Telluride Review: ‘Moonlight’ Shines Bright at Telluride

National Society of Film Critics

2016 TELLURIDE FILM FESTIVALFor director Barry Jenkins, Telluride is a bit of a homecoming. As the Master of Ceremonies at the Werner Herzog Theatre for the past few years, it is quite a story for Jenkins to have hismoonlightposter film be such a big hit at the festival.

“Moonlight,” based on MacArthur Award winner Tarell McCraney‘s play, tells the deeply felt love story of a black, gay male. It is also a coming-of-age story, as the films starts off with Chiron as a young, confused boy. Chiron lives in a crack-riddled, urban Miami neighborhood, with a drug dealer (Mahershala Ali) as a father figure and a verbally abusive drug addict for a mother (Naomie Harris, in a harrowing and Oscar-worthy performance).

As he searches to better understand who he truly is, we watch tight-lipped Chiron through three crucial phases in his life: youth (Alex R. Hibbert), adolescence (Ashton Sanders) and early adulthood (Trevante Rhodes – who might show up on my year-end Breakthrough Performances piece). His quiet intensity spills into the delicate and affecting story – a character reminiscent of Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) in “Brokeback Mountain.”

“Moonlight” is a wholly felt and tender experience that is both heart-wrenchingly painful and utterly refreshing. It is exceptional filmmaking, with remarkably real characters that translate into extraordinary performances from the entire talented cast.

“Moonlight” is distributed by A24. It will play again in Toronto next week, NY and London next month, and is scheduled for an Oct. 21 release.

GRADE: (★★½)