Moonlight ★★★★★

"Moonlight" arrives garlanded with prizes. It is, I am reliably told, the movie most likely to give "La La Land" a run for its money at this year's Oscars and a very fine movie, perhaps even a great movie, it is, too so why am I surprised at its success? Because "Moonlight" is not really a commercial film; it's an art-house movie that has crossed over into the mainstream, bolstered I have no doubt by the controversy over diversity. A year ago it might have slipped under the radar.

It seems to me a deeply personal movie. I know nothing of the history of its writer/director Barry Jenkins but surely, I kept asking myself, there must be some element of autobiography at play here. It is the story of one man through three stages in his life; boyhood, his teenage years and as a man in his thirties and he is played, quite magnificently and seamlessly by three actors, (Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders and Trevante Rhodes), through each chapter in his life. He is African-American and he is gay, though he never really acts on his sexuality so you can't say the picture 'accurately' reflects what it's like to be black and gay in America today.

Perhaps a more accurate title would have been 'One Boy's Story' and on this level it works beautifully. This is an extraordinarily empathetic study and it's deeply moving. It's also a love story, a gay one I admit, yet almost totally devoid of sexual contact. Chiron, who is the central character, is in love with his best friend Kevin, who loves him back but in the macho world of African-American male culture, where your race and skin colour rather than your sexuality determine your path in life and the choices you make, neither boy is free to act on their feelings. Crime, violence and drug use seems to be the mark of a man if you're not white; even the sympathetic adult Juan, (a superb Mahershala Ali), who takes the boy under his wing, is a drug pusher and even with a drug addict for a mother, (an equally superb Naomie Harris), this is the path Chiron finally chooses for himself.

On some levels, of course, this is a deeply depressing picture. There is little in the way of social uplift to be found. What it does have, however, is a depth of feeling that is overwhelming. Love, it would seem, conquers all if you are prepared to work at it and to wait. I came away from this film feeling hopeful, for Chiron, for Barry Jenkins and for cinema in general.

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