Thursday, 8 January 2015

REVIEW - SELMA (AVA DUVERNAY)


Selma: sense and sensitivity. In its politics and in its ethics, in its sound design and in its visual design, Selma has been crafted to feel so fresh and so alive that you can feel it, right there in the room, a real, tangible event occurring before you. It is as though Martin Luther King's life itself is rebuilt on film, the civil rights movement reborn, so vivid are the scenes recreated here by director Ava DuVernay. What, in the rich textures of Bradford Young's cinematography, does not appear so true to life that you can sense it on your skin, the soothing tactility of these tableaus enveloping you, implicating you. What, in the arresting soundscape, wonderfully enriched by expert music cues, does not cause your ears to prick up, your goosebumps to bristle, your heart to skip a beat in anticipation, in pleasure, or in both. The immediacy of what DuVernay teases out of Paul Webb's screenplay is astonishing, and greatly powerful - the gentle but fraught hum of the film's quiet conversations and luxurious silences, its portentous meandering, and the appropriately brutal interruptions of viciousness, of screams and roars and running for one's life, and eventually of glorious victory. A hackneyed structure Selma might possess, even if it is one of noblest intention, but what DuVernay achieves within this structure elevates it irrevocably above the standard biopics of American cinema. A piece of technical artistry that exists for humanistic cause, just as DuVernay's every thought is rendered on screen with the direct purpose of drawing focus to the human, emotional tangent that is essential to this story. A large ensemble of finely cast actors, both known and unknown, attends to these human concerns with decorum befitting the subject, though not without the inspiration that equally befits it. They, like Ava DuVernay, display both sense and sensitivity in telling this story, and making it feel as potent today as it ever has been, all the way since 1965.