Mothers are often keepers of secrets, born out of a primal instinct for survival. But secrets inevitably crumble, grow and explode with the resonance of truth, as happened in One Thousand and One, written/directed by EV Rockwell's early work. The film, which won the Grand Jury Prize for American Drama at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival, tells the harrowing story of a mother and her son in Harlem, New York.
One Thousand and One was a scene for multiracial Harlem native star Teyana Taylor, who put on an impressive performance in a ready-to-pounce panther pose. Her character, Inez, appears as the only defense, an attitude and a spirit that has never wavered in the 20 years that we have followed her.
Huge aerial shots on moving wires transport us to the iconography of New York: the Empire State Building, Central Park and, of course, Rikers Island, home to New York's largest prison. It's 1994 and we meet Inez, seized by a moment of sweetness; kindly make up another inmate. He was soon released onto the streets of Harlem, selling his hairdressing services and desperately trying to stay out of the asylum.
Your quick and confident movements are captured in handheld footage. Cinematographer Eric K. Yue also uses pan and zoom reminiscent of 1970s New Hollywood films, contextualizing the film as part of a long line of independent New York films.
A wrinkle in Inez's story of survival materializes, a wrinkle that soon becomes her purpose and driving force; their young son Terry (wrestler Aaron Kingsley Adetola) lives in an orphanage. When an accident lands her in the hospital, Inez returns to her heart with Power Rangers toys and a good time. He asks her if she wants to stay with him for a while, after all, a boy has to live with his mother. They meet up with some friends and eventually find their place in a brownstone, with Inez getting her hair done in her bedroom for money. Since he basically kidnapped her from the government, she pays a man for a fake birth certificate for Terry, who Darryl calls at school.
The story of Terry and Inez, and then of Lucky (William Catlett), his girlfriend who becomes Terry's father figure, is simple, but the quality of the vivid material makes this story feel so real and almost strange. that sometimes fiction It's not a true story, but it comes from a place of truth, and in his writing and directing, Rockwell brings an over-the-top idiosyncrasy to the film, whether it's how young Terry spends his time at home alone or in his messy backyard. made as a teenager In the conversations Lucky and Inez share with Terry about getting over what they've been through, it never feels bad or exhausting.
The film is utterly captivating, anchored by Taylor's sometimes erratic performance as a very complicated but very caring woman. Faced with dire circumstances, she perseveres and then dares to imagine Terry's life outside of the one she was in, forcing the family unit she never had. Through sheer force of will, she gets them to the point where she can see a bright future for herself, and when 17-year-old Terry (the wonderful Josiah Cross) finds herself accidentally repeating some of her mother's actions in 2005, it seems that it is dark: . destination.
There are bigger forces at play than the decisions Inez made out of fear and anxiety when she was 22 and fresh out of prison. The house you built begins to fall apart as your family unit disintegrates. Its new owner put on a helping face and offered to fix things, but beneath its smiling exterior that apparently wanted them gone, the house ended up turning sour when Terry needed it.
Rockwell developed the film's style over the years, using aerial shots of ghost towns as motifs and stylistic devices to position the viewer and indicate the passage of time in the atmosphere. During Terry and Inez's climactic conversation, all colors fade from the painting, the two depicted in stark contrast against a blank wall. All that stands between them are confusing and tangled truths, even as shades of gray fade to stunning black and white.
Mille et un is a fascinating portrait of maternal and feminine instincts trapped in an unforgiving world. Taylor's Inez, who has strong self-defense skills, stays one step ahead, keeps moving forward, a ray of hope is her only terrifying consolation.
"One hundred one"
3.5 stars (out of 4)
- R Rating (for language)
- Duration: 1:57
- How to see: Friday in theaters