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Oscar, meet Precious........Film In Focus from NY Fest

Oscar, meet Precious........the Academy Awards have just gotten their first blast of ghetto love with the rising tides surrounding the urban drama PRECIOUS: Based On A Novel By Sapphire by producer-turned-director Lee Daniels. The film, a major hit out of Sundance and screening as the Centerpiece Film this past weekend at the New York Film Festival, is getting some of the hottest reviews of the year and positioning its director, screenwriter, actors and techicians into the Oscar gold circle.

The title may be a bit ungainly and long, but that has to do with a previous conflict with another film with the title of PRECIOUS. For legal reasons, the producers needed to find a new title, so they included the sub-title of "Based On A Novel by Sapphire" to distinguish this PRECIOUS from any other. However, the film will undoubtedly be known by its single title from now on as it moves towards an inevitable stampede into awards season.

Oscar buzz is already centering on newcomer Gabourey ‘Gabby’ Sidibe, whose brave performance as the overweight teenager Precious Jones is one of the most electrifying debuts in years. She is a mountain of a girl who has found ways to cope with the shocking abuse inflicted on her by her parents and other kids. The character is always played with great humor and dignity, amidst harrowing circumstances that could cripple most of us.

The film is unashamedly of its time and place, with most of the characters speaking in "ghetto speech" that even American audiences will need to be patient to fully understand (how the film will do internationally is also dependent on this language barrier). But aside from the strong use of vernacular and slang, the film's human elements are so strong that it should transcend the traditional barrier that films about black people have had at the international box office. The presence of famous names like Lenny Kravitz and Mariah Carey as supporting players in the cast will also help both in the United States and overseas.

The director Lee Daniels, who has been a successful producer with such films as MONSTER'S BALL, takes us into the hell that is Precious’ home life, including uncomfortable flashbacks to years of sexual abuse at the hands of her mother’s boyfriend and scenes of shocking physical and verbal abuse by her mother. The mother is played by the comedienne Mo’Nique, whose performance is receiving its own share of Oscar buzz.

Precious escapes into a fantasy world when things get too tough, imagining herself a model or singing star performing to huge crowds or walking the red carpet. Her salvation comes when she attends an alternative school where she finds a mentor who teaches literacy to a class of desperate girls. There, she learns how to read, write and express herself. When she becomes pregnant, she decides to keep the baby and eventually (and triumphantly) leaves her mother's house.

The ending is rousing and it will not be surprisiing to see audiences literally stand up and applaud, as they did at the screenings at the New York Film Festival. The film has already won Audience Awards at the Sundance and Toronto film festivals and is poised to become one of the important American indie films of the year.

Sandy Mandelberger, Film New York Editor
New York Film Festival dailies
Check our review from Emily Monaco from San Sebastian

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