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If Beale Street Could Talk (dir. Jenkins)

Image: Regina King, Teyonah Parris, and KiKi Layne in If Beale Street Could Talk. © Property of Annapurna Releasing [Source: IMDB]

★★★★☆

Barry Jenkins directs his latest picture following the triumphant success of Moonlight. In this film based around the story in the novel of the same name. We follow the young couple of Tish and ‘Fonny’ in 1970s Harlem. All seems to be peaches and cream until Fonny is accused and jailed over a serious crime.

Director: Barry Jenkins. Starring: Regina King, Stephan James, KiKi Layne [15]

I think one of the most striking aspects of Moonlight was the ability on Jenkins part to get to the heart of character and story. To which he does the same here. It’s a romance and while it has all the trimmings of a drama, at its core this is a story of love. Not just between the lead couple and the blossoming adulthood between them but the family around them. Jenkins is careful not to over dramatise the tragedy of the story, with many moments seemingly surprisingly played down. Coming as somewhat of a mild shock to the system as it directly challenges the norm.

It can produce moments that seem empty or shallow but upon reflection without noticing you were made aware of characters feelings through simple gestures and looks. It’s a technique used all the way through the picture, reinforced by the straight on shots of people’s faces as they stare out to the audience. It adds a judging element to the film, seen right from the first ‘God’s point of view shot’, which does feel uncomfortable. But I believe this to be an effort on Jenin’s part to call upon audiences to reflect on societal issues at large at present. I believe this to be the case as the romance story is soaked in a world of racism and discrimination. Lingering aspects of America’s dark recent past, it deals with today.

There is lots of lingering motif also, which echos the lingering of these issues. Camera shots, the score and the themes of religion and Love. They are presented throughout in the same pure smooth eye-pleasing cinematography that layers a thick gorgeous colour palette that further brings this intimate tale of lovers. The intimacy is seen and more importantly, felt through every aspect of Jenkins’ direction and these brilliant performances.  But while it’s easy to get drawn in at times it plays upon these aspects too often, with some of the repetition coming across as too repetitive if that can be said. This does add a small trip into the smooth walk of the film and the pacing takes the hit. Through this at times the story can also lack bite, and the drama lacking the core function of clashing of thoughts and feelings, to which certainly does not present itself at the front of the film but rather simmer away in the background, emerging when only absolutely needed.

None the less, this is an intimate and telling conversation on love, family and friends and how faith in these people and one another will get you through adversity. And while it may not be able to play with the tenacity of other sweeping romances or deeply personal dramas. It is by choice and function of Jenkins’ superb direction. It’s a story that can illuminate but you have to let it in.

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