If Beale Street Could Talk (2018) – Barry Jenkins

If Beale Street Could Talk is Barry Jenkins following film after Moonlight (the Best Picture winner in 2017 at the Academy Awards). If Beale Street Could Talk is moving, visually stunning and explores innocent love and intimacy. Based on the James Baldwin novel of the same name, the love story at its core is surrounded by conflict and hatred. Set in 1970s America, high racial tensions spur the main events in the film. One of the protagonists, Alfonzo (Stephen James), is falsely accused of rape and the injustice he faces as a result is enraging and poignant.

The story is all the more heart-rending due to its basis in reality. The recently released Netflix drama When They See Us (directed by Ava DuVernay), shines light on the Central Park jogger case and the judicial racial discrimination that took place against those known as the Central Park Five. In this sense If Beale Street Could Talk is a film entrenched in race relations, that critiques the hierarchical structures in the law, that are still relevant today.

The films visuals do not suffer as a consequence of these profound, topical issues. The cinematography by James Laxton is flawless. If Beale Street Could Talk is beautifully crafted with enriching colours. The colour palette in the film is coordinated and this runs into the costume design also. The dense nature of the film is complimented by the gravitas of the imagery: every shot bares weight and feels momentous. Long shots are used throughout the film, and moments linger to allow for more tenderness and intensity. Through the use of first-person shots, the viewer can share in Clementine and Alfonzo’s intimacy, as we take on their perspectives. This creates a vulnerability to the characters who, in some scenes, are looking into our eyes. There is a focus on eyes in the film, especially with Alfonzo’s character. This is to further heighten our empathy for the characters, while also making their pain tougher to witness.

KiKi Layne and Stephen James have done an exceptional job at portraying the purity of the relationship between Clementine ‘Tish’ Rivers and Alonzo ‘Fonny’ Hunt. Their connection feels genuine and honest. The rest of the cast gave superb performances also, such as Brian Tyree Henry (playing Daniel Carty) whose harrowing recollections of prison life are framed with a hauntingly eerie tone. Regina King’s characterisation of Sharon Rivers is truly spectacular, and she definitely deserves the Academy Award she won for Best Supporting Actress. There is one scene in which she travels to Puerto Rico which is particularly distressing and moving, as her anguish feels so raw.

If Beale Street Could Talk tells an emotive story of boundless love. Bleak and crushing at times, the film manages to hold on to optimism. This is evident through the score by Nicholas Britell, which feels triumphant, melancholic and evokes the feeling of love, perfectly suited for the themes the film balances. The ways in which the film slows the narrative to focus on moments between Tish and Fonny makes their connection feel more genuine and the film more impactful.

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