Relationships. They are the backbone of all storytelling. Be they romantic, platonic, spiritual or familial, the skillful exploration of our varied relationships is the foundation upon which all great films are made. In her new documentary, UNFINISHED SENTENCES, Mariel Brown allows the audience to witness the building of her foundation, a deep dive into the loving yet tension filled relationship with her father, Trinidadian writer and poet Wayne Brown.
Like many of us, Mariel and her father’s relationship had a significant impact on her life. His death left her searching for a way to process that impact . The filmmaker uses traditional documentary methods, interviews with family and friends, old pictures and letter excerpts to help tell her tale. But the manner of their use evokes the feel of a more narrative tale and feels deeply intimate.
For instance, letters from her father are read by a man with a mellow baritone voice while snippets of the written words move lazily across the screen. This is interspersed with dramatizations of their early life together. All with a slightly washed out color palette, suggestive of film and photography of an earlier time in history.
And as Mariel herself narrates the bulk of the film, there is no barrier between the emotion of her exploration and the audience. The visuals and audio of this piece work together to make the viewers feel as if they are almost peeping in on a private therapy session. One in which the filmmaker is piecing together bits of the past to as they grapple with the present situation, the continued healing after her fathers death.
Not your conventional Caribbean film, UNFINISHED SENTENCES is a moving journey in which mundane family issues: divorce, child support, even anger over a child’s radical haircut, meets head on with larger social issues: racial strife as Mariel’s mom and dad is in an interracial marriage, patriarchy as evidenced by her dad’s need to hide his contributions to domestic life once they back living in T&T, and even the effects of a certain level of poverty as the financial reality of being a writer in the Caribbean soon sets in.
Watching the filmmaker use her father’s work and words to reconnect with who he was while sifting through the her remaining grief is both touching and inspiring. UNFINISHED SENTENCES is a tribute to relationships in which, despite the existence of tension between the players, that love can still flourish and remain.
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