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Sundance Film Festival 2023: Day 1 Capsule Reviews

L’immensità, Radical, Kim's Video, The Longest Goodbye, Shayda

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Luana Giuliani and Penélope Cruz in L’immensità - SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL
  • Sundance Film Festival
  • Luana Giuliani and Penélope Cruz in L’immensità
L’immensità **1/2 [Spotlight]
Director/co-writer Emanuele Crialese attempts to juxtapose the societal obstacles faced by two very different characters, and in so doing manages to short-change both of them somewhat. In 1970s Rome, Clara (Penélope Cruz) and Felice (Vincenzo Amato) relocate from Spain, creating a disruption in the family, while oldest child Adri (Luana Giuliani) is struggling to express—and be recognized for—a masculine gender identity. Crialese works overtime to avoid making this simply a “problem drama,” employing theatrical devices like imagined production numbers for Ari to perform in, and an episodic structure that feels like a lighter-hearted coming-of-age narrative. The real difficulty is that while Adri’s journey is clearly the point of emphasis—including a potential romantic relationship with a Roma girl unaware of Adri’s biological gender—the material involving Clara and Felice’s marital difficulties keeps getting in the way of that story rather than informing it. And to the extent that it does feel like it might be informing Adri’s story, there’s the awkward sense that being female is something that Adri might reasonably avoid because of the fundamental sexism in Italian culture, rather than because that’s Adri’s authentic self. As true as it may be that there’s nothing particularly appealing about being the feminine girl Adri’s family members all want him to be, it feels weird to suggest that societal dynamics might be nudging Adri in a particular direction. (SR)

Radical - SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL
  • Sundance Film Festival
  • Radical
Radical ** [Premieres]
There are some films that work just fine in the broad strokes, but can only ever aspire to paint neatly rendered portraits of real events. While it thrives in the smaller moments that hint at what could have been if it broke free of the confines of its saccharine sensibility, Christopher Zalla's unremarkable Radical is very much one such film. Where the true story of teacher Sergio Juárez Correa, as played here with an emphasis on eccentricity by Eugenio Derbez, is absolutely a radical one worthy of a film, the way it is depicted remains regrettably conventional. Since he was a teacher who challenged common conceptions of education as a machine, it feels odd that a retelling of his compassionate work teaching youth who most others had given up on at the José Urbina López Primary School in Mexico comes off so mechanical. While it runs just fine, it remains built to do only one thing, competently at best. As the film holds up its leading character as inspirational, which he certainly is, it reduces the story and its systemic complexities that required him to be such a figure. By prioritizing being a "feel-good story," anything truly radical is lost as a result. (CH)

Kim's Video - SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL
  • Sundance Film Festival
  • Kim's Video
Kim’s Video **1/2 [NEXT]
Some of the best feature documentaries wind up in places that the filmmakers could never have predicted—which makes it all the more frustrating that directors David Redmon and Ashley Sabin don’t trust their story to be more compelling than whatever they want to insert into it. It starts with a simple-seeming quest, narrated by Redmon, to find out what became of the 55,000 movies—many of them imports and rarities—liquidated by New York City retailer Kim’s Video when the last of the stores closed in 2008. Kim’s Video does a great job of laying the foundation for what made Kim’s unique as a treasure trove for budding cinephiles, including interviews with former store employees/future filmmakers Robert Greene and Alex Ross Perry. Then things start to get really weird when Redmon and Sabin travel to Sicily—where the Kim’s Video collection was supposed to become part of a museum-style archive—and find a story wrapped up in political corruption, mob ties and the quest to find Kim’s Video founder Yongman Kim himself. Had the film leaned into that material, it would have been wildly entertaining, but instead we find Redmon beating his love of movies to death with constant insert shots of movies various situations are reminding him of, or lingering awkwardly on stuff like Sicilians being unable to speak English (the nerve!). The result is a “magic of cinema” movie more committed to living in the past magic other cinema created than understanding what would make this cinema most magical. (SR)

The Longest Goodbye - SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL
  • Sundance Film Festival
  • The Longest Goodbye
The Longest Goodbye *** [World Documentary]
Sometimes all I ask of a documentary is that it take an un-fussy approach to showing me something I never knew before—and director Ido Mizrahy can consider that mission accomplished. His subject is human space travel, but with a particularly human rather than technological focus: the impact on people of being isolated for extensive periods of time, whether for missions on the International Space Station or for the prospect of a three-year trip to Mars and back. Along the way, the film introduces us both to psychologists like Dr. Al Holland attempting to create the tests for prospective long-haul astronauts, and to applicants for such missions like Kayla Barron, all while showing us the various technologies—like virtual reality and AI robots—implemented in an attempt to address the psychological impacts of long-term separation from Earth. The Longest Goodbye is at its most fascinating, however, in making it clear how inadequate most of these efforts are, like the way that old science-fiction standby “hypersleep” doesn’t account for the “flood of history” that people would face upon awakening and grappling with what they’d missed. In a tight 87 minutes, Mizrahy provides a wide-ranging introduction to the kind of challenge that we’re not often considering when pondering the next giant leaps for mankind. (SR)

Shayda - SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL
  • Sundance Film Festival
  • Shayda
Shayda *** [World Dramatic]
When you can intentionally make what may be one of the worst knock-knock jokes ever seen in cinema, and still manage to have a film as good as Shayda, you deserve credit for that accomplishment alone. A work that melds a riveting performance by Zahra Amir Ebrahimi with unflinching filmmaking by writer-director Noora Niasari, it follows an Iranian woman living in Australia, who has recently left an abusive husband and is attempting to rebuild a new life for herself as well her young daughter. As a result, Shayda (Amir Ebrahimi) has had to rethink everything and, now living in a women's shelter, is slowly charting a new path forward for what she wants her life to be. The film explores this journey with a compassionate eye, letting the moments of love between mother and daughter linger alongside the pain that has upended their lives. The answers the film and Shayda arrive at offer hope of a tentative tranquility that is wrapped in a suffocating brutality. All of this is handled with a delicate touch that is no less devastating and dynamic. It isn’t always easy to take in, but moments in life like this rarely are. (CH)