Panorama | Special Presentations
Sophomore writer-director Barry Jenkins’ (Medicine for Melancholy) Florida-set coming-of-age tale eschews the usual tropes common to the genre in favour of an urgent, deeply felt take on what it means to be a black man in America today. Alternating between tough and tender—and anchored by a breakout performance from newcomer Trevante Rhodes—the film follows young Chiron across three defining chapters in his life as he experiences the ecstasy, pain and beauty of falling in love while grappling with his own sexuality.
From his boyhood days, lived in the midst of a 1980s Miami crack epidemic, through to adulthood, the one constant in Chiron’s life has been the near-ubiquitous availability of drugs and the constant threat of violence. As a child, he was bullied at school and dealt with harshly at home by his father (Mahershala Ali, from House of Cards); as an adult (when he is so convincingly played by Rhodes), the battleground has become his own psyche. How can he come to terms with the love he feels for his best friend (The Knick’s André Holland)? Can he accept his own sexuality?
Jenkins’ achievements here are both stylistic and thematic. His combination of impressionism and realism allows us to wholly enter Chiron’s life and to feel his triumphs and defeats on a visceral level. That Jenkins succeeds in doing so while shattering stereotypes along the way makes this a groundbreaking film and a sensual, intoxicating piece of cinema.
“[The] best film I’ve seen in a long time and the best take on black masculinity… ever.”—Ta-Nehisi Coates