Raúl Alejandro Mendoza is a visually impaired Chicano filmmaker based out of Houston, Texas and creator of The Nerd Corps. A cinephile and artist, Raúl loves the cinematic arts and discussing them whenever he has a chance.
Alli Haapasalo’s coming of age film shines bright as it displays the complexities of sexuality, love, and growing up.
As I reach the end of my Sundance screenings, I must continue with my coverage. Staying in the style of my last review of The Cow Who Sang a Song Into the Future, I will be reviewing yet another title from the World Cinema Dramatic Competition. Girl Picture caught my attention for a multitude of reasons. The film is a coming-of-age story that partly deals with exploring one’s sexuality which interests me especially given how this film decides to tackle that. This is also a Finnish film and I have yet to have the pleasure of exploring Finland’s cinema. Overall, I was excited to watch this film and it did not disappoint in the slightest.
Girl Picture is directed by Alli Haapasalo from script written by Ilona Ahti and Daniela Hakulinen. The picture stars Aamu Milonoff, Eleonoora Kauhanen, and Linnea Leino as three girls looking for a formative change in their life in the span of three separate Fridays. They embark on a journey of self-discovery, figuring out their sexuality, finding love, and confronting the imbalance of their family dynamics. A poignant story is crafted that is enriched by its visual component shot by Jarmo Kiuru. Thus, we end up with a fabulous film that tackles multiple themes coherently.
Dare I say, Girl Picture is the hidden gem of this year’s Sundance Film Festival. The film is compelling in every way imaginable. The characters are so interesting and it is hard to not root for them during this journey. Its visual language is one of an aesthetically pleasing nature. The lighting and camera movements craft a sense of wonder and almost a sort of nostalgic feel to this story of self-discovery. The story is an intimate well crafted journey that takes you through its ups and downs even though it can be off the pace a bit it always manages to pull you back in. I found myself invested and thoroughly impressed by the filmmaking and messages conveyed through this film. It had everything going for it and it does not leave anything on the table left to desire.
I am not sure when this film will be released because at the time of me writing this review it has not been bought at Sundance. Whenever this film is released, I highly recommend watching it or if it wins any awards it is well worth spending 20 USD on a single ticket to watch. I promise you, Girl Picture is one of the best films of this year’s Sundance Film Festival!
Francisca Alegría’s film is both a transformative experience and an impressive directorial debut.
I have for the last week been covering this year’s Sundance Film Festival for The Nerd Corps for the very first time! I was so excited for this opportunity when first notified and did not think it was real. I swear I have been dreaming about this day since I started to interact in this space of online film criticism. Now, one whole week into the festival it has been a surreal experience being able to watch so much cinema. Even though the festival is held online this year because of the ongoing pandemic it has been a wonderful experience. There were a lot of films that caught my eye but of course, having to stay on course with what I reviewed on the site I had to watch all of the World Cinema Dramatic Competition. This part of the program includes films from so many parts of the world like Eastern Europe and Latin America to name a few. While looking through the program this Chilean directorial debut caught my eye, so let us commence my coverage of this year’s Sundance Film Festival by discussing, Francisca Alegría’s The Cow Who Sang a Song Into the Future.
The Cow Who Sang a Song Into the Future is the directorial debut of Chilean filmmaker, Francisca Alegría. Written by Alegría, Manuela Infante, and Fernanda Urrejola, the film’s cast consists of Mía Maestro, Enzo Ferrada Rosati, Benjamin Soto, Leonor Varela, and Frederique Gudelj. The film looks at a family that is in a distress after finding out that their patriarch has seen his wife again who has been long dead for some time now. The mother returns from the dead and sets on a journey of recollection and rediscovery. The film takes elements of magic realism and incorporates them into a narrative surrounding climate change, family dynamics, intersectional feminism, and grief.
Francisca Alegría constructs the most impressive directorial debut that I have seen at this festival. It is almost impossible to believe this is a debut when this feels like a third or fourth film. The control over the style and narrative of the film radiates through the screen as you watch this tender but heartbreaking story. It was hard to not cry over how every person approached their feelings to see their mother/grandmother again. What makes this film so impressive though? There are multiple layers at work here that if one pays attention they can realize they are all working with each other. The commentary on environmental issues through the cows, family dynamics through the arrival of the mom, and also about the repression brought by the oppressive Chilean government. It all tremendously works together to construct this magnificent film that has left such a long-lasting impression on me.
The film is aided by such exquisite cinematography from the use of natural light but also because of its poignant camera movements. There is also not a single bad performance but it was truly Mía Maestro and Enzo Ferrada Rosati’s performances that tugged at my heartstrings. First of all, Maestro does not speak a single word of dialogue but her facial mannerisms and body language express everything that could be said with words. Rosati on the other hand playing a trans woman who is forced to keep it a secret plays their heart out and you feel every second of it. By the end of the film, there is no room to say someone carried the film because every performer gave their all and it reflects in the final product. I am equally excited for everyone’s career to come after this film.
It is unknown at this time when this film will be released to the public, but get used to learning the name of Francisca Alegría. Alegría has built an explosive first feature that will lay the groundwork for one of the most impressive filmmakers to come out of Latin America. Whenever this film is released please do seek it out. I know my life is better because I watched this.
Céline Sciamma’s newest feature is a beautiful exploration of grief and childhood.
