Telluride 2016: Barry Jenkins’ ‘Moonlight’ is Stellar Cinematic Beauty

Moonlight Review

“At some point you gotta decide for yourself who you gunna be. Can’t let nobody make that decision for you.” Barry Jenkins’ new film Moonlight is an intimate portrait of black youth, examining the balance of masculinity and individuality in a community that shuns homosexuality. Writer/director Barry Jenkins has made a masterful film that is an exceptional work of cinematic beauty, telling a vital story of humanity and honesty. It’s a unique, singular work that stands out in its style and atmosphere, and in the way Jenkins holds back on what he shows, building the film around his very impressive actors and the emotions that life makes us feel. It’s an immensely moving cinematic story of truth, and demands our respect and admiration.

This film is a rare example of triptych storytelling done perfectly, with three different segments building upon each other, each with so much to offer. Moonlight follows the story of Chiron, an African-American boy growing up in the drug lands of Miami, spanning three different time periods in his life – as a young boy, as a teenager in high school, and finally as an adult in his twenties. A different actor plays Chiron each time, and the performances are impeccable. Deep down it’s a tragedy, a heartbreaking story of Chiron repressing his true feelings in favor of the masculinity that is perpetuated throughout his life. Only rarely is he given a chance to be find hope and one of the best examples of this is in the father figure he meets as a boy, played by Mahershala Ali. His friendship and kindness during this period of his life is felt throughout all his life.

Every last performance in Moonlight is phenomenal, from background character’s making brief appearances to every other person in Chiron’s life. Most notably is Naomie Harris, playing his struggling mother who seems to prefer drugs but still loves him. Aside from Mahershala Ali, the other stand out performance is by André Holland, the one love interest in his life that still lingers in his mind nearly a decade later after they had their first encounter. The scene where they meet up again in a diner in the third part of the story is riveting and electric, with aches of romance seeping out of the screen. It all builds up to this final act, and the payoff is remarkable – mesmerizing to watch, leaving your heart pounding and tears in your eyes. Of course, this has a powerful impact because Trevante Rhodes plays Chiron perfectly in that final segment.

It’s also worth mentioning the lovely score, delicate and romantic made up mostly of violins, composed by Nicholas Britell. It adds that final touch to every moment to remind you of the emotions being felt deep down, even if they’re not shown on the surface. This is much of what the film is trying to address, and it does such a tremendous job of showing this without ever explaining any of it. Barry Jenkins’ choices for every scene are careful and refined, deliberate but nuanced, letting the feelings and the glances progress the story. Similar to Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, it’s not the most memorable moments that make a man, it’s all the times inbetween, the people you encounter, and the ways they affect you–good or bad–over the years.

Alex’s Telluride Rating: 9 out of 10
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