In just under 14 minutes, Victor Gabriel’s traumedy Hallelujah makes you laugh, kicks you in the heart, and then comforts you with a giant hug. That’s no easy feat for any film–especially a short one.
Set in Compton, California, Chetty (Richard Nevels) and Paper (Bruce Lemon) are looking after their quirky, nerdy nephew Hallelujah (Stephen Thomas) and adorable niece Lila (Mariah Pharms). Chetty and Paper seem out of their depths with Hallelujah who quotes lines from books they’ve never heard of as Hallelujah educates them on suicide in the Black community. When tragedy strikes, Chetty and Paper are forced into a guardianship they didn’t anticipate, but they rise to the occasion.
Hallelujah hits numerous emotional points in a short runtime without without giving its themes superficial treatment. Hallelujah’s preoccupation with academia, for example, challenges stereotypes that some viewers may attach to Black boys and men. Chetty and Paper, moreover, quietly display the “next man up” attitude after they assume custody of Hallelujah and Lila. This growth poignantly illustrates how normalized gun violence and death are for them.
Hallelujah encompasses all of the heartfelt quirks expected of a Sundance indie. From the quick, snappy dialogue to the active (sometimes dizzying) camerawork, Gabriel tells the story of Hallelujah, Lila, Chetty, and Paper in a stylized yet simple manner. If we’re lucky, we’ll see the feature-length version of Hallelujah premiere at a future edition of Sundance.
Hallelujah screened as part of Sundance 2022. Head here for more from this year’s festival.