Cannes 2016: Jeff Nichols' Lovely, Tender 'Loving' Touches the Heart
by Alex Billington
May 16, 2016
This is the story of the Lovings, Richard and Mildred Loving. This isn't the story of how they met and fell in love, but this is the true story of how they changed America forever by staying true to their love. Loving is the latest film from the immensely talented filmmaker Jeff Nichols, who also made the film Midnight Special released this year, too. Joel Edgerton stars as Richard Loving, a mumbling hard-working family man, and Ruth Negga plays his wife Mildred, a soft spoken and resilient woman. The two were married in the 1950s and lived in Virginia, and at the time were arrested for simply being an interracial married couple. Their appeal eventually made it all the way to the Supreme Court, where they rejected this racism and won.
First things first, Loving feels like a completely different film than anything Jeff Nichols has made before. It's a bit tame, but that doesn't mean it isn't extremely well-made. The film never spends time in a court room, instead it spends all of its time with Richard and Mildred and some of their friends and family. We get to know them just by watching them living happily as a couple, and their performances are exceptional. We get to see them have kids and raise a family. And we get to see them discriminated against, yet they never lash out, they stay quiet and they stay true to who they are. They stay together, and they eventually fight back with the help of the ACLU. Ruth Negga in particular is likely to get a few awards at the end of the year.
What works well in the film are the emotions it builds up deep inside keen viewers. It takes time to build, but it eventually accumulates into something so powerful that it's hard not to squirt a few tears. It hit me during one random scene. I feel like I knew where it was going and all they were standing for, and I couldn't help letting a few tears roll down my cheeks. As stated by my colleague Melissa Silverstein on Twitter, "men rarely are allowed to express the kind of love and affection that we saw in this film." That's so true and that's part of the reason this is such a tender and heartfelt film. It relies so much on the relationship between them and how beautiful that is to see - there are no questions about their love, only about those who challenge it.
I will admit that I feel Nichols' Take Shelter, Mud and Midnight Special are slightly better films overall, but Loving is still up there with them. It's such a moving story and so important to share this story with more people. Earlier this year we had Nate Parker's The Birth of the Nation, and now we have Loving, which I could call The Birth of a Generation as if it were a spiritual follow-up. These two films would make a great double bill. Loving is a rather simple, quiet film but it speaks quite loudly about the power of love. I felt the emotions, I felt the love between them, and I was delighted to see it so beautifully realized through such skillful storytelling. Nichols is one of the best filmmakers working today and this film proves it once again.
Alex's Cannes 2016 Rating: 8.5 out of 10
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