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…despite small vistas of hope, we are stuck with the fact that this is quite a depressing watch.
The title of this raw, fly on the wall doco from inner city America is from Steve Winwood’s much-covered song of the same name. In that song’s first verse, there is the following proposition” “There must be a higher love (..) without it life would be wasted time”. Not especially original sentiments, but not just a cliché either. The protagonists in this film are definitely getting wasted, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t glimpse the sheer uselessness of their current habits. In fact, it is when this truth flashes momentarily and brightly that we get the greatest pangs of sympathy.
It is set in a district called Camden. It is in New Jersey, but one could also suppose that it could be set in any number of poor, mostly black, run-down neighbourhoods in dozens of cities in the US.
We are flung more or less in the middle of it, with young woman Nani preparing a fix and then shooting up and drifting off. She has a partner, Daryl who was raised by a single (junkie) mother and who now has eight children of his own. He loves Nani. When she gets pregnant and, despites herself, can’t stop using, he begs her to break away and come with him to a better place.
The idea of generational disadvantage is openly discussed here, along with the ineluctability that guarantees the circularity and entrapment. The always-relevant, but recently near-universal Black Lives Matter movement cannot help but be in the viewer’s mind. Given that they alternate between heroin, crack and fentanyl, the scandalous epidemic of prescription opiates is also very much part of the picture.
Watching people get high on camera is not exactly edifying, and whatever negative glamour there is in drug taking for the crowd doing it, it is massively outweighed by the obvious sadness of the spectacle when you take in its full biographical meaning. More or less everyone in their immediate circle is either using or trying to stop. Everyone seems powerless or defeated in a way. As indicated, they all know it is a shit way of life but, unsurprisingly, they are sort of past caring. That is, after all, what the drugs are for; to dull the pain.
Director Hasan Oswald does take us up close and personal and that is part of the ‘appeal’ of the film. Its unedited rawness doubles for authenticity. He also refuses to editorialise or wag his finger. They know they are trapped, and it would be patronising to suggest otherwise.
Also, the film doesn’t go for easy answers, just as these are not available in real life. That said, despite small vistas of hope, we are stuck with the fact that this is quite a depressing watch.