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Sundance Film Festival 2019: London – Our picks
June 3, 2019
The London version of Sundance Film Festival was once again upon us for its 7th edition, featuring four days of films from the 30th May to the 2nd of June. Screenings where held at Picturehouse Central with a programme consisting of highlights from the parent festival that took place in Park City, Utah in January of this year. Below is our thoughts on a selection of films we managed to see over the course of the festival.
New Yorker Billi (Awkwafina) is having to come to terms with the sudden news of her grandmother’s (Shuzhen Zhou) terminal cancer prognosis. As her parents and close family members make their way to the grandmother’s house in Changchun, China, resolute in concealing the news of her illness to her, much to the dismay of Billi. Instead they set in motion an elaborate fake marriage reception for her cousin and his new girlfriend to disguise its an actual farewell party for the departing grandmother. Writer/ Director Lulu Wang offers an incredibly perceptive and touching comedy, with vivid and wholesome characters by an accomplished cast, intelligently utilizing the humour in tragedy and tradition, as well as capturing perfectly the intricacies of existing between two distinct cultures.
Going into a documentary about Steve Bannon I was overcome by a degree of apprehension, did I want to hear what one of the world’s most notorious populists had to say? Post viewing, I would likely recommend this fly-on-the-wall observation, if only to gain a general sense of the workings of the far- right movement. Know your enemy, as they say. For such a divisive figure, Bannon initially comes across as charming, well-read and articulate. In the final scenes we get glimpses of a temper and an unraveling with the eminent loss of the House to the democrats in the US mid-terms, a setback to his populist dream. Bannon, on the whole, appears taken aback by his notoriety, as if it’s by a stroke of luck that his tapped into a populist zeitgeist, an ideology which he spent years on his own refining. As journalists and presenters invite him on their shows to inevitably drill him, he never seems to fight back with the same vigour, coming out of the encounters flushed, puzzled and unsure. We see him at rallies, preaching the adage of ‘America first’, economic nationalism, emphasising the ‘for all Americans whether black, white, Chinese, woman, LGBTQ+ etc’. However, a quick camera turn of the audience betrays him, it’s all white older men. Director Alison Klayman never takes any cheap shots, but simply through observing and casual conversation allows Bannon’s contradictions to shine through. Of course his involvement with Trump is pervasive throughout and a guest spot from Nigel Farage couldn’t possibly go a miss, but what is most interesting nd simultaenously most worrying is his reverence amongst Europe’s populist elites and his efforts to coalesce all these far-right groups to form some sort of global far-right alliance.
Demi Moore plays an unscrupulous, megalomaniac, faux holistic CEO of a financially struggling edible cutlery firm who takes her employees out on a team-building exercise of cave exploring. Inevitably the group get stuck in a cave for what turns out to be weeks, resorting to eating their struck-by-a-large-rock-now-rendered dead instructor in order to survive. As hunger, thirst and delusions intensify, the various simmering, although now pointless, office politics and personal scuffles come to the surface. Admittedly funny at points, it never elevates above silly and Moore’s character is yet another revisited trope of the whole ‘monstrous sex-hungry bitch boss’, which feels derogatory and has been done a million times before.
Laura (Holliday Grainger) is a wannabe writer but hasn’t managed to write anything down in decade and Tyler (Alia Shakwat) is her over-possessive best friend. Both masters at inebriated philosophising and pulling handsome men but pretty much nothing else. Grainger and Shakwat give great performances as the hopeless duo but one can’t shake off the nagging feeling of imitation, it simply reeks of Fleabag, just without the comedy. Whether its the whole early 30s existential crisis, the frequent and awkward boozy restaurant dinners with the parents, the judgemental sister or the continuous sabotaging of perfectly suitable relationships. Furthermore, no aspects of these two women’s life is in any way believable. This decadent lifestyle in a large shabby chic Victorian abode, the leads’ ever-changing expensive looking wardrobe, or the fact they are out drinking and doing drugs every single night… all on a barista’s salary? Even when we witness them swipe the dregs of people’s leftovers drinks at the end of the night, it still doesn’t convince that these girls are struggling in any way.
Written by Mindy Kaling who also stars as Molly, a diversity hire, the only female writer and person of colour in Katherine Newbury’s (Emma Thompson) group of sketch writers of her ailing late-night TV talk show. Late Night is a comedy by numbers: cutesy, empowering with a saccharine ending, nonethelss saved by its multitude of laugh-out-loud moments. Thompson does her usual overacting but is undeniably captivating throughout. Through the clutter of comedy and predicatble plot twists comes an astute analysis of diversity, misogyny and ageism. Its cheesy but enjoyable, educational even.
Don’t let the title fool you, this documentary is a refreshingly spritely real-life telling of Satanist group, The Satanic Temple. The film humorously investigates the cult’s origins and its political grassroots activism. Satanic imagery is paradoxically used to promote egalitarianism, social justice and encourage the seperation of state and church in a supposedly secular state. The religious movement appears to be flourishing at rapid speed, galvanizing people throughout the globe for its radicalness and its incredibly clever ways of highlighting the hypocrisy of the current Christian majority, the self-serving political establishment but also the public’s blind willingness to go along with a fractured status quo. Despite what initially for some may look like a sinister, ritualistic theological carnival, beneath it lies an ideology that possibly advocates more sense and inclusivity than any current religious or political group.
Sundance Film Festival 2019: London took place from 30th May to 2nd June.
Words by Daniel Theophanous @danny_theo_.
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