REVIEW: The Last Black Man in San Francisco (London Film Festival 2019)
There is something so quietly captivating about ‘The Last Black Man in San Francisco’ that it is hard to put your finger on. From the opening frame to the last, I found myself completely enthralled by this poetic story about belonging, change, identity and friendship, and it is a film which quietly gets under your skin, and once it is there it never lets you go.
The story focuses on Jimmie (played by Jimmie Fails), a young man trying to find his place in the ever-changing landscape of San Francisco. Obsessed with lovingly caring for the house that his grandfather built, Jimmie along with his closest friend Montgomery (Jonathan Majors) are seemingly watching the city they love and call home change at a rate they are unable to keep up with. This is a film about gentrification which never shies away from some harsh realities, but yet never feels cynical or harsh.
Accompanied by the beautifully mellow score from Emile Mosseri, the film moves at a restrained and thoughtful pace as the characters reflect on the changing times and the city they once knew. Despite very much being about a certain time and place, it is also a universal experience that translates across borders and boundaries. Even in my relatively short time on this earth, I have seen the city on my doorstep change around me, and life does seem to move at a frightening pace sometimes, particularly with advancements in technology. This is a key idea which the film reflects on, as well as speaking into the divides in race and class that result from a changing landscape.
It is evident throughout that this is a real passion project, for long-time friends and collaborators Jimmie Fails and director Joe Talbot. Basing a lot of this film around their real experiences and the San Franciscan natives they grew up with, the passion and enthusiasm permeates through every frame. Talbot’s lense captures the city with a wistful nostalgia, and a warm authenticity that would be impossible for someone who wasn’t from there to replicate. Fails’ performance is beautiful and tender and his unlikely friendship with Montgomery is one that feels honest and genuine.
This film is both a nostalgic love-letter for what was, but also an acknowledgement that the trajectory we are currently on is perhaps a dangerous one if we are failing to observe and protect the past that has brought us to this very moment in time. The subtleties of this films messaging means it is one that will truly stay with you. It is melancholic, poignant, deeply thought-provoking, and easily one of the best films you will see this year.
Directed by: Joe Talbot
Written by: Joe Talbot, Rob Richert
Cast: Jimmie Fails, Jonathan Majors, Rob Morgan, Tichina Arnold