Film Review: If Beale Street Could Talk

Barry Jenkins has created one of the best films of the year with the beguiling If Beale Street Could Talk. The film is powerful viewing.

In 1970s Harlem, Tish and Fonny are in love. When Fonny is accused of a crime, Tish and her family do their best to prove his innocence…

Barry Jenkins exhibits his mastery as a filmmaker with If Beale Street Could Talk. An adaptation of James Baldwin’s novel, the film tells the story of Tish and Fonny. Despite being set in the 1970s, the film feels as relevant as ever. 

There is so much to be in awe of in If Beale Street Could Talk. Jenkins’ attention to detail is superb. His storytelling is absolutely enchanting. The narrative begins in the middle, before telling the love story through a series of flashbacks interspersed with present day scenes. Jenkins let the relationship unfold in a careful and natural manner, letting viewers fall in love with the characters as they themselves fall in love. 

Despite the age of the source material, the film is incredibly resonant today. The themes of persecution of minorities, police brutality, discrimination are all present. Jenkins deals with these themes sensitively, yet does not shy away from frankness. The conversation between Fonny and Daniel is one of most powerful moments in If Beale Street Could Talk. It really gets to the bones of issue; the trauma feels real. Elsewhere the show of solidarity from the landlord is an incredibly moving scene. 

Jenkins frames characters in such a beautiful way. The cinematography by James Laxton is wonderful. There are several beautiful shots, such as the close up of Fonny on the phone delivering his moving monologue. The camera is fluid in other situations, sweeping the viewers into the action. The use of colour and lighting charms. The score works very well; it is distinct from the diegetic music, but beautifully sets the mood. 

Performances are flawless all round. Kiki Layne and Stephan James are superb. Layne’s quietness is perfect, while James is so expressive. Regina King finally gets a role with real meat; she is wonderful. Colman Domingo is also great.

If Beale Street Could Talk shows Moonlight was no fluke. Barry Jenkins is one of the best directors working today.

If Beale Street Could Talk is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2018.

BFI London Film Festival 2018 Launch

Today saw the BFI London Film Festival 2018 launch. Now in its 62nd year, the festival is screening 225 feature films, including 21 world premieres. Here are some highlights from the festival programme…

Headline Galas

The Opening and Closing Gala films had already been announced. The BFI London Film Festival 2018 opens with Steve McQueen’s hotly anticipated Widows, starring Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, and Colin Farrell. McQueen co-wrote the  screenplay with Gillian Flynn. McQueen’s last film, 12 Years A Slave, screened at the 2013 London Film Festival to great acclaim. Stan & Ollie, which features John C. Reilly and Steve Coogan as the legendary comedy duo, closes the festival. Other headline galas include Luca Guadagnino’s hotly anticipated Suspiria, Jason Reitman’s The Front Runner, and Marielle Heller’s Can You Ever Forgive Me?. A particular highlight is Yorgos Lanthimos’ latest. The Favourite is about Queen Anne’s court, and stars Olivia Colman, Rachel Weiss, and Emma Stone. 

Strand Galas and Special Presentations

There are several great looking films in the Strand Galas and Special Presentation programmes. They include Barry Jenkins’ follow up to Moonlight, If Beale Street Could Talk, which is an adaption of James Baldwin’s novel. Others in this category include Lee Chang-dong’s thriller Burning, and Alfonso Caurón’s first film since Gravity, Roma, and Terry Gilliam’s The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. Special Presentations include Michael Moore’s Donald Trump documentary Fahrenheit 11/9, Carol Morley’s noir thriller Out of Blue, and George Tillman Jr.’s The Hate U Give. 

Official Competition

There are some big names in this year’s Official Competition. Films include David Lowery’s (A Ghost Story) The Old Man & The Gun starring Robert Redford, László Nemes’ (Son of Saul) Sunset, and Ben Wheatley’s Happy New Year, Colin Burstead – Wheatley’s Free Fire closed the 2016 festival. Also competing is Karyn Kusama’s Destroyer, starring Nicole Kidman. Meanwhile the Documentary Competition features Putin’s Witness (Svideteli Putina’s film featuring footage of Putin from 1999-2000) and Julien Faraut’s John McEnroe: In The Realm Of Perfection. First Feature Competition includes Isabella Eklöf’s Holiday and Paul Dano’s Wildlife. 

Strands

As in previous years, the eleven programme strands are back. Love features Fred Rogers documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, and the Sandra Hüller starring In The Aisles. Debate includes Oliver Assayas’ latest, Non-Fiction, starring Juliette Binoche and Guillaume Canet, and Catherine Corsini’s An Impossible Love. Laugh includes New Zealand comedy The Breaker Uppers, about two women running a relationship break-up service. Amongst the Dare programme is The Green Fog, which sees filmmakers Guy Maddin and Evan and Galen Johnson remake Vertigo using clips from other people’s films. Thrill includes Kim Nguyen’s The Hummingbird Project (starring Jesse Eisenberg and Alexander Skarsgård), while Cult features Nicolas Cage in Panos Cosmatos’ Mandy. 

Jessica Hynes directorial debut The Fight is part of the Journey strand, and Create includes Joan Jett documentary Bad Reputation. Richard Squires’ Doozy, which recreates the career of Hanna-Barbera’s villain actor Paul Lynde is one of the Experimenta films being screened. The Family strand features Linda Hambäck’s animated detective tale Gordon & Paddy. Finally, there are some great films being screened as part of the Treasures strand. These include Billy Wilder’s classic Some Like It Hot and Mae West in My Little Chickadee.

The BFI London Film Festival 2018 runs from 10th-21st October. The full programme can be viewed here.