From a distant past to the near future, ancestral magic to wondrous technology, real-life drama to made-up pathos. To go from one movie to the next within a film festival like Sundance can give you vertigo. Check out our next-to-last Sundance dispatch.
Move over, Mexico. Chile is now the hotbed of film creativity in Latin America. This year, Sebastian Silva’s Rotting in the Sun and Maite Alberti’s The Eternal Memory captured headlines in Sundance, but allow me to vouch for Christopher Murray’s dreamy - or is it nightmarish? - colonial phantasmagoria. In 1880 Spanish colonizers and German settlers dominated Chiloé island and the indigenous Huilliche’s territory. They impose their culture and way of life. Rosa (Valentina Véliz Caileo) is a teenager working as a maid for a gruff farmer Stefan (Sebastian Hülk). Despite the rough treatment of her employer, she can’t help but soak up their customs to the extent of becoming a Christian. Alas, Rosa will reclaim her identity after Stefan brutally kills her father. Under the tutelage of elder Mateo Daniel Antivilo), she will become a powerful sorceress. Her quest for revenge puts the whole community on a collision course with the Spain-dominated court headed by judge Acevedo (Daniel Muñoz).
María Secco’s beautiful cinematography counterbalances the matter-of-fact way in which the most fantastical elements are present. Nature is otherworldly, and for the natives, magic is their science. The culture clash comes to a head in an unexpected plot twist that turns this magical realism exercise into a riveting courtroom drama. By narrative magic, the movie mutates in front of your eyes.
When you meet social issues crusaders, you rarely have the chance to see the person under the calling. Lawyer and activist Aaju Peter, of Greenlandic Inuit origin, grants full access to her daily life to Danish director Lin Aluna. The filmmaker follows her on a multinational trek, pushing her agenda of supporting indigenous rights and trying to sort out her personal life.
From Canada to Denmark to Greenland, Peter shows the frail human being behind the charismatic, fearless leader. Her life is full of gut-wrenching drama, from her son’s suicide to an abusive relationship with a white man. She manages to connect these traumas with her condition as a twice-colonized person. As a teenager, she entered a study abroad program that brought Inuit kids to school in Denmark. She shed her indigenous identity without fitting into the Nordic European mold. Eventually, she migrates to Canada and reclaims her roots in a process filtered by White North American culture. As she travels from one place to another, you feel she does not belong anywhere anymore.
The more vulnerable you see her, the clearer you see our human contradictions. A woman who can stand against a cadre of powerful politicians can also come undone speaking by phone to a cruel romantic partner. It gets so personal it can be uncomfortable.
Star power led me astray towards this dismal dark comedy about the pitfalls of celebrity and familial strife. Jennifer Connelly is Lucy, a wealthy retired actress trying to reconnect emotionally with her daughter, Dylan (Alice Englert). Distance throws a monkey wrench in the process. The girl is working as a stunt double in a dismal fantasy movie shooting in New Zealand. The mother is in the US northwest at a “silent retreat” under the guidance of a self-satisfied guru (Ben Wishshaw). She finds an unexpected nemesis in Beverly (Dasha Nekrassova), an earnest top model that reminds her how far she has fallen off the top.
Englert is a serviceable actress in her own right, and yet the most salient piece of background information in the discourse around her feature film directing debut has to do with her lineage. She is the daughter of Jane Campion. The Academy Award winner for The Power of the Dog (2021) even cameos in a brief scene as a doctor. Nepotism is the subject du jour on film Twitter, and Englert comes with a built-in target in her back, but the truth is it would not matter that much if the movie were any good - see Brandon Cronenberg and Infinity Pool -.
Despite all the outrageousness it tries to muster, Bad Behavior feels raw and unfocused. It is too enamored of itself to take advantage of Connelly’s dark energy and the feud with the coltish ingenue. Even though Lucy turned her back on show business by her own will, she feels displaced by Beverly. The model/social media star kicked the actresses out of the female stardom default profile. To add insult to injury, Beverly is young and pretty too.
Dylan’s commitment to the less glamorous side of filmmaking is an existential rebuke to her mother, but her rebellion pales in light of the Lucy-Beverly feud. A subplot about Dylan’s ill-fated on-set romance is disposable, and it does no favors to Englert to parcel out a big chunk of the movie to herself. Overall, a missed opportunity to put her knowledge of life at the top of the creative class to good use and create a truly insightful work about the pitfalls of privilege.
THE POD GENERATION
Sophie Bartes dystopic romantic comedy won the Alfred P. Sloan prize at Sundance, and it is easy to see why. The Sloan foundation promotes films preoccupied with science-related issues, and The Pod Generation ponders a very personal one. In near-future New York, Rachel (Emilia Clark) and Alvy (Chiwetel Ejiofor) grapple with the possibility of getting pregnant. She is a powerful executive at a social media agency, putting her on the cutting edge of the business world. He is a botanist promoting access to nature in an ever more artificial world. Guess who brings home the bread? Her career pushes her to consider a service that would allow them to gestate babies inside an artificial womb. It is so convenient! They can carry around like a backpack or leave in a laboratory under the care of skilled technicians.
The couple spar over ethical and emotional implications and reluctantly agree to follow the procedure. As the pregnancy advances, their conflicting viewpoints change. Clark and Ejiofor have an easy chemistry between them. It is easy to believe they are in a relationship. The Pod Generation smartly builds a recognizable future and articulates how convenience, and not necessarily progress, is the motor of innovation for our generation. You can share Alvy’s exasperation when his boss announces budget cuts that would force them to switch the plants in their greenhouse with holograms.
As the delivery date looms on the horizon, Rachel and Alvy find common ground in a way that balances science and humanity without falling into reactionary conservatism.
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