Sundance 2021 | Wrap Up Discussion With Members of ForReel and Drink in the Movies

That’s a wrap for Sundance 2021! In this video, Taylor Beaumont leads a conversation with Thomas Stoneham-Judge and Taylor Baker, talking about everyone’s experiences with the festival. We recap as much as possible, from the festival platform to award winners to festival favorites to honorable mentions.

Learn more about Sundance Film Festival

The Wanting Mare

Written by Anna Harrison

70/100

SYNOPSIS: In the world of Anmaere, north of the city of Whithren, wild horses run through the moorlands and up the coast. These horses are the city’s most valuable export and, as a result, are hunted, trapped, sold, and shipped across the sea once a year. For those in Whithren, this trade passage creates lucrative and exciting possibilities: the chance to escape their constantly sweltering city and escape to the Western continent of Levithen, or simply to begin again.

Meanwhile, in a small house just north of the city, a young woman dies in childbirth. Her last words are an attempt to tell her daughter of the life she’ll have and her inheritance of a recurring dream that must be kept secret — for it contains the memories of another age long before us, one where magic and myth were alive in the world.

That daughter now left behind is Moira. She grows alone in Whithren, without anyone to explain her dream, her unique difference, or her place in the world. As a result, she resolves to leave Whithren at all costs, and employs the help of Lawrence, a wounded young man engaged in the criminal enterprise of stealing tickets.

This begins a series of events that echo over the next thirty-five years of their life, the life of a child found screaming on the rocks, and through the alleys and coasts of Whithren… a city hidden in the fog, wanting in heat, now beginning again.

REVIEW: The Wanting Mare is a breath of fresh air amidst the inundation of remakes, sequels, and spinoffs (and I say this as someone who has rabidly dissected just about every Marvel Cinematic Universe offering). Its setting feels incredibly familiar and at the same time eerily distinct: Director Nicholas Ashe Bateman creates a world that settles comfortably in its uncanny valley-like similarity to ours, a world populated by people who dress and speak like us but inhabit a different universe. A world called Anmaere, where wild horses are the most valuable export and people will kill to get a ticket out.

The film follows a woman named Moira (Ashleigh Nutt, Jordan Monaghan, and Christine Kellogg-Darrin all playing Moira at different ages)—whose family has matrilineally passed down the same dream for generations—and her daughters (Yasamin Keshtkar and Maxine Muster) as they look for a way out of the city of Whithren. The camera remains glued to the actors the entire time, almost never leaving their faces; it feels almost claustrophobic. Part of this, of course, is to save money on sprawling and detailed CGI locations, but it creates a sense of intimacy. The world is big, but our glimpse into it is small.

In some ways, this does hinder the world-building. We have been told about Anmaere, but our eyes can’t see what we’ve heard, so some of the plot points that rely on our knowledge of the in-film universe feel underexplained. However, the personal focus of the film makes viewers feel closely acquainted with the characters, and, in an ironic way, lets the world feel more lived-in. We might not know everything about the city or continent, but we know the characters, and through them, we gain a rudimentary understanding of the world and how it affects its citizens. And, on the plus side, there are no awkward exposition dumps.

Where The Wanting Mare really excels is its visuals. Nicholas Ashe Bateman has extensive work as a visual effects supervisor (such as for the upcoming A24 film The Green Knight), and it shows. Bateman shot almost the entirety of the movie in a warehouse in Paterson, New Jersey, but you would never know. He transforms concrete walls into a rocky shoreline or a distant coast, and does so with such a deft touch that the audience can barely catch on to the fact that the film wasn’t shot on location. Bateman’s visuals fill the movie both with warmth and foreignness at the same time; I’ve never seen anything quite like it.

I do wish that The Wanting Mare had taken a bit more time to explain its plot and the characters’ relationships, for there were several times where I had to rack my brains to remember what was happening. Still, even during those moments, I enjoyed watching the movie as a visual treat. Experiencing a film that feels wholly unique has become a rarer and rarer experience, but The Wanting Mare managed to craft something entirely original, and for that, I am grateful.

The Wanting Mare Trailer

The Wanting Mare is now available in U.S. Cinemas and on VOD Nationwide as of February 5th.

