Sugar Cane Alley is the 1983 adaptation of semi-autobiographical novel by Joseph Zobel. Set in 1930s Martinique, it follows Jose and his grandmother’s attempts to get him an education and out of the sugar cane fields.
This film has a great sense of place. This film is a whole world, not just a backdrop to Jose’s story.
Race and class pervade this story. It is one of struggle to take even the first steps. Sugar Cane Alley are essentially the slave quarters from plantation times, and virtually nothing has changed, except the cane cutters are now paid in a pittance that ensures they are chained by debt instead of iron. It is Jose’s grandmother’s dearest wish to see her boy make it beyond the horizons of the sugar cane.
And yet this is not a lecture, it is a life. Yes the struggles and injustices are ever real, but so is the warmth of community, the high-jinx of youth, and the bonds of family. Jose understands the hardships his grandmother is trying to save him from, but he loves his home.
I loved watching the world of weans interact with the adults. This is a time where you just slapped a wean whenever they came close enough, coz you knew they’d been up to something even if you didn’t know what it was. And weans were more feart of their parents than lions and tigers.
A story of love in a hard world. Really lovely film.