Julien Neaves – Editor
There is a saying that procrastination is the thief of time and that has been the case with my plans to review the brilliant 2018 documentary Unfinished Sentences. I had first planned to do it after seeing it in the cinema (remember those days?) back when it was shown in 2019, and then last weekend when it was shown for free as part of the Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival WatchAMovieOnUs series. But alas, the thief struck again.
So today I will be redeeming my time from Mr Procastination and finally reviewing the film. Here are my thoughts in three slices:
Slice 1 – Words, words, words
Unfinished Sentences is written and directed by Mariel Brown and is an intimate and very personal look at her late father Wayne Brown (July 1944-September 2009), a prolific and acclaimed Trinidadian poet and columnist. The core of the story is Brown’s interrogation of his life, her own life and their passionate and often turbulent relationship.
Her father is brought to life in the film via video interviews he had been featured in, and also through readings of his poetry and letters. His use of language and verses are organic, effortless and entrancing and is expertly brought to life by actor Nickolai Salcedo (Hero, Salty Dog). His letters to his daughter move the narrative along while his poetry is used to enhance and underscore a previous scene.
Brown narrates the film herself which brings an additional layer of honesty and intimacy to the experience. There are also interviews with Brown’s sister, mother and friends and contemporaries of her father, including my former poetry tutor and Jamaican poet Mervyn Morris. These many voices help to shape the complex and vast narrative.
Slice 2 – Time’s Arrow
Have you ever read a poem and found yourself travelling through time? Figuratively speaking of course. Brown employs time jumping in her film as well. We start with her speaking about her father’s death and the impact it had on her. But the story will then backtrack to when her parents met and then even go further back to her grandparents. She puts a lot of effort into understanding and showing where her father came from and the experiences that shaped the man he was. We also have the subplot of her own experiences but her father remains the “landmark” as she calls him.
The past is recreated with interviews, re-enactments, photos and some archival video, which complements the polished, modern day footage. As a Trinidadian myself I was interested to hear about the country in decades past. And praise must be given to Brown and co-writer Fernanda Rossi for mapping out the story so well. The viewer never feels lost and no piece of information or anecdote ever feel superfluous.
Slice 3 – The world in a grain of sand
Unfinished Sentences at its heart may be the story of Brown and her father but it goes beyond that. It is also explores issues of racial politics, the relationship between Caribbean society and the creative (Brown as filmmaker and her father as writer), and the eternal struggle between parent and child on what is best for them. As Brown loves and fights with her father, and everything in between, we can all see ourselves in her. It is her story but it is everyone’s story. The portrait of her famous father is neither one of a saint nor an absolute sinner, but that of a man, with flaws and virtues like everyone else, and who has to face death just like everyone else.
Unfinished Sentences, like a moving piece of poetry, is raw, touching, intimate, beautiful and resonant film that will stick with you long after the final shot.
Ranking: 9 out of 10
For more from Mariel Brown you can check my review of her documentary short Smallman here.
Julien 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. Also loves promoting Caribbean film, creating board games and is an aspiring author. Says things like “12 flavours of awesome sauce”. Can also be found talking about TV and movie stuff on Instagram as redmanwriter and on Facebook at Movieville