Directed by Barry Jenkins
Few films are ever so bold in their withdrawn power. Even fewer are the accounts of the underrepresented, the marginalized and the ignored. The title Moonlight is apt given that it illuminates a part of America that largely remains in the shadows of cinema today.
Thanks to the brilliant screenplay by Tarell Alvin McCraney and the astonishing direction of Barry Jenkins, this story offers not only an intimate character study of a young Chiron through his adolescence, but an unwavering depiction of the social hurdles that beset Miami during the war on drugs.
As a result, it walks the tightrope of exposing intimacy in an impermissible place and a challenging social critique of the society which disavows the emotional self.
All of which is made more potent by the immaculate performances by the cast (Mahershala Ali, Shariff Earp, and Naomie Harris are particularly standouts) who, before being interviewed on stage at TIFF this year, arrived on stage with tears rolling down their face.
This film wasn’t a showcase of one single talent, it was one of the few this year that felt earnest in its shared respect for the material and the emotional strength it took to bring it all together.
But despite all of its emotional fortitude, Moonlight is bound as tight as a drum until its final breath.
I found it fascinating how Jenkins could approach this material with such tenderness and also such pronounced visceral style.
It’s one of the first digital films that really had me question whether it was 35mm Film or not. In fact, I asked Barry Jenkins what compelled him to shoot on 35mm, to which he laughed and replied, “It’s Alexa.”
After the Q & A, he spoke to me about the advantage of using Film Emulsion LUTS and vintage Hawk Lenses, “The Hawk anamorphics gave me the subjectivity I wanted,” he said quietly.
These are the added touches to a small budget feature film (approximately a $4 million budget) that really helped carry the weight of this period piece.
Jenkins’ abilities not only are limited to his grasp of the material, but his ability to adapt it to the big screen.
His use of diegetic music in particular was refreshing in a climate of dramatic character studies that suffer from a certain hip-hop-phobia. The musical touches not only bring to life that time and place, but present an interesting musical conflict against Nicolas Brittel’s wonderful, chilling score (arguably my favourite score of the year), an evocative reflection of Chiron’s own inner-dialogue against his outer space.
I think Moonlight will go down in history. I’m certainly not the first acolyte for the film and I don’t think I’ll be the last. It will solidify itself in the pantheon of film history, not only because of its brilliance but because it reflects a major passage in the ethos of film audiences. It says to the film industry that yes, we want new stories about the marginalized and underrepresented. And we want them treated with respect and taste.
It’s about time. Thanks, Mr. Jenkins, for helping push open that door in a big way.