Celine Held-Logan George’s debut feature film, premiered at Venice Critics’ Week, is shocking and startling and never stops. The inspiration for the film came from Jennifer Toth’s book about New York homeless people living in tunnels under the city, along the subway, and this naturalistic drama filmed from a hand-held camera follows the fate of a mother and her five-year-old daughter. Held played Nikki herself, a young drug addict who was obviously not spoiled by life and who, with many others, found accommodation underground. With her is a daughter she calls Little, a five-year-old girl who suggests that she has never been to Topside or on the surface of the city.
But their life in abandoned underground tunnels will end when the city decides they must be evicted. They will have to leave the small makeshift homes they built in the underground to cardboard boxes, styrofoam, and as soon as they get upstairs, we will realize that Nikki has created a real home for her daughter in the underground. Although the little girl probably does not have a name and is not officially registered in the birth register, the underworld was the only world she knew and there she knew everything and felt protected. When they come to the surface, all that will change. She will find herself in a crowd of people, in completely unknown territory, and the girl Zhalia Farmer who embodied the little mulatto woman looks so natural and convincing. It is clear to us that she is afraid, and although her mother is trying to calm her down, it is also clear to us that she can no longer protect her and that what must have happened then.
Nikki can no longer protect her daughter and has no plan or idea what to do next, and “Topside” will turn into a dark and shocking odyssey through the streets of New York in search of a place to stay and a place to live at least temporarily. It will turn into a sad, shocking and emotional tragedy because it has always been clear to drug addict Nikki that she can’t take care of her daughter and that the little one would certainly be better off somewhere else, but so far she hasn’t wanted to admit it. “Topside” was shot almost in a documentary style and most of the story is told from the perspective of Little, who is scorched by light and sun as soon as they come to the surface, and it is completely unclear to her where the crowd on the asphalt comes from. It was “Topside” an emotional and poignant naturalistic drama with which the viewer has to wonder where the child was safer and what a home is for someone in general. Rating 7/10.
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