Friday, February 17, 2017

Review: Moonlight - seeking the stability of identity and security (QFT until 2 March)

Moonlight is a film in three acts. Each with a different actor portraying Chiron as a boy, a teenager and finally an adult.
“You don’t talk much but you darned well can eat!”

Juan (Mahershala Ali) and his girlfriend Teresa (Janelle MonĂ¡e) befriend an uncommunicative youngster (played by a young talent Alex Hibbert) who stands aloof from his peers. The pair offer a positive parental influence and their home is a safe shelter while Chiron’s birth mother (Naomie Harris) neglects him and works as a health worker by day while selling sex by night. But the moral balance of Moonlight is always more complicated: the sensitive and caring Juan is the local drug dealer and supplier to the boys’ mother.

As Chiron grows up (now played by Ashton Sanders) the homophobic bullying he experiences becomes more pronounced and physical. A tender moment of self-discovery is followed by a violent confrontation that turns his life upside down and takes the remainder of the film in an unexpected direction.

Writer and director Barry Jenkins allows Chiron to remain a man of few words throughout. The transitions between actors are well signposted even though the visual similarity between the first two actors is more difficult to swallow when the incredibly muscular third Chiron (Trevante Rhodes) appears on screen, perhaps emphasising the complete change of lifestyle.

Jump cuts are out and instead the camera slowly pans around locations – perhaps as much a financial decision as a stylistic one given the low budget of the film.

Moonlight won’t provoke many laughs; nor will it generate tears. Instead it’s a fascinating, well-paced character study of a young black man coming to terms with his identity and his need for security. The lifestyle of the third instantiation of Chiron has more than a few echoes of Juan. Ambiguities and contradictions are everywhere.

While tackling homophobia, neglect and abuse, Moonlight also celebrates kindness, patience, acceptance and refuge. Broken relationships are healed – in a way that La La Land sadly couldn’t manage – and although a few too many quality characters are discarded as the years pass, there’s a character development arc and layers of meaning and questions that engaged and drew me in to this 111 minute film, leaving me wishing there was a fourth act.

Moonlight is screened in the Queen’s Film Theatre until polling day, Thursday 2 March.

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