SUNDANCE REVIEW: 'Restless City' Is a Stunning Look at New York's West African Immigrant Community

Sundance Film Festival - Restless City - 2011
Courtesy of the Sundance Film Festival
A brilliant, hard slant on life as an African immigrant in New York.

An intense intense twist on the American Dream by director Andrew Dosunmu.

PARK CITY – A stunning slant on the Horatio Alger myth, Restless City focuses on Djibril, an immigrant from Senegal who's lived in Harlem for roughly four years. He dreams of being a musician but ekes out a living selling CDs on the street, mainly to fellow West African immigrants.

In this intense twist on the American Dream, director Andrew Dosunmu vividly captures the pulsating dynamic of New York city's pan-African community, a robust aggregation that subsists amid an often hostile foreign environment.

Playing in the Next section of Sundance, a new component that celebrates films that were made on minuscule budgets, Restless City is a mesmerizing glimpse into a culture and community that is only superficially seen by indifferent New Yorkers.

With no pandering to sentimentality and not following the usual happy arc of immigrant movies, screenwriter Eugene Gussenhoven lays bare the alienation and struggle of these Senegalese immigrants.  Survival skills are crucial.

In this gritty scenario, Djibril's life whirls into a dangerous den when he encounters Bekay, a deadly loan shark and pimp. Djibril takes on some illegal duties for the gangster, hoping to accumulate the necessary cash to record a demo for his music. In this quagmire, he meets up with Trini (Nicole Grey), a beautiful African woman who survives by doing tricks for the sadistic Bekay.

Not unexpectedly, the straight-arrow Djibril tries to rescue Trini from her squalid life. He's initially met with defiance but his decency quickly wins her heart and, not unexpectedly, enrages the brutal Bekay.

Special praise to the players: Nicole Grey is a perfect mix of moxie and vulnerability as the co-dependent prostitute. As the aspiring musician Djibril, Sy Alassane's understated performance is a potent mixture of rectitude and iron-willed optimism.

While the narrative pulls no punches and does not pander to standardized format, Restless City is most gripping and powerful in its textures. Cinematographer Bradford Young might be the true star of this production. His bold framings, torrid  scopings and rich use of depth-of-field vitalize Restless City, pulling us into that world.

Section: Next
Production: Clam Prods.
Cast: Sy Alassane, Nicole Grey, Danai Gurira, Anthony Okungbowa, Babs Olusanmokun
Director: Andrew Dosunmu
Screenwriter: Eugene Gussenhoven
Producers:  Katie Mustard, Matthew Parker
Executive producer: Munu Elifituri, David Raymond, Tony Okungbowa
Cinematographer: Bradford Young
Editor: Oriana Soddu
Costume designer: Mobolaji Dawodu
No rating, 90 minutes