of the Shells is a drama waiting to happen.
The most dramatic moment in this new Tony Maharaj film, now showing at
the multiplexes, comes actually in its opening sequence, as Laurel Wiley,
the unheroic heroines scuba-clad feet are caught in a fishermans
(Chuck Jeffrey) net.
After that, little else rises to the occasion, very much like the star
boy, Paul, played by Richard Norton.
There is nothing psychological or thrilling in this, billed as a psychological
thriller; little fatal about the attraction, and not much mayhem, either,
as the promotional material suggests.
The dialogue is empty, sometimes hardly making sense at all. The conversations
are in fact reminiscent of some of the things we have come to expect
out of the mouth of politicians.
Indeed, some of its utterances make statements like Prime Minister Patrick
Mannings that hell leave sex to the experts, or Pandays
that he is now ready to do charity work (duh?) sound like philosophy.
The unheroic heroine exhibits little acting skills. The deadpan expression
on her face, and voice, hold steady through the range of emotions the
movie hints at love, happiness, sorrow, dissatisfaction, hysteria,
Errol Fabien in a minor role exhibits perhaps the best talent of the
cast, all the members of which are tightly confined to old fashioned
stereotypes of race and gender the Afro-Caribbean male native,
sexy, stupid and savage; the exotic Afro-Caribbean woman who suffers
in silence; the Caucasian, sexually deprived female/conqueror, and the
ineffectual Caucasian male.
The most psychotic thing about the movie is the obsessive presence of
shells, in their various shapes, colours and sizes, everywhere, in virtually
every scene, in images at times suggestive of male and female genitalia
that can provoke the anti-condomisation lobby to call for a ban on shells,
Loudly hinting at profundity or mystery, but never yielding it, the movie
leaves viewers wondering when the surprise twist of plot will come; wondering
and waiting, not to breaking point, but to the point of exasperation.
Secret of the Shells climaxes with a whimper (and niggling disbelief
of thats it?) rather than a cathartic shout of satisfaction.
But for all its shortcomings, the movie allows one to sit back and soak
in the incredible beauty of Trinidad it presents through its scenes;
the kind that you are sometimes reminded of when you turn a corner and
your breath catches at the nearness of the hills of the Northern Range
and you could believe hilltop and heaven must be related, and you marvel
that its Trinidad that gave both birth; or the wonder that returns
after the first showers when the landscape suddenly turns green, as if
defying botanists and their theories of germination and growth as little
leaves peep through branches, only a few hours earlier condemned as dead.
The movie draws its strength from this natural ecstasy, mesmerising despite
or perhaps especially because of its familiarity: The wall
of coconut palms on both sides of the road seemingly blocking off the
negatives of the outside world, folding you in and inviting you through
its path to the sea in the drive to Mayaro, where most of the movie is
set; or the serenity observed from the Maracas lookout, of the North
Coast bays wreathe, waves teasingly kissing the shoreline to retreat
and return again.
That needed no contrivance, few camera tricks, and little cinematographic
technique. The camera infuses new life into the everyday scenes of Trinidad
the marketplace, the expansive seashore, the village dances
Tony Maharaj may have achieved his objective yet, of this being a showcase
of the potential of Trinidad as a location for films, even as it allows
us to see ourselves through the eyes of others.
And so mirrored, we can also renew appreciation of the place, and remind
ourselves of why we fiercely defend it to foreign critics; and reawaken
our sensitivities that have become numbed into finding one hype after
another into which we can deflect all the pressing issues of the day.
One can only speculate at what Maharaj and his crew could have done with
a larger budget and State and administrative support for the effort;
or why successive Governments have been all rhetoric and rather reticent
on support for a movie industry; speculate that they feel threatened
it may take attention away from politicians as the spotlight turns on
Triniwood instead the Mayaro village dancers, the
market vendors, the fisherman, as shown in Secrets; towards the things
that make us beautiful, and not the ugliness held up as a mirror of ourselves
by the politicians.
Herein, perhaps, lies the secret of those shells.