By Gareth Jones
For the first time since 2020, Sundance held an in-person festival and it was a wondrous return. There was an energy and level of excitement that was palpable. Seeing great films in a theater with a collection of film-lovers is the best way to experience films. It is unmatched. Film festivals are still a vital part of the cinematic ecosystem and Sundance is the first of the year, so it sets the clock in motion, remaining the launching pad for so many talented and diverse storytellers.
Past Lives– Playwright Celine Song masterfully transitions to film director with this heartbreaking, poetic story about fate and free will. Interweaving the Korean concept of “In Yun,” with chance encounters connected to interactions in previous lives, it delicately presents the story of Nora and Hae Sung at different points in their life and the decisions that they make that impacts their relationship.
A Little Prayer– Angus MacLachlan returns to Sundance after penning the brilliant Junebug. Here he writes and directs a nuanced examination of a Southern family, melding pathos and humor seamlessly. David Strathairn delivers one his most powerful performances (which is saying something) as he plays the patriarch to a family whose expectations in life are challenged. He is met with equal ability by Jane Levy and Celia Weston, who frankly may be one of the greatest Southern actors of all time.
Flora and Son– Can John Carney do no wrong? He is four for four now with his unique version of the modern musical. Just like his triumphant films Once, Begin Again, and Sing Street, Carney finds a way to capture the moment that music is created. It can seem corny at times, but his Irish sense of humor and his genuine understanding of the musical process make these representations seem real. Here, the amazing Eve Hewson (Flora) connects with Joseph Gordon-Levitt (showcasing his musical prowess) through online guitar lessons.
The Accidental Getaway Driver– Inspired by a true story, the plot is simple. An old Vietnamese driver receives a call late at night (he is still in his pajamas) to drive three men. They turn out to be escaped convicts, and he is kidnapped to help them escape. This slow burn film resonates with emotion as it shows how the old man and the younger Vietnamese convict find a bond. It reveals the loneliness of the elderly while examining the reasons behind generational disconnections. There is tension throughout, but it is the small ways that director Sing J. Lee captures the emotions of the characters that really pays off.
Infinity Pool– Brandon Cronenberg leaves behind any ridiculous nepotism discussion with his return to Sundance after his previous mindbender Possessor. Infinity Pool pulls no punches as it eviscerates the 1% who feed off of the poor. The made up country of Li Tolqa serves as the playground of the rich, including Alexander Skarsgard and Mia Goth being immersed in the warped psycho-sexual games that meld science fiction and folk horror. The version that played at Sundance was unrated and nauseating at times, but not to the point that it did not serve the story. It is already playing on screens including Sidewalk Cinema.
Written by: Gareth Jones
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