You can also read Anna’s capsule review of White Eye or you can follow more of Anna’s work on Letterboxd and her website

Sundance 2021 Review: Together Together

Written by Maria Manuella Pache de Athayde

60/100 

Nikole Beckwith’s Together Together is what I’d call a typical Sundance film. It’s quirky but doesn’t overdo it. We are quickly told the story of Matt and his surrogate Anna. While I admit it is nice to see a surrogacy journey I could not see a lot of myself in the film and had a hard time connecting with the story. 

I love Ed Helms but his character Matt’s stalkerish and controlling behavior and “need” to connect with his surrogate really put me off the film. It was the little things like asking Anna on a dinner date, when she clearly did not want to go, and controlling what she ordered because she’s pregnant with his baby. Or that time they were talking with a surrogacy counselor and he ignored her and acted like she wasn’t even in the room. There was also that time when he showed up at her work, a coffee shop, and unannounced brought her pair of clogs and tea to make her feel more comfortable even though she explicitly told him she did not want to tell anyone she’s pregnant. Or that time Matt got upset Anna was having sex with a rando. The list could go on and on. 

I was also frustrated with Patti Harrison’s, Anna. She wants her space but, at the same time, there are little moments she spends with Matt, like when they pick out the color of the nursery where she was okay with their dynamic or let’s him touch her belly when they are in bed together. The movie is dotted with a few funny moments here and there but that’s not enough to make up for the other problems I described. 

There are also a few moments where the movies question traditional gender stereotypes. Like when Matt and Anna discuss if it’s okay for Matt to have a baby shower? Or they discuss what being a single mom or single dad looks like especially the lack of pregnancy books for single men.  The movie tries to make up for Matt’s behavior by portraying Matt as someone who is supportive and helps Anna navigate her fractured relationship with her family. Anna insists that they should set up boundaries because she won’t be in the baby’s life once it’s born but then accepts Matt’s invitation when he asks her to move in until the baby is delivered.    

Ultimately, I think it tries too hard to be charming and sweet. It tries to question traditional stereotypes (which is something I generally love to see on film) but it doesn’t completely succeed in doing so. My favorite character and moments in the film were Julio Torres’ (Jules) and his one liners. I definitely want to watch more of Beckwith, Harrison, and Torres’ work in the future. I know that this movie will find an audience, but it just wasn’t for me.

Together Together played during the Sundance 2021 Film Festival.

You can follow Maria Manuella Pache de Athayde on LetterboxdTwitter, or Instagram and view more of what she’s up to here.

Sundance 2021 Review: Homeroom

Written by Maria Manuella Pache de Athayde

75/100

Homeroom editors Kristina Motwani and Rebecca Adorno are recipients of the Jonathan Oppenheim Editing Award presented at the Sundance 2021 Film Festival.

SYNOPSIS: Director Peter Nicks has spent more than a decade chronicling life in Oakland, CA through the lens of its diverse public institutions, revealing deep insights into some of the most consequential chapters of recent American history. The third and most personal in a trilogy of vérité portraits [The Waiting Room (2012), The Force (2017)], Homeroom follows a group of high school seniors in the tumultuous school year ending in Spring 2020. At centerstage is Denilson Garibo, one of two Student Directors on the Board of Education representing the 36,000 students in the Oakland Unified School District. A year derailed by the COVID-19 pandemic and rocked by the na/onal trauma of the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many others, Homeroom celebrates the tenacity of today’s youth. Confronted with crisis after crisis and coming of age in a chaotic world has not instilled pessimism, but a galvanizing determination to make change.

REVIEW: The kids are going to be alright! This might be a cliché conclusion but it was the overwhelming sensation I felt when I finished watching Homeroom, the finale of Peter Nicks’ trilogy about the great American city of Oakland, CA. In this documentary, we followed the senior class of 2020 at Oakland High School as they navigated the 2019-2020 academic year. Nicks’ documentary is well crafted and shines a light on the confounding problems Black and brown people face in the country.

These problems include, but are not limited to, a financial crisis, a housing crisis, an education crisis, food insecurity, police brutality, gentrification, COVID, an impeachment trial (the first one), and racial equality protests. We see all these crises and events unfold through the eye of high school students, particularly the members of the All-City Council Governing Board Student Union, as they fight against budget cuts and increased police presence in their schools. The students showcased in the documentary showed grit, determination, and conviction in fighting for what they believe in. In fact, I’d even go as far as saying they are much more grown-up than the school board members and elected officials that are supposed to represent them.

