Tag Archives: female directors

SXSW 2021: Recovery

I watched this movie on a whim as the logline hadn’t particularly called out to me. But you know what? A single sentence movie synopsis can’t convey the charm and warmth and quirkiness of its stars.

Two directionless sisters brave a cross-country road trip to rescue their grandmother from a COVID outbreak at her nursing home.

See? It doesn’t sound terrible but I’m not sure I’m terribly invested in another COVID story. They’re already a dime a dozen on the indie circuit and truthfully, we don’t even have enough perspective or even closure on this stupid pandemic to really tell its stories. But in Recovery, COVID quarantine is merely the setting. The true meat is this delightful road trip with two sisters who I wish I knew in real life. Blake (Mallory Everton) and Jamie (Whitney Call) are fun and funny, down to earth in offbeat ways that are interesting and endearing rather than annoying. The actresses each have their own distinct style but their chemistry together is effortless and effervescent.

I loved the writing, I loved the two leads. Recovery isn’t so much about plot as it is a showcase for two talented actresses, and an opportunity to hang out with friends. An actually funny COVID comedy: who saw that coming? Breathlessly paced with an almost manic energy, Recovery will be a fun time capsule some day, but it’s got a humour that transcends the pandemic. I can’t wait to see more from these two.

SXSW 2021: We Are The Thousand

I grew up in a small town where absolutely no concerts that I didn’t perform myself were ever given. NO ONE came to town and of course we didn’t even blame them. I was lucky, though, to live a very drivable distance between several large cities, which means I didn’t miss out on much. I saw tonnes of shows (not in the last year – I miss live music!) but not everyone is nearly as lucky. Take the good people of Cesena, Italy. They were fed up with being passed over for concerts and they did something about it.

Anita Rivaroli’s We Are The Thousand documents Cesena’s attempt to lure the Foo Fighters to perform in their town by staging their own concert – 1000 musicians playing Learn to Fly at the same time. Go behind the scenes to see the year’s worth of preparation that goes into a four minute song as volunteers figure out logistics, equipment, and financing on the fly – after all, this has never been done before.

Watch the thrilling ensemble of 250 drummers, 150 bass players, 350 guitarists, and 250 singers, known collectively as Rockin’1000, on the warm day one thousand musicians learned to play together. Can this many drummers really play in sync? Can that many guitarists be convinced not to engage in musical masturbation? And even if they can, will it work? Will Dave Grohl hear their plea? Will Foo Fighters play their town?

We Are The Thousand is a heck of a great way to find out.

SXSW 2021: Fucking With Nobody

After losing a directing gig to her nemesis Kristian, Hanna teams up with her sister and counterculture friends to create a phony Instagram romance between herself and young actor Ekku. Hanna and her friends have lofty ambitions for their Instagram account; self-described ‘social anarchists,’ this “art project” will challenge the traditional, heteronormative power structures of romantic love. Everyone’s super on board, even Hanna’s and Ekku’s current boyfriends, who are both witnesses and participants.

Of course, what starts as a commentary on how easily intimacy can be faked on social media quickly snowballs into something else entirely as Hanna and Ekku begin to rack up views. With a real following, they have a platform to really say something, but instead seem to lose the thread of their original intent.

In a complicated and complicating meta twist, film director Hanna is played by Fucking With Nobody writer-director Hannaleena Hauru. The part of her boyfriend is played by real life boyfriend (and co-writer, and co-cinematographer) Lasse Poser. Fiction and reality blur and the narrative lines become difficult to parse and perhaps more trouble than they’re worth.

This movie about making a movie (about making a movie?) bites off more than it can chew, and though I normally admire hunger, this kind of gluttony was hard to watch and ultimately unsatisfying.

SXSW Who We Are: A Chronicle of Racism in America

Racism is bad. Inarguably, unequivocally bad. And yet it’s had a persistent history in the USA (and most other places, but this is about racism in America) and is baked right into its constitution, making it all but impossible to shake.

