Two years ago, I got the opportunity to see Moonlight during TIFF and it took a bit for it to really hit me as hard as it ended up doing so. It later became my favourite movie of the year, one of my favourites of all time, and also three Oscars. It comes as no surprise that Barry Jenkins would be my most anticipated of the festival.
Beale Street takes place in Harlem, in the 1970’s, and it’s about Tish and Fonny who fall in love. Fonny is wrongly accused and sent to jail, and Tish tries to find a way to get him out, while also bearing his unborn child. Jenkins adapts the James Baldwin novel with the same name, and was written at the same time as he wrote the script for Moonlight. And you can feel it. At all times in the film, If Beale Street feels like a spiritual sister to the award-winning film. It feels as they could have be told side-by-side and you can see Jenkins and his cinematographer James Laxton’s voice on that beautiful screen. And it is beautiful.
The camera work in this, is once again spectacular. The way that the camera lingers and flows around in the air, it makes the film feel almost dream-like.These beautiful faces lit up like they rarely have before, the camera shows the audience exactly what James Baldwin and Barry Jenkins sees, true beauty and love.
The film is filled with love. There is something pure about the movies that Jenkins has made. I have yet to watch Medicine for Melancholy, but that is solely for the lack of access towards it, but I believe that Jenkins has too big of a heart, and his love pours out into the films he makes. Even in his one episode of Dear White People, you can feel love, and a bit of hate but they’re both sides of a coin that can easily switch at any flick of your wrist.
Nicholas Britell returns to the score the film once more, and there are many times that some of the musical cues reminded me of Moonlight, and it has this (that word once more) dream like quality to it that I can’t help but believe that it was intentional.
During the introduction of the film, Jenkins has said that while Moonlight was the family he was born into, this is the family he wishes he had. Purely supportive and always there, and watching the family stand together as they in the beginning brought the first tear to my eye. Worth mentioning, there were hundreds of them as I felt myself tearing up throughout the film.
The cast is incredible. The actress who plays Tish (Kiki Layne) gives an outstanding performance in her feature length debut. And Stephan James plays Fonny, and the love he portrays alongside the chemistry with Tish is mesmerizing to see.
The film is a period piece, but it never feels like it. It’s dialogue comes straight from Baldwin’s novel, and inspired by the way African-Americans spoke in the 70’s, but Jenkins wanted to make sure it was different from what people might think as “jive.” The dialogue is far more poetic than that, and so is the film.
It feels like he’s adapted a poem, but also the mood and feeling of reading one. The film flows from the past to the present, and around in circles. We are unsure of which time is which, but we are more than happy to be present with them. The film becomes a poem, a love letter or sonnet to Black Love. Something we don’t see as often. While it doesn’t need to be the focus, it’s just another love story that Jenkins is so good at doing, for he is filled with it.
The film boils down to one scene in particular, and at this rate, Jenkins’ filmography does as well. When a character is asked why he agreed on helping, he responds that he is his mother’s son. To him, love is beautiful, and it doesn’t and shouldn’t matter what the colour of our skin is, along as the love is pure.
Jenkins’ love is pure, and true. For both the story, these characters, and the world. Yes, the world is tragic and ugly, but Jenkins knows how to showcase beauty in the hardest places. From the projects in Moonlight, to the prison in Beale Street, there is still beauty and love on the other side of the glass and that helps make the ugliness of the world so much easier to deal with, a day at a time.