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All Dirt Roads Taste Of Salt ★★★★



Director: Raven Jackson

Cast: Sheila Atim, Zainab Jah, Moses Ingram, Chris Chalk

Release: TBC

Though it may be difficult to quantify, there’s something particularly seductive about stories set in the Deep South. From My Cousin Vinny and Deliverance to A Streetcar Named Desire and In The Heat Of The Night, the communities that inhabit the Southern states can always be trusted to deliver something that is beautifully complex and viscerally bountiful. Reinventing the narrative format for what can often be a traditional outlook isn’t something that many would expect to be achieved, yet Director Raven Jackson’s All Dirt Roads Taste Of Salt is a genre all of its own. Both an intimate character study and a wider examination of social context, Jackson establishes a visual language all her own while poignantly dissecting relationships, family, loss, and love.

Set in rural Mississippi, Mack’s (Zainab Jah) life is sculpted by those closest to her. Following her from infancy through to old age, Mack’s “ode to connection” watches her navigate the loss of family members, difficult romantic relationships, and the tribulations that come with single motherhood. Never too far from her sister Josie (Moses Ingram) or on-off sweetheart Isaiah (Chris Chalk), Mack both reaps what she sows and deals with the unexpected fall-out of the unknown.

If experience cinema is what we want from films in the 2020s, Raven Jackson is giving it to us in experimentally artistic bucketloads. Possibly resembling a gallery installation as opposed to a conventional feature-length film, the tactile personality of All Dirt Roads Taste Of Salt is something that inspires a sense of awe. Every emotion that Mack experiences is grounded in a first-hand sense of touch, reconnecting to the muddied, clouded rain, or perfectly-polished floor to bring her back to a sense of ease. It’s matched with a melodic sense of sound, occasionally accented by a hypnotic tease of bygone popular culture that harks on its own sense of nostalgia. The stylistic element that’s most likely to divide audiences is the unique use of time — or rather, the lack of it. Sporadically jumping about between unnamed time periods why no distinct rhyme or reason, viewers need a sharp sense of focus to make sense of the textured dreamscape that Jackson is expertly weaving together.

It doesn’t come as too much of a surprise that the calibre of ensemble performance is just as strong as its “assured vision.” Though her pivotal role appears in a relatively unexpected fashion, Sheila Atim posts unmissable screentime that confirms exactly why her nomination as a BAFTA Rising Star is an insult to her continued commitment. Both younger and older versions of sisters Mack and Josie are ideally cast, effortlessly creating a bond that cannot be taught replicated, with the romantic tension between Mack and Isaiah as intense as much as it is blistering. Fleeting appearances from external family members flesh Mack’s journey out with tenderness and love, forming the jigsaw puzzle that answers exactly why Mack is the way she is.

Though time spent exploring her old age is blink-and-you’ll-miss-it, All Dirt Roads Taste Of Salt is an astounding feat for a debut director. Like a hug that lasts for an uncomfortably long time — which is something viewers see play out around the film’s halfway point — giving in to what Jackson has to offer is the best way to receive her cinematic warmth.

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