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Moonlight shows awards promise early

By Zach Green, October 7 2016 —

The last day of the 2016 Calgary International Film Festival was bittersweet, but director Barry Jenkin’s masterful debut film Moonlight — one of the closing films at CIFF this year — finished the festival on a high note.

The film follows Chiron — a boy living in a Miami ghetto — as he struggles with his sexual identity and a disparaging relationship with his crack-addicted mother. Split into three chapters at different points of Chiron’s life, the film is absolutely captivating.

Remarkably understated and realistic, the film never tries to force a deeper meaning onto its audience. Moonlight trusts viewers to figure out certain aspects of the story for themselves, allowing them to fill in the blanks between the film’s chapters.

The three actors playing Chiron as a child, a teenager and an adult are impeccably cast. Though Chiron’s character changes between chapters, actors Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders and Trevante Rhodes all capture the complex protagonist’s nuanced mannerisms in an uncannily similar manner.

Moonlight is also breathtaking. Every shot of the film is beautiful, as cinematographer James Laxton moves the camera in unexpected but effective directions. The camerawork, coupled with a haunting score, creates a hypnotic and tragic tone. Even in the film’s most brutal and heartbreaking sequences, it’s impossible to look away from the screen.

Although Moonlight is nearly perfect, the film’s greatest flaw is its abrupt ending. The film concludes just as it reaches its emotional peak and lacks closure. Since it’s so engrossing, Moonlight is a movie that feels like the credits should never roll. Disappointment is inevitable when a film this good ends.

A graceful exploration of what it means to be a gay black man in a world with a narrow definition of masculinity, Moonlight is one of the best films screened at CIFF this year. With its engaging narrative, gorgeous cinematography and incredible performances, Moonlight is guaranteed to generate Oscar buzz this awards season.

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