directed by Damian Marcano
starring Akil Gerard Williams, Lou Lyons, Yidah Leonard, Julio Prince
Seven years in the making Damian Marcano’s Chee$e is a mesmerising, intoxicating if even occasionally rambling and self-indulgent joy. Set in a tiny village somewhere on Trinidad and Tobago that “even the Lord seems to have forgotten” it follows the wishaway Skimma (Akil Gerard Williams), an apprentice cheesemaker, as he dreams of escaping the claustrophobic confines of his island home. Permanently broke and soon to become an accidental father Skimma hatches a plan to start selling the magical weed he has discovered in a patch tended by local rastaman and mystic Osiris (Lou Lyons). By hiding the drugs inside blocks of cheese Skimma has hit on a distribution plan that outfoxes the local cops and he soon finds that his product is in high demand. What Skimma had envisaged as a short term escape plan soon escalates as a local gambling kingpin steps up demand and negotiates to export increasing quantities of the drug to hardcore Venezuelan gangsters. As Skimma’s racket snowballs out of his control it’s not only the police that are trying to pin him down as the expectant mother of his baby calls on the spirits to force him to face up to his responsibilities.
The first instalment of a planned trilogy Marcano takes his time introducing his characters and their environment. Through lengthy, and often very sharp and funny, dialogue sequences we get inside the mind of Skimma and his cohorts, we learn about their traditions, their culture and their frustrations. The idyllic beaches and lush flora backgrounding an island life dependent on the tourist dollar. The story rolls out slowly giving Williams the opportunity to bring Skimma to life. And it’s a remarkable magnetic performance.
Marcano uses a lot of tricks. The movie is subtitled but the text is dynamic, moving around the screen in sync with the rhythm of the words, sometimes expressing verbal intent rather than literal dialogue. It works well as does the insistent soundtrack which switches styles frequently but always remains driving the movie forward, like one long mixtape.
Some viewers might be frustrated that the film ends at a moment of jeopardy for Skimma, and there’s always the possibility that Marcano might now be distracted by bigger projects and leave his story unfinished, but for me the near two hours on the island were a joy. Whether we ever do find out what Skimma did next, Chee$e has introduced a vibrant new filmmaker and with Williams a brand new movie star.
Chee$e premiered at SXSW