Julien Neaves, Caribbean Head Writer
Plot: A young cheese maker from a sleepy coastal village is inspired to start putting marijuana in his product and selling to his neighbours. While he enjoys the highs of his new business he also has to deal with possibly getting a girl pregnant, dogged police officers and ruthless criminals.
Context: So full disclosure—I was supposed to drop my review for Trinidad-born, Hollywood-based Damian Marcano’s 2022 crime comedy fantasy drama Chee$e after watching it twice during the Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival. And I was excited to, as last year I enjoyed and reviewed the original short, which was itself originally planned as a pilot for a series before getting the feature film treatment. But life happened as life happens, so I am only now getting to it. Though, like the title my views have now aged to perfection. With that out of the way, let’s get to my review.
Review: One thing I have noted about Trinidadian director Damian Marcano is that he is a man of confident vision. This is clear in the aforementioned Chee$e short as well other films The Fire Queen and Heart of a Monster. And that vision may have reached its apotheosis with the feature length version of Chee$e. From a saturated colour palette to animated sequences to a most cheeky use of subtitles, this is an auteur in complete control of his art. And instead of distracting they only serve to enhance what is a very strong story.
Now on the surface Chee$e may appear to be pretty simple. Skimma (Akil Williams) is fed up of island life and hopes that his booming cheese-weed business will be his ticket to escape Trinidad and see the world. But this is just the foil to a interrogation of fatherhood, Third World vs First World, crime and the criminal justice system, and religion. Yes, this is one block with many layers.
I haven’t spoken much about the characters yet, and Turtle Village is filled with some very memorable ones. You have your hero, the down-to-earth and likable Skimma who hangs his hat further than he can reach it, his loyal best friend, his unrequited baby mama, an eccentric Rasta man (actor/musician Lou Lyons, who also worked on the film’s music), a no-nonsense weed dealer named “Parrot”, a creepy obeah woman, and a dogged police sergeant eager to make his name by taking down drug traffickers (to name a few). They are all quirky, just slightly over the top and amusing in their own ways. And while the film tackles some serious issues it does not skimp on the comedy. Chee$e is a hilarious film, and at both screenings the jokes hit their targets deftly. As a Trinidadian, I always enjoy content that is unabashedly “Trini”, and this definitely fits that bill. While one foreign reviewer describes it is a “travelogue”, Trinis live where others vacation. So the odd and oddly familiar story would resonate more as a slice of life tale with a local or Caribbean viewer.
I mentioned the music earlier and the Caribbean, reggae/rapso-infused score is well done, with the main theme being quite the earworm. “Skimma don’t get no pay” (or something to that effect) has been playing in my head for weeks after I saw the film. I do think the soundtrack could have benefitted from a couple of different voices but it is a minor quibble. At the screenings Marcano explained that the film is planned to be the first of a trilogy, and I can see a lot of room left to explore Skimma and his friends’ wild journey. And while the ending can be treated as the enticing cliffhanger to another installment there is a tragic beauty and a finality in it that works on its own. In the end, Chee$e is easily one of the best Trinidadians films I have seen and it is no surprise it is making waves on the film festival circuit. Definitely get a slice of this magic when you can.
Score: 8.5 out of 10
And you can check out more reviews of Marcano’s filmography below:
Julien “Editor Jules” Neaves is a TARDIS-flying, Force-using Trekkie whose bedroom stories were by Freddy Krueger, learned to be a superhero from Marvel, but dreams of being Batman. I love promoting Caribbean film (Cariwood), creating board games and I am an aspiring author. I say things like “12 flavours of awesome sauce”. Read more.