A Thousand and One
March 31st, 2023
MOVIE: A THOUSAND AND ONE
STARRING: TEYANA TAYLOR, WILLIAM CATLETT, AVEN COURTNEY, JOSIAH CROSS
DIRECTED BY: A.V. ROCKWELL
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 3 ½ STARS (Out of 4)
What instantly came across with A.V. Rockwell’s Sundance award-winning film A Thousand and One, is that it visually transcends you to the 1990s. And while it does that effortlessly, I couldn’t help but think that this would have been a movie Roger Ebert loved. I say that because it has all of the look and feel of his philosophy on cinema, how it can be an empathy machine, where you blindly step into the shoes of another person and fully experience what their life is like. A Thousand and One is about a Black woman doing everything she can to survive. How she does it is the moral quandary and should challenge the viewer to understand the choices people make. It’s a tough divide between motherhood and self-worth, the nurture fighting back against nature, and it’s all on display in A Thousand and One.
The lead character is Inez (Teyona Taylor in a breakout performance), a confident and determined person. She’s a hairdresser but can’t seem to find stability. She takes the time to hand out flyers for work and notices her son Terry hanging out with kids from the orphanage he lives at. Inez wants to get close and get back into his life but she’s undoubtedly preoccupied. Finding work. Drugs or relationships. It is in her desperation that she kidnaps Terry and tries to start anew. It’s through his growth we begin to see what Inez is truly capable of. Just how powerful her love can be for her son but also how their comfort hangs by a very thin thread. There are men that come and go, but Lucky (William Catlett) has been around more than most, and he even becomes a father figure for Terry. What we wait for is the bottom to fall out but what we are witnessing is not something foreign and in 2023 Inez’s story feels right at home.
The performance at the center of the story by Taylor is outstanding. She delivers something that feels otherworldly. Truly authentic, not just because it’s one of the first times I’ve seen her in a film, but because from minute one you believe she is this person. That performance also grows with the excellent set designs and authentic look of what New York was in 1991. It’s lived in and reminded me of films such as George & Held’s Topside, or the work the Safdie Brothers do in Good Time. Movies that succeed at this are often the best, not just because the material is good, but because what we see on the screen removes all sense that we are watching a movie.
The success on the screen is attributed to director A.V. Rockwell, whose previous work consisted of music videos and short films, but clearly can work within any scope of storytelling. A Thousand and One is often gripping in both pleasant and disturbing ways. As Terry grows older we begin to see how his independence and his maturity will make Inez jealous. The performances from the three young men playing Terry are what ultimately disappointed me, not because they are supposed to be the best actors, but because the narrative calls for someone to be on an equal level for what Taylor is doing. It’s the one part that takes us out of A Thousand and One’s authentic feel.
By the time we get to the end, Rockwell still has us wondering where Inez and Terry will land, as their existence hangs by a thread. The final act has a few twists that feel both heartbreaking and shocking, but it is also an ending that Rockwell delivers. The reality is that this is an honest period piece, a reflection on the way the world was in the 1990s, and A Thousand and One is exactly that gut-wrenching snapshot. It’s an encapsulation of the Black experience, a story that could be told from the shoes of various people, and it reveals the things that people do to survive. A Thousand and One will be tough to swallow but it’s rooted in reality. That’s what makes it great.
A THOUSAND AND ONE IS NOW AVAILABLE TO RENT ON DEMAND.
3 ½ STARS
Written by: Leo Brady