Our second and final update of films we managed to see at Sundance London 2021. Sundance London ran from 29 July to 1 August 2021 at Picturehouse Central.
A decade after his remarkable debut Martha Marcy May Marlene, Sean Durkin finally releases his equally impressive sophomore, The Nest. Similarly subtle yet on a grander scale, it’s a drama reminiscent of Ang Lee’s The Ice Storm, in its exploration of darker familial themes and a comprehensive depiction of a specific era. In this instance it’s a boy-done-good, Rory O’Hara (Jude Law), whose humble beginnings lead to earning millions in the Reagan 80s. However, it all proves to be a façade when Rory uproots his family from New York to the London suburbs in pursuit of a yet another business venture, thrusting entrenched issues within himself and his marriage to the surface. Law is pitch-perfect as the ruthless trader gone askew, with a relentless need to show-off and filibuster, making him a suitably unbearable figure. Carrie Coon as wife Allison is equally impressive as the endearing antidote, a solemn figure of few words but bountiful facial expressions eloquently conveying emotions of disdain and despair. The Nest is complete Oscar bait, if that still means anything, but perhaps it is hindered by an early release on 27th of August.
In The Same Breath
A pandemic focused documentary by Chinese American-based documentary filmmaker Nanfu Wang, who roped in a handful of journalists/ camera people in Wuhan, to film on the ground during the first months of the city’s lockdown last year. Wang assembles all the footage into a collage, with herself as a narrator, reporting on real-life personal accounts as well investigating the government’s propaganda efforts to minimise the pandemic’s severity in fear of negative press in the West. The audience are privy to stories of patients and workers on the front-line (nurses, doctors, ambulance drivers); detailing their multitude of stark life choices. Wang cleverly compares the Chinese and US pandemic responses, highlighting the flaws in each, the authoritarian vs the democratic approaches and goes out on a limb to provide an alternate turn of events had the Chinese government acted accordingly. As things in Wuhan return to normality, she contemplates whether ‘back to business as usual’ is precisely what caused the degree of the outbreak in the first place.
More a Netflix teen movie than Sundance fodder, Coda follows a well-trodden formula of an underprivileged teenage girl’s triumph over adversity. Ruby Rossi (Emilia Jones) has a hidden talent for singing, which is predictably unearthed by an eccentric music teacher (Eugenio Derbez), who proceeds to encourage her to apply for a music scholarship at an ivy-league university. Any indie credentials Coda may have is derived from the fact that Ruby is the only hearing member of a deaf family (a brilliant Marlee Matlin as the unconventional mother), solely reliant on her as their communicator to the outside world. However, it all turns into soppy schmalz , with boy crushes, heart-breaks and the preverbial adage of chasing your dream comes at a price .
Swedish director Ninja Thyberg’s Pleasure proved to be a Sundance highlight. Recounting the undertaking of 19-year-old Bella Cherry (an exceptional Sofia Kappel) who arrives in LA in hopes to make it big in the porn industry. We are invited into her initially naive world armed with unflinching ambition as she navigates boundary-pushing scenes, which toe the line between consent and coercion and ultimately makes you question whether the price of professional success is worth it. Thyberg paints a pragmatic picture of the porn industry acknowledging its misogyny, racism, sexual violation being masked as performance but also the acceptance of the status quo by all those involved. Thyberg, however still manages to stay away from any preachy conclusions or judgement. This is a bold, explicit, and audacious debut, that is not for the faint-hearted.