Jamal (Djamari Roberts) isn’t aware until shortly before his 10th birthday that it will be his last in Jamaica in “When the Morning Comes,” overhearing his mother Neesha (Shaquana Wilson) on the phone talking to her mother in Canada. In Kelly Fyffe-Marshall’s elegant drama, there is no fighting fate after Neesha has made up her mind, convinced she’s doing right by her son even if it means further heartbreak for herself after unexpectedly losing her husband five years earlier and struggling to make ends meet, caught between either not spending enough time with Jamal when she has to work or not spending enough time at work to keep a roof over their heads. Checks come periodically from Canada, but buying a used Walkman for Jamal on his special day is an expense that could upend her entire budget and while she can’t explain much of this to her son so he can understand, he can sense the stress, understandably upset with what he’s about to lose, but gradually receptive of what a new life could be with Neesha’s encouragement.
When concentrating on acceptance, Fyffe-Marshall puts a refreshing wrinkle on the coming-of-age story when growing up runs parallel to putting an entire cultural experience behind him, though Jamal spends much of “When the Morning Comes” making memories that will sustain him in the years ahead. The writer/director who has impressed with shorts such as “Black Bodies” in recent years, creates images as likely to stick in your head as much as Jamal’s, utilizing a free-floating camera style that channels its adolescent protagonist’s freedom of thought as he spends his final hours in Jamaica, picked up to go fishing by a family friend Mr. Campbell while Neesha prepares for a family birthday meal. There’s a little bit of pain, running into a local bully named Zidane, and fair bit of mischief running around with his friend, but on an idyllic island day, what shines the brightest is not the sun, but the general feeling of community that surrounds the boy when all anyone has there is each other.
Fyffe-Marshall needs not to spend a second in Canada to show what Jamal will miss about life in Jamaica where he can eat mangoes in the back of a pick-up to his heart’s content and the love around him is so radiant it comes through even when he’s chastised for getting into trouble – after all, the reason he’s got free time is due to a school suspension. But as he moves through the day, the director is able to allude to the hardships ahead if Jamal were to stay though his routine activities, alleviating the weight on any other characters to serve as obstacles or villains when they’re all trying the best they can to get by. It’s a disarmingly compassionate approach that becomes more and more heartrending as “When the Morning Comes” wears on, becoming a day you don’t want to end. Still, the director comes to a particularly poignant conclusion for a child who is destined to live between two worlds, puncturing the dreamlike aesthetic with a little reality that makes it unshakeable and although Jamal may be making a departure, it feels like an arrival for its filmmaker.
“When Morning Comes” will screen again at the Toronto Film Festival on September 17th at 7 pm at the TIFF Bell Lightbox and it is available virtually throughout Canada until the end of the festival through the digital TIFF Bell Lightbox.