Xeitgeist ~ the spirit of the event
by Melinda Darlington-Bach

The Stillness Between Breaths ~ Lee Daniels - Director - "Precious"

Lee DanielsCertain things in life are absolutes. Every October, Autumn is ushered in, manifested by the leaves changing color to burnished golden hues, the prestigious Mill Valley Film Festival also blows into town with avowed determination  to entertain and surprise we film fanatics! In the span of two jammed packed weeks, we Marinites are privy to a colossal array of hand-picked, international features, documentaries, children’s, animated films of all lengths and themes. The variety is breathtaking as Executive Director, Mark Fishkin and his crack staff make a concerted effort to select films that shock, beguile, inform and enthrall.

One of the opening night films was truly the gold standard in filmmaking. A very bold and clever choice, the festival decided to preview the new highly anticipated, evocative film, "Precious", based on the novel "Push" penned by Sapphire.The film, based on Sapphire's own experiences teaching in Harlem directed by Lee Daniels,(who was in attendance at the Rafael Film Center). Daniels took a no holds barred approach to have his  stellar  actors  reach deep into themselves to fiercely communicate the almost unbearable truth. Seduced and repelled at the same time, the standing room only audience was held spellbound as we watched the explosive performances by Mo'Nique as the frightening , abusive mother and  newcomer Gabourey Sidibe,  as “Precious”. At times, Miss Sidibe's face completely fills the screen, not uttering a sound, she communicated such depth and pain.

Difficult to watch at times, the audience was completely engrossed by this honest, brutal portrayal of teenage sexual violence  and unwanted pregnancy, a result of paternal abuse. This important gritty film is so brilliantly executed as the fearless cast captures the heart and the voice of the novel, devoid of the artifice of the omni-present special effects. A few green screen moments do provide a peek into her imagination, creating beauty and joy, as a welcome escape from her  harsh reality. By using jump cuts and unstable hand held camera work, with grainy yellow lighting, the audience was purposefully kept on edge, holding their breath anticipating what might unfold next on the screen. Prior to the premiere, the charismatic Daniels anticipating our reactions, encouraging the audience to "please laugh." As he said, there are quite a few very funny, insightful moments in this story of a plucky, courageous, overweight teenager determined to make her way in this tale of betrayal of the highest limit.

In the Q & A immediately following , Mr. Daniels, having received a 5-minute roaring standing ovation, told us he was truly humbled by his experience of making the film “Precious”. .Lee Daniels truly did a masterful job of creating this precise portrayal of loathsome, inexplicable tortuous proclivities, that somehow lead to the redemption of this precious victim.

~ Marin Arts Council Magazine, October 2009