SFF22: ‘Utama’ Review

Utama is a monumental debut that blends themes about climate change and rigorous filmmaking.

Courtesy of Alma Films

There are moments where you truly realize you are watching something really special. I mean some films you can really tell that the director and team put so much care into it. What is even more special is when you watch a directorial debut that you can truly feel that its director is going to be an incredible force in cinema. When it comes to Utama, the film does all that and more.

Utama is written and directed by Alejandro Loayza Grisi. The film stars José Calcina, Luisa Quispe, Candelaria Quispe, Placide Ali, and Félix Ticona. The film is shot by cinematographer Barbara Alvarez. The film was part of the World Cinema Dramatic competition. Utama took home the Grand Jury Prize in World Cinema Dramatic.

In the film, we follow the journey of an elderly Bolivian couple who live in the rural areas of Bolivia. The couple is content with living on their land, but their grandson pays them a visit. Their grandson tries to convince them to move out, especially with a growing concern for the grandfather’s health. Along with health concerns, there is a fear of the diminishing amount of water that is readily available to the residents of the region.

Utama is a magnificent film through and through that is expertly crafted to communicate a multitude of themes. Its visual language is strikingly beautiful and framed with excellence to capture a pessimistic atmosphere. One would possibly find this a problem for them but if anything it kept me tied to the film. You can see the growing concern for the area and it is accompanied by a rich color palette. The cast works well to convey each of the emotions commanded by Grisi’s arresting direction. Utama is truly one of the best films of the festival but is a landmark in the director’s growing filmography.

Watch Utama when it makes its way to a screen near you.

SFF22: ‘Mars One’ Review

Mars One is a magnetic coming-of-age story that shines brightly throughout its various themes of Brazilian society.

Courtesy of Magnolia International

Latin America truly had a wonderful showing at this year’s Sundance Film Festival with gems like The Cow Who Sang a Song Into the Future, Dos Estaciones, Utama, and this magnificent Brazilian coming-of-age drama. Mars One was the second film I was able to watch at the festival and it was part of the World Cinema Dramatic Competition. As someone who loves international cinema but especially has a growing love for Latin American films, I was very interested in checking this one out. I am happy to report back that Mars One did not disappoint at all.

Mars One is written and directed by Gabriel Martins. The film stars Cícero Lucas, Carlos Francisco, Camilla Damião, and Rejane Faria. The film was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize in the World Cinema Dramatic competition. The film is Gabriel Martins’ third feature film that they have directed. Mars One finds itself blending the coming-of-age tropes while maintaining a steady commentary on Brazilian politics and the class divide.

In the film, we follow a lower-middle-class family in the wake of Brazil electing a far-right extremist president. We follow the lives of all four members of the family, our matriarch Tércia (Rejane Faria), the patriarch Wellington (Carlos Francisco), and their daughter Eunice (Camilla Damião), and their youngest child Deivinho (Cícero Lucas). Within their lives, each person is maneuvering life-altering decisions from finding love, fighting against poverty, figuring out what to do with their life, and worrying about the state of the family and their country.

Mars One is an enriching experience that is expertly crafted by a team of passionate artists that are worried about the state of Brazil’s political turmoil. There is tenderness met with anxiety as we traverse the lives of our protagonists. The film is exquisitely shot by our director of photography, Leonardo Feliciano. The movie does have a rocky start and is very off pace but it makes up with impeccable performances and chemistry from our cast. The intrigue of what comes next allows the audience to stay present with the family as much as they can. Ultimately, we are left with a fantastic film that provides heart and possible cultural solutions in order to progress their country.

Magnolia International picked up all media rights for worldwide release, so keep an eye out for this film when it makes its way to the public!

SFF22: ‘Klondike’ Review

Klondike is an ambitious film looking at the conflict between Russia and Ukraine set on the border between both countries.

Courtesy of Protim Video Production

Filmmaking is quite an amazing medium when we come to think of it and truly take time to reflect on the impact of the art. Films can be made for a multitude of reasons and all have valid reasons to exist in their own right. Some films are made for escapist reasons so when the audience watches them they can forget about the difficulties of their lives, but there are also films that are made to spread awareness and make sure that stories are being told. The latter is exactly what Klondike is.

Klondike is written and directed by Maryna Er Gorbach. The film stars Oksana Cherkashyna, Sergey Shadrin, Oleg Shcherbina, and Oleg Shevchuk. The picture’s photography is expertly crafted by director of photography, Svyatoslav Bulakovskiy. The film was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize in the World Cinema Dramtic competition at Sundance and took home the directing award for the latter category.

