The Playground is not an easy film to watch.
This isn't necessarily a bad thing. In fact, some of history's best films could be called "difficult to watch" films. At over 151 minutes in length, The Playground is a rather uncompromising vision from director Edreace Purmul, a self-described "thrilling adaptation of ancient folklore depicted through a modern fable."
If you're already lost, then The Playground isn't for you.
Winner of Best Narrative Feature in the 2016 San Diego Film Awards, The Playground is an intentionally dense, thought-provoking and involving film following five vastly different inner-city lives struggling against their limitations in stories that are woven together by what Purmul refers to as a "dark orchestrator," an ominous yet constant presence. The five lives include:
Jack (Lawrence R. Kivett), an ex-con with a dark secret;
Jill (Ghadir Mounib), an unfulfilled wife;
Joseph (Christopher Salazar), a priest bound by his principals;
Mr. Vaugn (Shane P. Allen), an entrepreneur; and,
Grandison (Merrick McCartha), an overly ambitious bum.
While you may already be envisioning a Crash-like film, rest assured that Purmul has crafted something vastly different. Even with a film running over 2 1/2 hours, I'm hesitant to give too much away as it's piecing together the film's connections, relationships and essential ingredients that is vital to appreciating it. However, it's reasonable to say that these lives are connected, in both ways challenging yet hopeful and, well, not so hopeful.
Vague enough for you?
To understand how Purmul constructs the film one should likely be familiar with ancient literature, though you can certainly appreciate the actual filmmaking without necessarily knowing all its ingredients. The Playground is an intelligent beast of a film, weaving into its fabric European classics, Asian lit, Scandinavian legend, Islamic fable and more. Some of this? I actually knew. Some of this? Yep, I researched it while preparing for this review.
Suffice it to say that The Playground is a well researched, intelligently written and cohesive piece of borderline experimental cinema.
While The Playground won't be for everyone and, in all likelihood, its greatest successes will be found on the festival circuit rather than through any hopes for widespread distribution, the film has a strong chance of finding a niche' audience. The film's lensing by Roger Sogues is inventive and often overpowering, while Sami Matar's original music is intense and a full-on sensory experience.
Ultimately, The Playground couldn't work without an ensemble cast that "gets it" and Purmul has assembled a cast that is clearly in touch with his relentless vision for the film. The emotions one feels while watching The Playground are, at times, overwhelming and it's one of the rare indie films where I'd suggest watching it on the big screen if you get the chance. The film has a dominating aura that literally surrounds you and would best be experienced on a big screen while surrounded by an audience.
The recently completed The Playground is Purmul's second feature-length film and should join his first, Mozlym, in attracting global festival interest and acclaim. While part of me would assert that The Playground would have had an even stronger impact with tighter editing, the truth is that it's hard to argue with artistic integrity and Purmul has clearly crafted a film of tremendous vision and intentionality.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic