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'Revolution' reveals Haiti's endless heartache

The scariest part of any ''Frontline" documentary, aside from the content, is the music. It's usually a couple of notes from a synthesizer. Depending on the egregiousness of a film's facts, the pitch changes from a low, ominous moan to a spine-tingling horror-movie squeal.

That scoring strategy gets a big workout in ''Aristide and the Endless Revolution." An absorbing piece of investigative journalism, it focuses on Haiti's legacy of collapse and its current misfortunes, as tied to Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the country's twice-ousted democratically elected president.

Haiti, of course, is the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, beset by military rule, a dead treasury, and killer militias happy to pass themselves off as freedom fighters. The film's director, Nicolas Rossier, argues that the international community, particularly the United States and Canada, had the clout, resources, power, and -- in the case of France, Haiti's colonizer -- obligation to help turn the country around. But instead they helped hold a pillow over the country's face, promising money and infrastructure that never arrived.

At the center of all this is Aristide, the former Roman Catholic priest who rose to power as a populist reformer determined to be the voice of the disenfranchised. Entering office in 1990, Aristide spoke out against the military, which for years held Haiti in check, and vowed to construct a functioning government.

He was ousted a few months later, then, with the support of the United States, returned to power in 1994. He was prevented from serving a second consecutive term the following year but came back in 2000 with 80 percent of the vote, only to be driven out in 2004, with approval of the United States.

Rossier has surprising access to a bevy of diplomatic, academic, and administrative heavyweights (including Colin Powell and Noam Chomsky) and Haitian political bigwigs, all with divergent opinions on what went wrong under Aristide's rule. Roger Noriega, a former assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs under George W. Bush, insists that Aristide misgoverned Haiti, adding that he chose to step down in 2004 for the good of his constituents. From what we see of the former president's fiery public speeches, his alleged capitulation seems hard to believe.

Initially, ''The Endless Revolution" seems like a bone-dry assessment of Haiti's nightmare. A narrator walks us through events in a tone that's half-professorial, half-sensationalistic. But the movie is rich with powerful supporting imagery (Haitians going crazy for Aristide), cogent conspiratorial information, and damning C-Span congressional footage, as when Representative William Delahunt forces Noriega to admit that his claims of fraud in Aristide's reelection were willfully overblown. In another clip, incisive Representative Maxine Waters demands from one panel of former ambassadors a definition of ''coup d'etat."

Rossier also sits down with Aristide, who makes a less stirring case for himself than you'd expect. He seems gentle, eloquent, and still hopeful, but defeated and understandably sad. Who can blame him? He's in a nice office somewhere being interviewed, while the world allows the country he loves so much to rot.

Wesley Morris can be reached at

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