At its core this documentary is about the power of youth and the voices that they bring. It tells the story of Oakland but I am sure that it could be translated to many other American cities. One thing that a really appreciated is that Nicks’ did not make COVID19 the focal point of this piece instead integrated the story of the pandemic into a larger narrative about what was happening in the students’ lives. I would have really loved to see name cards pop-up when students were introduced because oftentimes I found myself forgetting their names as the documentary progressed. This small issue aside, this documentary was a good snapshot of the moment we are living in.

Recommended.

Homeroom played during the Sundance 2021 Film Festival and is currently awaiting distribution.

You can follow Maria Manuella Pache de Athayde on LetterboxdTwitter, or Instagram and view more of what she’s up to here.

Sundance 2021 Review: Pleasure

Written by Taylor Baker

86/100

WARNING: EXPLICIT SEXUAL CONTENT

SYNOPSIS: Bella (Sofia Kappel) arrives in America with 25 tattoos, pierced nipples and a burning desire to make her mark in moving images. At Customs, when the U.S. agent asks the ambitious 19-year-old Swede if she’s in America for business or pleasure, there’s a beat. For Bella, who goes under porn name Bella Cherry, there is a fine line between business and “pleasure.”

Starting at the bottom, living with sloppy roommates in an innocuous shared house, she gradually enters the hierarchical world of adult cinema. As she bonds with her housemates, she discovers that the road to porn stardom demands that a young woman must practice and accomplish increasingly difficult and sometimes distressing “stunts.” This is the big leagues where performing a double anal on camera is like a professional skater’s triple axel. As time passes, Bella rises. She lands high-end adult movie agent Mark Spiegler (The 2012 Adult Video News Hall of Famer nicknamed Shylock plays himself). Leaving her roomies behind, Bella becomes a “Spiegler Girl,” taking limos to outrageous pool parties, filming scenes in fabulous Los Angeles mansions, and receiving an unsentimental education in the trade’s tricks.

Strong, self-confident but naive, Bella believes she can mold the corrupt system to satisfy her needs. But, in the end, she must confront whether she’ll pay with her soul for stardom, or not. That’s the high cost of being a hot young female body in the pleasure business from debut feature writer-director Ninja Thyberg whose 2013 short of the same name debuted at Cannes where it won a Canal+ Award.

REVIEW: There’s been what feels like dozens of Directorial Debuts at this years Sundance 2021 Film Festival. And only a handful touch the soaring heights and delicious biting criticism of Ninja(Nin-ya) Thyberg’s Debut Feature Film Pleasure. Cleverly titled as a response to a question that Jessica gives in the very start of the film. A love child of the industry reflexivity we saw in Refn’s The Neon Demon and the unrepressive imagery(full frontal male nudity) of Gaspar Noé’s oeuvre, Pleasure is entirely her own and rather than pulling us down her narrative–she makes us take it. Jessica is played by newcomer Sofia Kappel who by all appearances in the film has the makings of an unassuming and at times charismatic star. She assumes the name ‘Bella Cherry’ and embarks on a path to pursue a lucrative career in the Adult Film Industry.

Rather than casting her film with conventional performers, Thyberg chooses to lean on the talent that she seems to be dunking. At one point Kappel’s ‘Bella Cherry’ has finished shooting a scene and her face is covered in ejaculate. Rather than end the scene there, with the scene ostensibly finished the camera turns it’s sights off of Kappel’s face and pivots in real time into the camera and camera man she’s performing to. Uncannily clever Thyberg holds up the “black mirror” of who this was for in Kappel’s local experience, who it was physically aimed toward, and transfers the viewer of the Pornography from themselves to the man standing there. It’s a powerful shot that stands out amongst a half dozen equally powerful choices that Thyberg makes.

Inevitably the topic of sexual abuse arises, first as an offhand joke when she arrives from Sweden to her driver(Chris Cock) about why she wanted to join the industry. But this topic resurfaces, uncomfortably in two deceptively brutal scenes. Postulating consent in the “industry” as a philosophical problem in a brand new frame. Ultimately the extremity of Thyberg’s voice never broaches to crass, there’s always a tone of “this is how things are” to her depictions of sexuality, until ingeniously she once again flips the reality presented to the viewer on it’s head. Pleasure is a daring and unconventional piece of cinema that boldly and clearly announces Ninja as a contemporary filmmaker with a cultural criticism that goes past the surface level. If audiences will break convention to openly support and discuss her film, it seems inevitable that we’ll graced with more. A storyteller with a voice like this doesn’t stop after throwing just one punch.

