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Barry Jenkins’ ‘Moonlight’: See the Seven Foreign Films That Inspired the Oscar Winner

Check out the six contemporary auteurs who influenced the "Moonlight" director to break with Hollywood tradition.

In the Mood for Love (2000 Hong Kong) aka Fa yeung nin waDirected by WONG Kar WaiShown: Tony LEUNG Chiu Wai (as Mr. CHOW), Maggie CHEUNG (as Mrs. CHAN)

“In the Mood for Love”

Block 2 Pictures/Photofest

“White Material” (2009)

"White Material"

“White Material”

Jenkins’ favorite filmmaker – and the one he tries to model in his approach to his scripts – is the French director Claire Denis, whose amazing body of work has been criminally underappreciated. From the way her actors’ body language reveals characters  (Denis’ corporeal study of masculinity in “Beau Travail”  has the clearest influence of any film on “Moonlight”) to the way her scores expresses intricacies of character rather than propelling plot — Jenkins has carefully studied Denis’ work in an attempt to see how her subtle use of craft gives her such freedom in telling her stories.

“I think of Claire as a ‘nuts and bolts’ filmmaker,” said Jenkins. “There are no crazy transitions in her work. They are very clear-eyed, concrete images. And yet, she arrives at this level of metaphor that other filmmakers just aren’t capable of. Her films are very human examples of sensuality.”

In “White Material,” Denis works with the metaphorical framework of a woman (Isabelle Huppert) losing her mind and the death of European colonialism, as Huppert’s privileged character continues to live on her family’s crumbling African coffee plantation despite a civil war closing in on her property. You can find the Criterion Blu-Ray of “The White Material” here.

“Ratcatcher” (1999)



First Look International

Jenkins other favorite director working today is the Scottish filmmaker Lynne Ramsay. The first Criterion DVD he bought was her 1999 feature debut, “Ratcatcher,” which he studied inside and out, including Ramsay’s audio tracks in which she discussed her specific approach to blending non-actors with professionals. Ramsay’s belief in creating a shooting environment in which trained actors have to react and adjust to the unpredictable nature of first-time child performers is something Jenkins leaned on heavily in making “Moonlight.” “Ratcatcher” was inspirational to Jenkins in another key way as well.

“I thought: ‘This is fucking heavy,” said Jenkins. “‘I can do this. Not all film directors were born with silver spoons in their mouths.’” You can find the Criterion DVD of “Ratcatcher” here.

“La Ciénaga” (2001)

La Ciénaga (2001 Argentina) aka The SwampWritten and Directed by Lucrecia MartelShown from left: Martín Adjemián (as Gregorio), Graciela Borges

“La Ciénaga”

Cowboy Booking/Photofest

Jenkins’ believes his instincts as a storyteller make him naturally more drawn to female filmmakers. In trying to capture the reason for this, Jenkins pointed to the work of the great Argentinian director Lucrecia Martel and her “show versus tell” approach to making stories with an underlying message.

“I’m probably going to get in trouble for saying this, but I’ve always felt like I can tell the difference when I’m watching a film directed by a woman,” said Jenkins. “I just feel like the metaphors are more eloquent, by which I mean they don’t shout as much. Even for myself, when I try to make a movie with a message, it’s clear I’m trying to make a movie with a message, whereas when I watch a Lynne Ramsay film or a Claire Denis film, it’s the metaphors you can feel — Lucrecia Martel, especially.”

In the devastating dramatic comedy “La Ciénaga,” Martel brings the audience into the world of a bourgeois family in the midst of sweltering hot summer, and political turmoil and social stagnation lead to fascinating study of human nature.  You can watch “La Ciénaga” on FilmStruck here.

“A Bright Summer Day” and “Flight of the Red Balloon”

"Flight of the Red Balloon"

“Flight of the Red Balloon”

Jenkins has also been strongly influenced by Taiwan’s New Wave cinema movement, for which directors and collaborators Hou Hsiao-Hsien and Edward Yang were the leaders. The unique three-chapter approach Jenkins took in “Moonlight” was directly inspired by Hou’s “Three Times,” in which three romances — stretching over 100 years — feature the same two actors. Jenkins even tipped his cap to Hou, mirroring the great director’s unique camera movement as Chiron enters the diner to see Kevin in “Moonlight.”

Both directors have a unique approach to story, in which moments were often expand to capture the smallest detail of character, and create great visual beauty from realistic settings. You can watch Yang’s masterpiece “A Brighter Summer Day” on FilmStruck here, and Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s rare journey to Paris in the gorgeous “Flight of the Red Balloon” here.

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