In a previous piece on TIFF Cinematheque’s Black Star series I had mentioned that Clement Virgo’s Rude had a profound impact on me when I was younger. It changed the way I looked at Canadian cinema, especially in terms of whose stories could be told.
A captivating debut feature whose creativity and passion still resonates 22 year’s later, Virgo’s film offers a unique glimpse into Toronto’s inner city.
Virgo’s film explores threes individuals all coping with the ramifications of decisions they have made. There is the former drug dealer known as “The General” (Maurice Dean Wint) who was recently released from jail and is hoping to reconnect with wife Jessica (Melanie Nicholls-King), who is now a cop, and his son Johnny (Ashley Brown). Looking to go legit, and continue making art, The General is pressured by his brother Reece (Clark Johnson) and his former boss Yankee (Stephen Shellen) to resume his position in their criminal organization.
Along with The General’s story, Virgo also introduces the audience to Jordan (Richard Chevolleau) and Maxine (Rachael Crawford). The former is a young boxer who is gay, unbeknownst to his those in his inner circle, but is too frightened to speak up against his gay-bashing friends. Maxine on the other hand, finds it tough to come to terms with both a recent break up and a choice she made that played a role in it. The link for all these stories is the sultry poetic voice of Rude (Sharon Lewis), a pirate radio DJ whose incantations mirror the passion and danger bubbling within the streets.
An ambitious debut, the film showcases many of the visual traits that Virgo went on to perfect in works such as Lie with Me and the sweeping epic The Book of Negroes. He presents a richness to The Projects that is as striking as the characters who inhabit it. The visual flare also adds another layer to the character study that unfolds in the film. The way he lights and frames scenes involving The General and Reece provides extra sizzle to the brothers’ growing tension.
As with many first features, Rude is far from a perfect film. There are moments when its style overshadows the intricacies of the dialogue. Also, Virgo’s narrative does not always give the three stories equal weight. This is especially noticeable in Maxine’s arc, as it never seems to reach its full potential. However, these flaws do little to take away from the overall vibrancy of the film. Rude, much like its DJ, is a raw and bold film that lingers in the mind like urban poetry.
Friday, December 15, 6:30 PM, TIFF Bell Lightbox
This film is part of TIFF Cinematheque’s Black Star series running from November 3, 2017 to December 22, 2017.