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Film review: ‘Moonlight’ is a quiet knockout

Barry Jenkins’s Oscar-nominated feature is a triptych of a gay black boy’s emotional journey.

In Barry Jenkins’s debut feature Medicine for Melancholy (2008), a man and woman who have had a one-night stand spend the next day assessing each other over food, art gallery visits, and debates on race, gentrification and fidelity. Jenkins strips the frames of nearly all colour but keeps the camera close to the temporary lovers, travelling all over their faces and bodies as they merge their individual selves for a few moments of shared passion.

Jenkins’s second feature Moonlight is just as intimate, but far more carefully constructed. The near monochrome of Medicine for Melancholy has been replaced by the blazing hot pastels of Florida and expressionist blacks and blues. The handheld camerawork that previously signalled tentativeness makes way for an equal part fluid and static style that includes sweeping shots and bold close-ups. Moonlight cinematographer James Laxton (who also shot the first film) swirls his camera round in smooth waves, but he often halts to regard the vivid faces of the cast and register their thoughts. Cinema is overflowing with coming-of-age narratives, but in Moonlight, the journey of a gay black man, which unfolds across three chapters, has freshness, imagination and control that are the marks of true accomplishment.

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Moonlight.

The triptych signals its boldness in the opening sequence, in which a whirling take introduces small-time crack dealer Juan (Mahershala Ali) to Little (Alex Hibbert). Juan is taken by the grave-looking child, who is struggling with burdens too heavy for his scrawny shoulders. Little’s single shambolic mother Paula (Naomie Harris) is a drug user, and the boy regularly gravitates towards Juan and his girlfriend Teresa (Janella Monae) for meals and a clean bed. Juan’s love for the boy, beautifully explored in the sequence in which a swimming lesson resembles a baptism, emboldens Little to ask him the meaning of the word “faggot”.

Little has fallen in love with his classmate Kevin, and after an encounter on a moonlit night on a beach, the shy and mumbling teenager tentatively approaches manhood. As Little grows up into Chiron (Ashton Sanders), he takes Juan’s place on the street corner. Chiron’s body has filled out and he has the outward manner of a neighbourhood tough, but the gold grills on his healthy teeth indicate that the boy on the beach is still hiding his true self. The opportunity to liberate the tied tongue comes when Kevin (Andre Holland) invites Chiron for dinner – and a possible date.

Jenkins pays tribute in several scenes to a stated inspiration – the films of Hong Kong master Wong Kar Wai. A sequence in which Chiron drives in a car to meet Kevin, which has Caetano Veloso’s version of the Spanish song Cucurrucucu Paloma in the background, is a faithful reconstruction of Wong’s gay-themed Happy Together (1997). Frames and moments from Wong’s other films show up in other places too. What Jenkins is unable to do, and it is not for want of trying, is recreate the suppressed crackle of the encounters between the leads of Wong’s masterpiece In the Mood for Love (2000). Chiron’s date with Kevin has its share of leading conversations and meaningful close-ups, but in this segment, Jenkins’s hold over his material is less supple than in the previous chapters.

Nestled within the grand themes of homophobia in the black community, alternate sexuality, and limited employment opportunities for black men in America is a deeply subjective, intensely felt and at time oneiric exploration of the state of Chiron’s heart. Chiron’s experiences, especially with Kevin, have the quality of a dream in a waking state. Chiron’s personal struggle carries through the remarkably unified performances of the three actors who play the character over the years. The actors share more than body language – the forward-shoulder walk and the hard stare – they vividly depict the boy-to-adult journey into the inner self.

Two other performances add their heft to the saga of self-discovery. Mahershala Ali is marvellous as Juan, the father whom Little never knew, and Naomie Harris is equally stunning as the tragic Paula, whose inability to comprehend her son’s complex feelings results in memorable moments of self-harm.

Naomie Harris in 'Moonlight'.
Naomie Harris in 'Moonlight'.
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Modern home design trends that are radically changing living spaces in India

From structure to finishes, modern homes embody lifestyle.

