a dark face of Baltimore

Imani Hakim (Candace) and McCaul Lombardi (Keith) in “Sollers Point”, by Matthew Porterfield. JHR FILMS

The opinion of the “World” – to see

At first glance, everything suggests that Sollers Point, the fourth feature by American filmmaker Matthew Porterfield, born in 1977 and affiliated with the independent scene, will not shine for its originality. We are indeed faced with yet another “portrait on edge”, that of a young proscribed, aspiring to “a new beginning”, but quickly “caught up in his past”. A furrow tirelessly drawn by independent cinema, which has often found in characters of marginalized and underprivileged as many counter-models ready to use. However, the film turns out to be quite different: Porterfield manages to transcend a sore subject by opening it up to a complex geography, both urban and emotional, which bypasses commonplaces and forced passages.

Sollers Point is an African American district of Baltimore, which was since the early twentiethe century an important iron and steel worker home

Sollers Point is an African American district of Baltimore, which was since the early twentiethe century an important steel workers’ home, before the deindustrialization of the 1970s and 1980s devastated employment and sowed the range of social wounds that ensued. This is where Keith (McCaul Lombardi), a little over 20 years old, lives in the house of his father, Carol (Jim Belushi), one of the few white homes in the neighborhood. Keith gets out of prison and turns in circles, electronic bracelet around his ankle, waiting to finally be able to put his nose out.

When that day arrives, a gang of white supremacists, with whom he had found protection during his incarceration, comes to pick him up at his door. Keith rejects them and tours his old relationships: his sister, his grandparents, his ex-girlfriends, his neighbors, a childhood friend who has become a successful rapper … He goes on odd jobs, tries to follow trained as an air conditioning technician, but still finds the gang on its way, ready to fight. Little by little, he reconnects with some of his old demons: alcohol, striptease boxes and the rage that we feel boiling in him, sometimes spilling into self-destructive puffs.

Descriptive register

At the expected tragic slope, the film favors a much more surprising “horizontal” approach. In fact, Porterfield aims less to retrace a social process than to reveal the landscape that surrounds his protagonist (racial tensions, unemployment, the ravages of drugs, young people in deprivation …) and thus to browse the network of relationships that define him or her. ‘imprison. The filmmaker adopts an essentially descriptive register, letting out the passive of his character by snatches, by allusions, by conversations, like those, superb, with his loving grandmother or a hallucinated gang leader. If the film begins in the family home, perceived as a closed and narrow universe, it is to then launch out in concentric circles towards the outside, in the exploration of a district in which each stratum contains a trace of the Keith’s past existence, retraced in dotted lines.

Urban geography appears on the screen as a singular “archeology of violence”

The real object of the staging is therefore the topography of this district, and more broadly that of Baltimore, the city where Matthew Porterfield is from and on which he concludes here a trilogy, started with Putty hill (2010) and I Used to Be Darker (2013). By following the comings and goings of his protagonist, he draws up a poetic inventory of spaces, urban installations – avenues, bridges, dwellings, crossroads, bus stops -, with a frame work of photographic inspiration (signed by the chef operator Shabier Kirchner).

The robust and dynamic body of Keith’s interpreter McCaul Lombardi – new face seen in American honey (2016), by Andrea Arnold -, circulates in these spaces that seem to close in on him through emptiness and inertia. Urban geography then appears on the screen as a singular “archeology of violence” which also contains, on every street corner, as many loopholes to take the tangent.

American and French film by Matthew Porterfield. With McCaul Lombardi, James Belushi, Zazie Beetz, Imani Hakim (1 h 41). On the Web: jhrfilms.com/sollers-point-baltimore