The festival is sadly over. During the week, I saw a total of 19 films. Alex and I will both be writing about our favourites of the festival, but before we get there, there’s a few films I need to write about.
JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH
Between the great performances, Bobbitt’s gorgeous cinematography, and Shaka King’s direction – I felt like I was in a trance. I couldn’t look away as King and Will Berson’s script showed us Fred Hampton come to life in front of us, just for our hearts to be ripped out as they take him away. A film about how government interferes when they’re scared of losing power. This was true then, it was true in 1973’s coup in Chile, and it’s true today.
Go read reviews by Black folks. Here are some I loved.
Out of everything I’ve seen at the festival, no other film so quickly brought me into their world, and it’s just one of the many reasons that I loved MAYDAY. Ana (Grace Van Patten) goes to work one day, after sleeping in her car, she goes to work and has a very shitty day before whisked away to somewhere better. She is belittled and attacked while at work, and then the power goes out due to a massive storm. Which makes her day at work even worse, if it were possible. She finds herself teleported to another world, one where there’s always a war – but the women are the ones who are winning. Ana finds a few friendly faces, Marsha (Mia Goth), Gert (Soko) and Beatrice (Havana Rose Liu). She then builds a sweet relationship with all of them, as they all teach her how things work in this other realm.
Watching MAYDAY (or Mary Alpha Yankey Delta Alpha Yankey) felt like magic. It in many ways reminded me of Sucker Punch (I know I’m not the first to point this out, nor the last) but it gave me a sense of underlying dread – but complete safety and control. In this world, Marsha and her girls reigned supreme. And that was a good thing.
Clifton Collins Jr. man. Clifton constantly gives great performances and has been doing so for as long as I remember seeing him on screen. But to watch him in Jockey? Absolutely sublime work. Clifton plays Jackson Silva, an aging jockey that was once at the top of the game, but many broken bones and years later it’s only a matter of time before Jackson calls it quits. One day, he meets Gabriel (Moises Arias) who tells him he’s his son.
Jackson goes from dismissing him entirely to embracing him and getting closer to him, teaching him about all the ways to become a great Jockey. Their relationship is incredible, and Arias reminds us how much of a phenomenal actor he is. Jockey isn’t a big or loud film and both Moises and Clifton’s performances are extremely subtle, but beautiful to witness.
I hope you’re ready to cry because I wasn’t.
Flee is a documentary on Amin, a man who left Afghanistan and arrived as a refugee in Denmark, and how he made that journey by himself. Amin tells his story to one of his closest friends, but as he tells his story, it is the first time someone had heard his story. The film is gorgeously told through animation that is reminiscent of Aha’s Take On Me music video (which also gets a needle drop). The story is as you’d expect, sometimes hard to listen to and even harder for Amin to slowly open up over time. The journey is filled with obstacles and it’s hard not to cry and become emotional as the story unfolds. I’m going to just listen to Daft Punk and cry for the next little bit.
Out of all the films I saw at the festival, without a doubt, Mass was the heaviest of them all. Mass is Fran Kranz’s directorial debut is about two parents meeting trying to talk to one another after dealing with a tragedy. Kranz and four very talented actors (Jason Isaacs, Martha Plimpton, Reed Birney, and Ann Dowd) tell a moving story of forgiveness, honesty, and moving on. Isaacs and Plimpton play Jay and Gail, Evan’s father, who six years prior died during a school shooting. Birney and Dowd play Richard and Linda, the father of Hayden, the son who committed said acts. Jay and Gail agree to meet with them to try and grasp an honest response and reasoning to what had occurred – not one that they could have read during the trials and the reports that came after, but the ones that were meant for personal ears and hearts.
Mass isn’t an easy watch, every actor is pushing and showcasing vulnerabilities at an extreme. During the film’s introduction and Q&A, Fran is clearly moved to tears as he explains his near-obsession with telling this story. While not necessarily based on any specific true story, it’s as real as they may come. If one would be so inclined to pain, Mass would make one half of a devastating double-feature with Lynne Ramsey’s We Need to Talk About Kevin. There are lines of the film that have stuck with me during the duration of the festival. “The world mourned 10, we mourned 11.” I expect Mass to be high on many best-of lists, both for Sundance, and the eventual year it has its wide release.
Pleasure was the only film I saw at the festival where it asked me for my age before it began. This made me realize that this film wasn’t going to hold back. It then begins over a black screen and moaning. Bella (Sofia Kappel) leaves Sweden and arrives in LA, hoping to join the porn industry. Within the first ten minutes, Bella is at an audition, kneeling about to give a blowjob – the act is simulated, but the dick is real. And so are the rest of the ones that are showcased in the film. Ninja Thyberg directed and wrote the film alongside Peter Modestij. Ninja gave us an honest and non-sexual look at the industry – tackling the way they treat women on and off-set. The way she even juxtaposes kink porn, having one being directed by a woman that has total control of the set. It’s respectful and kind, while the other being the furthest away from it. While men and women may both be into rough sex, Ninja shows us the line where it goes from enjoyable and acceptable to cruel and terrifying. The film, unfortunately, shows the industry through a specific White and Straight lens, but it doesn’t make the friendships that Bella creates or the trauma she encounters any less real.