I’ll leave you with a brief quote of Thyberg’s own words on the themes and her frame of thinking on her piece.

Ninja Thyberg, director of Pleasure, an official selection of the World Cinema Dramatic Competition at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Karin Stenwall.

“I think, unfortunately, a lot of people dehumanize the people that they masturbate to.”

Ninja Thyberg

Sundance 2021 Review: Violation

Written by Taylor Baker

88/100

SYNOPSIS: With her marriage about to implode, Miriam returns to her hometown to seek solace in the comfort of her younger sister and brother-in-law. But one evening a tiny slip in judgement leads to a catastrophic betrayal, leaving Miriam shocked, reeling, and furious. Believing her sister to be in danger, Miriam decides she must protect her at all costs, but the price of revenge is high and she is not prepared for the toll it takes as she begins to emotionally and psychologically unravel.

REVIEW:

“What’s wrong with a little Sammy Harris?”

Miriam (Madeleine Sims-Fewer)

Built on naturalistic landscapes and a swelling score, Violation presents the brutality at the core of it’s story in close-up. Whether stirring batter, deboning a rabbits leg, or watching a spiders legs twitch while it suffocates under a cup. It forces a sense of brooding and suffocation onto the viewer in classic yet unconventional ways.

First time feature film writer/directors Dusty Mancinelli and Madeline Sims-Fewer—who also leads the film—present a somber look at pain and murder. Their collaborative first feature makes sound design it’s fulcrum and while at times it’s score propels us along, just as often and craftily it dips out allowing the stirring of nature to envelop us. Defining a sense of place that intensifies the collage, sometimes spectre like imagery that dances on screen with it.

Madeline Sims-Fewer plays Miriam a woman whose distanced from her family and is having trouble at home with her husband. In lieu of spoiling the narrative, I’ll just say an “event” occurs, prompting Madeline’s “Miriam” to commit a violent murder. The twist here is not so much a conventional twist as a spurring on of the form we’ve already seen employed, now toward active violence. The murder scene is cripplingly human, Miriam’s reaction to her own actions is like a dagger twisted into the gut of the viewer. Her anguish undeniable.

Many have written about the discomfort that they experienced during the film, and I don’t want to completely write that off. But I think that in high caliber pieces of cinema that have similar topics, these feelings of discomfort are more a sign of greatness than any indicative modicum of banality. I can’t quite say I’m thrilled by this film, but I was astounded. 

Violation Trailer


Highly Recommended

Violation played during the Sundance 2021 Film Festival and scheduled to release in multiple territories on March 25th 2021 on Shudder.

Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It

Written by Maria Manuella Pache de Athayde

90/100

SYNOPSIS: Over a career spanning more than 70 years, Rita Moreno defied both her humble upbringing and relentless racism to become a celebrated and award-winning actor. Born into poverty on a Puerto Rican farm, Moreno and her seamstress mother immigrated to New York City when Moreno was five years old. After studying dance and performing on Broadway, Moreno was cast as any ethnic minority the Hollywood studios needed filled: Polynesian, Native American, Egyptian and so on. Despite becoming the first Latina actress to win an Academy Award for her role as Anita in “West Side Story” (1961), the studios continued to offer Moreno lesser roles as stereotypical ethnic minorities, ignoring her proven talent.

Beyond the racism she experienced as a Latina actor, “Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It” will explore the lesser-known struggles Moreno faced on her path to stardom, including pernicious Hollywood sexism and sexual abuse, a toxic relationship with Marlon Brando, and an attempted suicide a year before she won her Oscar. The documentary will demonstrate Moreno’s talent and resilience as she broke barriers and paved the way for new generations of artists by refusing to be pigeonholed and fighting for Latinx representation in a variety of genres.

REVIEW: Rita Moreno is a legend! What other way can you describe a woman who won an Emmy, Oscar, Tony, Grammy, Presidential Medal of Freedom (2004), National Medal of Arts (2009), and Kennedy Center Honors (2015), and Peabody Award (2019)? All these accolades do no justice to the magnitude of the woman. While production-wise the documentary wasn’t remarkable, her story was. Told through a series of vignettes from the likes of Norman Lear, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Justice Sotomayor, Eva Longoria, Whoopi Goldberg, Gloria Estefan, Morgan Freeman, and countless playwrights and producers.