This documentary doesn’t need to convince you that racism is bad. Jeffery Robinson is a lawyer, which makes sense, because he’s exceptionally good at building a case. America is on trial, and Robinson is the crusading prosecutor with such compelling and relentless evidence you can’t help but convict.

Although Robinson’s approach is very fact-based, his stories add up to something as moving as it is convincing. I could go on and on but the truth is, this is a strong documentary that deserves to be seen, end of story.

SXSW 2021: Kid Candidate

Hayden Pedigo is a 24 year old experimental musician who makes weird performance art videos that go semi-viral. His go-to character is a politician, and he gets just enough attention from these silly uploads that he decides to actually run for city council, as if having played one on Youtube somehow makes you qualified.

Pedigo may have honourable intentions, and he certainly loves his city, Amarillo, Texas. He’s even got a couple of ideas for improving things – almost, though not quite, some policy. But he does not have the heart for shaking hands and kissing babies or giving speeches or raising money or being criticized or talking to people. It’s going to be quite an uphill battle campaigning against an incumbent backed by the town’s elite, not to mention their very influential dollars.

It’s great to want to fight corruption and to unite communities, but let’s be real: Pedigo doesn’t actually stand a chance. And like its subject, Kid Candidate lacks the vision and ambition to really make a go of things. However, film maker Jasmine Stodel does get one thing right. She backs a youth movement that’s attempting to be the change they want to see. Maybe their inexperience and naivete mean they’ve failed today, but they’ve seen how dirty the game is, how rigged the system is, and they know the only way to change it is from within.

SXSW 2021: The Lost Sons

In early 1960s Chicago, newborn baby Paul Fronczak is taken from his mother’s hospital room and vanishes. Months later, a toddler with a black eye is abandoned in Newark, New Jersey. His foster parents call him Scott, and local police are astonished when no one comes forward to claim a missing child. Recalling the snatched baby in Chicago, they do the math and send little Scott to Chicago, where his parents reclaim him, restoring the name Paul, and immediately burying the disturbing truth of his disappearance. Paul doesn’t even discover that he was kidnapped until he’s 10, and his mother quickly shuts down any follow up questions.

Middle aged now, and with a child of his own, Paul once again attempts to open up this mysterious chapter of his life. This time he’ll circumvent his parents and follow the trail of his birth and disappearance down some fascinating paths – fascinating to us, anyway; understandably it would be much more difficult to be questioning your own heritage and provenance and identity.

Director Ursula Macfarlane does an excellent job of setting up an improbable premise and then guiding us down its many fantastical twists and turns. It’s such a cliché to say something is stranger than fiction, but truly you couldn’t get away with such an incredible story if you were writing it from scratch.

Unfortunately, this documentary isn’t as tasty or as satisfying as you might think. It’s certainly packaged like a true-crime doc worth devouring, but it’s got several major ingredients going against it. First, the re-enactments are a little amateurish, and feel like they’re just adding bulk to a thin serving size. Second, if you’re already familiar with the story, there aren’t any big bombshells to make this worth your time. The few new details push the boundaries of relevance. Third, the story is frustratingly unresolved, the loose ends dangling tantalizingly in front of us just begging for closure. And finally, the biggest problem is with Paul himself. A former musician and actor, he clearly enjoys having an audience and several of his answers feel rehearsed and self-conscious. But at the same time, he’s also very guarded, rarely allowing us beyond his carefully bricked wall. His refusal or inability to display emotion makes it hard to connect with him, and we shouldn’t have to work so hard to feel empathy for a story like this. Paul is his own biggest obstacle, and while his story is remarkable, The Lost Sons isn’t anywhere near as engrossing as it should be.

Berlinale 2021: Ninjababy

Rakel is a young woman with her whole life ahead of her: astronaut, forest ranger, comic book writer. She’s not sure which path to follow but enjoys contemplating her options. One thing that’s definitely not on her list: motherhood. Which makes her pregnancy highly inconvenient. Worse still, the abortion clinic won’t perform the procedure because it turns out Rakel (Kristine Kujath Thorp) isn’t just pregnant, she’s 6 months pregnant, and this thing is really happening, whether she likes it or not.

