BASED on Tarell Alvin McCraney’s play, In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, director Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight (Cert 15A, 111 mins) is a story told in three parts, interacting with the main character Chiron at three vital junctures in his life – as a young boy (Alex Hibbert), a teenager (Ashton Sanders) and a grown man (Travante Rhodes).
The experience of LGBT people of colour is a cinematic subject rarely explored, and in the current social climate of America, one that is deeply necessary this awards season.
Negotiating life in the poor, black neighbourhoods of Miami, the young Chiron is helped out by drug dealer Jean (Mahershala Ali) and his girlfriend Teresa (Janelle Monae).
Their home becomes a kind of sanctuary for Chiron when his mother (Naomie Harris) spirals into a devastating crack addiction.
Chiron first confronts his sexuality with the help of Jean and Teresa, but as he grows older he learns to hide inside a hardened exterior.
Here, life as a gay boy is solitary, violent and abusive; ultimately, Chiron begins to feel that the only one to help him through it is himself.
The subject matter is deeply affecting and absolutely necessary; Jenkins expertly crafts a narrative around the mostly ignored experience of the gay black male in America.
Moonlight is quietly moving throughout and never treats its themes with bombastic or explosive melodrama – the tension and emotion build softly, leading toward a deeply affecting, open-ended climax.
Yes, there are bursts of violence, but they are poetically in step with Moonlight’s overall, subdued atmosphere.
Jenkins often approaches the drama with a lingering camera, and deliberate, penetrating long takes that concentrate the hypnotic weight of their attention on facial expression.
Bodies, faces, in particular, are tightly framed – faces that speak, faces that listen, and faces that betray nothing of their bearer, demonstrating only the private enigma of human experience.
Indeed, the proximity the camera shares with the audience offers us a closeness to Chiron that no one in his life can attain. At times, the result is intimate; at others, it’s deeply claustrophobic.
Throughout, however, Jenkins’ expert direction affords the film and its complex subject a unique, lyrical ambience that we rarely catch onscreen – one that evokes the cinema of Wong Kar-Wai.
Much like the work of that renowned Hong Kong filmmaker, particularly his 2000 film In the Mood for Love, Moonlight incorporates repetitive and deeply moving musical themes to add a consistent, unifying texture to a story that takes massive leaps forward in time.
As both a deeply personal film and one that touches on subjects close to many hearts – subjects that rarely appear in mainstream cinema – Moonlight offers no simple answers and no universal truths.
Jenkins has crafted a unique, profound film that is wholeheartedly deserving of every accolade aimed in its direction.
Led with three superb performances and a fantastic cast of supporting players, Moonlight exhibits the entire pantheon of human emotion – beautiful, devastating and completely necessary viewing.