Rita is a trailblazer. Born in Humacao, Puerto Rico, she came with her mother to the US during the Great Depression. From an early age, Rita loved performing and by age 16 she was the sole breadwinner of her family. After making a connection with the head of MGM Studio, Louis B. Mayer, she got a contract and 6 months moved to LA. This transition was not without struggle. People were not nice to her at MGM, she was sexualized, and set up on fake dates to raise her profile. She was also typecast, her skin darkened, and always played the “island girl”. Reflecting on this part of her career she stated that she went along with it at first but, soon after, it started to hurt and took an incredible toll on her self-image and self-worth. At another point, she mentioned how she wanted to turn down these parts, but that’s all she was offered, and she needed the money to survive.

The documentary also details more personal aspects of her life like her relationship with Marlon Brando and her agent who raped her. She reflected that she had so little self-worth at the time that she continued letting him be her agent. This particular moment of the documentary is intercut with images of the trial Christine Blasey Ford and introduces us to Rita Moreno the activist. Rita Moreno is a pro-choice activist. She almost participated in atomic disarmament marches and sat 15 feet away from Dr. King during his famous “I Have Dream Speech” at the March on Washington.

All this is not enough to describe her remarkable career Rita was in Singing in the Rain and got a chance to see Gene Kelly perform live. Rita Moreno is, truly, Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It. Icon, legend, trailblazer do not do justice to explain what, as a Latina, Rita Moreno means to me. Year and year again trade publications and research papers discuss the under-representation of Latinos in Hollywood. The 2020 UCLA Hollywood Diversity Report states “Latinos’ share of lead acting roles was 6.6% on scripted broadcast shows, 5.5% in cable and 4.0% in digital in 2018–19. Among all TV acting roles in the past two years, Latinos’ best representation was in broadcast shows during the 2017–18 season, but even then, they made up just 6.4% of casts.” This is infuriating because the lack of Latino representation in Hollywood is a mirror to the under-representation of Latinos on the US job market in general, even though they make up roughly 17% of this country’s population.

After reading this if you still have any doubts about how kick-ass Rita is go watch her Oscar acceptance speech (an all-time great I might add. Even though she doesn’t agree.) or watch her sing Fever on the Muppets (which won her an Emmy), or that time she re-wore her 1962 Academy Award dress to the 2018 Academy Awards. I could talk about her all day.

All I can do is say thank you, Rita Moreno! Thank you for paving the way for a Latina girl like me. Showing me that women can do anything.

Director Mariem Pérez Riera’s Statement:
The first time I interviewed Rita, I had prepared a series of questions about the biggest moments of her career. As soon as she started speaking, I immediately saw myself reflected in her answers. It was as though I was speaking to a therapist who understood exactly what I had been through. I related to all she was saying: her stories about discrimination, the insecurities she felt because of the way others perceived her, the complicated love relationships, and the constant need to work three times harder to prove to others that she is worthy. It was at that moment when I realized that this movie was not just a biographical documentary of Rita’s life, but a story about all the women who feel alone as they struggle to assert themselves in a patriarchal society rooted in white supremacy.

While listening to her stories I constantly questioned the American Dream. To what extent are we willing to pay the price? Fifty years ago, Rita lived through hardships and experiences that unfortunately many women continue to endure, including myself. So I decided to shift the documentary’s focus to the courage, transformations, and highs and lows of a brave immigrant woman trying to overcome discrimination, hatred, and humiliation. A woman who when speaking about herself, speaks to and for a lot of us.

My goal with this documentary is to show what an amazing inspiration Rita is to all of us. In order to do this, it was important for me to capture Rita’s vulnerable and fragile side when she’s off-stage or off-guard. This is why one of the aesthetic decisions of the documentary was to follow Rita in a verité camera style. We see Rita in her daily life, without makeup, in pajamas, preparing her breakfast, or driving, doing her own hair and makeup, or setting out decorations for her own birthday party.

