by Tim Gordon
Can a grief-stricken man emancipate himself from mental slavery?
An actor returns to Detroit after several years to bury his father and must deal with his own inner demons and the specter of his late father’s legacy to find himself in the reflective and soulful drama, To Live and Die and Live.
Muhammad (Amin Joseph) arrives back in the “D” the night before he must bury his father. Not in a hurry to see his family, he stops by a club where he buries his grief in cocaine and alcohol. While there, he catches the eye of the alluring party girl, Asia (Skye P. Marshall), who gives Muhammad temporary relief.
Hungover and filled with grief, he assists in preparing his father’s body for burial, according to Islamic customs, but is overcome with too much emotion to eulogize his father. On top of the sadness he feels, his family immediately looks for him to provide financial and emotional support in his late father’s stead. As soon as the ceremony has concluded, he is asked to settle his father’s business matters with his construction business. While he remains stoic and the pillar of strength for everyone else, he buries his depression and stress in drugs and alcohol.
Everywhere Muhammad turns everyone seems to want something from him, money, guidance, or his presence, the pressure at times feels insurmountable. His family is also a source of great stress, even prodding him to show them his latest film and then throwing shade at it, even though he explained that it was a rough cut before they screened it. Seemingly, with no one else he trusts, he reengages Asia and the two enjoy a quiet and warm encounter. Even that ends in disappointment for Muhammad because he offers more than Asia is willing to give.
The fourth film from writer/director Qasim Bashir (Mooz-Lum, A Boy, A Girl, A Dream), To Live and Die and Live is a deeply reflective story that explores how one deals with legacy and what it means to be head of the household. Anchored by a commanding performance by Amin Joseph, Bashir’s film looks at a broken man who almost hits rock bottom before he finds redemption. Joseph (Snowfall, Call Me King) digs deep to find the emotional center of Muhammad. He paints an impressive portrait of a deeply troubled man who is trying to hold it together but in doing so, further isolates himself from those that care about him. Trying to live up to his father’s legacy and handle his business, it almost feels like we’re watching him sink further into the quicksand of depression.
Bashir’s third Sundance offering shows his growth as a storyteller and with solid supporting performances from Omari Hardwick, Cory Hardrict, as well as Marshall, he has the players to breathe life into winning drama. One of the few black filmmakers who weaves his Islamic faith into the fabric of his stories, it is always refreshing for him to educate audiences on cultural traditions within his narratives.
But it is Joseph’s intense performance that drives this story and watching him return to his alma mater as a guest to share his wisdom on getting into the industry. Instead, his measured, yet deeply personal message to the students was heartbreaking to witness for the students and the audience. It is at that moment that To Live and Die and Live finds its soul and we have both Joseph and Bashir to thank for taking us on this fascinating journey.