"Beale Street is a street in New Orleans where my father, where Louis Armstrong and the Jazz were born. Every black person born in America was born on Beale Street, born in the black neighbourhood of some American city, whether in Jackson, Mississippi, or in Harlem, New York. Beale Street is our legacy". Barry Jenkins makes this eloquent opening statement as the credits roll in the beginning of his heartbreaking follow up to Moonlight.
Following his Best Picture winning coming-of-age drama, Jenkins returns with yet another overwhelmingly gorgeous work of art. Beale Street serves almost like a second chapter in his portfolio of race related stories. Lifted from the pages of James Baldwin's potent novel, If Beale Street Could Talk provides a glimpse into the life of Tish - a young woman embracing her pregnancy in Harlem during the 1970's. Meanwhile, her family do everything in their power to prove her fiancé innocent of a crime he has been wrongly accused of.
Jenkins makes falling in love feel like a brand new concept. Through his documentary style married with Nicholas Britell's overpowering score and James Laxton's beguiling cinematography, Beale Street is an intimate look at agape - and how trusting love all the way binds us together in a vicious world ruled by hatred. Specifically, Beale Street visualises a young girl's coming of age in a brutal yet beautiful Harlem setting - burning sexual passion and complex family relationships are the flames lit beneath this heart-aching romance.
Kiki Layne was sorely neglected a Best Actress nom. We are aligned with Tish from the outset. Fresh-faced, benevolent and gentle, this adolescent on the cusp of adulthood is on a crash course about the wider world during her pregnancy. Layne delicately portrays the leap from childhood, highlighting her endearing naivety and innocence. Her coy nature gradually fades away as we share her new experiences. You feel the elation and significance of her first sexual encounter, the warmth of her skin pressed against Fonny's, the rain scuttling against the windows and the crackling sound of the record player. Jenkins delivers an extremely raw and sensual narrative, so much so that it's rather astonishing that none of it is actually real.
But that's the power and art of his direction, the ability to take heavy subtext and transform it into a personal cinema experience like no other. The colour green plays an integral role in the film, Tish's blouse, Fonny's shirt, Mamma River's dress, the curtains of the family apartment, even the street they live in is cast in subtle shades of olive. Jenkins ingeniously reinforces the film's themes of life, growth and fertility - it's the colour that ties the family to one another, even when Fonny is chained behind thick sheets of glass. It also ties them to the real Beale Street. Religious connotations can also be discovered in Britell's provocative score: "Eden", "Eros" and "Keeper of the Keys and Seals" fabricate the stunning romance.
In If Beale Street Could Talk, a look really does say a thousand words. Jenkins taps into our soul with characters gazing directly into the camera: he envisions the devotion between Tish and Fonny, the enmity of Officer Bell and the motherly support of Regina King's genuinely impeccable performance as Sharon Rivers. He captures the small intricacies of human expression, utilising the camera in a profoundly personal manner. Beale Street gives love a whole new meaning.
If Beale Street Could Talk:
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Hi I’m James - a huge welcome to my film blog! I started this site just after my 14th birthday and have been bringing you my own take on the hottest box office arrivals and many art house triumphs ever since.