The theme for this month – Light and Shadow
If Beale Street Could Talk (2018)
Directed by Barry Jenkins (Moonlight, Medicine for Melancholy)
Novel by James Baldwin, adapted for screen by Jenkins.
Starring: KiKi Layne, Stephan James, Regina King, Teyonah Parris, Colman Domingo, Ethan Barrett and Milanni Mines.
“Like Baldwin’s book, Jenkins uses the memories of his protagonist Tish (Layne) to jump around in time and tell the story of her relationship with Fonny (James). Fonny and Tish met as children, but as they got older, they fell in love and he got her pregnant. The announcement of the pregnancy is our entry point to their respective families. Led by Tish’s mother Sharon (King), her family is immediately welcoming, while Fonny’s family is quick to judge. But fraught family dynamics are only the start of their problems: Fonny is in jail – a neighborhood woman accused him of rape – and everyone is desperate to get him out.
“Jenkins captures the spirit of Baldwin’s book, not the letter of it. There are long sequences where no one says a word, and the actors must convey depth of feeling through simple movements, or how they look at each other. James and Layne share a love scene that is longer than what you might expect. The calisthenics of sex do not really interest Jenkins; he would rather convey something more sublime, like the heightened sense of trust or tension.” Alan Zilberman, Brightest Young Things
“Like Baldwin’s novel, Jenkins’s film is dramatized from Tish’s point of view and in her voice. The movie is a memory piece, but one in which the memories have little distance; instead, they are immediate, passionate, urgent. The film’s deftly and frankly complex, interwoven time structure (amplified all the more by the intricately pleated editing) thrusts the past and the present into the same plane of thought and evokes, above all, the politics of memory—the sense that memory is constitutive of history, of the history that may not be written but is nonetheless ferociously at work in the lives of people who are themselves largely left out of the official record. That’s another injustice that compounds and enables practical ones—and Jenkins includes several sequences composed of archival photographs of black Americans to provide a real-life alternative history, and to evoke their power to inform and illuminate the present day.
“Tish and Fonny’s love story is rapturous and tender, a secular-holy and sweetly sexual exaltation that rises to a higher dimension with the creation of a new life: Tish’s pregnancy, which she has to announce to Fonny through the glass and over the phone of a prison visiting room. That’s where they speak, near the beginning of the film—immediately after the rhapsodic opening, of the two lovers exchanging virtual vows in the riverside glory of the New York cityscape. The young couple’s warmth and intimacy (emphasized in James Laxton’s burnished cinematography, which glows and gleams with touches of light) is a crucial counterpart to the violence at the heart of the action.” Richard Brody, New Yorker
“But they are often upstaged by the other characters, especially King who just earned a Best Supporting Actress nomination. Beale Street is suffused with director Barry Jenkins’s trademark lyricism, which rightly won him an Academy Award for Moonlight. But it may not be the best match for Baldwin’s material. Jenkins deals in tone poems; Baldwin deals in passion.” Eleanor Ringel-Cater, Saporta Report
“Jenkins doesn’t really bring them to life with the kind of street realism with which he renders their parents. Nor does he want to. His intention with Tish and Fonny is to represent them as idealizations of innocence in a vicious world teeming with racism. He sketches in just enough of their milieu – she sells perfume in a department store, he’s a budding sculptor – to let us know the world is stacked against them.
“The people who surround them are, for the most part, either advocates – like Tish’s family, or the friendly Hispanic waiter (Diego Luna) who feeds them free of charge, or the kindly, yarmulke-wearing landlord (Dave Franco) who rents them a loft after they’ve been turned down by everyone else – or enemies, like that racist cop or Fonny’s mother. Tish and Fonny’s plight, for all its poetic-romantic trappings, is presented as an inevitable consequence of a racist society.” Peter Rainer, Christian Science Monitor
“Beale Street is all about Tish unbowing and unbending in a world where even expressions of kindness — such as that of the white Soho landlord (Franco: The Disaster Artist, Now You See Me 2) who had no problem agreeing to rent a loft to the couple when no one else would — can be suspect.
“Like director Jenkins’s previous film, the luminous Moonlight, If Beale Street Could Talk is totally emotionally enrapturing, though the emotions here veer as much into sadness and rage as they do into love and hope. Nicholas Britell’s melancholy score and James Laxton’s mellow cinematography — both artists returning from Moonlight — underscore the sorrow of seeing such a gentle soul as Tish buffeted by harsh reality. This is a beautiful film about ugly things, told via delicate yet steely performances from the entire magnificent cast that imbue it with a power that is at once tender and infuriating as it asks us to contemplate the seeming impossibility of untangling the interwoven — and wholly manufactured — cruelty of the world.
“Beale Street wrestles not only with racism but also with how men pit women against one another for men’s own purposes.
“For in addition to the racism it challenges, the film also wrestles with how men pit women against one another for men’s own purposes.” MaryAnn Johanson, Flick Filosopher
“No wonder Mrs. Hunt is overly religious. How else can she stay married to Mr. Hunt? Though not intended by Jenkins, I had sympathy for Mrs. Hunt.
“Did Tish and Fonny have a secret friendship for 10 years without their parents or siblings knowing anything?
“How to pay for Fonny’s lawyer? Joe has an idea. He tells Mr. Hunt they should rob clothing warehouses and DVD players off trucks. Joe ignores the abuse he saw in his own house. Joe’s scheme is completely justifiable to novelist Baldwin and filmmaker Jenkins because Fonny is innocent.” Victoria Alexander, Film Festival Today
Written and directed by John Cassavetes (A Woman Under the Influence, Opening Night)
Starring: Ben Carruthers, Lelia Goldoni, Hugh Hurd, Anthony Ray, Dennis Sallas, Tom Reese and David Pokitillow.
“Shadows, [Cassavetes’] startling debut piece, began as an acting workshop exercise and morphed into a movie that, when broken down, isn’t even about its central plot thread (an interracial romance) as much as it’s about capturing the jazzy milieu of late-50s New York.” Matt Brunson, Creative Loafing
La Haine (1995)
Written and directed by Mathieu Kassovitz (Rebellion (2011), The Crimson Rivers)
Starring: Vincent Cassel, Hubert Koundé, Saïd Taghmaoui, Abdel Ahmed Ghili, Souleymane Dicko Héloïse Rauth, Benoît Magimel
“Like Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing, there’s a constant sense that hostilities will boil over at any moment. (La Haine even has its own ‘Fight the Power’ in KRS-One’s ‘Sound of da Police.’) The film’s plot is about as directionless as its core trio, less a narrative than a series of fascinating and disturbing vignettes looking into 24 hours in the lives of these impoverished, angry, frustrated youths. La haine-“the hate”-referred to in the title isn’t just one character’s emotion, but is felt by everyone in the film, in one direction or another.” Austin Trunick, Under the Radar
If Beale Street Could Talk is at The Grand Cinema.
La Haine will screen at 7:15 p.m. on Friday, March 1 in the Center for Spiritual Living (206 N. J St).
Shadows will screen at 7:15 p.m. on Friday, March 8 in the CSL.
The TFC Discussion Night for these three films is Wednesday, March 13 in the CSL.