Camera-scoured Manhattan wouldn’t seem to have many secrets left, but the extraordinarily beautiful “Restless City” achieves revelation on two tiers — in the kinetic landscape of the city itself and in the world of Senegalese immigrants, whose struggle evolves just beneath the sightlines of the average New Yorker. Pic’s visual elegance makes a limited arthouse life possible, although Nigerian-born fashion photog-turned-helmer Andrew Dosunmu is far more interested in aesthetics than narrative in erecting his visually poetic “City.”
Using the chaos of Canal Street as a portal into a mini-Third World of hustlers, hawkers, illicit street salesmen and a cacophony of accents and languages, Dosunmu focuses on Djibril (Sy Alassane), a 21-year-old from Dakar. Djibril was a singer back home, but as a disenfranchised New Yorker, he rides his Vespa, looks for work and dreams of music.
Djibril’s story is classic: an American dream, a moral crossroads, a woman — Trini (Sky Grey) — and a crisis. Dramatically, it’s schematic. Visually, it’s euphoric, the recurring shots of Djibril motoring toward the camera through traffic providing a visual anchor for the film’s otherwise unpredictable eye
But it’s not just Dosunmu’s direction or d.p. Bradford Young’s use of light and reflective surfaces that make “Restless City” fascinating. Both the sound and the creative use of silence are crucial to the film’s impact, as are the faces — melancholic portraits of hope and sadness, which Dosunmu lingers over as if in search of some elusive truth.