Residue: Film Review – The Hollywood Reporter
A dazzling debut about a man who returns home to a community that has been transformed, the residue of merawi gerima is honest enough about its protagonist’s emotions and motivations that it’s likely to make viewers uncomfortable in the first place. any part of the socioeconomic spectrum. elliptically and mockingly (yet beautifully) photographed, it may give the impression of an experimental work but ultimately has a direct story to tell, one whose specificity does not in the least diminish its broader relevance.
Like the filmmaker, Jay (Obinna Nwachukwu) grew up in a Washington, DC neighborhood surrounded by black children. His family moved off the block in hopes of escaping drug-dealing activity, and Jay later fled altogether, moving to California to attend college, where he studied film. he now he’s back, with the intention (like gerima) of making a movie about his old street.
but the old street barely exists. whites are everywhere: carrying shopping bags, putting up giant fences, saying “have a nice day” as a form of aggression when locals don’t behave as they’d like. The camera sometimes sneaks up on them, listening to their brunch talk about “the old version of DC,” in which “old” is synonymous with mean, poor, and black. But Jay keeps her distance, with a confused look on her face that often means anger as well.
He asks about his childhood friends, some of whom he finds. But one named Demetrius is elusive, and Jay’s insistence on asking about him makes people suspicious. Why do they keep avoiding his questions? Who’s he to ask? Some, especially childhood friend Delonte (Dennis Lindsey), see things in Jay that he can’t recognize. the film student says that he has come home to give a voice to the voiceless. “Who is the one without a voice?” he asks mockingly delonte; Days later, he implies that the film project is some kind of vampire act exploiting a community that Jay happily left long ago.
jay could have left the place, but he didn’t. when he remembers his childhood, the young versions of him and his friends are not limited to flashbacks; sometimes they slip into the present tense places he occupies. elsewhere, the city’s images of violence and festivity blend together, sometimes nearly indistinguishable from one another.
reconnecting with the past would not be painless even if q street had not changed. every conversation about how you’ve been involves an update on who just got out of jail and who’s still in. It’s no wonder Jay is infuriated when a white man who’s just had his delivery delivered to his front door offers him weed, gleefully participating in a drug trade that has sent generations of less privileged to jail.
but that interaction suggests that jay’s resentment is more focused than it really is. on multiple occasions, the women around him have to keep him from getting into a confrontation, responding to verbal insults with violence. no one asks if his quickness to anger has anything to do with the ease with which he left this place. But a haunting and beautiful scene near the end of the film, in which Jay is reunited with an older now-incarcerated neighbor, finds some of his survivor’s guilt finally coming to the surface.
With the weight given to impressionistic and flashback passages here, it’s impressive how convincingly the adult cast members conjure up recognizable characters from relatively few lines, even more so when one learns that hardly anyone here has acted on a function before.
That applies only to black cast members, as the residue, focused on jay’s state of mind, feel no obligation to imagine that white gentrifiers are human too. Mark Jeevaratnam’s camera generally avoids their gaze, even when they’re trying to be good neighbors, often keeping them off screen entirely. but any politically inclined viewer enjoying caricature moments may want to think twice: the final bitter residue scenes suggest, however ambiguously, the limitations of viewing an entire community through such a crude filter.
Distributor: Array Launch (Also available on Netflix) Cast: Obinna Nwachukwu, Dennis Lindsey, Taline Stewart, Derron “Rizo” Scott, Melody Tally, Ramon Thompson Director-Writer-Editor-Producer: Merawi Gerima Cinematographer: mark jeevaratnam composer: black alley