God Loves The Fighter – a review°

gltf-finalOn December 3, at the MovieTowne and Caribbean Cinemas cineplexes nationwide, the local film God Loves The Fighter will makes its cinematic première to audiences here in these islands. This darling of the 2013 Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival—People’s Choice winner among other accolades—only had limited release then, eight sold out showings, and continues on the international film festival circuit.

Audiences will be able to finally see this slice of life of the gritty reality of survival and existence in East Port of Spain. It is a sharp contrast certainly for some [Westerly] readers, but going to see this film becomes a necessity.

Film makers and screen writers Damian Marcano, originally from Trinidad and now based in Los Angeles, along with his creative partner in his Blue Cinamon Group, Jamaican Alexa Bailey have created a kinetic visual experience that revels in MTV-style rapid editing and story-telling that remains anchored in how we sound, how we look, and how we live in Trinidad outside of the gates. A film parallel may be the Brazilian crime drama and multiple Oscar-nominated City of God (2003), but the pulse of this film, enhanced with music from Freetown Collective and Q-Major, allows the viewer to acknowledge that local cinema has evolved.

Helmed by a number of new actors including Muhammad Muwakil and Lou Lyons of the music group Freetown Collective itself along with veteran thespians Albert LaVeau, Errol Sitahal and Penelope Spencer, the film introduces us to Charlie Ward (Muwakil), a “resident east of the lighthouse” who is trying his best to stay on the right path. His story unfolds as a narration by a vagrant, King Curtis (Lyons)—a robber-talk rant of a mad-man’s reportage—against the background of the delinquency, unfulfilled opportunities, and the brazen and oft idealistic hubris of criminal dreamers.

Charlie’s choices range from limited to none in this version of Port of Spain, and the circumstances that lead him to accept the role of “security” for a drug runner, Moses, also bring him in contact with what could possibly be his redemption, a pretty prostitute named Dinah (Jamie Lee Phillips) who sees one perverse degradation too many and needs a way out; out of town, out of that way of life. Without retrograding into a maudlin love story, Charlie and Dinah’s encounter drives the film to a climax that reveals the moments of tragedy and triumph, right and wrong, death and survival.

GLTF - Promotional (5)
Muhammed Muwakil and Jamie Lee Phillips in a scene from God Loves The Fighter

Phillips, a popular fitness model here in Trinidad, trades in the gloss and sheen of outward beauty to portray the seedy underbelly of the oldest profession with all its ugly exterior and internal regret. A transformative performance if ever there was one with enough naive acting ability to add a sense of realism that pervades the film. You could believe these people are really the characters, if only you had not seen them somewhere else on this small island.

Janine Charles-Farray
Janine Charles-Farray

There are other casting choices like artist Darren Cheewah playing Putao Singh, the local drug lord and brothel owner with a sense of bravado to behold. Abdi Waithe and Christopher Watson play criminals “Stone” and “Izaman” respectively with knowledge and form too close for comfort. A surprising turn as a fed-up housewife of the drug runner was made by Janine Charles-Farray who in her one scene delivered a fusillade of obscenities towards her reprobate husband that belied this charming marketing specialist by day, but made her character’s frustrations clear.

There are things we take for granted, but shouldn’t. There are images of real vagrants just existing intermingled with film fiction. There are allusions to a kind of stultifying poverty where getting a plate of food is a sign of a kind of frustration beyond ordinary expectations. The burden of mothers, the conversations of criminals all point to a film experience that local audiences must share in to fully understand this country. This is not dour cinema, it is a cathartic revelation.

Options for entertainment have been guided for a long time by metropolitan styles and likes, and this entry for an alternative, which was popularly subscribed at TTFF 2013, sets a very high standard for us to measure how well we can become weavers of our own tales for the screen. We are also participating in the business of cinema. We are told that the film industry is to be one of the diversification areas for the local economy. We should be so lucky to part of the new trendsetter in local cinema.

  • An edited version of this review appears in the Westerly, Issue 79, December 2014.

© 2014, Nigel A. Campbell. All Rights Reserved.

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