Depicting a not-so-typical love affair in a provincial setting, Maria Govan tackles the more obscure aspects of relationships and homosexuality in her violent and riveting motion picture, Play The Devil. Offering us a rare glimpse into the rowdy and fascinating culture of one of the largest islands in the Southern Caribbean.
Homosexual romances between a young man and a more mature and experienced partner are nothing new. They’ve been done before – some brilliantly and well-put together (see L.I.E., Eyes Wide Open or Gerontophilia), others not so much, only serving to further perpetuate stereotypical perspectives on gay relationships. Although the concept is intriguing and has a certain depth to it, it’s also become more or less an overused trope in gay cinema over the years. So is Play The Devil worth a watch? Is it any different? Yes. Govan’s approach is phenomenal and refreshing, delving into darker topics like the social and historical effects of slavery, religious indoctrination and macho culture.
Southern Caribbean is regrettably highly underfunded and filmmaking by indigenous people is even more poorly subsidized. Nonetheless, the stunning cinematography in Play The Devil makes use of footage from the lush island of Trinidad and its ravishing beaches, slopes and cliffs, offering us a raw and caustic peek within the mountain village of Paramin. Gregory (Petrice Jones) is a penniless 18-year-old who is passionate about art and photography and quite clearly gay. However, he was raised in a conservative family which upheld traditional and religious values and now finds himself lost, confused and frightened by his own sexuality. To add fuel to the fire, his inclination for artistic creation is predictably squandered as his mother insists that he pursue a more lucrative career in medicine. When he first meets James Young (Gareth Jenkins), a well-established entrepreneur, he is not only closeted, but also in complete denial regarding his sexual orientation. Gregory soon learns that James is attracted to him, but is also married and has a young daughter. Both Jenkins and Jones bring depth and chemistry to their characters, but the performances don’t necessarily keep you on the edge of your seat. The film banks more on setting, cultural heritage and overall momentum than it does on melodrama and an engrossing performance.
The young boy – older man relationship is not the only cliché explored in-depth throughout Play The Devil; there’s also the provincial framework, the child who abandons his own dreams in order to pursue those of his parents and the stereotypically cocky and manly gay character who is a closet homosexual and denies his dooming urges. But Govan exquisitely transforms each of these seemingly trite themes into a cultural masterpiece centred on gay love, violence and the sobering effects of denial. The viewer soon finds that the director uses each trope as a pretext for scrutinizing deeper and more insightful taboo subjects. The purgative Jab devil dance, which is also impetuously depicted in the movie, is also the root theme that inspired Govan to shoot the motion picture in the first place. Although the plot is not fully cohesive and the dialogue lacks plausibility at times, the cathartic ending turns the entire film into a wholesome, sublime experience on both a cultural and a more visceral, emotional level.
Caribbean cinematography is generally rife with clichés, stereotypical depictions and an almost depraved misinterpretation of the natives’ rich culture. However, Govan seems to be well-aware of the drawbacks of falling into this trap as a director – and fortunately avoids them. Play The Devil is a pleasant surprise when it comes to indigenous filmmaking and presents a remarkably accurate representation of Afro-Trinidadian culture and its enticing diversity. Nevertheless, what is truly outstanding about Govan’s film is how well she manages to blend in gay love and themes with the melting pot of the Caribbean region.
All pictures reproduced courtesy of m-appeal