Film, Sundance


Mountains, transgressions, and Amy Tan!


At long last, we arrive at the end of my Sundance coverage. I had an incredible time watching so many dang movies, the last of which you’ll find below. Perhaps I’ll end up in Utah one day? I never expected this to happen, so anything’s possible. Thank you so much for reading!

Land (2021) dir. Robin Wright

Wright’s directorial debut is a gorgeously shot meditation on grief and isolation. The script fails to impress, but luckily most of the action is wordless, camera trained solely on Wright’s face as she struggles to survive her self-imposed exile in the Rockies. Wright gains a solid companion in Demián Bichir, a joyful mountain man who saves Wright from the brink of death. There’s not much to say beyond that; things progress about the way you’d expect. Despite that, I felt for the character’s pain and hoped for her breakthroughs. There’s an interesting parallel to be made between Land and Mass, for sure. (C+)

Pleasure (2021) dir. Ninja Thyberg

The most explicit film I’ve seen in ages, Pleasure is a tale of ruthless ambition in the form of an aspiring Swedish porn star. Bella Cherry, as she calls herself, has emigrated to the US in order to become the greatest porn star of all time. Obviously the reality of the porn industry hits her like a ton of bricks. Thyberg does not hold back in showing the abuse Cherry suffers, both physically and mentally as she is made to do scenes she’s uncomfortable with, fearing she’ll get kicked out of this world. We get to see the strange banality of their world as well – the girls live in a house together, eating pizza and watching Game of Thrones when they’re not um… acting. One part The Girlfriend Experience, two parts Working Girl, Pleasure never takes the easy way out and manages to showcase the porn experience in a meaningful and artful manner. (B)

Violation (2021) dir. Dusty Mancinelli & Madeleine Sims-Fewer

A modern rape-revenge thriller that seeks to turn the lurid artful. Violently explicit, almost impossible to look directly at without feeling sick – clearly the intention! Not a film I felt good about watching, though I had a feeling that would be the case from the title. I appreciate a good vengeance tale, but this one forces you to sit in agony for so much of its runtime. Last half hour is pretty incredible. (C-)    

The World to Come (2021) dir. Mona Fastvold

I’m trying so hard to not just say “This deserves to be seen on the big screen,” because that is true of all films, but The World to Come practically demands it. Featuring electric performances from Katherine Waterson and Vanessa Kirby, this frontier drama aches with love and sorrow. Reeling from the loss of her young daughter, Abigail (Waterson) is trying to find meaning in her studies and ignoring housework, much to the chagrin of her tough but understanding husband Dyer (Casey Affleck). Meaning arrives in the form of a new neighbor, Tallie (Kirby), who has her eye on Abigail though her husband Finney (Christopher Abbott, also of On the Count of Three) would prefer she stay at home. The women are so grateful for each other it’s no wonder the relationship turns physical behind closed doors. That’s really the core of this story – gratitude and joy at having found a similar soul. It can be a bit of a stressful watch, especially when Finney is around, but that’s worth it for the electric chemistry between Waterson and Kirby. Waterson also narrates, her low voice waxing lyrical about life, death, astonishment, and joy. The World to Come will be available this month (theaters next week, VOD March 2nd) and I cannot recommend it highly enough.  (A-)

Amy Tan: Unintended Memoir (2021) dir. James Redford

Comprehensive but not fawning. The animated sequences are a bit overdone but add a lighter touch to some of the grimmer moments of Tan’s life, including her well-documented relationship with her emotionally unstable mother. Tan’s importance to the Asian-American community and the American literary movement at large cannot be overstated. I would have appreciated a bit more discussion of the touring musical group of authors she joined in the ‘90s, but perhaps that’s for another day. Convinced me to finally order The Joy Luck Club from the library. Sad to learn this was Redford’s last film before he passed, but at least it is clear it was all done with grace and care.  (B-)

Click here to catch up with the rest of Kyle’s coverage of Sundance 2021!

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