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Once Again (For The Very First Time)

Masterful hip-hop fantasy meditates on love through enchanting dance moves and fiery slam poetry - live from the Official Selection of the 27th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival.


The story surrounds breakdancer and rapper DeRay (Jeroboam Bozeman), who was once convicted of a horrific crime, and is now seeking love. He falls from the sky and in voiceover wonders what life is/has been. When he lands there is the sound of a bell, as if coming out of (or into) Zazen meditation. On land, he is outside the door of spoken word poet Naima (Mecca Verdell). She is his one true love, and now happens to be invisible. There is no apparent connection between the murder DeRay committed as a teenager and Naima turning into a flock of birds and flying away. It’s also not clear if Naima has supernatural abilities or whether the burning away of her memories and trauma are a metaphor.

In fact, there’s a lot that we don’t understand: will DeRay and Naima try to revive their relationship one more time? More broadly, how do we love one another? What can we promise and how do those promises go wrong? These questions are an integral the journey. They become a reflection of the characters own interrogations (“Can you see me?”; “Why are you alone?”).

The standalone episodic segments of dance, poetry and rap are fantastic, either individually or as part of the whole experience. The precise, enchanting movements of the dancers, in scenes of battles for land, and scenes of searching for acceptance, are visually ravishing. You do not look away. Some of these sequences are long, but it doesn’t feel like it when you’re a witness to what the human body can do. Similarly, a long sequence of raging slam poetry lasts far longer than you’d imagine it would, not pressing at the limits of our attention but rather at the film conventions we are used to. You take in the words with as much interest as you took in the dances.

Despite the Old Testament biblical references (DJ Solomon, “I built the temple. I am the temple”, Sodom and Gomorrah), it probably makes more sense to think of Once Again as a Zen Buddhist meditation.”What is real, what isn’t?”, “What matters, what doesn’t?”. Ultimately, the puzzle of this movie can be reduced to a line of poetry uttered towards the end: “Who’s richer? The singer of the song or the receiver?”. For once we seem to have an answer: the receiver.

While the Once Again opens with a beguiling visual effect of DeRay falling from thousands of feet down to the Bronx, there are not many effects in the rest of the film. This makes for a much richer experience, allowing artists to showcase their abilities instead. Boaz Yakin is a veteran filmmaker, with a career spanning 35 years and a good 10 feature films under his belt. It takes maturity for a director to give the film to his cast rather than grandstand with continuous technical feats and leaps. A near-perfect movie, and a genuine tour de force into the world of hip hop.

Once again (For The Very First Time) just premiered in the Official Selection of the 27th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival.

By Chris Simpson - 16-11-2023

Chris grew up in Bracknell and Slough, which explains 90% of his choices. To pay the bills he has worked as a waiter, a cinema projectionist, a shoe salesman, an attendant in an amusement arcade, hiri...

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