The story looks back at the early parts of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine in 2014. A family lives on the border between Russia and Ukraine, the wife, Irka (Oksana Cherkashyna) is pregnant and she lives with her husband, Tolik (Sergey Shadrin). Things are not perfect in the home as there are tensions between the husband and brother for different stances on the conflict because Yarky (Oleg Shcherbina) is perceived to be a sepratist. What we experience is the definiton of an uncompromising vision that lays everything on the table to be examined.

I will not lie and say that Klondike is amazing because it is far from that but this film is very effective. Right off the bat we are thrown right into our inciting incident. The film does a great job at slowly building out its tension where it crecendoes in the last act of the film. If I could call anything from this film near perfect it is those final 30 minutes of this film. Everything comes crashing down and Maryna Er Gorbach directs the film with such calm and poise. Its pace is undoubtlebly slow but that’s not the problem more so that the film meanders in the second act. The first act does a good enough job introducing us to what is going on but it meanders too much that the arresting third act really saves this film from completely falling apart.

Either way I highly recommmend Klondike if it ever eventually finds its way to another screen near us.

SFF22: ‘892’ Review

892 captivates its audience in an explosive fashion as it creates a fantastic thriller.

Courtesy of Bleecker Street Media

Taking a break from discussing some of the World Cinema Dramatic Competition I set my eyes on a film from the U.S. Dramatic Competition. 892 walked away with an award this year at Sundance as it picked up the Special Jury Award for Ensemble Cast. I cannot even begin to explain to you all exactly how much this film does not just deserve that award but also the buzz coming out of Sundance. When I was scrolling through the program I had to use a ticket for this film, I mean this has already two actors that caught my attention in John Boyega and Michael K. Williams. What I walked out of was an experience that lands this as one of the best films coming out of Sundance this year.

892 is directed by Abi Damaris Corbin from a script by Corbin and Kwame Kwei-Armah and stars the late Michael K. Williams in his final role, John Boyega, Nicole Beharie, and Connie Britton. The film is based on a real-life story as we follow Brian Brown-Easley (John Boyega) a former veteran with mental health struggles. The film first sees Brian trying to rob a bank but as we continue on with the film we learn throughout the journey that there is more than meets the eyes of this thriller. What seems like a simple crime thriller at first evolves into a fantastic piece discussing the treatment of veterans in the United States. The film truly lays it all on the ground and delivers on all cylinders.

892 is an explosive thriller from beginning to end, gripping you until it is time to let go. It is expertly performed by its cast including a masterful performance by John Boyega. As we continue to travel through the journey of the film, the pace feels like it meanders a bit during the second act, but once it is ready to wrap up the stakes are raised once again. I found the film to bring up important themes like the treatment of veterans, mental health disorders, and class divide. It exceptionally discusses these themes and lays them out well enough to be analyzed.

892 is one of the best films coming out of Sundance and you do not want to miss this one when it releases

SFF22: ‘You Won’t Be Alone’ Review

Goran Stolveski’s folk horror film is one of nuance and captivating visuals.

Courtesy of Focus Features

As I proceed with my coverage of the Sundance Film Festival this year I am stumbling across another of the films from the World Cinema Dramatic Competition. This film was one that interested me outside of it being an international flick. I was drawn by the horror aspects and plus it was being distributed by Focus Features. I looked into the film and found its premise interesting, so I decided to give this film a chance and I was pleasantly surprised as to what I watched!

You Won’t Be Alone is written and directed by Goran Stolevski in his feature film debut after working on various short films and television episodes. The film is set in 19th century Macedonia and follows the life of a woman who was kidnapped at a young age by a witch. The woman tours along by taking the shape of people after accidentally killing a peasant and taking their shape first. We follow along this journey of self-discovery and what it truly means to be alive. Along with existentialist themes, we also explore various characteristics of different experiences within the people she takes shapes of. A nuanced horror movie that is grounded in human connection, You Won’t Be Alone transforms its premise into a surprisingly captivating film.

You Won’t Be Alone was conflicting for me to say the least. On one hand, I think the film is poorly paced and its story drags way too much into the second half. On the other hand, I was mesmerized by its visuals and thematic elements that we analyze throughout the picture. I found myself enthralled by the way that scenes are lit, the camera moves, and its choice of angles especially when we get into our extreme close-ups. All of that was also helped by its 4:3 aspect ratio. Its writing is not the strongest but the film has a lot to say about motherhood, femininity, sexuality, and existentialism. Even though the film has its fair share of problems it still makes for a compelling watch that will definitely find its audience upon release.

Watch You Won’t Be Alone when it releases in theaters on April 1st.