One of my favourite films that was streamed at the recently concluded Timehri Film Festival has to be Damian Marcano’s beautifully rendered Heart of a Monster. It is Caribbean in terms of its director (Trinidadian), its cast (Curacao), its language (Papiamento), the locales used for shooting and the way it utilizes the tribal and the ritualistic that are reminiscent of various aspects of a variety of cultures in Caribbean society.
However, the things that make it universal, as all good art should be, regardless of how confined in terms of style and expression the work might be, are the themes that seek to
address the very concept of being human. What makes us human? The fact that we can think and use our minds to create? Our sense of self? Our sense of community? Our ability to love and shield? Our emotions? These are the kinds of questions that Heart of a Monster asks, in a style that is vibrant with colour and truly visually stunning.
The film is set in an ambiguous time period (very early in human history or very much in the future of human history – even the film’s soundtrack is a lovely blend between the ritualistic and modern techno/pop music), inhabited by tribal men and women in a harsh and desolate landscape – beautifully shot and rendered in hues and tones that only add to the ancient and otherworldly nature of the setting – where they live in fear of the Monster.
The first spoken lines in the film bring one of the major themes to the forefront, that of humanness and appearance. Are we human because we look human? Is a monster a monster because he/she looks like a monster? This is the idea that is echoed in the voiceover that begins the film: “All they knew was that as far back as the most far reaching memory could stretch, they had fought the monster because it was hideous, and surely anything that hideous only wishes to do harm.”
Without truly even knowing the motivations of the Monster, or what it really was, the people of the tribe select the strongest man in the tribe to go out to the place far away where the Monster lives, where that man will attempt to kill it. Several men fail at the task, and then Guengu is selected to go forth and try his luck against the Monster, subsequent to a series of dreams that are both prophetic and symbolic – dreams in which he is alone and everyone else is gone. Guengu encounters the Monster and thus marks the beginning of another layer of the story that divulges much about the hearts of humans and monsters and how they are not so different from each other.
The costume and make-up is truly well done. In particular, the design of the Monster and Guengu’s transformation throughout the film are disturbing and achieve the desired effect upon the audience, and this make-up and tribal costuming, along with the landscape shots and the distinctive style of the director are definitely what an audience member will most remember after seeing the film. There are also some strong performances, particularly by Aithel Antonius as Guengu and Mila Palm as Elder Sun.
The film is a short, but it is so packed with the rules and mythologies of its fictional world that it is the rare short film that may actually benefit from an expansion into a feature-length production. There is enough story and memorable characters and symbols and pure entertainment that the film is enjoyable enough to make the audience yearn for more. It really does give the audience a sense of what Caribbean actors, writers and directors are capable of accomplishing – which is work that is on par with that of filmmakers around the world.
Thankfully, Heart of a Monster is easily available online, on YouTube, which means that its lessons and entertainment value can be easily accessed. The Timehri Film Festival is an important step in bringing regional cinema to people in Guyana and it must be applauded for its endeavours in giving movie-lovers in Guyana access to those Caribbean films that are not so easily accessible.