“I hate this city, but I love this city,” Micah tells Jo’ while making her a cup of tea. The pair are together in Micah’s studio apartment in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood. The night before, they were strangers hooking up at a party held in an enormous loft perched in the hills, with glass curtain walls and a long staircase. Micah’s home is much smaller: a bed, three bikes, and an extra-large aquarium fit snugly in a single room. Adorning his wall is a work of contemporary art that critically incorporates an official declaration sanctioning the urban renewal of the Fillmore District, once a thriving center of Black cultural life.
In Barry Jenkins’s 2008 debut feature, Medicine for Melancholy, San Francisco emerges alongside the two protagonists as a third main character: aloof, beautiful, giving and taking in equal measure. Jo’ (Tracey Heggins) and Micah (Wyatt Cenac) are twentysomething Black bohemians who are both involved in the predominantly white indie scene. They get to know each other as they traverse the city, taking in its landscapes, parks, art museums, and cafés. They bike around; they walk and talk. They debate the city, too, discussing the housing policies that shut out poor and working-class residents, the erasure of Black urban life, and the disappearance of havens of refuge and possibility for artists.
Though nowadays we associate Jenkins’s cinema with exuberant, opulent beauty—the lush flora and sparkling seawater of his Oscar-winning masterpiece, Moonlight (2016); the sensual textures and acrylic hues of his adaptation of James Baldwin’s novel If Beale Street Could Talk (2018)—Medicine for Melancholy explores its urban setting in a decidedly subdued fashion. Here, Jenkins employs color not as embellishment but as absence. Except for occasional bursts of sunlight, most of the film’s imagery is awash in blacks and grays. Shadows darken every frame. Occasionally, muted mauves and somber sepias peek through the quiet cityscape. But even with a limited palette, the film achieves a beauty all its own.
The Heroic Trio / Executioners: To the Power of Three
Combining the influence of the wuxia genre, the Hong Kong New Wave filmmaking of the 1980s, and loony comic-book futurism, these two ass-kicking fantasias are dazzling showcases of female physicality.
Nothing but a Man: What We Can See in Ourselves
Released at the height of the civil rights movement, this deceptively simple tale of a working-class Black man’s search for love and self-worth broke ground with its realism, nuance, and intensity.
Eric Rohmer’s Tales of the Four Seasons: Another Year
Through its echoes, resonances, and intricately branching stories, this cycle of films evokes the feeling that life, like the weather, is based on patterns too complex to ever be fully predictable.
Trainspotting: Beyond the Tracks
Shifting recklessly between realism and surrealism, this drug-fueled odyssey from director Danny Boyle is a propulsive satire of depleted masculinity in urban Scotland.
You have no items in your shopping cart