Life and Nothing More Screen 4 articles

Life and Nothing More


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  • This seemingly effortless docu-realist production, which Méndez Esparza developed alongside his nonprofessional actors and revolves around a single mother and her teenage son simply trying to navigate a life that’s rigged against fairness, is by and large patient in its discernment. The film bravely hums with resentment for how black lives in this country are set on a trajectory — toward poverty, imprisonment, and worse — that can feel irrevocable in its machinery.

  • So compellingly directed and acted that for much of the time we could almost be watching a documentary, Life and Nothing More is an involving, quietly moving piece that eschews conventional narrative shape to offer a multi-layered depiction of exactly what the title promises. With its cliché-free picture of ostensibly undramatic African-American lives, Life and Nothing More belongs somewhat in the non-conformist lineage of Charles Burnett’s Killer of Sheep.

  • If it all sounds melodramatic, Esparza’s rigorously unsentimental approach always pulls back from that brink. The film’s style is, like its guarded characters, watchful. It’s an approach that doesn’t come across as remove, but respect. Perhaps it’s due to this Spanish-born writer-director’s outsider perspective, and his trust in his non-professional cast to bring an authenticity that a lesser director might try to force.

  • Still awaiting distribution despite being the timeliest, best-acted, and most moving of all the English-language movies I saw in Toronto. . . . Unlike Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, which repeatedly bungles its big, block-letter ideas about justice, policing, and region-specific American life, Méndez Esparza opts for a quieter, more observant naturalism in relation to the same themes, stoking the anger at its core without smugness or hyperbole.

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