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Cameron Lui


Cameron is a FilmFestivals.com correspondent from Cannes and other festivals around the world. He is our 2019 Sundance correspondent. You can follow his Sundance coverage on Twitter @sundanceblogger.


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"The Last Black Man in San Francisco" - Review from Sundance

Not many movies can move at a sedated pace without putting the majority of the audience to sleep. Joe Talbot’s Last Black Man on Earth is the rare exception. The film flows like the still waters of the San Francisco Bay, by telling a melancholic story of gentrification and the pain that losing a childhood home brings. It is a beautiful depiction of poverty and class struggle that teaches those who have not personally experienced gentrification, what it feels like to be backed into a corner of homelessness.

Jimmie Fails plays the lead character of the same name, a man who longs for the days when he was happy in his gorgeous childhood home in Golden Gate. A home which he claims was originally built by his Grandfather, the self-titled ‘first black man in San Francisco.’ Jimmie lives with his best friend, Montgomery Allen, played by Jonathan Majors, an aspiring playwright with a precocious disposition. Together they make weekly trips to Jimmies childhood home to help tend to its various aesthetic needs to the frustration of its current owners. But, when the rich white couple that currently lives in the home are forced out as well, a vacancy is left that gives Jimmie the opportunity to live in it as if it were his own.

The film’s patient pace allows for Jimmie to spend much of the second act living in a quiet bliss as he decorates and remodels the house to his liking. There is a depressing sense of temporary happiness that allows the audience to live in denial with the main character for a comforting amount of time. This, of course, comes to a screeching halt as reality and truth sink in, sending the characters on a collision course with life.

The B story, if you will, follows Montgomery’s developing play that he writes based on the people in his life. A group of loud-mouthed men lingers in front of his home, heckling him and Jimmy everytime they step foot outside. Rather than shying from the uncomfortable feeling of humiliation, Montgomery absorbs their emotional motivations and channels them through narrative. With this side narrative, Talbot supports the overarching theme by bringing to light how men express their inner sadness through anger. The side story allows the audience to understand that all people, no matter how mean or vile, have valuable perspectives. It then acts as a catalyst for the truth to be expunged in a beautiful collision of storylines.

You don’t see this movie because you want to feel happy. You see this movie because you want to see beauty; beauty in storytelling, beauty in truth and even denial, and beauty in love and loss. It is a love story to the cold, unforgiving world of San Francisco. Jimmie’s character boldly tells the new money in San Francisco that they are not allowed to hate the city, because, in order to hate something, you must first love it. That is precisely what the movie is, it’s a story about the relationship between love and hate and their inextricable bond. It’s a warning of the effects of gentrification but also about why those who have been pushed away, refuse to leave.

 

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