Screenshots (November/December 2012)

New films worth seeking out

Juan of the Dead

Our pick

The Bastard Sings the Sweetest Song, directed by Christy Garland (73 minutes)

You could say the subject of Christy Garland’s fine documentary The Bastard Sings the Sweetest Song is addiction. Or you could say it is poverty. Perhaps the subject is family, and the violence of the past. Or, better yet, history. Let us say this exceptional piece of filmmaking is about all those things. Ultimately, however, Bastard Sings is about a woman: the wise, beguiling, and in some ways tormented Mary Yvonne Evadne Gittens Smith, age seventy-five.

Bastard Sings opens in a tenement house in Georgetown, Guyana, where small-time businessman Muscle and his family co-exist with Mary, his mother. Mary is always smoking, drinking, going for walks to nearby shops to feed her apparent addiction. She has been working on a book of poems for years. But though she spouts her verse with ease, no written poems survive. They were destroyed in “the flood” — whether Noah’s or some more recent disaster, we cannot say. Crucially for the events that will unfold, we learn that Mary sometimes falls and hurts herself on her outings, and so her son Muscle — an ambitious and entrepreneurial cock-fighter who owns several “bastards”, or aggressive birds — decides the only way to prevent his mother from hurting herself is to keep her locked up in her small, dark room in the wooden shack they live in. “I am dying,” Mary tells the filmmakers casually in one scene.

The power of this audacious film comes not just from its authenticity and its finely crafted seams, but also from Garland’s willingness neither to judge the central character nor to engage in cheap empathy, but rather to present her as she is. We get an impression of a soul misunderstood, who seems — even beneath her alcoholic haze — to be wise beyond the point of comprehension of those around her. This is the true heartbreak of this masterful work. The Bastard Sings the Sweetest Song handles complex subject matter with ease, revelling in its buried secrets, and showing us, with a sure hand, how this Guyanese experience is a microcosm for the universal. Garland, an award-wining Canadian director, until now has been best known for her comedy films. She will now be known for this magnificent achievement.


The Cool Boys, directed by Michael Mooleedar (26 minutes)

Like the recent short-film trilogy Dark Tales from Paradise, The Cool Boys sets out to investigate one aspect of the crime problem in Trinidad and Tobago: gang life. The Cool Boys is directed by Trinidadian Michael Mooleedar, whose first film, the gritty Queens of Curepe, could not be more different from this polished production. Screened at the 2012 trinidad+tobago film festival, The Cool Boys follows a posse of friends as they get sucked into an unfortunate sequence of events, stemming from what is essentially a love triangle involving a girl in a nightclub. The plot is one of those cautionary tales about the dangers of unfaithfulness, plus elements of the criminal underworld. The film has all the hallmarks of a young director: it beams with energy and interesting visuals, but loses some steam in the nitty-gritty details. That said, The Cool Boys is also an engaging work that gives some real insight into contemporary Trinidadian life.

Juan of the Dead, directed by Alejandro Brugués (92 minutes)

Zombies are enjoying a resurrection of late. We’ve had the mash-up novel sensation Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. We’ve had Shaun of the Dead, a weird comedy-horror set in London. Now writer and director Alejandro Brugués has decided Havana is the perfect setting for a zombie flick. Sounds crazy, right? Wrong. Never before has the zombie genre been more appropriate to the real subject matter of this film: the ennui of the Cuban people.

Brugués’s film follows a simple fisherman and his friends as a mysterious disease starts transforming Cuban citizens into strange beings who seem unable to control their destinies. On one level, this is a gruesome and at times terrifying horror movie. On another, it’s a weird, off-beat black comedy, with just enough political overtones, but not too many. There’s even one unforgettable underwater scene which had me thinking of the classic thriller The Night of the Hunter. You’ll be dying for more.

 

 

Hit Me With Music, directed by Miquel Galofré (90 minutes)

The director of 2009’s Why Do Jamaicans Run So Fast? follows that film with another documentary about Jamaica, Hit Me With Music, which will screen at the 2012 Havana Film Festival in December. Like Why Do Jamaicans Run So Fast?, Miquel Galofré’s new film is a love-letter to Jamaica, and an examination of aspects of its culture not often seen by tourists. Hit Me explores the island’s highly influential music industry, particularly the dancehall scene and its key figures such as Yellowman, Elephant Man, Mavado, and Vybz Kartel, and some of the social issues surrounding dancehall culture: warring artistes, skin-bleaching, the controversy over “daggering.” This is an absolutely compelling and irresistible film which raises heavy questions while remaining entertaining. Galofré, a Spaniard based in the Caribbean, is steadily amassing an outstanding body of work.

Reviews by Andre Bagoo