The Last Black Man in San Francisco  ‘BFI LFF’ Review – An Atmospheric tale of Gentrification
As tender as it is slow, Joe Talbot’s ‘The Last Black Man in San Francisco’ is an atmospheric tale of gentrification balanced against the declining identify of one man and his last anchor of pride. We open the film with Jimmie (Jimmie Fails) and his friend Montgomery (Jonathan Majors) staring at a preacher ranting about the system and the declining nature, the history of San Francisco. The pair stare quite monotonously at the man, for better or for worse, ‘The Last Black Man in San Francisco is infused with a sad depressingly resonant truth about covering things up.
Those who felt the film at times appears shockingly milquetoast in its formal and thematic approach to topics that some would argue require ‘fire and fury’, then I don’t *think* you were quite paying enough attention. Jimmie’s approach to adolescent life in San Francisco is one of pessimism broadly cocooning a sliver of optimism living in his childhood home, built by his very own grandfather. I wouldn’t believe it if his regrets and sadness were characterised by breaking down in relentless passion. He’s lost all but some hope.
Last Black Man’s score is one desiring standing ovation, a beautiful compliment to the honey glazed warmth bought in images by the director of photography Adam Newport-Berra and the last shot is a total *chef kiss* moment. One thing I found especially intriguing about this film’s approach to Franciscan life didn’t come directly from the content of the story but the production itself. In the proceeding Q&A, Talbot explains how they used a variety of people they found on the street to act in scenes and show off their talents and be part of this project. This noble inclusion amplified a lot of the community aspects of the film’s story somewhat, especially a softly tragic misdirection building upon the events of the shooting.
Having this information being supplemented to me after watching said community-oriented scenes, I remain sceptical about Last Black Man’s greater scope in terms of invoking emotion to a general audience. This is a hugely personal story to Jimmie Fails and I think that’s incredibly true to a fault.
If you’re someone who can adapt to the ‘when in Rome’ conformity of a space in time you have no direct connection to with ease, then I do not doubt that you’ll enjoy this picture. I, however, felt that there needed to be more in the way of captivation leading up to the third act rather than letting us linger on the unfortunateness of situations. It’s one of those cases where you know when a character is sad or troubled, but you scarcely feel it with them.