To me, a biographical documentary should do more than to tell important events in chronological order, it should move you emotionally, and make you feel like you actually know the subject personally. The decision behind every location for all the interviews was highly important to me, as I wanted the space, the environment, and the ambiance to capture Rita’s soul. I selected “vintage” spaces where Rita’s friends and colleagues could be interviewed. The decorations, the colors of the furniture, the warm light for example, should resemble Rita’s taste in some way, and be reflective of a space Rita would decorate for herself.



Another aspect I wanted to explore was Rita’s inner child, Rosita. To capture the duality of Rita and Rosita, I decided to use stop motion animation with paper dolls. These dolls were very popular during Rita’s childhood, and they embody the little girl who has been molded through clothing to “pretend” to be what the outside world wants her to be. Rosita/Rita was accustomed to behaving like a doll with no expression, obliged to accept any garment that is placed on her.

Music also plays a key role in this documentary. In addition to jazz as the basis of the score, the incidental music has many meanings, and I am very grateful to have included my ‘wish list songs’. Songs by Fania All Stars, La Lupe, and Rafael Hernandez’s “Lamento Borincano”; all these songs relate directly and indirectly with Rita’s story.

During the final steps of the editing process, while looking for a song to close the documentary, “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free”, performed by Nina Simone, came to mind. This song, that at the time of its creation became a hymn of the Civil Rights movement, resonates to me like a hymn to Rita’s life. This song, that at the time of its creation became a hymn of the Civil Rights movement, resonates to me like a hymn to Rita’s life. One could ask, how much would she have accomplished if she didn’t have all the limitations (“the chains”) thrown at her because of her race and her gender?

These lyrics take on another meaning when we hear them through the voice of Nina Simone at the end of Rita’s documentary. It helps us understand what it feels like to be Rita, to be an immigrant woman — “who decided to go for it” — despite society’s gender and racial expectations. Rita has finally liberated herself from all those chains that were holding her, she has finally expressed how it feels to be her, and now in her late 80’s Rita is finally able to be herself; flying through her greatest self. Rita’s voice becomes the voice of inspiration of every woman, especially of every immigrant, Latinx in the USA.

Recommended. 

Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It is currently playing the Sundance 2021 Film Festival.

You can follow Maria Manuella Pache de Athayde on LetterboxdTwitter, or Instagram and view more of what she’s up to here.

Sundance 2021 Mid-Festival Round Up with Members of ForReel Movie News and Reviews

Click here to review the Festival Awards!

The festival officially runs from January 28th to February 3rd.

  • Jan. 28th – festival kicks off with the opening night welcome at 5pm MST, followed by the premiers of Coda and In the Same Breath at 6pm MST.
  • Feb. 2nd – festival awards winners are announced starting at 6pm MST.
  • Feb. 3rd – on-demand screening of award finning films takes place 8am-12pm MST.
  • Note: Short films and Indie Series programs are available for on-demand screening for the duration of the festival.

Whether you’re charting your own course through the festival, in need of guidance, or content to sit back and wait for recaps, we hope you will find some time to touch base with us here at Drink in the Movies and over at ForReel Movie New and Reviews for festival news, coverage, and updates. I spoke with Thomas & Taylor from ForReel Movie News and Reviews to talk about our favorite festival films so far, experience using the Sundance Virtual Platform, and our most anticipated remaining films. Watch the video above, and we’ll see you at Sundance 2021!

Sundance 2021 Review: Rebel Hearts

Written by Maria Manuella Pache de Athayde

85/100

 

SYNOPSIS: During the 1960s, a tight-knit group of progressive nuns in Hollywood discarded their habits and gleefully oversaw a radical women’s college grounded in social activism. Spearheaded by sisters Anita Caspary, Helen Kelley, and Corita Kent (also a renowned pop artist), Immaculate Heart College ensured women received degrees at an unprecedented rate and crested a tidal wave of social change that engulfed the nation. But as the nuns marched on Selma and transformed the education system, they incurred the wrath of the archbishop of Los Angeles and, with him, the church’s entrenched old guard.

With a mixture of defiance and joy, Rebel Hearts reveals one of the biggest religious showdowns of the twentieth century, which pitted a delightfully noncomforming group of feminist nuns against a powerful patriarchy insistent on female subservience. Pedro Kos’s euphoric and essential documentary reveals a groundbreaking sisterhood that not only flipped the bird—politely—at the Catholic Church’s brazen misogyny but, through their teachings, fundamentally reshaped American society.