Homes in India are evolving to become works of art as home owners look to express their taste and lifestyle through design. It’s no surprise that global home design platform Houzz saw over a million visitors every month from India, even before their services were locally available. Architects and homeowners are spending enormous time and effort over structural elements as well as interior features, to create beautiful and comfortable living spaces.

Here’s a look at the top trends that are altering and enhancing home spaces in India.

Cantilevers. A cantilever is a rigid structural element like a beam or slab that protrudes horizontally out of the main structure of a building. The cantilevered structure almost seems to float on air. While small balconies of such type have existed for eons, construction technology has now enabled large cantilevers, that can even become large rooms. A cantilever allows for glass facades on multiple sides, bringing in more sunlight and garden views. It works wonderfully to enhance spectacular views especially in hill or seaside homes. The space below the cantilever can be transformed to a semi-covered garden, porch or a sit-out deck. Cantilevers also help conserve ground space, for lawns or backyards, while enabling more built-up area. Cantilevers need to be designed and constructed carefully else the structure could be unstable and lead to floor vibrations.

Butterfly roofs. Roofs don’t need to be flat - in fact roof design can completely alter the size and feel of the space inside. A butterfly roof is a dramatic roof arrangement shaped, as the name suggests, like a butterfly. It is an inverted version of the typical sloping roof - two roof surfaces slope downwards from opposing edges to join around the middle in the shape of a mild V. This creates more height inside the house and allows for high windows which let in more light. On the inside, the sloping ceiling can be covered in wood, aluminium or metal to make it look stylish. The butterfly roof is less common and is sure to add uniqueness to your home. Leading Indian architecture firms, Sameep Padora’s sP+a and Khosla Associates, have used this style to craft some stunning homes and commercial projects. The Butterfly roof was first used by Le Corbusier, the Swiss-French architect who later designed the city of Chandigarh, in his design of the Maison Errazuriz, a vacation house in Chile in 1930.

Butterfly roof and cantilever (Image credit: Design Milk on Flickr.com)
Butterfly roof and cantilever (Image credit: Design Milk on Flickr.com)

Skylights. Designing a home to allow natural light in is always preferred. However, spaces, surrounding environment and privacy issues don’t always allow for large enough windows. Skylights are essentially windows in the roof, though they can take a variety of forms. A well-positioned skylight can fill a room with natural light and make a huge difference to small rooms as well as large living areas. However, skylights must be intelligently designed to suit the climate and the room. Skylights facing north, if on a sloping roof, will bring in soft light, while a skylight on a flat roof will bring in sharp glare in the afternoons. In the Indian climate, a skylight will definitely reduce the need for artificial lighting but could also increase the need for air-conditioning during the warm months. Apart from this cleaning a skylight requires some effort. Nevertheless, a skylight is a very stylish addition to a home, and one that has huge practical value.

Staircases. Staircases are no longer just functional. In modern houses, staircases are being designed as aesthetic elements in themselves, sometimes even taking the centre-stage. While the form and material depend significantly on practical considerations, there are several trendy options. Floating staircases are hugely popular in modern, minimalist homes and add lightness to a normally heavy structure. Materials like glass, wood, metal and even coloured acrylic are being used in staircases. Additionally, spaces under staircases are being creatively used for storage or home accents.

Floating staircase (Image credit: Design Milk on Flickr.com)
Floating staircase (Image credit: Design Milk on Flickr.com)

Exposed Brick Walls. Brickwork is traditionally covered with plaster and painted. However, ‘exposed’ bricks, that is un-plastered masonry, is becoming popular in homes, restaurants and cafes. It adds a rustic and earthy feel. Exposed brick surfaces can be used in home interiors, on select walls or throughout, as well as exteriors. Exposed bricks need to be treated to be moisture proof. They are also prone to gathering dust and mould, making regular cleaning a must.

Cement work. Don’t underestimate cement and concrete when it comes to design potential. Exposed concrete interiors, like exposed brick, are becoming very popular. The design philosophy is ‘Less is more’ - the structure is simplistic and pops of colour are added through furniture and soft furnishings.

Exposed concrete wall (Image Credit: Getty Images)
Exposed concrete wall (Image Credit: Getty Images)

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Birla Gold Premium Cement and not by the Scroll editorial team.