Tuesday, 7 February 2017

The Mania around Moonlight

I first read about "Moonlight" in its New Yorker review last October. The unbeatably clever Hilton Als was smitten by the poetic story about a gay black teenager, and he evoked the key scenes so lovingly that it made me want to see the film more than any other in a long time. I wrote it down on my "to-see" list and never heard about it again.

Until this January. The streets of Paris were plastered with the poster - a serious and somehow vulnerable face daring anyone to look at it. I was so glad. Since when were double-minority (or triple? black, gay and poor) films in the mainstream? And since when do these kinds of films receive Academy Award nominations for Best Feature? 

So when I finally went to see it last night, the expectations were high. I sat down and held my breath, waiting for the magic. Patiently I let scene by scene pass, but little happened. The pace was slow. A silent traumatized boy passes from childhood to adolescence and adulthood, abused by bullies at school and his drugged mother at home. He finds comfort with a couple who pick him up out of kindness, and experiences a glimpse of love with a boy on the beach.

There are scenes that are beautifully done, and some throw up questions you may have never asked yourself - especially those concerning the fate of homosexuals and black identity in the most disadvantaged parts of America.

But ultimately, in its quest to be artistic, the film ends up being frustrating: The bullied child becomes a lonely drug-dealer who hardly knows who he is, and doesn't make an effort to find out. Ironically, the story becomes a little too much like its main character: silent, underdeveloped, and ultimately unresolved. There is a way to make all these things interesting and deep, but Moonlight doesn't manage that. Instead, it relies excessively on stylizations that make one think of Beyonce's Lemonade, with long self-conscious shots of Southern scenery. I so wish the film could have had the courage to go further, to actually tackle questions it throws up. Failing that, it would have been better to condense the 111 minutes to 30 without losing a gram of its meaning. But since this abridged version doesn't exist, I suggest you save your cinema fare and get the best of the film from Als' fantastic review.

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