It’s not easy to be an expat living in a foreign land, having to adapt to its customs, laws, language – particularly when you’re of a minority in your own land. French dramas Dheepan and Fatima clearly show what it is to be at the tail end of society and having to turn tricks to ensure base survival.
Morris From America, Chad Hartigan’s follow up from his 2012 This is Martin Bonner, continues the theme of isolation, but while that film had a bleaker outlook, his current is a warmer affair, more upbeat event about the frailty of being on the outside in more ways than one. Morris (Markees Christmas) is a 13-year old living in Heidelberg, Germany with his father Curtis (Craig Robinson), who moved here for a coaching position and is trying to connect with Morris. Morris feels completely at odds with this largely alien culture who in turn doesn’t accept him. He knows that the jocks at school taunt him not just on his lack of knowledge of German, but his own blackness. [There is an implicit undercurrent of racism throughout the entire film as a matter of fact.] German kids can’t understand his shyness and lack of sports skills. Morris, sadly, senses their rejection, and mopes around the town, glancing into windows, or imagining that people around him are head-banging into the hip-hop that he listens to.
The only one who seems to be drawn to him is Katrin (Lina Keller), a somewhat older girl who introduces Morris into a world of partying, ecstasy, and invites him to a party she’s throwing. Once he arrives he can barely get through before some girls grill him on how did he even find the place. Once he mentions he was invited by Katrin, one of the girls leads him to a room where an odd exchange of water squirting from to guns takes place. It’s a game for her, but humiliating for him – he’s been squirted water in his crotch area. It doesn’t do much for his own sense of self.
It’s only later when Katrin and Morris meet again when she discovers his music (and an embarrassing moment takes place when Morris hears his own father rapping into a tape). Katrin encourages Morris to perform rap in front of an audience, and he takes it to himself to write down some lyrics. Inka, his German tutor Inka (Carla Juri, seen in 2014 in the movie Wetlands), discovers the lyrics and is shocked at their violence. It all leads to a confrontation with Curtis who wants Morris to be himself – to rap from his own experience.
I was very surprised by how sweet and touching this movie was and how despite some wandering and a couple of side characters thrown in for levity, Morris from America wore its heart well. Some darker aspects pepper the entire movie, but they are left in the sidelines. In a way it’s good because the core of the film is the relationship between Curtis and Morris, which for the most of the film remains at a friendly stage – not too close, but close enough – but escalates to a quiet moment of lovely revelation towards its key scene.