By Peg Aloi
The first three movies I saw at the Sundance Film Festival were high-profile previews.
For the second consecutive year, the Sundance Film Festival went away. It turned out to be a very successful and user-friendly model and, as a civilian, I was able to easily buy tickets (reasonably $16 per showing) and see a number of great films. There have been a few changes since last year. I attend as a spokesperson, and ticket prices have gone up a little. But the website is still fairly easy to navigate. (Although, oddly enough, the functionality to vote for your favorite movies has been separated from the website – it’s now a phone app, which seems like a sly commercial move.). There’s a big, juicy slate of movies, and it’s always pretty exciting to attend a film festival, even if I’m watching from my comfy couch next to my dog. I plan to send my dispatches over the weekend and next week writing about three films at a time, so here we go.
The first three movies I saw were high-profile premieres. When you’re done saving the world is a soulful and offbeat indie that marks the debut of actor Jesse Eisenberg (whose last appearance at Sundance dates back to Double). Finn Wolfhard (stranger things) plays Ziggy, a somewhat awkward teenager who spends his free time writing cheerful folk songs which he performs online for a social media site where he has 20,000 international followers. Julianne Moore is her mother Evelyn, who runs a shelter for battered women in Bloomington, IN. They despise and are uninterested in each other’s obsessive lifestyle. In fact, when circumstances dictate that they stray from their narrow ways, the result is unsightly and painful. Ziggy’s crush on a girl at school prompts him to ask his mother for advice on how to look knowledgeable about politics. Evelyn doesn’t seem to realize that her weird, sensitive son can’t be molded into the proactive, savvy teenager she assumes is itching to break out. Meanwhile, Evelyn’s attempts to help a family broken by violence reveal her rather rigid ideas about what adulthood and success look like, as well as her subconscious desire to bond with her son. Finn and Moore give tender and nuanced performances, as son and mother trying — and failing — to connect with others. Their clumsiness is made very plausible. Eisenberg, who adapted the script from his own audio project, points these lonely people to a possible future in which they might finally be able to peer into each other’s world with compassion.
Princess is an absolutely stunning feature-length documentary debut from Ed Perkins. Using contemporary media footage of the British Royal Family collected by various media professionals and amateurs, the film contains no script or narration. It just lets the pictures and sound speak for themselves. Beginning just before Diana Spencer became Princess Diana at 19, in a wedding watched by millions around the world, and then following her rise to international celebrity treasury, the film depicts her tumultuous marriage to the prince. Charles, her affection for her two sons, and her admirable work as an ambassador to bring attention to people with AIDS and landmine victims in Angola. The film provides a timeline of events as it traces the trajectory of horrific behavior by the press (and to some extent, the royal family themselves) that culminated in Diana’s untimely death at the age of 36. The film is also a very touching tribute to who she was, her kindness and her warmth, especially her revolutionary engagement with ordinary people, which went against the previous behavior of the monarchy. We see how his brilliant spirit shone upon so many people around the world who loved him. This film is a rather austere, but brutally appropriate companion to Pablo Larraín’s film spencer.
I enjoyed it very much Living, by South African filmmaker Oliver Hermanus. It is a reimagining of Akira Kurosawa’s 1952 film Ikiru, adapted to a 1950s British setting from a screenplay written by Kazuo Ishiguro. Bill Nighy plays Mr. Williams, a civil servant who, after learning he has a terminal illness, decides it’s time to escape his dull office job and finally taste the pleasures of life. life. He and one of his young employees (Sex education‘s Aimee Lee Wood) strikes up an unlikely friendship. It’s as fine a contemporary heritage film as any I’ve seen, capturing what England looked like in 1952 without a shred of anachronism. The opening credits come from the British archives of Pathé: they are full of colorful and lively images of London that blend perfectly into Livingthe first scene. The superb cast also includes Alex Sharp (The Chicago 7 Trial) and Memoryit’s Tom Burke. The lively score and period music are effectively juxtaposed against the quiet, sleepy existence that Mr. Williams struggles to outgrow. Living powerfully eliminates the pitfalls of existence: bureaucracy, work culture, procrastination, fear, loneliness and acquiescence. But, in the spirit of Kurosawa’s masterpiece, it’s ultimately an uplifting story that implores viewers to seize the day.
Peg Aloi is a former film critic for boston phoenix and Fellow of the Boston Society of Film Critics. She taught film studies in Boston for over a decade. She writes about film, television and culture for web publications like Vice, Polygon, Restlessness, microphone, Orlando Weekly, twisted marqueeand Bloody disgusting. Her blog “The Witching Hour” can be found at themediawitch.com.