The Last Black Man in San Francisco
5th October 2019 3.15pm at
11th October 2019 8.30pm at BFI Southbank (NFT)
A semi-autobiographical film taking inspiration from the life of actor Jimmie Fails and the experiences of director Joe Talbot, The Last Black Man in San Francisco follows the escapades of two young black men, Jimmie (Fails) and Montgomery (Jonathan Majors), as they try to reclaim a classical 19th-century house that plays a special part in Jimmie’s childhood and family heritage. One a skateboarder and the other a playwright, the duo find themselves ostracised by the city they grew up in and the social circles society believes they should conform to. As Jimmie’s appetite for a time and place that has never truly been his grows more insatiable, the pair’s friendship is tested and the restrictions of reality begin to tighten the wooden walls around them.
Joe Talbot is 29 and a long-time collaborator with friend Jimmie Fails, but this is arguably already his masterpiece, despite being his first feature-length picture. This year, he won the Best Director prize at the Sundance Film Festival for The Last Black Man in San Francisco, and it is easy to see why. It exemplifies the poetry of the filmmaker’s work, showing that he and cinematographer Adam Newport-Berra are not afraid to experiment, but can do so without detracting from the movie.
What you see on screen is truly mesmerising – a strikingly majestic piece of cinema that washes the audience in cinematic grandeur from the very first scene with an absolutely breathtaking montage that still resonates way beyond the closing titles. Time and care is taken to explore all the infinitesimal details of what the viewer observes, from each character’s facial expressions to the environments they are enclosed in to the vast sweeping shots of San Francisco’s suburbia. Those who worked on this film, whether behind or in front of the camera, clearly adore San Francisco, and through their hard work the audience can truly appreciate the city too.
Having written the story, Fails plays a fictionalised version of himself, setting his own obstacles to clear, but he uses what he has to deliver a perfect performance. Considered a relative newcomer to the big screen with very limited professional experience, Fails is both mature and endearing; his lingering stares absorb the audience, drawing us into the emotion that he and Majors wish to purvey. The two leads have a terrific onscreen chemistry – their characters share a brotherly bond despite their removal from social norms and their own differences.
It is amazing to see two male characters on screen show the utmost empathy to each other’s predicaments, ailments and personalities without even an inkling of sexual interest in any direction throughout. That is simply not what this glorious feature is about. Evidently, not all movies need a romantic subplot, although you could call The Last Black Man in San Francisco an ode to the past, a courtship between Jimmie and his lost history, or even a love story between a man and a house.
Grandpa Allen (Danny Glover) and Auntie Wanda (Ticina Arnold) also provide a stark insight into history and how places change with the times. It is your choice whether you wish to move with them or become lost along the way. All of the supporting cast bring depth and significance to the script, and when accompanied by Emile Mosseri’s gorgeous orchestral and choral score – which ebbs and flows with each scene, matching the euphoric rise and despairing lows that follow – the entire picture is sewn together into a quilt of golden silk.
The Last Black Man in San Francisco is an absolute triumph for those involved and will undoubtedly rank as one of the best pictures of the year. What is there to love about this film? Quite simply everything.
The Last Black Man in San Francisco is released nationwide on the 25th October 2019.
Read more reviews and interviews from our London Film Festival 2019 coverage here.
For further information about the festival visit the official BFI website here.
Watch the trailer for The Last Black Man in San Francisco here: