Monday 25 February 2019

Film: 'If Beale Street Could Talk'

My first vital query on last night's Oscars is why this most remark-able film didn't get even a nomination for 'Best Picture' when it's the first sure-fire entry for my Top Ten of 2019. It surely can't be that the 'deciders' had deemed that there were already 'too many' of the eight choices which included prominent roles for or featured a largely black cast, so they couldn't have another one. Perish the thought! Still, it did pick up one Oscar, for Regina King as Best Supporting Actress, and a well-merited one it was. It deserved much more.

Based on a novel by James Baldwin, with whose writings I was not acquainted until about 25 years ago when three of four of his novels were lent to me all at once by an admirer, and which I devoured one straight after the other. Having annoyingly misplaced my list of books read a few years ago (by then the titles had numbered over 2,000, excluding re-reads) I can't be sure that this wasn't one of them. I recall 'Go Tell It On the Mountain' and 'Giovanni's Room' but can't remember what else. Barry Jenkins, director of this film (and also of 'Moonlight') has made a superb picture from his own adaptation of the novel - involving and heart-rending, with a masterful, original method of film-making, with slow, languorous camera work (and music) to capture the mood of the moment spot-on. 

The New-York based film starts with 19-year old Kiki Layne visiting her 22-year old boyfriend (Stephan James, looking rather older) in prison for something which we only find out about later, and there she tells him that she's expecting his baby. She hasn't even told her family yet - though when she does, despite her apprehensions, her mother (Oscar winner, Regina King), her father and her sister are all supportive of her with no recriminations. The only sour note is when her boyfriend's mother comes round and blames her for 'corrupting' her son.
The film employs liberal use of flashbacks (too many?) of the couple's intimacy, before the event which got him locked up.
It's the mother who does the running around and leads the investigation to try to prove her prospective son-in-law's innocence, and a very fine job Regina King makes of it. In fact the whole cast shines and some real affection between the young couple is evident throughout.

It might be a film too slow for some but I think it needed to take its time for one to savour the emotions it brings up. The music soundtrack is itself remarkable - mainly string, quasi-chamber music reflecting the intimacy of the relationships both of the couple and familial.

It's a film unusual in its executions and I've no complaints at all about that as it perfectly suits the atmosphere it evokes. My sole reservation remains is that there are rather a lot of flashbacks, all without warning or indication. I don't mind retrospective scenes in general though there will inevitably come a point where one wishes that its application was used just a bit more sparingly.
However, on the whole, this small-scale film works a treat, and I'm content to place it in the rarified ranks of an.............8

(IMDb...................7.8 / Rott. Toms..................8.6 }


  1. As you have rated it so highly I will put it on my mental list to look out for.

    1. I think it might well be best appreciated by only a minority, Carol (does that sound snooty?) but if you like my 'kind' of film as I suspect you may do, you'll value this one. Do give it a try.

  2. I saw this a couple of weeks ago. I enjoyed it and was familiar with James Baldwin from the 1970s when he was very much "in" to read. I liked it well enough, good story of its time, was prepared for the flash back way of doing it, had read about it before I went, and found it easy to follow and thought it worked well and some v good acting.

    1. I was especially taken by the way the film gradually, and very satisfyingly, filled in the missing pieces. It started by presenting us with a situation giving rise to a whole load of questions, then proceeded to answer them in piecemeal fashion and very intelligently.
      Other than those flashbacks, where I was just starting to get a bit weary of wondering what the hell's going on, it was indeed generally easy to follow.
      I thought the capturing of the atmosphere of the situation was most remarkable, a situation which was trivial to everyone outside the circle of those affected but meaning the whole world to those on the inside.
      An extraordinary film which, aside from what I've already mentioned, would be hard to improve on.

  3. We saw this the instant it came out because I am a huge Regina King fan. She,in my mind, can do no wrong onscreen.
    King said Barry Jenkins filmed it a certain way to pull you into these sort intimate moments, and I think that's right.
    This is one I would see again, mostly because of Regina King.

    1. Regina King, a name which didn't mean much to me until yesterday, was an utter revelation - one of the actresses who doesn't have to say much, because it's all written in her facial expressions.

      Barry Jenkins' method of filming is quite unique, the same as he employed in 'Moonlight', just as effectively. Can hardly wait to find out about his next project. Yes, I too could gladly see this film again.