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April 6, 1984


EUZHAN PALCY brings so much warmth to her film ''Sugar Cane Alley'' that even a funeral scene midway through has an unexpected sweetness. Set in Martinique in 1931, ''Sugar Cane Alley'' explores the lives of black plantation workers through the eyes of a quiet, perceptive 11-year-old orphan. More than the story of how Jose, who is played beautifully by Garry Cadenat, makes his way out of the shantytown of the title to become a brilliant student and, perhaps later, a writer, ''Sugar Cane Alley'' is the story of an entire way of life. In describing it, Miss Palcy chooses her details sparingly and well. In ''Sugar Cane Alley,'' which will be shown tonight at 8:30 and tomorrow at 1 P.M. as part of the New Directors/New Films series, Jose lives primitively but happily in a shack with his grandmother, M'Man Tine (played by Darling Legitimus, whose performance is as gently memorable as her name). At first, the richly sepia-toned film simply traces the routine of their daily lives and observes Jose's exploits with the other black children living in the alley. There is the day, for instance, when they find an egg, decide to cook it and divide it a dozen or so ways, happen upon some alcohol while attempting to start a fire, and very nearly wind up burning down the village. The most important influence on Jose is an old man named Medouze (Douta Seck), who talks to the boy about Africa and helps instill in him the feeling that there may be more to life than what happens on the plantation. Medouze's legacy is largely responsible for Jose's desire to pursue his education. A bright student but also a very shy one, Jose wins a partial scholarship to a school in the capital, Fort-de-France, where his classmates are the sons of a much higher social stratum. There, he is accused of cheating on his first composition assignment. The teacher has no evidence of such misconduct, but he cannot believe that Jose's essay, without having been copied, can be so good. Slowly but carefully, Miss Palcy creates a sense of the time, the place, the traditions and the state of racial relations in the shantytown of the title. Jose's friend Leopold is the son of a white landowner, the one on whose plantation all the Sugar Cane Alley residents labor. Leopold's white father and black mother live as a married couple, but both Leopold and Jose are shocked by the father's deathbed refusal to acknowlege his son. ''It's not a mulatto's name, it's a white man's name'' is the dying man's explanation. Without overemphasizing this or anything else in her film, Miss Palcy captures the simplicity and spirituality of Jose's elders, the indifference of their white masters and a sense of what will be gained and lost by all of them in their progress toward the future. Moving Up SUGAR CANE ALLEY, directed by Euzhan Palcy; screenplay (French, with English subtitles) by Miss Palcy, based on the novel ''La Rue Cases N egres'' by Joseph Zobel; director of photography, Dominique Chapuis; edited by Marie-Joseph Yoyotte; music by Groupe Malavoi, Roland Louis, V. Vanderson, Brunoy Tocnay, Max Cilla, Slap Cat; produced by Sumafa- Orca-N.E.F. Diffusion; released by Orion Classics; presented by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Film Department of the Museum of Modern Art. At the 57th Street Playhouse, between Avenue of the Americas and Seventh Avenue. Running time: 103 minutes. This film has no rating. Jose . . . . . Garry Cadenat M'Man Tine . . . . . Darling Legitimus Medouze . . . . . Douta Seck Monsieur St.-Louis . . . . . Joby Bernabe Le Gereur . . . . . Francisco Charles

Leopold's mother . . . . . Marie-Jo Descas Madame St.-Louis . . . . . Marie-Ange Farot Monsieur Roc . . . . . Henri Melon Douze Orteils . . . . . Eugene Mona Carmen . . . . . Joel Palcy Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company


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Sugar Cane Alley  

article on Sugar Cane Alley by Euzhan Palcy