TIFF 2018: Barry Jenkins' Film 'If Beale Street Could Talk' is Pure Bliss
by Alex Billington
September 13, 2018
Lord Almighty, Barry Jenkins is a master. If Beale Street Could Talk is the third film written & directed by filmmaker Barry Jenkins (following Medicine for Melancholy and Moonlight previously), this time he's loosely adapting James Baldwin's 1974 novel of the same name. This film is pure bliss. It is love, it's the feeling and emotions and actions of love turned into celluloid and projected in front of our very eyes for us to fall in love with in turn. It's a gorgeous film, visually and emotionally, and I didn't want it to end. That's the best thing about it - it's a slice of life taking us back to the 70s, but giving us a love story so rich and so real, that you want to keep following them wherever they may go. Much like Linklater's Before series, the love on display here is something we can all be inspired by - no matter your race or sexuality or upbringing.
If Beale Street Could Talk tells the story of two people in love - Alonzo "Fonny" Hunt, played by Stephan James, and Tish Rivers, played by KiKi Layne. These are two of the finest performances you'll see all year, no question. The way that Tish & Fonny look at each in his film melts my heart. It's the way their eyes light up, that glimmer, it's the genuine look of love and it gave me a chill every single time. This isn't something you can find often in most films, it's remarkably rare to capture that spark and yet here it is, shown to us so simply and so directly in Beale Street. The camera always focuses on their eyes. The story revolves around Tish's efforts to try and free her husband, who was jailed after being wrongly accused of a crime, a common occurrence with African Americans. It's set in the 70s, but the story is just as timely now as it was back then.
Jenkins crafts a film that is, purely and directly, about what it's like for African Americans to be in love. We see their struggles, and their triumphs, we see the moments that matter, and the many challenges they face. But above all, their love reigns supreme. It will fill you with hope and all those warm fuzzy feelings you get when you see true love. It's pure bliss to watch, and experience, because everything about this film is bliss - the score, the cinematography, the set design. The film is also wonderfully intelligent, and their dialogue is crisp and clean and smooth. I loved listening to everyone talk, and get into arguments. There's a scene early on where both families get into some heated discussion (ahem) at the Rivers' home and it's invigorating to watch, instantly unforgettable. There's some perfectly timed humor, with some genuinely honest reactions.
The film is also stunning to look at. Jenkins and his cinematographer James Laxton have mastered the art of color and tones, and each and every shot is so rich and elegant. This, of course, connects directly to the emotions within each character, and also reminds us how vivid this world is. Nicholas Britell also delivers a sumptuous jazzy score that compliments this love story in a warm and welcoming way. It's the cherry on top of an otherwise delicious meal, and everything comes together exquisitely. It's a film that would most certainly make James Baldwin proud. There is no real ending to it, this is just a part of their story, and that's why I would happily keep following them and whatever came next. I know they would be able to overcome every obstacle; their relationship will shine brightly as a beautiful example of how love always conquers all.
Alex's TIFF 2018 Rating: 9.5 out of 10
Follow Alex on Twitter - @firstshowing