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Review: Residue (2020)

Residue (2020)

Directed by: Merawi Gerima

Premise: A filmmaker (Obinna Nwachukwu) returns to the neighborhood of his youth and searches for a childhood friend. He discovers that the neighborhood has changed and that his old friendships are difficult to pick up.

What Works: Residue is a complicated and poetic film about identity and place and memory and the way those things are intertwined. The picture unfolds from the point of view of Jay, played by Obinna Nwachukwu. Jay grew up in an urban neighborhood but moved away and become a filmmaker. He’s now returned to the streets of his youth hoping to find inspiration and create a story that captures the place he grew up. But the neighborhood is no longer what Jay remembers. The community has been gentrified with young white couples now living in the historically black neighborhood. Jay also finds that the remaining residents from his childhood barely remember him or they are hostile, seeing Jay as an outsider. At issue is more than just pride or ownership; Jay has come back to the site of his formative years only to find that it doesn’t really exist anymore. The changes to the neighborhood strike at Jay’s identity and he is provoked into a panic as he tries to hold onto something of his former self. Residue is about the slippery nature of our identity and the link between place and self. This is visualized beautifully in the film. Residue is presented in a fractured style with past and present intertwined as Jay revisits his childhood stomping grounds and remembers events from his youth. There is a standout sequence in which Jay visits a childhood friend in prison and the movie alternates literal and figurative images.

What Doesn’t: Residue is produced with a lyrical style. It isn’t totally abstract but the movie uses some arty techniques in the way that images are photographed and assembled. Those techniques are appropriate to the themes of the movie and so the film doesn’t have the straightforward storytelling style that’s typical of a Hollywood film. But Residue doesn’t provide enough context for some of its parts. That’s especially true of Jay’s relationship to a woman played by Taline Stewart. It’s unclear what these people are to one another, if they are old flames or an ongoing long distance relationship or an entirely new thing. Without that context it’s difficult to ascertain what is at stake in their subplot.

DVD extras: Currently available on Netflix.

Bottom Line: Residue is a complicated movie that probably warrants multiple viewings to be fully appreciated. The film is a little too abstract for its own good but Residue is a provocative and skillfully produced feature that manages to visualize the transitive nature of identity.

Episode: #819 (September 27, 2020)