This week in movies you missed: the mean streets of New York from a 21st-century immigrant’s point of view.
What You Missed
Djibril (Alassane Sy) is a 21-year-old from Dakar, Senegal, who makes his living selling bootleg CDs at a stall on Canal Street. In his free time, he zips around the city on a Vespa, wearing sporty headphones that indicate his real passion: music.
Djibril steers clear of trouble, which means he avoids taking loans from his supplier (Anthony Okungbowa), who runs whores, employs thugs and generally acts like the mob boss of the immigrant subcommunity. Then Djibril falls in love with one of those whores, Trini (Nicole Sky Grey), and realizes he needs the funds to record a demo of his music. Can he achieve his American dream without being sucked into the whirlpool of urban crime?
Why You Missed It
According to Box Office Mojo, Restless City was released in three theaters for just three days.
Should You Keep Missing It?
Restless City is one of those films I can’t be objective about, because I care so much about story. When the ratio of gorgeous visuals to narrative in a movie soars out of sight, I lose interest.
Directed by Andrew Dosunmu, a Nigerian high-fashion photographer who has also shot videos for a score of artists (including Tracy Chapman and Common), Restless City looks amazing. (Cinematographer Bradford Young, working here with the Red digital camera, also did the excellent Pariah.) Virtually every other shot makes clever use of reflections and reflective surfaces, while the drab streets of Manhattan emerge in warm, ripe shades. There’s some dramatic use of the color red that had me wondering if my DVD player was defective (still not sure on that).
Both Sy and Grey could be models, and Dosunmu creates stunning urban tableaux with them. But the narrative is so basic, and so retro (especially the “redeemed prostitute” aspect), that it makes The Artist seem convoluted.
In an opening voiceover, Djibril notes that now he’s in America, his kid could grow up to be president. Hope and change, indeed. But we don’t see much of this optimism, or any real drive or can-do spirit, from Djibril in subsequent scenes. We don’t even see him perform his music. He comes across as moody, retiring and a bit moralistic, in ways that lack of cultural context may prevent most American viewers from understanding or relating to. It doesn’t help that Dosunmu often shoots his actors from a distance or with shadowed faces, seeming to value them more as physical textures than as dynamic presences.
We need more stories about the new waves of immigrants. I just wish this one had more going on.
Verdict: one of those films where every shot is a poster I’d hang on my wall, but I don’t want to see it again.
More New DVD Releases
30 Beats (Lots of sex happens in NYC over three summer days.)
Being in the World (Philosophy documentary asks if modern “masters” of various crafts can help bring meaning to our lives.)
The Courier (Jeffrey Dean Morgan makes a delivery to super-assassin Mickey Rourke.)
Crazy Eyes (Lukas Haas finds his Manic Pixie Dream Girl, only she’s insane.)
Shut Up and Play the Hits (Doc about LCD Soundsystem's final show)
Each week in "Movies You Missed," I review a brand-new DVD release picked for me by Seth Jarvis, buyer for Burlington's Waterfront Video, where you can obtain these fine films. (In central Vermont, try Downstairs Video.)