LFF 2016: A boy grows into a man in this hugely affecting drama from sophomore director Barry Jenkins
Persecuted by his peers, struggling with his sexuality and neglected by his drug-addled, sex-peddling mom, life lobs challenge after challenge at young Chiron and he builds barriers, wide and high, to protect himself. If Moonlight sounds hard-going it isn't: the second film from US writer-director Barry Jenkins is far more than the black Boyhood, smashing stereotypes and trading in hope – hope that people will turn out to be better than they seem and that true love will find a way around those walls.
Chiron's father-figure Juan (Mahershala Ali) tells him, 'At some point you got to decide for yourself who you wanna be,' and the film is divided into three chapters that chronicle our protagonist's evolving persona – from diminutive, painfully shy youngster to insecure teen to closeted tough guy. Moonlight soars skyward on the strength of James Laxton's cinematography, which provides an intimate, child's-eye-view of domestic instability, immerses us in the daunting world of teenage schoolyard alienation – as Chiron's gangly body is engulfed by the frame – and gently uncovers the aching loneliness that lies behind the carefully crafted machismo of his adult years.
The three actors who play Chiron are equally sublime – Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders and Trevante Rhodes – and there's fine supporting work from House of Cards' Ali, singer Janelle Monáe and Britain's Naomie Harris, playing Chiron's addict mother. Best of all, Moonlight is a film of terrific sincerity, subtlety and optimism, one that nonetheless shows the difficulty of fleeing one's fate and how the responsibility for a child stretches way beyond the family home. It's astutely judged, beautifully humane and, in its final throes, devastatingly romantic.
Screening on Thu 6, Fri 7 and Sat 8 Oct as part of the London Film Festival 2016. General release TBC.