Marvelous Movie Mondays: My Josephine

EPFC | February 11th, 2020

guest curator: Bernardo Britto

theme: social issue films that deal with their subject matter in ways that are not boring and obvious but rather new, fun, different, and cinematic

After the Oscars last night I felt it only fitting to showcase something from a previous Oscar winner. So here is Barry Jenkins’s very first student film:

My favorite thing about My Josephine actually is that it is definitely a student film. It feels rough, the subject matter is almost a little beyond his reach, and it’s bristling with the excitement of someone still figuring out their style. The film was written shortly after 9/11 and it still works as a perfect time capsule of that time. Beyond that however, it’s a wonderfully cinematic character study from someone who can’t help but have so much empathy for his characters, in this case two Arab-American laundromat owners. Barry once said that this was his favorite movie he’d directed. I’d have to give the nod to If Beale Street Could Talk myself, but the through line in his work of good people trying to find love and connection in a system designed to suppress and subjugate them was there in the beginning with this one. Here it’s all just hinted at. The film is foggy. Fuzzy. Like a memory. It doesn’t show any another characters. It doesn’t betray any real backstory. It doesn’t even mention 9/11. Its power lies instead in the small little moments. Like an exchange about language. Or the way they handle the flag. It feels elliptical. Conveying the feeling of being an immigrant in a way that feels honest and human, and not manipulative or obvious. It’s a kind of confidence that’s rare in filmmakers already deep in their careers. The fact that Barry pulled it off while he was still in school only makes it that much more special.