The Evolution of Bert (Jeffrey C. Wray, 2014)

A scene from Jeffrey C. Wray's The Evolution of Bert  {Photo: JAZZY TAM FILMS}

A scene from Jeffrey C. Wray's The Evolution of Bert  {Photo: JAZZY TAM FILMS}

The Evolution of Bert screens on Sunday, October 12 and Tuesday, October 14. Director Jeffrey C. Wray is scheduled to attend. More information can be found at the Chicago International Film Festival's website here. This is a capsule review. A full review will be published upon the film's United States theatrical release. 

Jeffrey C. Wray’s The Evolution of Bert opens with a surreal scene that details the limited prospects made available for the ordinary black man.  The surrealist imagery is compounded by a vibrant jazz score and shot on 16mm black and white film, making for one of the more unusual cinematic experiments of the year. The essayistic approach does possess an inherently grounded quality though, as the film explores the life of a young black man as he wraps up his final semester of college. The anxieties of ending a long-term relationship, of finding a job, and of obtaining the approval of his professors are the sort of prevalent issues that course through a student’s life, but this uniquely black perspective is what makes The Evolution of Bert so intrinsically nuanced.

Shot in the late nineties and concluding its final chapter in the mid aughts, The Evolution of Bert is an act in observing social and racial instituted mechanics at play. The picture possesses many striking comments on the mechanisms of maintaining the social order between blacks and whites, and moreover, it is a film that is aware of the imprisoning nature of sacrificing one’s passion for the perceived safety of a socially-acceptable position. It’s the sort of frank discussion on post-collegiate life that plagues many graduates, black or white.

The film’s relentless musical arrangements do begin to weigh heavily on the film, as does the inherent lack of narrative unity. Bert is a film that perhaps could have benefited from either a full-on rejection of narrative and character devices or used a bit more focus on its central character. It stands at a bit of an uncompromising medium, either possessing too much polish or not enough.  It remains a commendable effort though, one that’s riddled with the sort of primal anger and fierce imagery that makes it difficult to discount despite its structural flaws. 

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