Sundance 2022 Day 1 capsules | Buzz Blog
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Sundance 2022 Day 1 capsules

Emergency, A Love Song, La Guerra Civil, Fire of Love

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  • Emergency
Emergency **1/2
Director Carey Williams and screenwriter KD Avila can be forgiven that there’s really no road map for what they’re attempting here: a “one crazy night” youth comedy á la Superbad, spiked with the knowledge that one crazy night can get people of color killed in America. On the verge of graduating from college, two Black best friends—high-achiever Kunle (Donald Elise Watkins) and party guy Sean (RJ Cyler)—and their nerdy roommate Carlos (Sebastian Chacon) find their planned night of revelry hijacked by the discovery of passed-out white girl Emma (Maddie Nichols) on their living room floor, and the realization that calling 911 might lead to assumptions about their complicity. What follows is an odyssey involving understandable persistent fears of any encounter with police, the determined pursuit of our protagonists by Emma’s sister, Maddie (Sabrina Carpenter) using cell-phone tracking, and a few amusing episodic bits. But Williams and Avila are ultimately more interested in subverting this genre than operating within it, and that tonal shift—particularly as Kunle realizes that being a stand-up guy who does the right thing isn’t necessarily going to protect him—makes for a jarring experience, along with the challenge of making Maddie part of the problem when what she’s observing is pretty easy to interpret as sketchy. Watkins and Cyler give sharp performances, anchoring an intriguing effort that falls just short of figuring out how to combine angry with loosey-goosey. (SR)

A Love Song
  • A Love Song
A Love Song **1/2
A great movie theoretically exists with this cast (primarily Dale Dickey and Wes Studi) and premise (old widows who haven’t seen one another for decades meet in the wilderness to rekindle memories). Unfortunately, A Love Song gets held back by contrivances and directorisms that fit poorly into this premise. It’s obviously a blessing to see as leads the wizened and expressive faces of Dickey and Studi, known for such landscape films as Winter’s Bone and Dances With Wolves, respectively. When it consists of the two of them conversing, singing a duet, scooping ice cream cones (the knife is a great touch), or the dog lapping up stray crawfish, it’s a magical minor-key slice of life on grief and loneliness. However, director Max Walker-Silverman gets in his own way, overdoing vista close-ups of Dickey nobly chiseled against the sky, like Frances McDormand in Nomadland. One especially eccentric composition frames her face in close-up in the door as Studi drives off in the background. Ignoring the contrivance of random radio dials always reaching an emotionally perfect song, I got actively aggravated by the pure tweeness of the five siblings who turn up in sudden straight cuts—four mute cowhands and a precocious little-girl spokesperson. This is a naturalistic story of ordinary people and human emotion, which doesn’t need tarting up. Really, it’s a dirty old shame that this is all you get from A Love Song. (VJM)

La Guerra Civil
  • La Guerra Civil
La Guerra Civil **1/2
La Guerra Civil is a pretty good, entertaining boxing documentary if you’ve never in your life heard of Julio Cesar Chavez or Oscar de la Hoya—but I have. As a huge boxing fan of sufficient devotion and age to remember this rivalry, I wanted to love this movie. It’s better-than-competently made; de la Hoya and Chavez are engaging in contemporary interviews; and director Eva Longoria Baston structures the film well, going through both men’s lives and careers, and drawing the contrasts and similarities that evoke the title. It refers to the way that two “Mexican” fighters drew on cleavages in that community at the time: Chavez was a natural-born Mexican citizen (a “real Mexican” is constantly used, both literally and regarding fighting styles), while de la Hoya was born in the U.S. to Mexican immigrant parents. Foreign-vs-assimilating, parents-vs.-youth, basically. I also appreciated that for their first fight, which the film has been building toward (they had a rematch that’s about as well remembered as Hearns-Leonard 2), La Guerra Civil goes through it round-by-round slowly, and details the strategies and evolving ebb-and-flow. But there are no journalistic revelations here, nor anything that wasn’t public knowledge at the time. Although made by rival combat-sports streaming service DAZN, it’s basically an ESPN 30 for 30 episode, and a fairly conventional one at that. (VJM)

Fire of Love
  • Fire of Love
Fire of Love ***
When a filmmaker has access to tons of amazing archival footage—the way director Sara Dosa does here with the material shot by husband-and-wife volcano researchers Maurice and Katia Krafft—it’s understandable to want to shape it into a narrative, when maybe it would be fine just to let the material speak for itself. Miranda July narrates a fairly straightforward chronological story about the Kraffts, from speculating on the nature of their first meeting and following them through more than 20 years of risky work, up to and including their death in 1991 during an eruption in Japan. Dosa finds ways to get creative with animations and other original material, and July’s voice provides an ethereal quality that distinguishes this from a standard-issue National Geographic-style profile. The real star of the show is the astonishing footage captured by the Kraffts—from roiling rivers of lava, to undersea eruptions forming strange sculptures, to massive smokey explosions, all with the couple in perilously close proximity. While the title and the framing structure suggests Fire of Love is going to focus on their relationship, however, their personalities rarely emerge, other than to clarify that Maurice courted danger more directly than Katia did. The data that they gathered through direct experience, and the life-saving use to which they were able to put it, ends up being far more fascinating than what it’s like for a couple to work together under life-threatening conditions. (SR)