Tuesday, May 23, 2017

HIT ME WITH YOUR BEST SHOT: Moonlight


As is the case around this time every year, the cinephile world currently has its eyes glued to the 70th annual Cannes Film Festival. But for me, the most exciting film-related news of the past week was the announcement that The Film Experience's Hit me with your best shot series is back for another season. And to kick things off, Nathaniel has chosen a wonderful film for us to dissect through its beautiful imagery.

For this first installment, we looked at Barry Jenkins' masterpiece and recent Best Picture winner "Moonlight", a perfect choice for this exercise. This was my third viewing of the film and it didn't disappoint, providing an even richer experience than I'd remembered. What I particularly loved is how Jenkins portrays Chiron's struggle and coming of age with such specificity and underlying optimism. Though my eventual pick for Best Shot was primarily an aesthetic choice, it also reflects these traits.

Click below for my favourite shot...

Much has been said and written about the universal appeal of "Moonlight", a factor that certainly helped it to its historic Oscar triumph a few months ago. But the film also succeeds by portraying a very specific version of the black experience, one that we rarely see on screen. We've seen numerous "hood films" set in places like Compton and Brooklyn. But "Moonlight" is unmistakably set in the coastal city of Miami, as you can see from my chosen shot above. It may seem like a trivial detail, but when beach access is often associated with affluence in America (think "Big Little Lies"), it immediately stands out. And Jenkins certainly takes advantage of this, using the ocean as a backdrop for two of the film's most pivotal scenes.

The first instance is when we see a previously withdrawn Chiron engaging in a heart-to-heart with father figure Juan. After a swimming lesson, Juan shares some words of wisdom, explaining that Chiron needs to decide for himself what kind of man he wants to be. Later on, Chiron once again lets his guard down by the sea. As he sits with longtime friend Kevin, he is at his most vulnerable, revealing his suppressed pain and openly expressing his sexuality. It's a special moment that is forever seared into Chiron's memory, as it becomes the first and only time he is intimate with another person for many years.

All of this is to say that the setting is both oppressive and supportive in Chiron's journey of self-discovery. Though the lives of Chiron and his peers are marred by hardships, the sea offers an escape. Teenaged Kevin is already aware of this in his description of the sea breeze:

"Sometimes round the way, where we live, you can catch that same breeze. It come through the hood and it’s like everything stop for a second ‘cause everyone just wanna feel it. Everything just gets quiet, you know?"

Beach bums have long praised the revitalizing and soothing power of the ocean and it seems to have that same effect here. As "Moonlight" closes on this gorgeous shot (tinted blue in a nod to the source material "In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue"), Chiron's outward gaze and the gently rippling waves evoke a feeling of renewal and life-affirming hope.

5 comments:

  1. I chose this shot, too! Which almost makes me feel bad since there are so damn many great ones to choose from.

    This was also my third time through, and this time I was particularly taken with Kevin's story, and the subtle ways they show that he's (however slightly) better off than Chiron. I feel like an equally fascinating film could be made about Kevin. And Juan/Theresa, for that matter. MORE JANELLE MONAE!!

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  2. Great shot and it was also my 3rd time through. I love the movie doesnt tell you everything. Just enough to care without feeling manipulated

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  3. Great shot and it was also my 3rd time through. I love the movie doesnt tell you everything. Just enough to care without feeling manipulated

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  4. Great choice. That's my favorite shot of the film as well. So evocative and it's composed to perfection.

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