If Beale Street Could Talk: My Thoughts
Barry Jenkins’s Moonlight was a groundbreaking piece of storytelling, which simply put redefined the types of movies that can and should be on the Oscar’s radar. Two years later Jenkin’s returns to blow your minds once again with his latest project. If Beale Street Could Talk has a tough but tender truthfulness, with no intention to shy away from the realities of the time and in turn produces one of the best films of this year.
If Beale Street Could Talk tells the story of young lovers Tish and Fonny, who are separated after Fonny is falsely accused of rape and imprisoned. It could have been easy for this love story to exist in a vacuum. Films of a bygone era would have had no qualms with dealing with young love without diving into the reality of life for so many couples in 1970’s Harlem.
Instead Jenkins’s adapting from James Baldwin’s novel of the same name is able to intertwine this poetic beautiful story of love with the stark reality of a system which was and frankly still is fundamentally broken. There is a sickening feeling that you may be left with when you realise there is no ‘bad guy’, no vaudevillian man twirling a moustache. Instead our characters are hopelessly left at the mercy of a system they had no choice involved with.
The depth in Tish and Fonny’s relationship is what makes all the other elements so confronting. Unlike other films which may choose to remain negative our characters joke, they look to lift up one another’s spirits. Jenkins’s is able to capture Baldwin’s desire to tell very poetic human stories alongside being a critic of the society around him.
Coming out of the cinema, there are few films where I have felt the same level of intimacy with our characters. This comes in a variety of ways; from the use of a voice-over narrator, placing us in the head of Tish as she speaks to her feelings for Fonny. Through one of the most intimate love scenes in cinema: Jenkins’s strips the scene of any objectification. There is no gaze. Just the coming together of two people whose chemistry is clear. Finally, it comes through the camera itself.
While some people don’t truly value the importance of cinematography Jenkins’s command of the camera is clear. Often times we linger for seconds which soon feel like minutes as time is quite literally slowed down. We are left looking directly at the character, feeling their reactions
In an interview with the Atlantic Jenkins speaks about this technique’s value. He says “what I like to do is, if I can feel that the actor’s in a place where the thinking has receded and they’re in a meditative state, then we pull that shot out. It’s important for the audience to have a direct connection to the character, and when an actor’s performing, there’s always some degree of distance. If the performance goes away, and there’s this perfect fusion between actor and character, then I want the audience to look right into that person’s eyes.”
What these shots do is allow us to connect with the characters and prevent us from distancing ourselves in a way that would be easy. That’s what makes this film so special it is able to capture how love looks and feels.
Finally, the score and colour palate of this film, are simply amazing. They add this dream-like quality to the scenes between Tish and Fonny that amplify how truly in love they are. The result of that is a mesmerizing experience – you will be left immersed in every frame and every moment.
Hot Take: At the end of this is that If Beale Street Could Talk showcases Barry Jenkins is a true master of the form, providing a nuanced and detailed look at race relations while telling a beautiful love story. Why the academy put Green Book on the pedestal instead I’ll never know.
Barry Jenkins interview worth reading is here.