Magazine article The Spectator

Cinema: Moonlight

Magazine article The Spectator

Cinema: Moonlight

Article excerpt

Moonlight is, in fact, a traditional story about identity, and finding out who you are, but it has rarely been better told, or more achingly, or while navigating a subject that hasn't come up much at the cinema, if at all. (Being black and gay.) True enough, it was La La Land that swept the boards at the Baftas, and La La Land will probably sweep the boards at the Oscars, but it's Moonlight that deserves every award going (aside from the one that's been put aside for Annette Bening). I liked La La Land well enough at the time, but someone please make it go away now.

The film is written and directed by Barry Jenkins, as based on Tarell Alvin McCraney's semi-autobiographical but never performed play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue. It's set in the poor Liberty City projects in Miami, where both men grew up, and was filmed in just 25 days. This does give it a pressure-cooker intensity of the kind that, say, isn't found in movies where white people endlessly mansplain jazz -- what can I say? I liked it well enough at the time, but now it's so annoying -- yet it is also a film of the utmost delicacy. The love that dare not speak its name does not speak its name, but there is desire, feeling, yearning, tension in every frame.

The story is presented as a triptych starring three actors playing the same character, Chiron, at different ages. So it's Chiron (Alex R. Hibbert) as a little boy, Chiron (Ashton Sanders) as a teenager and Chiron (Trevante Rhodes) as a young man in his twenties (which is the biggest shock; prepare yourselves). Jenkins did not allow the three actors to meet during filming because he didn't want them to imitate each other, so they don't, and neither do they bear much physical resemblance, yet the performances are so extraordinary that there is no question it's the same soul throughout. How Jenkins did that I don't know, but it may explain why he's a film director and I am not. …

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