Slamdance 2022: “Paris is in Harlem”

© Paris is in Harlem LLC

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Because of the existence of the cancel culture and everything connected to an ism, such as racism, sexism, fake patriotism and white nationalism, it`s hard to imagine our society existing without them. And it’s not because we’ve gotten used to it or that we are fine with the negativity, police brutality or the lack of social equality that leads to bigger problems. It’s because the above-mentioned problems did not start today; we have inherited them. For some, it is such an unneeded thing to be thrown into the garbage, while others carry it with pride – because it’s the nation’s history that is more important than the difference between right and wrong.

“The Rainbow Experiment” by writer/director Christina Kallas is one of the most intriguing and thought-provoking films I have seen. Yet, you think you can’t go beyond what has been delivered. When it’s top, it’s the top; end of story. But with “Paris is in Harlem”, Christina Kallas redefines the meaning of the cinematic language told through the prism of music. As it follows the most complex characters, their lives intersect within a short amount of time, bringing them together – to rediscover life, the meaning of friendship and co-existence. Topics touched upon are harsh, important and difficult. But this film does not shy away from it. And that’s its strongest attribute. It goes for it as a hunter after prey – the prey, in this case, being the misconceptions of a righteous society – and this film cleverly breaks it all apart.

“Jazz is a soundtrack of New York,” you hear in the film at some point. But it’s also the language cinema uses. Not everyone knows how to interpret it, though. Without saxophone, jazz and music, how can we convey love, friendship, happiness, sadness or even  loss? Sam (Leon Addison Brown) is an African-American bar owner. He is strong, smart, and confident and has the right amount of empathy for two young teenagers who come to his bar to rob him. He gives them what they came for – money, but to be earned through hard work. Serenity (Souleymane Sy Savane) is another African man who is on his way to becoming homeless. He used to have a well-paid job, home, and life he cared about. But now, he is just another crazy person on the street the vast majority wants to stay away from.

Arthur (Steven Vause) is an Uber driver who takes his passengers through the gloomy streets of New York. He knows jazz is everything and knows empathy and compassion are what the city needs. He is the type of driver you will always want to ride with. Because he knows when to pick up the phone, the right words to use to stop a desperate woman from jumping off the bridge. Sila (Laura Pruden) is a teacher who is being cancelled by the cancelled culture because she is accused of sexual harassment by her teaching assistant. We don’t know whether she is guilty or innocent. But we know, not only her, everyone around her gets impacted by the accusation.

If you have seen “The Rainbow Experiment”, then you understand by now what Christina Kallas does. She takes her camera and aims at each individual. Whether it’s a young man in the passenger seat of an Uber, two desperate teenagers yearning for money to go to McDonald’s, open opportunities for those who do not know exists and is within reach. Racism, hatred, social injustice, and misuse of guns – everything that the writer/director touches upon is so deep, it is as if a sharp knife goes through the numb and dead feelings to make it come alive. Because you must be alive to care for what the film talks about. It’s as important as the day you live, and the day you expect to arrive tomorrow. And that’s why this film works. It’s not just smart; it mirrors the society we live in, takes it and redirects the image towards all of us so we can start questioning each other – can’t we do better than this?

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