Moonlight (2016) Barry Jenkins

Occasionally when you go to the movies you experience one of those rare occurrences in film where you sense that filmic stereotypes are being not only broken but metamorphized.  You watch the film expecting to see generic conventions and instead you see this completely new form…like watching a monarch emerge from the confinement of its chrysalis.  Thus, a new way of seeing and feeling emanates from the filmic space…like poetry.  Traditionally poetic cinema is slow cinema and a little on the obscure side.  I immediately think of the films of Andrei Tarkovsky, whose films are decidedly anti-Hollywood and are deliberately lacking in any fast-cut editing, clever dialogue, or larger than life heroes.  Instead of force-feeding us the narrative, he uses long takes and pans, wide shots, minimal editing, natural landscapes, and symbolic imagery, which requires us to contemplate the image and the filmic architecture at a deeper level.   Another example of this can be found in the films of Terrance Malik.  In Days of Heaven, the rhythm of the film adjusts to the beauty of landscapes and seasonal pace of farmworkers on a vast 19th century prairie homestead.   Poetic cinema in general focuses on a mood and conveying the unseen or the unspoken.   Although Jenkins is a completely different filmmaker from the two previously mentioned, he makes use of similar techniques.  Moonlight is conspicuously lacking in either fast-cut editing or gangster motifs associated with African Americans in films but still manages to tell the truth about certain pockets of African American culture while conveying nuance at the same time.  Jenkins portrays Juan the drug dealer, played by Mahersherla Ali, as a caring and compassionate overseer of his employees and shepherd of his neighborhood, despite his profession.  Typically, White characters in film can have character flaws or less than stellar credentials and still be sympathetic but this is not always true for African American characters.  Jenkins conveys an intimacy in Moonlight that has been lacking not just in African American films but in LGBQT portrayals.  There is both an intimacy and a frankness portrayed in the relationship between Chiron and Kevin that is rarely displayed on film even between hetero couples.  It’s as if they are the only ones who can see into the other’s soul.  This was a beautiful film – and not just as a message film or statement about race or LGBQT relationships – but visually and emotionally resonant…even haunting.


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