Saturday, November 12, 2016

Moonlight: Monday, November 7 2015

Moonlight is the second film directed by Barry Jenkins. The first, Medicine for Melancholy, was set in California, where Jenkins lives. Moonlight is set mainly in Miami, where Jenkins grew up. Jenkins also wrote the screenplay. The film is based on the play by Tarell Alvin McCraney, In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue. The critics have been unanimous in their praise for this film. It has already won many awards and is being suggested for the Oscars.

There is so much to say about this film. It's a love story about two homosexual men: it begins when they are boys; it continues as they grow into teenagers; it ends as they come together as grown men. But it is so much more than that. It is a look into the lives of two young Black men; from their difficult childhoods, through their troubled teens, and finally, their early manhood. The deceptively simple story is told objectively, but with such sensitivity it is deeply moving. This is a story told by Black men about Black men. It has an authenticity about it that comes from having a true understanding of the subject from the inside; not from the outside looking into what is someone else's environment. This is not a slick, polished film that is purely entertainment. This is a work of art. It made me think of Stormy Weather, Georgian Bay, by F.H. Varley of the Canadian Group of Seven. A single tree, blown by the strong wind, with Georgian Bay behind it. Such a common subject: who but a true artist would be able to create such a beautiful piece of art from it. Moonlight is just such a beautiful piece, from an artist who is finding his voice. This film is in a class of its own. If it wins the Oscars, it will be on its own merits.

Director Barry Jenkins
The performance by each actor is so true, it seems as if we are watching real people. I particularly liked Mahershala Ali as Juan, Trevante Rhodes as Chiron / Black, and Andre Holland as adult Kevin. Having said that, all the cast were equally good in their parts. I felt I was watching real life, and could feel for the characters. This is rare in my experience.

The flow from child, to teenager, to adult, using three actors for Chiron and Kevin, was seamless. The cinematography is interesting. The use of the hand-held camera by James Laxton, the cinematographer, at the beginning of the film sets the atmosphere as unsophisticated. The musical score lends itself to the film. The direction is by the hand of a coming master. Barry Jenkins has a mature understanding, and sympathy for, human nature that is rare in one so young. He was born in 1979, in Liberty City, Miami, and had what could only be called an unprivileged upbringing. This he has used to create a masterpiece. One criticism I would make is that perhaps there ought to have been sub-titles. The dialogue was almost too authentic: it became unintelligible at times. I found that caused me to miss some of the nuances of the story. I caught up by reading the synopsis in Wikipedia, but feel I need to see the film again to catch the pieces I missed. A second viewing would allow me to appreciate the film more.

I look forward to seeing the future work of Barry Jenkins. I understand he is already involved in a series based on The Underground Railway (2016), a book by Colson Whitehead, and a screenplay based on the life of Claressa Shields, the first American boxer to win two Olympic golds in a row, in 2012 and again in 2016. I hope he is also going to be directing as well as writing. I've become a fan, and will definitely be following his career. Here is a great Black voice, beginning to create Black cinema as an art form, standing uniquely alone and based on authenticity.

A film worth seeing for so many reasons!

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