Jenkins follows "Moonlight" with a faithful adaptation of Baldwin's powerful drama.
James Baldwin's 1974 novel "Beale Street Could Talk" shows the experiences of a pregnant black teenager in Harlem with a cinematic quality that almost reads like a scenario. It is no wonder that writer-director Barry Jenkins takes his signals from the source, and Baldwell's suggestive vision of young lovers struggling with race and class turns into a masterly poetic romance. But Jenkins & # 39; sequel to & # 39; Moonlight also maintains its own profound, expressionist aesthetics, with its sumptuous colors and enchanting faces that speak volumes in a few words, resulting in a fascinating hybrid experience – a pioneering voice from the past that fuses with one of the present in an enchanting burst of creative passion.
While & # 39; Moonlight & # 39; engaged in the internal struggle of a boy in Miami in a vaguely defined era, Beale Street & # 39; firmly rooted in a time and place: the civil rights era Harlem, where 19-year-old Tish (extraordinary newcomer Kiki Layne)) fights with the news that she is pregnant by a child of her 22-year-old friend Fonny (Stephan James) while he is behind the bars. Accused of a rape whose evidence suggests that he could not have committed it, Fonny & # 39; Beale Street & # 39; as the embodiment of everything that keeps Tish from the life she wants for herself. He is a victim of the system that holds them all-Fonny, Fish and their respective families-of achieving a level of emotional satisfaction that they pursue in every scene.
As with the novel, Tish tells the story of two simultaneous timelines, in which she recalls her early dating with Fonny and the challenges surrounding his confinement at the same time. Jenkins weaves them together with remarkable fluidity, with his familiar visual finesse that gives a livelier update to the refined carpet of Moonlight & # 39 ;. This time the contours of grim drama are full of tears of light.
The lively palette of cinematographer James Laxton merges with the swaying musical compositions of Nicholas Britell, while the film composes its story from small moments: when Tish tells her mother Sharon (Regina King) about the pregnancy, Jenkins only covers the beginning of the conversation, with the hesitation on Layne's face that expresses everything about the fears of the character for the future. Likewise, when Sharon tells her husband Joseph (Colman Domingo) and Sharon's feisty elder sister Ernestine (Teyronah Parris), their instant party tone brings a fresh dose of frivolity in the growing filmography of Jenkins: despite the social and economic hardships with which the family is confronted, unity becomes a center of the story.
Fonny's family does not take the news so well. Still staggered by the uncertain fate of their son, his mother (Aunjanue Ellis), who calls for a sharp reprimand from her husband (Michael Beach). While the two households are pursuing a tense word struggle, Jenkins' script combines with anger, and lands sharply between despair and unexpected frivolity. The world of Tish exists at that surprising crossroads.
With more vitality and humor than "Moonlight", Jenkins' dependence on the original text opens up the filmmaker's style, but he also turns the material into broader meditation on Baldwin's wider concerns. The dynamic characteristics of the author's life stemmed from a distinctive language and precise imagery that defined his sharply critical voice, and which emerged throughout Jenkins' drama. On more than one occasion, he injects Baldwin's fixations into the story with black-and-white photographs of African-American struggles that form an astonishing historical framework for Tish's intimate challenges. At a striking moment, Jenkins Gordon Parks & # 39; s iconic Life magazine quotes cover photo "Ellen Crying", an image weighed with the ramifications of an impoverished black life struggling for stability. That is "Beale Street" in a nutshell.
For the most part, Jenkins adheres to Tish's personal observations about her relationship with Fonny, with romantic fragments that invite ready-to-use comparisons to Wong Kar Wai. Although the films of the Hong Kong author concentrate on similarly unspeakable desires, Jenkins joins his most powerful images with a voice-over that puts them in the right context. As the couple looks into each other's eyes, Tish notices: "He was the most beautiful person I had seen in my life", and their matching expressions – Jenkins uses the subtle shifts of facial muscles as large narrative devices – argues that observation should be visible truth.
The filmmaker's ambition increases as Tish's world opens: when she describes her ungrateful job as a perfume sampler in a radiant white mall, her fake line fills the frame and describes "laughing" until my posterior teeth hurt. losing her virginity to Fonny in his apartment, Jenkins cuts to a record that runs until the end of a soft jazz tune. These indelible rhythms determine the tempo of the film while it connects from one moment to the next.
There is a real plot in the middle of this collage, which surrounds the continuous efforts of the two families to fight for the exonation of Fonny. That struggle culminates in a dramatic journey to Puerto Rico, where Tish's mother travels to track down the victim of rape in a risky attempt to save Fonny from further prosecution. The sequence has the exquisite tension of moody noir, but King adds a certain amount of credible tension by giving Sharon the conviction that she can get away from the plan at all costs. Impressing the results at once and loaded with sadness. King is the owner of every second she is on the screen, while Sharon fights to control her anger with hesitating self-confidence.
Jenkins, however, seems least at ease with these conventional storylines. His two previous functions, the talkative romance & # 39; Medicine for Melancholy & # 39; and Moonlight & # 39 ;, evade more traditional plot development. "As Beale Street Could Talk" halt halfway, with fewer developments and grandiose roles for supporting characters (including a benevolent waiter played by Diego Luna and a Jewish real estate agent played by Dave Franco), but it always recovers with a other enchanting observation. When the ever-reliable Brian Tyree Henry turns up as the long-lost friend of Fonny, the camera hangs on his face as he remembers the prison time and complains of persecution of racist police officers; for a moment the whole film floats in the vicinity of his grief. "Beale Street" has more to say about collective emotional obstacles than anything else. A recurring motive is that Layne and James look at each other over the captured glass and the lyrical ramifications of this constant border – an institutional obstacle beyond anything they can control – cuts deeply.
Those familiar with the source material will be surprised to discover that the film comes to a new conclusion, including a time jump that offers more finality for the ultimate fate of these characters. It is a surprising choice that takes the story in an entirely new direction, even if it leaves the next chapter in the story of Fonny and Tish unclear. Eventually, the film suggests that the couple are looking for an ideal that is just out of their reach, but still worth pursuing the same.
"As Beale Street Could Talk" premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2018. Annapurna Pictures brings it theatrical on November 30, 2018.