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  • Writer's pictureGabriel Rhenals

Blog Post #18: My 'Moonlight' Review

"This is not a joke. Moonlight has won Best Picture." -La La Land producer, Jordan Horowitz

And so, it was. Moonlight, a film that stands in near-diametric opposition to the gilded flamboyance and boisterousness of contemporary Hollywood, took home that industry's most coveted award on a very memorable night. Director Barry Jenkins didn't need the monster-sized budgets and crowd-attracting names all-too-characteristic of most studio pictures. And their film's end credits don't even go on for very long. The heft of Jenkins' and his team's seismic accomplishment lay in illuminating the reality of a sorely neglected community with a simple but deftly told coming-of-age story. The film follows Chiron as a boy, teen and adult as he struggles to navigate the challenges of a life burdened by economic oppression and sexual repression in Liberty City. The setting of Liberty City (the film was shot on location) is as much a character as those Chiron meets throughout his journey. This far less winsome side of Miami, rarely (if ever) committed to digital frames, has an undeniably cruel beauty. For all of the bland-looking housing projects and streets lined with drug-dealers and their desperate supplicants, there is relief found in the moon and sun-lit natural beauty of Miami's beachy shores and surrounding flora. There is a cohesive binding to all of the writing and performances in the film that is no doubt attributable to the fact that Jenkins and playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney, whose play, In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, the film is based upon, both grew up in Liberty City and unquestionably drew from their own experiences living there. The three actors (Alex R. Hibbert, Ashton Sanders and Trevante Rhodes), who portray Chiron at various stages of his life, all do a superb job of consistently depicting a quiet but deeply conflicted character whose emotional and sexual desire is held back for so long out of fear, uncertainty and conflict with masculine codes. These performances, along with those of many of the supporting roles, are nuanced and seem to permeate with realism and authenticity. Cinematographer James Laxton's work is also notable for imbuing the film with vibrant color and an astute balancing of expressive close-ups and wide vistas. Laxton also captures the proceedings with a documentarian's eye, incorporating a mainly eye-level view of events and a liberal amount of handheld shots. This confident and artful approach to the visuals certainly inundate one in the aforementioned cruel beauty of the story's setting and duly allows the human element to shine through with absolute clarity and focus. In service of similar ends is the work of editor Joi McMillon who, in addition to giving moments and cuts the right amount of emphasis or refrain, also plays with sound and music in a refreshingly poetic way. Moonlight is a unique bird. The film manages to be elegant and moving cinema while depicting the more unsightly aspects of life in a neglected, underserved part of Miami. The piece is unflinching in its depiction of the ugliness of Chiron's world but there's a staggering sense of hope to be gleaned from it all especially when you consider the reality from which it springs. It appears to say that regardless of the darkness of circumstances that may seek to impugn and nullify deeply held longings and most hopeful desires, the moonlight will ultimately reward the stricken among us by painting them shimmering, ethereal and blue. Congratulations to Barry Jenkins and the cast and crew of Moonlight for their triumphant win at the Oscars this past Sunday! And a special shout-out to Andrew Hevia (co-producer, pictured below at far left), Lucas Leyva, Bryan Angarita, Danniel Rodriguez and Becca Kenyon, all of whom are friends of mine who worked on the film! Bravo!

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