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Love letters to the audience

If Beale Street Could Talk
Regissør: Barry Jenkins
( USA)

Barry Jenkins' latest film is a strong love story from 1970s Harlem, based on a novel by James Baldwin.

(THIS ARTICLE IS MACHINE TRANSLATED by Google from Norwegian)

Director Barry Jenkins (Oscar for best film 2017, Moonlight) is cinematic with a new strong love story. The film, which is based on a novel by James Baldwin, starts with Tish, a girl on 19, who visits her 22 year old boyfriend Alonzo / Fonny, the father of the child she is expecting. He ends up in jail, suspected of rape. Tish, almost perfectly interpreted by KiKi Layne, is the film's narrative voice. After receiving a Golden Globe for her efforts, she is considered an Oscar favorite this month. Favorite is also Jenkins for best adapted script.

Tish and Fonny have been friends since they were kids. The friendship has developed into love, and everything is about the feelings they have for each other – and the child who is on the way. The action doesn't start with prison.

70 years Harlem

We follow two young people in the 70 years of Harlem, its soul and mood. We witness what happens on the day Fonny is arrested. They both know the charge is false. The alleged rape must have taken place when the two girlfriends were on a completely different edge of the city. A trivial incident with a police officer in the past is likely enough that the law does not apply to a young African American.

Tish and her mother, father and sister invite Fonny's mother, father and siblings home for a chat and tell something Fonny has not said: that the young will soon become parents. A difficult situation between two completely different families, and that Fonny's mother and sisters do not accept Tish and her family, does not make things easier. Eventually, however, they try to do everything to help Fonny to freedom.

James Baldwin

The highly successful documentary I Am Not Your Negro (2016) has definitely given increased attention to James Baldwin's novels, essays and other texts. Director Raoul Peck made a strong portrait of Baldwin and the memory of his friends – Malcolm X, Martin Luther King jr. and others. Peck was based on an incomplete book by Baldwin in his portrayal of the reality of African Americans.

novel If Beale Street Could Talk, James Baldwin's Fifth, was written in Saint-Paul de Vence, southern France – where he lived from 1970 until he died in 1987. The novel was published in 1974 and is readily available at about the same price as a movie ticket. Recommended reading!

Baldwin grew up in Harlem, but has written that due to his youth's pride and anger he traveled to Paris in 1948. He has repeatedly described Paris as less racist and homophobic. In the French capital he also received inspiration for his second novel Giovanni's Room with homosexuality as the theme.

Hotel Verneuil

The winter of 1948/49 could easily have been life-threatening for the young writer. The first place he stayed was Hôtel Verneuil, on the outskirts of the Latin Quarter. The place was run by a Corsican family, with a mother in chief. Baldwin became seriously ill, but was saved by the "mother" who left him – she made sure to serve whatever he needed in the room. The hotel was legendary for many years, as a residence for artists from all over the world, normally only for those with long-term rentals.

If Beale Street Could Talk. Director Barry Jenkins
If Beale Street Could Talk. Director Barry Jenkins

Even myself and a friend experienced me when we 20 year old hiked to Paris for the first time, uniquely getting a room for 14 days. At that time, the special two-storey house on the slopes of the street had also been bought up by Serge Gainsbourg, Jane Birkin and their daughter Charlotte Gainsbourg. But the house has been left empty after Serge's death. Hôtel Verneuil is still there, although it is ribbed for its original aura and eccentric bohemian.

In 1956, James Baldwin returned to the United States. When Martin Luther King jr. was killed in 1968, he left the country again, ending in 1970 in the old farmhouse of St. Paul de Venc. The room he used as a study room had previously been the studio of Georges Braque. There are still unreleased material from Baldwin's last year of life there.

Colorful photo

Barry Jenkins made his big break with Moonlight, but his latest film is characterized by the same film qualities. Photographer and composer joined Moonlight. The moods are far and away the same, the colorful photos are again probably inspired by Wong Kar-wai's films. It is a very good collaboration with the actors, and especially the two young people. No wonder someone calls Jenkins' films of love letters to the audience.

It should be the basis of several films in James Baldwin's lyrics. His residence in southern France is unfortunately torn down.


Norwegian cinema premiere February 8.

Also read: I am not Your Negro: Necessity of role models

Tommy Lørdahl
Lørdahl is a journalist, critic, DJ and regular writer in Ny Tid.

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