Shortly before feeding them, the Bible tells that Jesus had compassion for the weary and hungry multitude. Two thousand years later, the word has been almost eroded from our vocabulary; that’s maybe why Sean Baker’s camera seems to urgently remind us of it.
The Florida Project, one of the most moving and wonderful pictures of the last five years, brims with compassion. It is found on every shot of this Orlando set story, taking in the inhabitants of a stretch of highway that have been forgotten by locals and visitors alike, everybody so concerned with rushing to the self proclaimed most magical place on earth.
Most crucially, Sean Baker appears to understand the great irony of our species: the tragedy of humans is not that we are victims of this broken world, but that we are also complicit in it.
The film never romanticizes nor does it judge it’s characters, allowing them to exist fully and freely. It is this approach that makes the story, consisting more of episodes than a full fledged plot, a spiritual companion piece to another wistful film of Americana, Andrea Arnold’s lyrical American Honey. The characters in that movie never felt like the inventions of a screenwriter, and neither do these ones. Halley (Bria Vinaite) and Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) are breathing, living creatures that we happen to have stumbled upon. As such, there are moments which are truly unbearable to watch.
It is not only the abject poverty that defines Halley and Moonee that’s tough to watch, but their attempts to rise above it. Halley loves her daughter and will do whatever to see her smile, yet the way she tries to do it is toxic not only for Moonee, but for herself as well. Halley’s perpetual stare is of fury and resignation, which paired with the endless wonder that fills Moone’s eyes only serves to drive home the point that eventually the daughter will become the mother.
By the end of the film you’re keenly aware that, unless the film suddenly goes off the rails into the realm of fantasy, there exists only one logical way for the story to end. Indeed, I’d argue that this is a movie which cannot be spoiled, because reality has trained us to know certain basic realities of our world. And if it hasn’t, Sean Baker’s camera has been there to guide you with every shrug, scream, sigh and punch of his characters; with every weary look, eyes of love, and belly full of laughter.
And yet when it finally does arrive it’s effect is still devastating.
In truth, I had to avert my gaze from the screen. I could not bear to look up at the screen, yet even listening to the audio was agonizing. Was I hiding out of embarrassment or pain? To be honest I think I was praying.
When a few seconds later I lifted up my eyes, I was greeted to a final sequence so magnificent in its creativity, so majestic in its execution, so heart-wrenching in its implications, that I knew I was going to remember it until the day I died.