BFI London Film Festival presents The Last Black Man in San Francisco.
Few films in modern cinema exude brilliance within the first ten minutes. But in a similar vein to Barry Jenkins, If Beale Street Could Talk. The Last Black Man in San Francisco grabs your heart and soul from the start through vibrant cinematography, a sublime score, and characters rich in belonging, emotion and depth.
The Grand Jury prize winner at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Joe Talbot’s debut feature film shines with a rare poetic beauty. Here we are offered a powerful love letter to art, friendship, love and loss. Its exploration of male friendship, race and belonging in a changing city layered with sadness and joy. Loosely based on the real-life story of Jimmie Fails and his friendship with director Joe Talbot, the film places Jimmie’s experiences into a dreamlike cityscape.
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Jimmie (Jimmie Fails) and his best friend Montgomery (Jonathan Majors) share a small single room in Montgomery’s grandfather’s house. Both men were born and raised in San Francisco, yet both feel isolated and alone as the city changes around them. Here we find the poor communities moved further and further away from the city’s wealth; its once-thriving black neighbourhoods forgotten as residents are pushed to the outskirts. But despite this, Jimmie and Montgomery share a deep love for their city and all its flaws.
Montgomery draws and writes, collecting the stories of the young black men who hang around his neighbourhood. His artistic impulses are wrapped in a child-like innocence as he closely monitors the growing inequality around him. Meanwhile, Jimmie works as a care assistant during the day while dreaming of returning to the gothic Victorian house of his childhood at night. That house now sits in the trendy Fillmore District, a District once known as the Harlem of San Francisco. Jimmie’s family was forced to leave the house as the neighbourhood changed, but his soul resides in its oak-panelled rooms.
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So, when the house becomes vacant, Jimmie seizes the initiative, illegally moving in with Montgomery in tow. Here the brothers from different mothers finally live the life they can only dream of, once again feeling a part of a city separating itself from them. However, no dreams last forever, and as the house goes up for sale for three million dollars, reality cuts through the dream.
Rarely does a debut feature walk away with a five-star review. But Talbot’s photographic journey manages to couple a fairytale-like innocence and urgent social commentary, making this movie a sublime and fascinating portrait of brotherhood, memory and inequality. Here, the relationship between Jimmie and Montgomery oozes warmth, hope and belonging even as their paths diverge in a city that never sleeps but constantly shifts. The Last Black Man in San Francisco radiates love while never fearing conversations about the racial inequality that permeates the city. Here, Talbot explores the dark side of gentrification and the slow erasure of personal and cultural history in the name of capitalism.
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Director: Joe Talbot.
Cast: Jimmie Fails, Jonathan Majors, Rob Morgan, Tichina Arnold, Mike Epps, Finn Wittrock, Danny Glover, Willie Hen.