Yesterday afternoon, right before the Oscars, I watched “Moonlight”. I didn’t have the time to write a review for it then, but I liked it so much that I changed FilmLimbo’s Facebook background picture from the beautiful ” La La Land” kiss to “Moonlight’s” striking poster. I remember thinking: “Such bad timing! If it weren’t for the cinematic miracle that is “La La Land”, this magnificently honest, fresh Film would have a chance of winning the Best Film Oscar”.
And then, a few hours later, “La La Land” would be wrongly announced as Best Picture, the film’s cast would hear Jordan Horowitz announce on stage, mid-acceptance speech that the real winner was “Moonlight”, and its stars would have half their joy stolen from them due to the upsetting circumstances and everyone’s understandable shock. Nevertheless, this did not detract nor add to the lasting impression the film had made on me.
“Moonlight” is adapted from the book “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue”, its script co-written by director Barry Jenkins and the actual author of the book, Tarell Alvin McCraney. You can hear this actual line in the film. And you can see it. The whole film is shot with that blue light resembling moonlight. Everything steeped in that fresh and atmospheric style, so unique and beautiful it stays with you.
The story is divided into 3 parts. First, it’s the boy (Alex Hibbert). A quiet, soft, little boy in the tough neighborhoods of Miami. His neglecting mother (Naomie Harris) a junkie and a prostitute. His father nowhere to be seen. Chiron is a bullied boy who doesn’t know what “faggot” means and if he is it. A strong man becomes the father figure he never had, teaching him to stay afloat in a world that wants to bring him down and keep him down. Teaching him that he alone gets to choose who he is and who he becomes. His sweet girlfriend (Janelle Monae) offers the motherly hug and the hot food he can’t find at his own home. Their home becomes his shelter. He finds love and refuge in the arms of a drug dealer. Under the moonlight, there is no black and white. Everything takes on a different hue.
And “Moonlight” is not a bleak, dark film. For all the sadness and despair it hides, there are so many neon shades and glistening bodies that add to its atmospheric feel and round its sharp edges.
The second part is Chiron (Ashton Sanders) hitting adolescence. He is still tormented. He is still confused. And he falls in love for the first time, his heart broken again. And then, in one moment, he is changed.
The third part finds Chiron an adult man. He now seems strong and he is no longer little. He is unrecognizable as he hits the streets of Atlanta. He has become what he has chosen to become. The actor playing him, Trevante Rhodes, is a dream. Some of the moments in the 3rd part are pure cinema poetry. His silences are absolutely heart- breaking. Every single detail takes your breath away. You need some ending. You need closure.
I will not say if it comes or not. Wouldn’t be right.
Apart from the fresh cinematography, it is the fact that “Moonlight” touches on sensitive and complex issues, such as the thin line between being a victim and being a victimiser, the definition of family, masculinity, strength, love; the things that make us who we are, without being melodramatic, without being accusatory or didactic. I find this to be absolutely amazing, especially for black cinema (if I may be excused for saying that, I do not mean to be racist at all), which –understandably- has spent much of its material on protesting. “Moonlight” sends the message. You are not fed the message, though.
Mahershala Ali only stars in one of the 3 chapters of the film, but his strong presence, his sensitive representation of what it means to be a father figure when one is so sorely needed, his protective arms holding a child that’s been hurt so many times, his honesty when asked the most difficult questions absolutely disarming. He won the “Best Supporting Actor” Academy Award with such absolutely effortless, natural acting that no one could doubt or question his merit.
Even the way the score of this film was produced is pioneering. The composer, Nicholas Britell used the unconventional method of “chopping and screwing” his composed music to accompany each scene of the film. And you can tell by the way it complements it without dominating it how it was created for the film, not the composer’s own projection.
The fact that “Moonlight” was shot in 25 days and cost a mere 5 million dollars goes to show, once again, that great cinema is not about money and big names. It is about heaps of talent, creativity, fresh ideas, a strong storyline, fine acting, and soul.
- “Moonlight” won 3 out of the 8 nominations it had in the 89th Academy Awards (“Best Director”, “Best Supporting Actor”, and “Best Picture”). It has also won the Golden Globe for “Best Motion Picture – Drama”, Mahershala Ali won the “Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role” SAG Award, and it has also received many more prestigious cinema awards and accolades.
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