Amman Abbasi’s lush and tender here’s-what-life’s-like debut, Dayveon, captures, in scenes of pained beauty, an adolescent wanderlust that Abbasi’s camera just seems to be observing — no interaction here feels staged or false, though the film itself is often strikingly composed. Abbasi studies a thirteen-year-old boy (newcomer Devin Blackmon) in the confused months after the death of his older brother. Dayveon lives in an African-American community in rural Arkansas, biking down leafy backroads, buying sodas and snacks from the local convenience shop. Early on, in a long and aching sequence, he approaches a scrum of older boys hanging out in a plush green patch of nowhere; after some razzing, they quickly pummel him, strip him of his shirt, and drag him away. It’s a ritualized hazing, an initiation, and soon Dayveon is invited to participate in some pointless, stupid crimes. It hurts, but now Dayveon belongs. Abbasi suggests how a young man who has found little to connect to in his world can drift toward violence — and how hard it is for friends and family, observing this, to find ways to intervene. The film’s drama becomes a question of genre: Is this a tragedy? Or will we see a tragedy averted? The scenario is familiar, though the milieu is not, and Abbasi and his affectless cast summon the feeling of a languid summer dripping past. The director, who also co-wrote the script, excels at feeling and place: the bees, the humidity, the sense of being boxed into where you come from, a theme exacerbated by the filmmakers’ choice to shoot in the boxy Academy ratio.
Written and directed by Amman Abbasi
Opens September 13, Quad Cinema
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 13, 2017