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A.V. Rockwell's "A Thousand and One" was the somewhat surprising winner of the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance a couple of months ago, a trophy taken home by major movies like "CODA" and "Whiplash" in past years. While other films were considered frontrunners, it feels like Rockwell's heartfelt drama took the prize largely because of the sheer force of its central performance, a true breakout for Teyana Taylor. It's easily one of the best performances so far this year, one of those turns in which you have to remind yourself that you're watching an actress—that's how completely she fades into the character, a woman who makes some tough decisions to protect her son. Taylor has a remarkable ability to be present in a scene, responding as if she's interacting in the moment, not reciting rehearsed lines or blocked movement.
Taylor's Inez is a New York resident returning from Rikers Island when the film opens. Only 22 years old, she carries herself with the determination of someone who has already lived so much life and knows what she needs to get through this tough world. What she needs more than ever is her son Terry, but he's been in the foster system while Inez was behind bars. When six-year-old Terry has an accident that lands him in the hospital, Inez makes the impulsive but understandable decision to take him home. Who could possibly raise him better? And what's one more kid out of a broken foster system, one that damaged Inez too?
Inez forces Terry to change his name and not tell anyone about his background. And yet "A Thousand and One" is less of a thriller than that synopsis might suggest. Inez and Terry share a secret that defines their relationship, something that bonds them as their NY neighborhood shifts and changes around them over the ‘90s. Rockwell regularly uses sound bites and news items to convey the energy of NYC in this era and comments on the gentrifying world around Inez. It gives her arc the tenor of a survival story by making her the rock-solid center of a world that spins around her. She's not on a set. She's in the real world that's zipping by her as she holds so tightly to her child.— Brian Tallerico, rogerebert.com
Sponsored by Center for African and African American Studies (CAAAS)
Sat October 21, 7:30 PM, Muenzinger Auditorium
United States of America, 2023, in English, 116 min • official site
Screenplay: A.V. Rockwell, Director: A.V. Rockwell, Cast: Teyana Taylor, William Catlett, Josiah Cross, Aven Courtney, Aaron Kingsley Adetola