A HAND FULL OF DIRT

Director: Russell Watson
Year: 2010
Country: Barbados

Since I’m moving through countries alphabetically, it’s pure coincidence that so far the Caribbean has been represented more often than any other region. I’ll call it a happy coincidence, though, since it’s been a constant source of varied and fascinating films. The next is A Hand Full of Dirt, from the tiny island of Barbados. It can be rented or bought for online streaming from Studio Anansi, which has proven very useful to me for finding films from all over the Caribbean.

A Hand Full of Dirt is the story of three generations of the Redman family. Jay Redman is a young Barbadian man living in America, desperate to find a job but unable to graduate and obtain a US work permit because of a lack of money. His divorced father Archie runs a struggling hotel back in Barbados, and is frustrated by his inability to help. Finally, there’s Archie’s father Ben – a stubborn man with a limp and a quick temper, who owns a humble yet profitable banana plantation inland.

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Ben confronts a thief on his plantation.

The previous Caribbean films I’ve seen have all taken advantage of the breathtaking local scenery. Even Children of Godwhich dealt with some pretty dark subject matter, still showed plenty of vibrant blue oceans and green palm trees. In contrast, the makers of A Hand Full of Dirt have elected to use a washed-out, greyish colour palette instead. I can understand the reasoning behind this, since the film’s intended tone is quite bleak, and I don’t expect that every country should shoot their films like tourism ads, but I do think that, visually, A Hand Full of Dirt is quite unappealing.

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Hundreds of miles away, in America, Jay struggles to graduate and find work.

There’s not a whole lot of action in A Hand Full of Dirt. You’d be forgiven for thinking otherwise, since the opening scene shows Ben driving a banana thief off his plantation with three warning shots from a revolver. Rather, the film is an examination of the shifting relationships between the son, father, and grandfather. Each has something that they want from the others: be it money, loyalty, or simple approval. The characters are the strength of this film, and your enjoyment will depend on whether or not that’s enough to make up for its shortcomings in other areas.

PS: Yeah, I thought it should be “handful” too.

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