Viewers watching this year’s Sundance films are being asked to interrogate their ways of seeing, coming up against films that examine perspective by more thoroughly investigating the relationship between who’s behind the camera and what we see on screen.
Ducournau’s latest film starts out hard but strips itself down to a level of softness and sentimentality, examining the armors we establish to shield ourselves from the world, and what it takes to transmute our steely exteriors into something more malleable.
An older woman walks along Steinway Street in Astoria with a strong sense of purpose. She is shot by an unknown cameraperson who wields his lens like a sniper, tracking her as she moves. The woman periodically stops men on the sidewalk, earnestly asking benign questions that quickly becoming intensely personal.
The filmmaker embraces the emptiness of the landscape. You can sense that David is traversing the same street back and forth, a dead-end town stretching out until oblivion. The muted palette only adds to the sense of simplicity, giving us license to color the narrative with our own readings.
In their ambivalence and open-endedness, these films paradoxically brought me closer to a kind of emotional release than any other films in the festival, managing to capture our current state of uninterrupted dread and malaise in a way that feels comfortingly familiar.
In the spirit of films like the Chantal Akerman documentary No Home Movie and I Go Gaga, My Dear, by Naoko Nobutomo, Johnson tries to capture him on camera to come to terms with his eventual disappearance, while also somehow keeping him alive.
The corrections center actually functions as a reprieve for many of these women, who went from abusive childhoods straight into abusive marriages when they were as young as 12. The fact that a male filmmaker is let into this world shows their trust of him.
The revolt that Alma initiates can be read as Anderson’s response to cinematic texts like Rebecca and Vertigo—what might have transpired if Madeleine hadn’t let Scottie use clothing as a weapon to exert control. Phantom Thread is what happens when the mannequin comes to life.
While I tend to chafe at categorizing directors based on gender, each of these films is richer as a result of their lived experience as women, and the particular struggle of searching for agency in a world that limits it.
Throughout, in the manner of The Beaches of Agnès (2008), Varda looks back at her work, attempting to connect the dots both for herself, and for her audience. Knowing she can no longer be with us, the ever benevolent Varda has left us with the next best thing.
In attempting to say something meaningful about race and politics in the city’s biggest borough, Norton has fallen into the same pattern as many real-life real-estate developers and city planners, getting rid of what made the source material so compelling in the first place, and adding his own personally convenient plotlines in the process.