Venice Film Festival Origin review: Ava DuVernay has made much fantastic movies than the current

Introduction Ava DuVernay recently made history at the Venice Film Festival by becoming the first female African American director to participate in the festival’s competition. Her film, “Origin,” based on Isabel Wilkerson’s bestselling 2020 book, “Caste: The Origin of Our Discontents,” delves into the profound societal issues surrounding caste, as opposed to race. While there’s anticipation that the festival jury might be moved by the story’s power, it’s important to note that there are stronger contenders in the competition.

Exploring “Origin” Isabel Wilkerson’s book “Caste” argues that societal malaise is rooted in caste rather than race, connecting the subjugation of Black people in the US with India’s caste system and the Nazis’ attempt to eradicate the Jewish population. “Origin” explores the backstory of Wilkerson’s book and her personal journey that led to its creation.

A Startling Opening Sequence The film opens with a powerful and stark sequence featuring a young Black man heading to a store, foreshadowing an impending tragedy. This young man is later revealed to be Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old who tragically lost his life to a neighborhood watch vigilante. The impact of this scene is immediate and sets the tone for the film.

Wilkeson’s Journey and Research The narrative shifts to a domestic scene where Wilkerson (Aunjanue Ellis) and her supportive husband Brett (Jon Bernthal) are moving her mother into sheltered housing. Wilkerson, already a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, is encouraged by Brett to write an article about Trayvon Martin. This decision leads her to listen to the harrowing police audio recordings, a pivotal and chilling moment in the film.

As Wilkerson delves into her research, the film attempts to explain the concept of caste multiple times, which can feel pedantic and repetitive. However, it’s evident that she’s on a steep learning curve, and her journey takes her to India to study the caste system and to Berlin, where she uncovers the Nazi regime’s inspiration from Jim Crow laws in the American South.

Historical Flashbacks DuVernay incorporates historical flashbacks to bring Wilkerson’s research to life. These include the story of August Landmesser and his Jewish girlfriend Irma Eckler, the experiences of Black anthropologist Allison Davis and his colleagues studying the caste system in the 1940s, and a reenactment of Trayvon Martin’s tragic murder.

Performances and Musical Score The performances in the film are commendable, with Aunjanue Ellis and Jon Bernthal delivering strong portrayals. However, some characters, like Wilkerson’s cousin Marion (Niecy Nash), serve as vessels for regurgitating theories. The film’s score by Kris Bowers, dominated by violins and piano, is incessantly intrusive, attempting to manipulate the viewer’s emotions.

Conclusion While “Origin” explores a fascinating and important subject matter, it falls short of delivering the impact one might expect from Ava DuVernay, especially after her exceptional work on “When They See Us.” Some viewers may find it more enlightening to read Isabel Wilkerson’s book directly rather than watch DuVernay’s interpretation. Despite its shortcomings, “Origin” remains a thought-provoking film that adds to the conversation about caste and its implications in society.

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