Over the course of writer-director A.V. Rockwell’s feature debut A Thousand and One, time can feel like it is slipping through our fingers. Much like life, the choices we make and the paths we take can only be understood upon looking back when it is too late to do anything different. When seen via film, this can have a devastating impact. When done well, it becomes something like experiencing life in short snapshots with all its many moments of heartbreak and happiness. In this story of a mother doing all she thinks is best for her son, the strongest moments are when we get a chance to sit with the characters and let them reflect on these parts of their lives. 

From the opening scene, where the sounds of mid-90s New York City draw us into the world of the characters all the way to the end when they get swallowed up by it, there is a rich tapestry of ideas and themes that are brought to life in stunning detail. It ensures that, even when the story itself can often feel like it is losing sight of its characters, there is a poetic beating heart that still finds an emotional resonance as the years slip away.

Initially, the driving force of all this is a riveting Teyana Taylor as Inez, who is trying to get back on her feet in Harlem after a year in Rikers Prison. This is not so easy as the world remains a harsh one that is compounded by the fact that she does not have a place to stay. Taylor, who most recently did voice work for the animated film Entergalactic, captures the fortitude that Inez carries with her to survive which is also crossed with a growing desire to build a life for herself and her son Terry, who she ends up kidnapping out of desperation. Played at a young age by Aaron Kingsley Adetola, he understands much about what is going on around him.

In one scene where Inez is getting into a confrontation as her frustration boils over, Rockwell makes sure to subtly draw our attention to Terry nearby on the stairs. This is done with a light touch, but it already begins laying the foundation for how he will grow into a teenager that has to contend with as much, if not more, as his parents before him. It is almost like a novel in how expansive it is, providing a sense of scope that can frequently leave this story feeling scattered. As the city is in a constant state of change, the lives of the characters are similarly in flux as their already pressing problems only become more and more dire.