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Sundance: The Mission

Directed by Tania Anderson, The Mission follows a group of young Mormon missionaries as they travel to Finland to proselytize. The missionaries work in twos of the same gender, a way to protect each other but also maintain purity and keep tabs on each other. The film follows the young  elders and sisters as they struggle to learn Finnish, deal with resistance from the locals and connect with other Mormons. 

Anderson’s documentary is very straightforward. There are no formal interviews, no narration, no history lessons, no opinion or debate. The Mormon missionaries are presented in a way that is enlightening and respectful. Sometimes you just need the subjects to tell their own story and Anderson recognized this and gave the missionaries space to do so.

As someone who used to be in a religion that put emphasis on proselytizing, I really felt for the elder who had to cut his mission short because he was suffering from panic attacks. I went through the same thing and I hope he’s able to find help and an escape from his situation.

The Mission premiered at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.

Sundance: Piggy

13 year old Sara (Laura Galán) is incessantly bullied by her peers because of her weight. On a hot summer day, after helping her dad out at his butcher shop, she heads over to the pool to cool off. There she endures harassment by the local girls who call her “Piggy” and stealing her backpack and shoes. When she makes the treacherous walk back home, she witnesses a mysterious stranger kidnaping the three girls who only moments ago were tormenting her. This man has been killing random people in the area but has a particular interest in punishing the people who hurt Sara. She’s conflicted by the attention given to her by this man and whether to help the local community find the girls before it’s too late.

Written and directed by Carlota Pereda, Piggy is enjoyable light horror with some problematic elements. It’s based on the short film by the same name released in 2018. It expands the story into a full length horror film. It reminded me greatly of the last 20 minutes of Catherine Breillat’s 2001 film Fat Girl. Both feature heavyset 13 year old girls who are favored by a much older serial killer and must endure the trauma of not being accepted because of their appearance. 

In Piggy, the actress playing Sara is in her mid 30s yet the character is 13. The age difference is very apparent and we have to really suspend our disbelief in order to buy that the character is a pre-teen and not a grown woman. Also, there were a couple of scenes in which Sara devours junk food. These do not serve the plot whatsoever and could have easily been removed to avoid reinforcing stereotypes.

Piggy premiered at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.

Sundance: The Cow Who Sang a Song Into the Future

Nature sings in Francisca Alegría’s magical realism film The Cow Who Sang a Song into the Future. Magdalena (Mia Maestro) has emerged from the waters where she committed suicide many years ago. She visits the members of her family who all have different reactions to seeing her. Magdalena doesn’t speak but brings an energy with her that sparks electricity and makes the cows, the bees, the fish and other elements of nature sing beautiful music. While herr family is confused by her presence, Magdalena offers no closure; just reconnection.

This hauntingly beautiful Chilean fable reminds us that we are one with nature and we must protect it. It’s not a film to make sense of. Rather one to simply experience.

The Cow Who Sang a Song into the Future premiered at the 2022 Sundance FIlm Festival.

The Worst Person in the World

“I’ve never seen anything through. I go from one thing to another.”

Have you ever felt like a complete failure? Like you’re the worst person in the world? These feelings plague Julie (Renate Reinsve), a 20-something college student who isn’t sure what path she wants to take in life. Every new career move leads her to a new guy but she just can’t quite stay put. That is until she meets comic book artist Aksel (Anders Danielsen Lie). He’s older, a bit wiser and absolutely smitten with her. As Julie turns 30 and they move in together, she finds herself at a crossroads. That restlessness seeps back in. She then meets Eivind (Herbert Nordrum) at a party and the two can’t help but be drawn to each other. With both Julie and Eivind in separate committed relationships, the world seems to stop just for them. But then reality hits Julie hard as she must reckon with her relationships and her path moving forward.

“Nothing’s ever good enough. The only thing worse than all the idiots is yourself.”

Directed by Joachim Trier, The Worst Person in the World is a richly layered portrait of a young woman in flux. I’m not usually drawn to stories like this but I couldn’t help but be captivated by this one. It’s structured much like a novel and features an introduction, twelve chapters and an epilogue. Oslo, Norway serves as the setting and a gorgeous backdrop for the story. Julie’s decisions in life seem to be solely influenced by the men in her life, whether it’s Aksel, Eivind, another boyfriend or her emotionally distant father. It’s takes a major life event for her to rely on just herself. The film does suffer a bit from a strong male gaze and male perspective especially considering the focus is on the female protagonist. However, Renate Reinsve does at complexity to her character which makes Julie a character you can both sympathize and be frustrated with.

The Worst Person in the World is distributed by Neon and will release in theaters February 4th.

The Feast

Directed by Lee Haven Jones, The Feast is a Welsh horror film that pits the characters’ own greed and selfishness against themselves. Glenda (Nia Roberts) and Gwyn (Julian Lewis Jones) are hosting a dinner party at their home to convince their neighbor Mair (Lisa Palfrey) to take a business proposition from Euros (Rhodri Meilir). Gwyn is a politician who’s made money hand over fist with shady business deals especially when it comes to crude oil. Their sons Gweirydd (Sion Alun Davies) and Guto (Steffan Cennydd) are outliers at the party, bitter against their parents and both engage in their own forms of self-punishment. The force of chaos comes in the form of Cadi (Annes Elwy) a young woman Glenda has hired to help with the dinner. Cadi is mysterious, quiet and about to give the dinner guests a taste of their own medicine.

The Feast is a visually captivating but ultimately shallow revenge horror film. The conceit is neither explained nor is it able to be pieced together with clues from different scenes. The mystery lacks resolution and will ultimately leave the viewer unsatisfied. 

The Feast is distributed by IFC Films and available to rent on demand.

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