Ninjababy is the fetus comic book character she starts drawing in order to sort out her feelings. Pretty soon Ninjababy is off the pages and interrupting her real life with his own thoughts, needs, complaints, and suggestions. Director Yngvild Sve Flikke brings the character to life with selective animation, and we’re treated to the unusual screen representation of a young woman speaking directly to the baby she doesn’t want. The baby’s daddy, a booty call situation Rakel calls Dick Jesus (Arthur Berning) isn’t exactly an ideal candidate for fatherhood either, and Ninjababy (voiced by Herman Tømmeraas) objects pretty heartily.

Rakel is not your typical protagonist. She’s rough around the edges, reckless and youthfully arrogant. She doesn’t have it together, and not in a cutesy movie way, in a very real, slovenly, rudderless, impoverished way. Ignorant of her pregnancy, she’s been drunk, stoned, and slutty. Yet Flikke manages to balance her wildness with warmth and humour, resulting in perhaps not the most sympathetic of characters, but a realistic and resilient one, grounded in tough choices and a growing attachment.

Ninjababy has some laugh out loud moments and some truly heartbreaking ones. It’s an honest look at unwanted pregnancy, told through the young mother’s perspective as well as the unborn fetus’s, who will not be ignored. Ninjababy is a cool and almost magical take on the situation, but the real treasure is that the film isn’t afraid to put Rakel first, to let her really explore her own wants, needs, and ambitions, and to choose her path accordingly. Thorp is up to the task, showing flexibility and range as she transitions from earnest to sardonic, even skirting among emotional landmines with dexterity. Ninjababy isn’t breaking new ground thematically but its tone and execution are refreshing and unique and exciting to watch.

Sophie Jones

Sixteen is already a difficult age, with lots of challenges to navigate, but Sophie Jones has just lost her mother, so the regular rhythms of adolescence are tinged with grief and loss, which somehow makes normal rites of passage seem more trivial, yet each holds the potential power to make her forget, even for a moment, her deep sadness. Sophie (Jessica Barr) is throwing herself rather recklessly from one milestone to another, hoping to pierce through the numbness of grief and feel something, feel anything.

Sophie’s nervous giggle belies the fact that she’s still a young girl, lacking the maturity to handle all that life has dumped in her lap, not that she’s got a choice. Barr herself is still a young woman, a convincing teenager, playing the role with a natural authenticity. She and cousin Jessie Barr co-wrote the script, and Jessie Barr directs, informed by their own experiences with grief.

Sophie’s primary means of coping is boys, of course, who mostly offer comfort mostly of a physical sort. Trying her best to wear a brave face at school and at home, grief sneaks out in unpredictable ways, heightening emotions that are already fully charged. We float through time as if in a fog; the film is mostly muted, visually and emotionally, enveloping us in a very specific, highly intimate universe.

Some may find Sophie Jones to be a slow watch, maybe not the most exciting, but it’s honest in its portrayal of mourning, raw in its loss of innocence, in more ways than one. The Barr cousins prove themselves to be immensely talented, and if you don’t mind a slow-burn character study, this is a very good one.

Berlinale 2021: Petite maman

Nelly (Joséphine Sanz) is eight years old when her grandmother dies. Nelly and her mother (Nina Meurisse) are both sad as they empty her room at the nursing home and say farewell to her elderly friends. Next they meet Nelly’s dad at Nelly’s mom’s childhood home, which also needs to be packed up. Nelly and her grandma were quite close, and the death has taken a toll on them all. But the next day, Nelly’s mom is gone, and only her dad (Stéphane Varupenne) is left to box up an old woman’s life. The sadness was too much for mom, Nelly is told, though mom is often sad, and Nelly is worried that mom might not come back.

