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2016 London Film Festival Review: Moonlight – “Phenomenal, bold film-making”

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moonlight

A story of three acts (and three actors per character), we first meet Chiron (or ‘Little’, as he’s sometimes known) aged around nine or ten just as he’s fleeing a group of bullies determined to beat him to a pulp. He manages to escape but is then found by Juan (Mahershala Ali – Luke Cage, House of Cards), who takes it upon himself to look after him. As time goes on and Chiron’s story unfolds, we find out more about him. His mother (played by Naomie Harris – Spectre) is a drug addict who doesn’t seem all that bothered that her young son has been absent overnight. His father is not on the scene – if he ever was. ‘Little’ has no real support network and this is clearly no recent development.

As Chiron gets older – jumping from actor Alex R. Hibbert to Ashton Sanders and then to Trevante Rhodes – we start to learn more about his homosexuality, his love for his male friend and his fear of revealing his true self to those around him. Mostly, we see that every little thing is telling him to go down one path when all he wants to do is choose a different one.

Throughout Moonlight, there are numerous pre-conceived ideas which are immediately challenged – and that is just one of the many aspects that make this film so daring. These prejudices are presented to the audience and then immediately discounted. Take that early character of Juan. Why is he inviting a young boy he doesn’t know out for a meal and then back to his house? Because he’s concerned and he thinks his girlfriend Teresa (played with a beautifully maternal presence by Janelle Monáe) might get the boy talking so that they can help him. He genuinely does have the best of intentions – oh and he just happens to be a big-time drug-dealer to boot.

Though having a story about a gay boy of colour struggling to accept who he is could well be story enough in itself, there is so much more to Moonlight. The bold themes of friendship, tolerance and compassion, and then the nastier elements of ignorance, addiction and cruelty, are woven together throughout all three acts. People lash out because they are desperate to fit in or just to satisfy some other need. There is violence and nastiness all around Chiron yet there is also genuine heart and affection, and moments of delightful humour. And, through it all, there is always the reminder that your future is not decided, that you have the power to change it if you want.

Each actor, at each age, takes on their role with the kind of bravery and attention to detail that is required in a story that jumps through time like this one does. The jumps never jar with the viewer because we so fully understand each of the many characters that we can already imagine what we’ve missed – even if they only make a brief appearance in one of the sections.

Beautifully shot and subtly crafted, Moonlight is phenomenal, bold film-making. Flawless.

5-out-of-5

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