Fable of Tangy Pleasures and Grim Realities on Guadeloupe


Like Elza the woman (ripely embodied by Stana Roumillac), “Elza” the movie is sensual, sun-kissed and emotionally secretive. Bathed in the flamingo colors and Caribbean rhythms of its location, this deeply personal debut from the writer and director Mariette Monpierre develops with a lingering attention to sensation and sound.

Clinging protectively to her swaying heroine, a Parisian student returning to her birthplace on Guadeloupe to seek the father she barely remembers, Ms. Monpierre translates her own experiences into a tangy island fable. Operating on instinct, Elza infiltrates her father’s luxurious home by posing as a baby sitter for his 6-year-old granddaughter, only to discover a family frayed by adultery, mental illness and the devastating bigotry of light skin against dark.

Effectively balancing these grimmer themes, Ms. Roumillac gives Elza a youthful, searching energy. Alive to the caress of air and water, her body’s instinctive response to random pleasures — like a beach party or a man’s approving gaze — is as mesmerizing as the island’s dazzling cliffs and butterscotch beaches. Elza’s thicket of copper hair may repel her father, but its springy resilience is emblematic of her untamable determination to change his mind.