After Manchester by the Sea, we had doubts even a film so highly praised and lauded as Moonlight could topple our idea of the best film the past year had to offer. Turns out, we had saved the best for last.
Moonlight is in essence a Bildungsroman on film, the difficult journey of Chiron, a troubled youth in a rough Miami neighborhood, as he tries to come to terms with himself and his lingering homosexuality. Told in a triptych structure, we follow Chiron as a bullied child, taken under the wing of a drug dealer, as a shy and awkward teenager, and lastly as a grown man, dubbing himself Black, and working the streets like his former mentor once did, maintaining the image of a tough gangster, muscle-bound and intimidating, while inside still the same young man desperate to find his place.
The film's protagonist Chiron, through which we, sometimes literally, view the world he lives in, is portrayed by three different actors, and each one of them delivers an emotionally complex character, overflowing with personality. Particularly Trevante Rhodes, who plays the oldest Chiron, embodies the conflict of personality and outward image and reputation, putting to screen some of this year's best acting.
Mahershala Ali, who seems to be a lock for Best Supporting Actor, plays drug dealer/mentor Juan, but while he only gets what amounts to a few minutes of screen-time, his character and his interaction with the young Chiron sets the groundwork for the further emotional development of the boy that we see grow up into a man, making his short time a moment of vital importance, one that would nonetheless have faded out of the audience's memory were it not for his spellbinding performance.
Beside terrific acting across the board, Moonlight stands out as a brilliantly shot film, with a creative and unusual style, which particularly in the first part exhibits an unbound energy and movement, and an attention to color inspired by Chinese masters Wong Kar-Wai and Hsiou-Hsien Hao. The beautiful imagery both contrasts and enhances the characters and their actions, lifting the film to an almost ethereal plain, and a cut above the rest.
Barry Jenkins' Moonlight is not only visually immersive and thematically complex, it is a testament to the power of creativity in storytelling, the endless possibility of cinema, and a modern-day masterpiece.