Released eight years before his transcendent “Moonlight,” Barry Jenkins’s wonderful debut feature, “Medicine for Melancholy” (2008), sepia’ed and gorgeous, accompanies two young, very attractive hipsters, Micah (Wyatt Cenac, not yet Daily Show famous), and Jo (Tracey Heggins), as their one-night stand grows into a 24-hour encounter with each other and San Francisco. Specific to the two, the film also opens out from the personal to deal with issues of race, class, and the accelerating gentrification of the Bay Area.
Both of Jenkins’s features and two of his shorts will be shown by the Film Society of Lincoln Center. The series, “Illuminating Moonlight,” also features a selection of major works of queer, black and international art cinema, chosen by Jenkins, which in various ways informed “Moonlight.”
Jenkins’s spectacular influences include: “Beau Travail” (1999), Claire Denis’s retelling of “Billy Budd,” which ends with Denis Levant perfoming one of the most remarkable dance sequences ever filmed; Wong Kar-wai’s “Happy Together” (1997), sensually shot by the great Christopher Doyle, with Leslie Cheung and Tony Leung Chiu-Wai as two lovers from Hong Kong drifting through Buenos Aires and away from each other; “Killer of Sheep” (1978), a masterpiece from Charles Burnett, chronicling black life in Watts (Los Angeles) in the 1970s; “Silent Light” (2007), Carlos Reygadas’s unnerving (and sublimely shot) drama of a marital and spiritual crisis, set in a contemporary Mennonite community in Mexico; and Hou Hsiao-hsien’s beautiful “Three Times” (2005)–three love stories, set in three different eras in Taiwan (but using the same actors, Shu Qi and Chang Chen)–which directly inspired the triptych structure of “Moonlight.”
“Illuminating Moonlight” will open on Wednesday, January 4 and run through Monday, January 9. Barry Jenkins will participate in a conversation on Thursday, January 5, following the 6:30 pm screening of “Moonlight,” and will introduce “Medicine for Melancholy” at 9:30 pm.