Residue: The BRWC Review. By Luke Foulder-Hughes.
Merawi Gerima’s film Residue is an impressive debut for the young filmmaker. The 2020 film deals with major issues in today’s society, particularly gentrification and racism and how the former can lead to the latter. Gerima takes on a huge job to deal with these issues through film and does so in an experimental way; which more often than not works fantastically to engage the audience.
The story follows Jay, a young screenwriter who returns to his home town in Washington DC to work on a script. The film very loosely follows a plot, as it takes us through lots of different situations that the character experiences to create realism.
We are first introduced to the film via a dreamy sequence at a street party in the city. It is filmed in an unconventional way, using blurry, home video footage to connote a hazy memory that the character has. Throughout the film we are shown flashbacks that are shot in this way, the dreamy tone of the flashbacks shows that Jay is reminiscing on happier times. The beautiful cinematography is a key feature of Residue’s brilliance, with a magnificent use of colour.
The DOP, Mark Jeevaratnam, opted to use 16mm film for the flashbacks which works wonderfully to create the desired atmosphere that Gerima envisioned. As well as this, to add to the realistic tone of the film Gerima often uses longer takes and a shaky camera to create a documentary style of film.
The writing by Gerima is masterfully done, and feels authentic to the story which works great with the realism created by the camera work. The sound design also contributes to this feeling, especially the use of the diegetic sound of construction in the background of scenes; this use of sound in particular is important to the themes of the film, creating a sense of dread that even more gentrification is occurring when the events of the film are unfolding.
My only problem I have with Residue is the pacing. Despite the film’s 90 minute runtime, the film often drags and goes through boring spells. This could’ve been intentional by the director however it isn’t pulled off as well as other films do it, such as Scorsese’s ‘Silence’. This is likely due to inexperience, and Gerima will have hopefully ironed out this flaw in his follow up films.
Another theme Gerima tackles in this film is racism. We are introduced to this theme early on as soon as Jay parks his car outside his home. He’s told the police will be called if he doesn’t turn his music down by a white neighbour. This is scene in particular emphasises Gerima’s point about gentrification leading to racism and discrimination. We don’t hear the music as being loud in this scene, this is done so that we are confused as to why the white man is picking on Jay for a petty reason.
Another white character describes the town as being ‘cleaned up’ which is another subtle nod to racial tension by Gerima, as there are now less black people in the town than before. As well as racism, this film tackles the issues of the fear of police, with many characters referencing former crimes and injustices that have happened to them. These themes are reminiscent of Spike Lee’s work, in particular ‘Do the Right Thing’ and Joe Talbot’s ‘The Last Black Man in San Francisco’ so if you enjoy these films I’d highly recommend checking out Residue!
Despite its pacing flaw, Residue is a really excellent debut film, with sublime cinematography complimented by a great colour palette, as well as an interesting story that tackles important themes in today’s society. Gerima is one of the most exciting voices working in film today, and I will be following his work closely from now on.
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