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Review: 'La Source' finds power in small acts of kindness

Patrick Shen's documentary about a Haitian immigrant shows what is possible when people work together.

August 09, 2012|By Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times Film Critic
  • Weeks after the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti, Josue returns home for the first time in several years to find everything he once knew in ruins in the documentary "La Source."
Weeks after the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti, Josue returns home… ("La Source" )

Some documentaries just make you feel good about the world and the people in it, and "La Source" is definitely one of those.

Directed by Patrick Shen, "La Source" opens with its subject, Josue Lajeunesse, a lead janitor at Princeton, receiving the university's prestigious Journey Award, given to someone exemplifying the spirit of Martin Luther King and in this case making the problems of others his own.

Lajeunesse is an immigrant from the small Haitian town of La Source, and he works two jobs, often 20 hours a day, to support not only his own family in New Jersey but also the extended family he left behind in Haiti.

Featured in Shen's earlier film, "The Philosopher Kings," which examines the lives and thoughts of university janitors, Lajeunesse is especially passionate about improving and modernizing the water system of his birthplace.

The thousands of residents of La Source walk several hours to access a local spring, a situation made worse after Haiti's devastating 2010 earthquake.

Lajeunesse is so zealous about helping that he galvanizes others as well. Princeton students put on a fund-raising concert, and a pair of NGOs, Generosity Water and Operation Blessing, agree to help the janitor realize his dream of laying miles of pipe leading to a clean and safe village cistern.

To see everyone pitch in to build this apparatus is to have a real sense of what is possible when people work together. And to hear Lajeunesse emotionally insist that his village relations "put everything on my back" is to get a vivid sense of the power of homeland and family in immigrant lives.

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"La Source." No MPAA rating. Running time: 1 hour, 11 minutes. At Laemmle's NoHo 7, North Hollywood.

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