Set in the outskirts of São Paulo, Brazil, Charcoal/Carvão tells the story of an impoverished family who make an almost Faustian bargain to lift themselves up out of their situation. Irene (Maeve Jinkings) cares for her ailing father but between that, raising her son Jean (Jean Costa) and dealing with her husband Jairo’s (Romulo Braga) reckless behavior, she is overwhelmed. When a nurse, Juracy (Aline Marta), offers Irene a shady deal to help the family, after much consideration Irene agrees. The plan involves getting rid of Irene’s father and secretly replacing him with Miguel (César Bordón), an Argentine drug lord who faked his own death and is now in hiding. Irene and her family keep up appearances. Jean goes to school, Jairo continues to work harvesting charcoal and Irene sells her chicken dinners. But the influx of cash and the looming danger that hangs over this volatile stranger, threatens to push the family over the edge.
“Charcoal is my attempt to understand how violence, religion and hypocrisy have taken over our lives and bodies in a way that we don’t’ even notice any more.”
Written and directed by Carolina Markowicz, Charcoal/Carvãois an unrelentingly brutal film about the lengths people will go to escape their situation. The film is deceptively quiet which makes certain scenes all that more shocking. Bookended with religious scenes and music, the story aptly explores how desperation takes away our morals and basic humanity. The performances came across so natural that it’s easy to forget we’re watching actors playing roles and not real people living their lives. Markowicz does a brilliant job enveloping the audience in the world of her characters that it feels like we are right there with them.
Charcoal/Carvãois emotionally devastating and draining. It’s a film to watch. But only once.
Note to add: both Portuguese and Spanish are spoken in the film.
Charcoal/Carvão premiered at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival.
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.
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.
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.
“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.