The film gets heavy-handed about its premise sometimes, exaggerating the online-ness of it all with artificial glitches and voice modulations, but beyond that, Language Lessons is gorgeously, uncomfortably real.
Throughout the film, Questlove deconstructs the sterility of a typical talking heads documentary. The inclusion of interviews isn’t to incorporate some sense of detached expertise. When faces do remain in focus, it’s to highlight the width of their grins, the tears in their eyes, their open mouths while watching the footage, their shock that someone else finally remembers.
Presumably the first ever feature film adapted from a Twitter thread, Zola makes use of the graphics and sound effects of the internet, as has been common in film for the past several years. But there’s more depth to it here given the context.
Ford’s commitment to implying trauma instead of visualizing it is more than just an impressive formal constraint. Test Pattern proves the fault of more uncreative depictions of racial and gendered violence that exploit bare bodies and blood for shock value rather than depth and specificity.
As Hampton, Kaluuya gives the best performance of his career. He embodies what it meant to be a Panther, the simultaneous sacrifice and gratitude of carrying such militant devotion to liberation everywhere from the podium to the bedroom.