Luis Guzman in a touching but familiar tale from the Bronx – The Hollywood Reporter

Luis Guzman in a touching but familiar tale from the Bronx – The Hollywood Reporter

There’s a double meaning to the title of writer-director Aristotle Torres’ feature debut, avenue of historywhich perfectly encapsulates what this NYC coming-of-age drama is all about.

For one, it references the fictional Bronx subway station where its main character, a troubled young graffiti artist named Kadir, has an encounter that will set him on the right or wrong path for the future. On the other hand, it underlines the storybook quality of a film which, although rooted in certain socio-economic realities, unexpectedly veers towards fantasy.

avenue of history

The essential

Both promising and predictable.

Place: SXSW Film Festival (narrative feature competition)
Discard: Asante Blackk, Luis Guzman, Alex Hibbert, Melvin Gregg, Coral Pena, Cassandra Freeman, Hassan Johnson
Director: Aristotle Torres
Screenwriters: Bonsu Thompson, Aristotle Torres

1 hour 34 minutes

Torres, adapted with co-writer Bonsu Thompson from a short film they made together in 2018, moves back and forth between the two elements throughout. avenue of history, which takes familiar tropes from the urban youth genre (gang violence, domestic troubles, peer pressure, guns and drugs) and, in its most memorable moments, twists them into something slightly magical. The film often distinguishes between downtown clichés and a more elegant and unique vision, never finding the right balance between the two. But as a touching portrait of an out-of-borough New Yorker whose talents are just waiting to be tapped, it shows real potential.

These talents belong to Kadir (Asante Blackk of When they see us), a Bronx high school student and up-and-coming artist who, along with his best pal, Moe (Alex R. Hibbert, Moonlight), works with a local graffiti team called OTL (Outside the Lines). A gifted tagger and portrait painter who always has a sketchbook in hand, Kadir has been deeply shaken by the recent death of his disabled brother, growing further and further from his mother (Cassandra Freeman) while falling further and further in the hands of the charismatic but devious leader of OTL. , Skemes (Melvin Gregg).

It’s the kind of setup we’ve seen in many coming-of-age dramas – the good boy who could go bad – and just when you think it’s headed in that direction, Torres throws in a wrench. wheel in machinery which comes in the form of Luis Guzmán, playing an MTA worker (also named Luis) whom Kadir tries and fails to hold at a subway station.

Alone and struggling with a drinking problem, Luis unexpectedly welcomes Kadir into his life, encouraging his artwork and doing his best to keep him off the streets. The twist adds a bit of magic to a formula that may otherwise seem tried and true – Boaz Yakin’s 1994 breakthrough Costs told a similar story in the Bronx three decades ago – and the relationship between the two outcasts turns into a harrowing tale of survival.

The best scenes in the film are when Kadir and Luis square off over Cuban sandwiches in a 24-hour restaurant under the train tracks, getting to know each other while constantly being on their toes. Blackk shows real promise in these moments, with a glint in his eye behind all of his character’s defense mechanisms, while Guzmán perfectly encapsulates a weary New Yawka with a good heart and a failing liver (or kidney) soaked in water. alcohol, as evidenced by a scene of painful urination).

Their story gets a bit cluttered and cinematic in the final act, which alas heads into familiar places, throwing in a last-minute voiceover that feels like it was added in post-production to clarify the narrative. At this point, Torres also opts for an uplifting Hollywood ending, as what made avenue of history feeling original was its more honest and compassionate portrayal of the city’s forgotten inhabitants.

The end is perhaps that of fantasy prevailing over reality, in a film which oscillates between the two without always finding its place. This approach is also reflected in a style that oscillates between gritty urban textures and more elegant flights, with the talented director of photography Eric Branco (Clemency) creating striking images from the many Bronx sites. It’s an apt way to portray a place that, like its budding hero, is both cut off from the world and full of possibility.

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