by Travolta Cooper
“Loving,” is the first independent film we are talking about at the Cannes Film Festival in these posts. It is also the first we’re discussing that is actually in competition at the Festival. While there are many films, both foreign and American I would like to see at the Festival, there would have to be at least three of me to screen and partake of it all. So each day, I choose carefully what I will see and review for you because, in a way, I’m also trying to tell an essay narrative about the absence of the Caribbean here at this film festival of Festivals. So why, “Loving?” Well, apart from the fact it is independent and in competition, it struck a chord with a major theme of all these essays. The theme? This essay narrative is essentially a heart to heart talk: from my heart to yours. I know I’m writing some heady stuff, and some of it can even be interpreted as ambitious and political. I am not interested in arguments, however. I’m much more interested in Story. And what the film “Loving,” quietly and wonderfully demonstrates is, while some things can be legislated, what can’t be legislated are human hearts.
Hearts simply need to be inspired. “Loving,” is heart to heart storytelling, and needless to say, it is one of the best and most important films of the year. It tells the story of the historic, Loving vs. Virginia case in which the Supreme Court of the United States made it possible for interracial men and women to be married in 1967. Only in the hands of its writer director Jeff Nichols, “Loving,” is not really about the case itself. In Mr. Nicohls’ own words he stated, “I didn’t want to make a courtroom drama” of a movie. What he opted to do instead was make a film, a period film, about two people who simply loved each other. He opted to tell a simple love story rather than some climatic court case story where it is the liberal vs. conservative arguments and opinions. The Loving’s? They were actually very simple and common people who were simply caught up in a tide of history. There is a scene in the film filled with poetry (there are actually many poetic scenes in the film). In this scene, a photographer from Life Magazine, sits taking photos of the Loving’s while they sit on a couch watching a sitcom. Richard lays his head on Mildred’s lap and the two laugh and we see the sheer joy of their love for one another. No bells or whistles. No grand statements. The picture itself tells the story. These two souls need each o ther. And this is the essence and grand accomplishment of Mr. Nichols’ craftsmanship.
“Loving,” boasts two of the year’s best performances. As Richard and Mildred Loving, Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga deliver. Both are relatively unknown actors who clearly understood the meat and historic significance of these simple yet larger than life characters. It’s the kind of role that shoots the B list actor to A-List status. As Richard Loving, Joel Edgerton’s performance reminded me a bit of Heath Ledger’s in, “Brokeback Mountain” (which was another story about common people and love under oppression). He gives a restrained, quiet, and ultimately majestic portrayal of Richard Loving; a common carpenter who just simply loves his wife and his children. As Mildred Loving, Ruth Negga reminded me of Helen Mirren’s performance in, “The Queen” (another film about, well, a Queen). She’s equally majestic and allows her eyes, face, and body language to ‘perform’ and tell the story. It should also be noted that neither Edgerton nor Negga are American, much less Southern actors. He hails from Australia and she from Ethiopia. I wasn’t really aware of neither actors, and when I heard them speak in this morning’s press conference, it only deepened my appreciation and love for their incredible Oscar caliber performances.
I was also humbled to share this morning’s press conference with Chaz Ebert today, wife of the very famous and late film critic Roger Ebert. Roger Ebert, who inspired much of my own essays and critical writings in film school, is still doing so even as I write to you today. He cared greatly about the cinema, as much I do passionately for the emergence of Caribbean Cinema and its industry. Roger was white man married to black woman in Chaz, and Mrs. Ebert gave a very impassioned response to the film, “Loving.” She spoke about remembering what it was like in Chicago at that time (the Loving’s were exiled from Virginia to live in the city of Chicago in the late 1950’s after being sentenced for the “crime” of their marriage). She spoke about remembering not just what it meant to marry a white man, but “date” a white man. She also spoke about remembering what it was like to research the Loving case when she went to University (before taking over the Roger Ebert Enterprise in is death, she was a trial attorney). So for Chaz Ebert, “Loving,” represented an entirely holistic experience: passion, profession, and for me the cinema is that, too. It is passion meets profession meets the personal. It’s a heart to heart thing. As I sit here ‘storying’ the absence of the Caribbean (“Cariwood” or Caribbean Independent film”) contending at this year’s Festival, I can only hope it inspires someone, if only one, that who might begin the process of making the Caribbean presence much greater at this all too important Film Festival. This is a missed opportunity for the Region.
I remember speaking to Sidney Poitier about a Caribbean Film Industry and he said, there’s no way to do it, than to be “inspired to do it”. I think what he was in essence saying was it can’t be done through legislation from our Governments in the Region. And while there are financial incentives for local filmmakers in countries like Trinidad and Tobago, in the end, this will all boil down to a greater and more passionate response to Caribbean Cinema from the Caribbean audience. We all need to embrace it and celebrate like we do Carnival, and only then will we perhaps see a greater outpouring from our policy makers (like in the Bahamas where millions of public money is spent on Carnival). Right now I’m heading to the short film Corner to see the Caribbean Films playing, out of competition, there and can only hope to be inspired to continue this journey. We can be contenders?