Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
BROOKLYN (2014) | 83 min | Unrated
Written and Directed by: Pascal Tessaud
Starring: Kt Gorique, Rafal Uchiwa, Jalil Naciri, Liliane Rovère, Véronique Ruggia
This originally ran on VeryAware.com
The world of hip hop is endlessly fascinating. While all slam-poetry, to me, sounds exactly like Jonah Hill’s mockery of it in 22 JUMP STREET, rap is its infinitely more palatable cousin. Writer-director Pascal Tessaud’s BROOKLYN is like if John Cassavettes made a French hip hop film. Authentic, visceral and resonant, this is a little indie gem that semi-successfully achieves as big as it dreams.
As demonstrated by the film’s cold open, Coralie (Kt Gorique) – a.k.a. “Brookyln” – is a twenty-something rapper timid about performing live and is promptly “booed” off stage as the audience can smell her fear. After failing in Switzerland, she takes her act to the Saint-Denis area of Paris to find her voice and hone her craft. She rents a modest room in elderly Odette’s (Liliane Rovère) apartment in the projects and finds a job as a cook at a local artists association. It’s not long until Coralie’s mad skillz attract two men: Yazid (Jalil Naciri), the association’s stern mentor, and his head-strong, talented pupil Issa (Rafal Uchiwa), whose relationship with her predictably oscillates from amorous to adversarial. Though Yazid, who’s looking to produce the next great hip-hop artist, fails to inspire any authentic lyrics from Issa, he finds exactly what he’s looking for in Coralie’s mad fresh hooks and rhymes. However, it’s not until a massive betrayal occurs that Brooklyn fully emerges.
Safe to say, BROOKLYN wouldn’t work as well as it does if not for the music featured in the film. Propelling the narrative forward and augmenting tone and atmosphere, the beats are filled with raw emotion, power, truth and life. The way Kt Gorique, who gives a powerhouse performance filled with organic pathos and vulnerability, funnels her character’s anguish into lyric and jazz-infused beats is defiant and magnetic. It proves my theory that the best songs are born out of heartbreak.
Tessaud and his cast, comprised mostly of rappers improvising their roles, layer in some really great, restrained commentary on hip hop culture. It’s hard not to be moved by Yazid encouraging his student to seek truth in lyrics and not churn out soulless “apologetic” rhymes or be a meaningless imitation of other artists. BROOKLYN is about finding sincerity and a unique place in the world – a resonant lesson in any coming-of-age movie.
Sadly, this can’t all be effusive praise. The film feels a bit rushed in the second and third acts, almost like huge chunks of scenes have been stolen – specifically with the problematic character of Issa. Jumps on the timeline feel like the filmmaker hit the fast-forward button without your permission. Issa’s romance with an older white woman (Véronique Ruggia) happens all of a sudden – as does his deduction that his manager Cooleyboy is all swagger and bluster. Later, mere minutes of screen time elapses between him stealing Coralie’s notebook and his rap album coming out. It’s odd she wouldn’t realize her most prized possession is gone within a few days – let alone months. Plus, Coralie being rude to her landlady seems out of place given she had been so warm to her a few scenes earlier. It’s also got a non-ending as an ending, which is a cheap cop-out in many indie films.
While the needle on the record might skip a few times, overall, the freestyle beats it captures, creates and builds are effortlessly arresting.
BROOKLYN (2014) plays ColCoa on April 25. It currently has no US distributor.