A repeat viewing enhances Barry Jenkins’s masterly Oscar-winning drama about a gay man growing up in Miami, while on a lighter note, Chris McKay’s Dark Knight parody almost matches up to its predecessor
Several months on from that chaotic moment at the Oscar podium, the topsy-turvy best picture triumph of Moonlight (Altitude, 15) seems no less astonishing in retrospect. In a sense, Barry Jenkins’s shimmering, trisected portrait of a young African American man’s developing sexuality had to win in unprecedented circumstances, because nothing like it had ever scaled that summit of mainstream acclaim. Still, we should resist the urge to turn this lovely, supple, tactile film into some kind of all-purpose landmark. The beauty of this character study lies in intimate particularities: those of its internally riven, love-starved protagonist, Chiron, certainly, but also those of Jenkins’s own tender, sensual gaze, coloured by such plainly cherished influences as Wong Kar-wai and Claire Denis.
Many hailed the film’s vivid evocation of the challenges of growing up black, gay and poor in Miami as broadly universal, but I think such extrapolation does Moonlight a disservice. Yes, it exquisitely invites empathy, but the specificity of the experience under scrutiny is key – it’s a film about the difficulties of being oneself under a stifling set of social conditions many of us can scarcely imagine. We are not all Chiron, but Jenkins’s great, humane achievement is to make us all sensitive to his mostly unspoken currents of pain and desire, as articulated through the subtlest details of music, light and body language. At first blush, I wondered if the film had been a fraction over-lyricised; its third, least visceral and most romantic act still moves me a little less than the first two. But Moonlight grows and glows on repeat viewings, its impulses toward lust and caution cannily mirroring those of the black‑and-blue heart at its centre.