Oh, how good it feels to be so very wrong. I am happy to admit just how much I misjudged Michael Mooleedhar and Christian James, the director and producer of Green Days by the River. I really did not feel they could pull off making a memorable movie version of Michael Anthony’s coming-of-age novel.
I thought they were too young to interpret the complicated love story or the fine nuances of this character-driven novel about the subtle manipulation of Shel, a teenager facing the challenges of settling in a new village as he deals with his father’s failing health and his neighbour Mr Gidharrie’s conniving ways.
This is not the type of movie most young film-makers tackle. There’s no exciting, adrenalin-inducing plot that requires car chases, shoot-outs or explosions, but Mooleedhar and James proved to be more astute than I expected. Mooleedhar, James and screenwriter/adapter Dawn Cumberbatch honoured the story down to trying to match the description of the dogs in the book with police dogs Bak, Ciff and Fando. When the movie begins with a view through twisted branches, the scene is set for a spectacular film exquisitely fashioned with breathtaking shots perfectly framed to enhance the double entendre of “green” days by the river which entails lush scenery and innocence lost.
This is the first movie in which my daughter Ijanaya waited for the credits to find the name of the art director, who is Frank Seales. Cumberbatch and Seales elevate this movie to a work of art.
Bad sound can ruin a movie. But the sound in Green Days was a natural and flawless combination of dialogue, nature sounds and music — none of which ever competed with or overwhelmed the other. The soundtrack is powerful in itself. Credit for sound goes to an impressive team including Aaron Bartscht, Pin Hua Chen, Kerron Lemmessey, Nathan Ruyle and Jesse Smith.
Professional directors bring out the best in actors, and here Mooleedhar reigns supreme, instilling a confidence and naturalness in all of his actors. Nadia Kandhai is the perfect Rosalee: flirty, scheming and selfish. Vanessa Bartholomew exudes confidence that borders on haughtiness. The two girls offer just the right contrast for the film.
Che Rodriguez offers a stellar performance as Shel’s dying father. He conveys love, anxiety, hope and sadness — not an easy feat for someone who must appear to be sick and weak. Anand Lawkaran offers an unforgettable performance of a complex character who must appear to be helpful and conniving at the same time. He delivers a haunting performance. The story hinges on Gidharrie, and Lawkaran pulls it off with much aplomb.
Sudai Tafari is the perfect Shel: shy, naïve, loving, trusting, fearful and hopeful. He has a natural talent and an expressive face capable of conveying changing emotions with amazing depth. Tafari has a promising future.
Even the dogs displayed a range of feeling. This required the expertise of police canine officers Cpl Neil Samaroo, Constables Kenon Baynes and Delroy James, who had to coordinate their skills for the benefit of the film.
Green Days by the River is a movie that requires subtle, often unspoken expression, and I commend the use of music and scenes without dialogue to allow the movie to show a story rather than to tell it.
Mooleedhar and James pulled off the perfect cinematic coup by creating a movie that will comfortably take its place by Merchant Ivory’s film The Mystic Masseur, based on VS Naipaul’s novel. They have turned classic books into a classic films that will refuse to be dated or forgotten.
For that, I say, “Bravo!” Take a bow.