Well, it is time to conclude my coverage of the Houston Cinema Arts Festival as I get to talk about my last screening. I was able to watch this film through their virtual cinema because I could not make it to the in-person screening at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Texas. First of all, words cannot express how thankful I am for the wonderful people over at the Houston Cinema Arts Society, thank you for allowing The Nerd Corps to be able to cover your festival and consume some wonderful cinema in the city of Houston. Now, how was Céline Sciamma’s follow-up to her magnum opus, Portrait of a Lady on Fire?
Petite Maman is written and directed by Céline Sciamma (Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Water Lillies) as she once again tackles the complexities of childhood coated in the grieving process. The film looks at Nelly (Josephine Sanz), a young girl who visits her recently deceased grandmother’s home with her father (Stéphane Varupenne) and mother (Nina Meurisse) to empty it. After her mom abruptly leaves one night, Nelly meets a little girl in the woods named Marion (Gabrielle Sanz) who embarks on a journey of self-reflection and discovery. Sciamma reunites with cinematographer, Claire Mathon, to provide the beautiful and minimalist visual language of her movie.
Petite Maman is simply enigmatic, it is filled with tender introspection that transcends its message. The performances from our two child leads are fantastic and hold their weight along with the adults of the film. The film is quiet and patient as it traverses through an understanding of grief and loss. The film is a tad bit short but all that needs to be said is said throughout its runtime. I felt the first half was a bit too rushed whereas the second half worked a bit more. Even though the offhand pacing of the film, Petite Maman still manages to stay warm and bright. Céline Sciamma reminds us once again that there is beauty in simplicity like the rest of her filmography.
Even though this is my last review of the festival I am happy to say that this was a delightful festival. The Nerd Corps appreciates all the work done by the Houston Cinema Arts Society. We hope to see you all again next year for the next installment of the Houston Cinema Arts Festival.
Petite Maman is still on its festival run and is available on the NEON Blu Ray Box Set.
Mike Mills’ newest directorial effort is an impressive strong examination of city life and familial dynamics.
My last in-person screening at the Houston Cinema Arts Festival was a treat that I will remember forever. First and foremost, I would like to point out and shout out the amazing people at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Texas. MFAH has one of if not the best screen and projector that my eyes have ever graced the opportunity to watch cinema on. It was a match made in cinema heaven to be able to watch this beautiful film in their theater. I was reminded once again why I love the theatrical experience so much and how streaming will never replicate this communal feeling ever. I walked into my first ever Mike Mills film and I can tell you that this has shot up into one of my favorite films of this year.
C’mon C’mon is written and directed by Mike Mills (Beginners, 20th Century Women) and stars Joaquin Phoenix, Gabby Hoffmann, Scoot McNairy, Molly Webster, Jaboukie Young-White, and Woody Norman. The film is exquisitely shot by Robbie Ryan and is being distributed by A24. The film follows Johnny (Joaquin Phoenix) as he takes care of Jesse (Woody Norman) because Jesse’s mom, Viv (Gaby Hoffmann), needs to take care of her husband who is in mental distress. We watch a beautiful familial relationship between Johnny and Jesse unfold as they spend more time with each other. Johnny is a podcaster who interviews children about their views about life and the future that awaits them.
C’mon C’mon is beautiful in every sense of the word. Its moments of sweet tenderness brought me to tears as I watched this charming story unfold. Filled with its bright light inside of an atmosphere of uncertainty, we find ourselves changing alongside the protagonists of the film. Mike Mills crafts one of the best films of the year that finds its way into your heart and holds it throughout the runtime. The performances are one of its strongest aspects especially that of the newcomer, Woody Norman. Its musical choices and score help create the atmosphere of the film that keeps your atttention. You are going to want to watch this film that contains one of Joaquin Phoenix’s best performances. I really can’t stop thinking about this magnificent film and hope that you all watch it soon.
This resilient documentary shines a light on the fight inside and outside of the ring for these incredible luchadoras.
When skimming the festival program for the Houston Cinema Arts Festival, a lot of films caught my eye. Some that were really anticipated and some that were unknown to me like this film. I read up on this beautiful documentary about some badass powerful women who are not just maneuvering the ring but life in Mexico. I arrived dressed for the occasion with my Jay White Grand Slam NJPW shirt like the massive fan of pro wrestling I am. I knew that this would not be a documentary completely concentrating on professional wrestling, but this mixed two of my biggest passions and delivered way past expectations.
Luchadoras looks at the lives of female professional wrestlers living in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico as they navigate the challenges of living in Mexico and the target placed on their gender identity. It is not breaking news to know that Mexico has been dealing with a long period of feminicide. It is already difficult to navigate the culture as a woman and those who live there must fight against a constant target placed on them. The documentary is directed by Paola Calvo and Patrick Jasim who also serve as writers alongside Phillip Kaminiak. Throughout the film, we follow the lives of Lady Candy, Mini Sinerita, Baby Star, and Little Star as they compete inside of the ring and outside of it to exist as women in Mexico. The film is also expertly shot and woven together by a beautiful and important story about female empowerment.
Pro wrestling is the perfect place to highlight these women since the squared circle is the only space where these women can showcase not just their physical strength but their emotional strength too. We are constantly looking at both sides of the border and how different it is to live on either side. Luchadoras is magnificent and a strong outing from a very talented crew of artists. The performances always feel real and it raises important conversations to be had. I am dying to be able to rewatch this film sometime soon. Please seek this out as soon as it is available to the public.
Watch Luchadoras as it continues its festival run.