My second dispatch from the 2021 Sundance Film Festival contains capsule reviews of Iuli Gerbase’s The Pink Cloud, Hogir Hirori‘s Sabaya, Kristina Lindström and Kristian Petri’s The Most Beautiful Boy In The World and Albert Birney and Kentucker Audley’s Strawberry Mansion.
dir. Iuli Gerbase, World Cinema Dramatic Competition, Brazil, 105 minutes.
Opening with a disclaimer that it was written in 2017 and shot in 2019, this eerily prescient picture previsualized our lives under lockdown with unsettling psychological acuity. After an airborne toxic event swoops in over the city, stranding everyone inside on a moment’s notice, two attractive twentysomethings (Renata de Lélis and Eduardo Mendonça) are trapped together as their one-night-stand drags on for weeks, and then years while quarantine continues. The film skimps on the scientific specifics, focusing instead on two personality types who wouldn’t (and probably shouldn’t) stay together under any other circumstances. “We’re like an arranged marriage,” the woman jokes, not at all inaccurately. This is a lot for audiences right now, maybe too much at the moment. It’s terribly sad watching this young man grow old, resigning himself to the new normal while she lashes out, clinging desperately to memories of how things can no longer be. Writer-director Gerbase scarily nails the torpor of undifferentiated days drifting together, finding a troubling poetry in lives lived behind windows and through screens, and the people who come to find they like it better this way.
dir. Hogir Hirori, World Cinema Documentary Competition, Sweden, 91 minutes.
They look like math teachers with pistols. Otherwise unassuming middle-aged men smoking cigarettes and checking their cell-phones, they’re actually a strike force for the Yazidi Home Center, staging daring midnight raids on the Al-Hol camp in northeastern Syria to rescue young Yazidi women and girls kidnapped by Daesh (ISIS) and sold as sex slaves. There are more than 73,000 Daesh supporters locked in the camp, guarded by Kurdish forces who obviously have no control over what goes on behind these barbed wire fences. Hirori’s nerve-jangling documentary observes these men collecting intel from their undercover female operatives on the inside, texting from beneath their black burqas. Eschewing any explanatory narration or overviews that probably could have come in handy, the movie exchanges clarity for a visceral, caught-on-the-fly feeling, dropping us into this dangerous world and forcing us to sort stuff out for ourselves. What sticks with you is the precarity of their positions, the dull pops of distant gunshots punctuating the evening soundscape like crickets and an intense, nearly numbing sensation that at any moment violence might erupt. No wonder everybody smokes so much.
dirs. Kristina Lindström and Kristian Petri, World Cinema Documentary Competition, Sweden, 94 minutes.
I blame podcasts for a lot of the annoying tics you see in documentaries these days, all the airy atmospherics and ominous foreboding that don’t do anything for the story besides sucking up screen time and teasing what’s to come. This portrait of flash-in-the-pan ‘70s heartthrob Björn Andrésen is all insinuation all the time, chronologically corkscrewed to impart a gloomy grandeur to what’s otherwise the standard saga of fame chewing someone up and spitting them out. A Stockholm schoolboy plucked at the tender age of 15 by Luchino Visconti to portray the abstract embodiment of beauty in Death In Venice, Andrésen did a lot of time and drugs in nightclubs and Japan before washing up in old age as a depressed alcoholic confronting his past for the cameras. All the formal frou-frou by directors Lindström and Petri can’t quite conceal that this is basically a more mannered episode of VH1’s Where Are They Now? and while I’m happy that Andrésen seems to have found some measure of peace, it’s worth noting that the Leif Garrett Behind The Music accomplished all this and more in a fraction of the running time.
dirs. Albert Birney and Kentucker Audley, NEXT, USA, 90 minutes.
Birney and Audley’s sweet-natured Sylvio, about a debt-collecting gorilla who dreams of being a puppeteer, was my favorite film of IFFBoston 2017, and their altogether lovely follow-up features the same analog absurdism and wide-eyed sense of wonder. Set in a retro-future where the government taxes your dreams, the film stars Audley as a gentlemanly auditor tasked with reviewing hundreds of old tapes from a flighty senior citizen (All The President’s Men’s Penny Fuller) who never converted to digital. But something sinister’s afoot in this thrift-store Inception, as the taxman uncovers a conspiracy to sell ad space in your dreams to fast food franchises. Relying almost entirely on practical effects, stop-motion animation and other silent-era trickery, there’s a vintage, hand-crafted quality to this gentle adventure – every prop in the film looks like It was made using a hot glue gun. Embracing the disruptions of dream logic (“we became beets for a little while”) this endearingly screwy movie is also achingly sincere, with a tender, romantic streak. Leave it to our sad sack hero to meet the girl of his dreams while auditing somebody else’s.