“If you trusted love this far, don’t panic now – trust it all the way”
A gripping love-letter to love, simultaneously acting as a captivating display of the injustice faced by black Americans in early 1970’s, Barry Jenkins third film, If Beale Street Could Talk is nothing but cinematographic poetry.
If you have ever doubted the existence of such a thing called love, I suggest you spend an hour and a half in a room with Tish (KiKi Layne), Fonny (Stephan James) and their respective families. The doubt will vanish, just like your trust in the US legal system.
In Harlem, 19-year-old Tish, is deeply in love with her best-friend Fonny, a young sculptor – and the father to her unborn child. When Fonny is falsely accused of rape, and imprisoned, their families fight to clear his name prior to the birth of the baby. This is a story about love surviving the oppression of racial injustice.
Through a narrative that swiftly jumps back and forth across time, Jenkins is tells this story in an unconventional, engaging manner. Over-lapping the time jumps with a voice-over by Tish, proves a clever tool that brings a spirited energy to the occasionally slower sequences.
Although the actors do not verbally converse in many of the scenes, their body language tells us more than words could express. Through close-ups, pans of Tish and Fonny walking hand-in-hand and shots lingering on characters lost in thought, Jenkins manage to capture genuine emotion through this universal language.
The chemistry between Layne and James feels pure, raw and honest throughout the film. Combined with camera-work managing to obtain a subtle delicacy in focusing on their body language, the early stages of falling for someone is beautifully conveyed.
Emotion is also attached to the message which is being pushed throughout this bitter-sweet story, one of giving a voice to the voiceless, the unheard. As Beale Street does talk, it possesses a strong voice. A voice which holds anger, resentment, fear and a determination to outsmart the injustice which it is facing. This message is contrasted by the heartfelt love story with which it is intertwined, making both protrude more urgently.
From the stunning, swirling, over-head shot of the couple, strolling hand-in-hand that opens the movie, there is no stopping Jenkins cinematographic magic. With a colour-scheme entailing outfits that match one another, along with their surroundings and artful frames that mirrors the soulful soundtracks both in style and rhythm, the film is so aesthetically pleasing that it makes Mona Lisa feel like an amateur painting.
There is a warmness that encapsulates the story, and that stems from it’s theme of an unwavering belief in love. Love between a mother and her daughter. Love between a father and his son, love between siblings, between friends and between lovers. Although darkened by the extreme injustice of Fonny’s situation, as a black man – like so many others before, and sadly after – falsely accused of a crime he did not commit, there lingers an overall optimism in its message. Love will persist even in the hardest of times, and create life.
If you are after a moving, thought-provoking film that will fill your heart with the fuzziness that only the thought of love can create – check this gem out! Also, the wardrobe choices throughout the film are top-class – so keep an eye out for some 70s-vibe style-inspo.
The mesmerising adaptation of James Baldwin’s novel will be screened in the Macrobert Arts Centre between the 22-28th of February.