While her father works diligently, Nelly explores the outdoors in search of a cabin her mother constructed out of sticks as a child many years ago. In the woods she finds something even better: a playmate. Marion (Gabrielle Sanz) is also eight years old, and is devoting her time to building a little cabin out of sticks. Nelly knows right away who Marion is; it’s her mother, as a child. When Marion brings Nelly back to her house, grandma is alive and well, and 20-some years younger. The girls, who look like they could be twins (and are indeed played by twins), are immediate best friends. Being eight, Nelly doesn’t much care how or why this time anomaly has permitted her such an intimate new playmate, she just takes it at its face value and enjoys the time with her little mother.

Imagine, if your old brain still has any magic left in it, encountering your own mother as a child, when you yourself are also a child. This is such a beautiful, innocent thought experiment I can’t believe I’ve never seen it done before.

Nelly takes full advantage, asking her mother things that are much harder, and sometimes impossible, to broach between mother and child under normal circumstances. And Marion has questions too. “Did I want you?” she asks in all innocence. “Yes,” comes the reply. “I’m not surprised,” Marion responds, while gently stroking Nelly’s cheek, “I’m already thinking of you.”

Writer-director Céline Sciamma infuses this film with such tenderness that I constantly feel like weeping, though the film is not particularly emotional or fraught. The two young actresses are absolute perfection, like little dolls who are made for each other. It helps us to understand that his manifestation is somehow essential to Nelly’s grief and loneliness during a painful time. This is next-level self-soothing and the whole thing is coated in such a thick layer of loving kindness that I’m pretty sure I want some too.

Berlinale 2021: The Scary of Sixty-First

Worst movie EVER. Not to brag, but there are 2485 reviews on this site, and this one is the worst by a LARGE margin.

Noelle (Madeline Quinn) and Addie (Betsey Brown) are best friends, supposedly, who have just moved into a shared apartment in Manhattan. Not only do they move in immediately, they use the furnishings left behind by a previous unknown tenant. I’m developing sympathy scabies just thinking about the used bedding situation, which is reason enough to have given them nightmares on their first night, but this is a horror movie, not a hygiene movie.

The next day a young woman (Dasha Nekrasova) wrestles her way into the apartment, revealing to Noelle that it used to belong to Jeffrey Epstein. Together they deep dive into the conspiracies surrounding his pedophilia, arrest, and “suicide.” Noelle, clearly an impressionable young woman, is immediately 100% on board. They imagine that the apartment was used for orgies, rapes, human trafficking, the whole lot. Addie, meanwhile, seems to have been possessed by the spirit of a small child. She sucks her thumb while masturbating to images of Prince Andrew (who is alleged to a close friend of Epstein’s, and/or a pedophile himself), and by ‘masturbating to,’ I of course mean rubbing magazine images of his face against her crotch and inserting commemorative items from his marriage to Fergie into her various orifices, while squishing oranges between her toes. None of this seems pleasurable, in case you were wondering.

The acting in this movie is very, very, exceptionally, terribly bad. I realize no one with an actual career or future in the movie business would ever, in their right minds, consent to be in such a film, but even considering that it’s total amateur hour, it’s still unbelievably bad, across the board. In fact, the only thing worse than the acting is the “writing” which I’m confident was simply copied and pasted from the dregs of Reddit. Dekrasova and Quinn share writing credit and it’s mystifying that anyone would put their names on this thing. Even the sweaty Reddit trolls hide behind anonymity.

Dekrasova is also the director responsible for this mess, and it’s impossible to tell if she’s got any talent because she hasn’t got any taste. I’m mostly afraid to ask how this thing got financed because I have a feeling I know exactly how, and I’m deeply uncomfortable in having been involved in this even tangentially. Did these girls pick this topic because it was the only way they’d ever get significant screen time and they were willing to sell their souls for it…or worse, do they actually believe this stuff and are willing to serve as mouthpieces?

Whatever the answer, I’m not sure how this was chosen to screen at the Berlin Film Festival. Film Festivals absolutely have a duty to push the boundaries of the art form and challenge us to step outside of our cinematic comfort zones, but this movie isn’t that. It’s just a piece of trash that’s in very poor taste. After all, Epstein was a real man, a real pedophile, with real victims, and this film only serves to trivialize it in the most disturbing and disappointing way.