With Academy Award winner Moonlight (honestly, it thrills me so much to still say that,) Barry Jenkins showed the world that he was not just a talented filmmaker, but he was an innovative one too. Not just by his story structure or the stirring cinematography, but by the gifted way he can find a voice and a character…
A voice and a character midst the silence. The beating heart of a person in the chaos of life. The stirring truth of identity and sexuality. Barry Jenkins is adept at all of this and more. So when his next project – If Beale Street Could Talk – was announced, the whole film world was gripped to see what he’d produce next.
Based on a novel by James Baldwin, If Beale Street Could Talk revolves around young woman Tish and her partner Fonny who are living in 1960s New York. Fonny is falsely accused of rape and sent to prison just as the pair are about to start their lives. When Tish announces that she is pregnant, her family and his move forward to help exonerate him from prison. But when his accuser disappears and the only witness is also arrest, all hope for Tish and Fonny seems to fritter away. Can the pair gain their happy ever after?
If Beale Street Could Talk is a sublime exploration of love and prejudice. By concentrating on the centric pair, director Barry Jenkins concocts a glorious display of emotion and spends a heft of the film showing just how connected Tish and Fonny are. As proven with his previous film, Jenkins truly is a story-teller who can produce believably and earnest depictions of love and here is no different. Tish and Fonny feel real – as though actors Stephan James and KiKi Layne just so happened to be a 1960’s couple – and that helps you invest in their pairing.
There is also a great and sensitive exploration of the racism that impacts the day to day life of black people. With clear allusions to what is happening right now, and also montages of photographs, there is a clear comment on the trauma and prejudice people of colour suffered from (and still do.) Brutish police officers who never forget a face to Brian Tyrell Harvey’s speech on fear, it is never forgotten that black people have agonized from atrocities that are still prevalent in America today.
Added to this is the absolutely incandescent cinematography and cinematic language. The movie flits through flashbacks and sequences similarly to Moonlight but without ever dipping into confusion. It portrays New York in an era soaked light with some achingly gorgeous use of colour. Through James Laxton’s impeccable eye, the film is a vibrant and lush cityscape of imagery and emotion. It’s simply beautiful to watch.
Nicholas Brittel’s sublime score is emotive. Within minutes of the film, you’ll find yourself already pushed to the emotional edge with it all. Jenkins has not only proved that he is far from a one-trick director, but he also has his own particular style and cinematic brand. With If Beale Street Could Talk, Barry Jenkins’ has proven himself to be our most engaged and exciting filmmaker.
If Beale Street Could Talk plays as part of the BFI London Film Festival!