re lying down,” Pemon asks, “Can I get me some fornicating for my birthday?”
Beaux’s only friend is T-Boy (Clifton Collins), a gator wrangler who has woman trouble and a wild side.
Beaux has women troubles of his own. His girlfriend has just unexpectedly married the sheriff. But she’s still in love with Beaux, and not too careful about who knows it. She sets the two men on a collision course – with a helpless Pemon in the middle.
The film is too sad to be enchanting, but it nonetheless weaves its own kind of soft-spoken, slow moving spell. When it reaches its shattering end, (four men with three guns, you do the math), the audience is left with a strange mix of heartbreak and hope.
Little Chenier is simply one of the most wonderful – and overlooked – independent films to come along in years. Cannes passed on it (what the hell?) but it did snag awards at the Park City and Phoenix Film Festival. Check it out. — Olivia Flores Alvarez
90 percent of the film’s locations were wiped out by Hurricane Rita just after filming wrapped. The closing credits roll over a shot of Little Chenier Road before Rita (a lush bit of paradise) and after (a scrubbed and barren spit of land). Part of the film’s profits benefit hurricane survivors in Louisiana.