Leave the cannoli, take the movies

Review Blog

Life and Nothing More

Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on October 24, 2017 at 11:10 PM


Antonio Méndez Esparza


IDEA:  In northern Florida, a single mother and her son struggle with family life.

BLURB:  Life and Nothing More is not radical filmmaking, yet in its unassuming naturalism, patience, and sensitivity in depicting the lives of the black working poor, it can often seem like it. Antonio Méndez Esparza and his sublime cast of non-actors bring into relief the rarity of seeing a story so unwaveringly and compassionately focused on underserved black lives. The sheer existence of a film that chooses to tell their stories, however, is not why Life and Nothing More is so special. What is special is how absolutely it refuses the sensationalism and exploitative gaze so often associated with this subject matter; how it disarms and subverts harmful stereotypes about race, class, and gender, as well as narrative clichés about crime and broken families; how its simple but ingenious formal design, including unusual blocking strategies, keeps visual attention intimately fixed on Regina, Robert, Andrew, and Ry’nesia above all else. These are people who exist well beyond the frame, in excess of whatever necessarily partial narrative Méndez Esparza has constructed around them, and Santiago Oviedo’s unusual elliptical edits smartly prevent any pat apprehension of their circumstances. Life and Nothing More is a corrective to dominant media representations and discourses that peripheralize the kinds of people it returns value and visibility to, but it is not a moralizing political screed nor an emollient. In its quasi-documentary mode of vernacular realism, it does nothing so much as foreground ordinary lives so as to understand and embrace them, and entreats us all to do the same.

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