REVIEW: “Changing is what keeps us growing.” Rebel Hearts directed by Pedro Kos is one of those rare festival gems. Featured in the US Documentary Competition this movie tackles religion, feminism, and the patriarchy through animation, archival and current day footage. As a Catholic and women’s college graduate the stories of the Sisters at Immaculate Heart College, in Los Feliz, CA,  Rebel Hearts spoke to me on a very personal level.

The women featured in this documentary are the epitome of kick ass. From the get go these women were out to challenge the patriarchy and what it meant to be a nun. Many of them said they joined the convent as a way to get out of marriage and as a means to obtain education. Along the way they received a fierce push back from Cardinal McIntyre when decried the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary for promoting liberalism and straying away from their vows. In his words, “they were becoming way too modern”. This doc exposes the past and present unsavoriness of the Catholic Church.

It also discusses the radical change brought about by Vatican II. The Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary welcomed these changes because it “encouraged them to explore new ways of living”. They used this opportunity to form commissions to discuss changes in religious ways of life and take agency on their own life as women and Sisters. These Sisters marched with Dr. King in Selma, AL, had lunch with Coretta King, protested the war in Vietnam, supported reform to the labor conditions of farm workers, and endorsed the abolishment of the death penalty. Throughout this process they learned about the cause of justice, peace, and social activism.

The Sisters were arrested many times and they were okay with that. They claimed that “if you really think something is wrong it is important to put your body on the line” and that they did. This culminated with their participation in the 2017 Women’s March among other protests like defending DACA and putting an end to human trafficking. They argued that protest with joy has the power to transform everyone that’s a part of it. Following the dispensation of their vows the former Sisters still continue being an active part of the Los Angeles community. Their passion for justice is what drives them and it continues to this day.

Recommended.

Rebel Hearts Interrogation Clip

Rebel Hearts is currently playing the Sundance 2021 Film Festival.

You can follow Maria Manuella Pache de Athayde on LetterboxdTwitter, or Instagram and view more of what she’s up to here.

Sundance 2021 Review: Mother Schmuckers (Fils de plouc)

Written by Anna Harrison

25/100

There’s a chance I might have enjoyed Mother Schmuckers if I were a frat bro sitting in my frat house with my fellow frat friends and we were all very high. Unfortunately, I am not a frat bro, and I watched this stone-cold sober in my bedroom. 

Mother Schmuckers begins with its two lead characters, brothers Issachar (Maxi Delmelle) and Zabulon (Harpo Guit) attempting to force-feed their sex worker mother (Claire Bodson) their own fried shit. Their mother promptly vomits, and we are forced to look at the bile as the title card appears in it. Things don’t get any more sophisticated from there.

The bulk of the movie chronicles the brothers’ attempts to get their dog, January Jack (whom their mother—understandably, might I add—loves more than them), back home after they lost him. What follows is one vile thing after another, from bestiality to necrophilia, ostensibly played for laughs but lacking in any humor whatsoever. 

There are the faintest glimmers of something funny, such as when the brothers acquire a gun and chase each other through the streets of Brussels and onlookers think these two idiots are terrorists, or when the two are roped into dancing for a terrible music video. There are the briefest glimpses of an emotional undercurrent regarding the boys’ relationship to their mother, but any tenderness is quickly zapped away by whatever appalling hijinks Issachar and Zabulon get into next. The low-budget, frenetic cinematography and editing could almost be charming if they weren’t showcasing such uncharming scenes. So, what are we left with? Not much, it would seem.

The problem is not that the brothers are completely irredeemable—media is full of morally murky protagonists, and when done well, we still are invested in them at the end of the day regardless of their morality. We can even find them funny: I don’t think anyone would call the gang in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia upstanding citizens, but it’s the longest-running American television comedy because it makes its characters’ unlikability funny. Mother Schmuckers, however, foolishly equates crassness and grossness with humor, leaving us with a distinctly unfunny movie that lacks any sort of pathos, therefore eliciting no emotion other than disgust. 

Mother Schmuckers does not ever attempt to be a sophisticated film (aside from a brief appearance by Mathieu Amalric, whom I can only assume was forced at gunpoint to be in this), but it seems to think it’s a funny one. It’s wrong.

Mother Schmuckers Trailer

Mother Schmuckers (Fils de plouc) is currently playing the Sundance 2021 Film Festival.

You can follow more of Anna’s work on Letterboxd and her website.