No student in the film seems to feel as displaced by their graduation as Palace. As the only black woman in the film, introduced in a scene where the white academy focuses more on invading her identity than analyzing her work, we are immediately confronted with the sense of confinement that comes with being a black artist in the fine arts. . sphere.
Palace is wonderfully portrayed by Stingily. With most of his moments marked by deadpan delivery, any emotional breakup becomes all the more shocking as he encounters his emotional trials and tribulations. Stingily’s performance is tangible; his brusqueness and his prickly and sarcastic humor are reminiscent of someone we know.
The supporting cast, Palace friends Aidan (Cammisa Buerhaus) and Hannah (Erin Leland), as well as a love interest of sorts, Ezra (Aaron Bobrow), possess a similar emotional quality. They are believable, each encompassing (to a different degree) various archetypes of art school students. Since the actors are all working artists, the force with which their performances hit close to home is not just personally, but actually feel so. Her roles serve perfectly to highlight the character of Palace. After all, this movie is the setting for Stingily.
The experimental soundtrack to “The African Desperate” emphasizes its rhythm and maintains the style of the film in its more understated visual moments. In a party scene where Palace acts as a DJ, the jarring beats and melodies he plays highlight his battle to maintain his own emotional balance. It is in sequences like these that Syms shows his masterful consideration of a harmonious or discordant moment. No moments or elements are wasted; Syms’ hand is felt in every scene.
The film rests on a foundation of chaos and calm, as reflected in its cinematography. Sometimes its warm, faded glow evokes vintage photographs or modern-themed Impressionist paintings. Quaint and romantic shots are like a breath of fresh air, only to be immediately followed by cold, out-of-place framing or the contrasting intensity of a world cast under black light.
Martine Syms has a singular voice, full of creativity. Using her own background as an artist, Syms has taken art academia and the whiplash of leaving the comfort of school and turned it into a jungle juice of weed, ketamine and self-discovery.
On MUBI today.