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Sundance 2021: Day 3

If we thought there was quality in the first two days of the festival, then we are in for a ride as I would consider Day 3 of the festival to be packed with even more quality films. I ended up seeing five feature films released on this day, one that came from a screener before the festival began.

Here are my reviews of the Day 3 films at Sundance 2021.

The Most Beautiful Boy in the World

Directors: Kristian Petri, Kristina Lindström
Writers: Kristian Petri, Kristina Lindström
Starring: Björn Andrésen, Riyoko Ikeda

Synopsis: In 1971, due to the world premiere of Death in Venice, Italian director Lucino Visconti proclaimed his Tadzio as the world’s most beautiful boy. A shadow that today, 50 years later, weighs Björn Andresen’s life.

This is a beautiful documentary, both in the subject matter and how it is shot. From the opening sequence, it is clear that the story would be touching on some dark subject matters. It is haunting to watch this story unfold, going back and forth between talking about Björn Andrésen’s past and seeing how it impacted his present and his potential future.

There are some subject matters in this film that I did not expect to get covered, but are perfectly fitted to Andrésen’s story. One narrative in particular is about the male gaze, and the fact that Andrésen for some boys were an ideal of what they wanted to be. Instead of talking about the female gaze and teen crushes, the subject matter focuses on the more serious issue of body positivity for men and being a model of a gay community that he wasn’t directly a part of. It’s an interesting discussion to watch, especially from the person who was being pushed in that limelight.

I went into this documentary not knowing much about Andrésen and wanting to learn more about his past. This film does a wonderful job of not only painting his life, but also him as a person. Whilst it is interesting to see the influence he had in the film industry at the time, and not just in Europe but around the world, the best moments focus on his story and his perspective. This film highlights the issues of being famous at a young age, and how it is something that needs to stop being glamourised in the film industry. This may end up being one of the best documentaries in what is a packed year of them at Sundance.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Strawberry Mansion

Directors: Kentucker Audley, Albert Birney
Writers: Kentucker Audley, Albert Birney
Starring: Kuntucker Audley, Reed Birney, Penny Fuller

Synopsis: In the not-too-distant future, an all-seeing surveillance state conducts “dream audits” to collect taxes on the unconscious lives of the populace. Mild-mannered government agent James Preble travels to a remote farmhouse to audit the dreams of Arabella “Bella” Isadora, an eccentric, aging artist. Entering Bella’s vast VHS archive, which contains a lifetime of dreams, Preble stumbles upon a secret that offers him a chance at love—and hope for escape.

This is a film of two halves, and I am heartbroken to be saying this. For the first hour of this film, I was completely invested. It’s hard not to be sucked into this mysterious world and with the gorgeous production design that brings it all to life.

I absolutely love the concept of the story, the idea that dreams can be taxed, and that there is an organisation that advertises through dreams. It’s genius, and yet even with that concept, there is room for character development and a beautiful story to come along with it.

Unfortunately, the second half ruins this completely as there is no story to cling onto. The film delves further into the weird, which would be okay if it was easy to follow. I sadly felt disconnected from this point, making me extremely disappointed. I am still giving this a positive score because of that incredible first half, but it could have been so much more.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street

Director: Marilyn Agrelo

Synopsis: A look at the history of the long-running children’s TV show, “Sesame Street.”

This is a lovely documentary, and would make a great pairing with 2018’s Won’t You Be My Neighbor?. There is something so special about children’s TV in the era is Sesame Street and that magic hasn’t been captured for many years since.

For many people, this is going to be a big nostalgia hit and rightfully so. There is something so heart-warming about seeing these characters brought to life and getting a look under the puppets. The amount of work it took to bring this show to life every day was enormous, and I love that all of this footage behind the scene was captured for now.

I do wonder if this would have worked better as a mini-series. I wanted to learn so much more about the need for representation in the show, the individual craft for each section of the show, the making of the show and so much more. However, the final product we got is still incredibly strong.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Mass

Director: Fran Kranz
Writer: Fran Kranz
Starring: Jason Isaacs, Ann Down, Martha Plimpton, Reed Birney

Synopsis: Years after a tragic shooting, the parents of both the victim and the perpetrator meet face-to-face.

I am absolutely speechless. What an incredible, heart-wrenching story. It is hard to imagine that this film by Fran Kranz is not only a directorial debut, but his first screenplay. You couldn’t get much better than this.

The four performances are all incredible and you should prepare immediately to see them in awards season next year. Jason Isaacs in particular is a stand out, having the scene of the film. This is a shared piece though, as they are all given their moments and equal amounts of time to get their story across.

I admire anyone who is able to tell a whole story in a single room. This is a story that is simply told through words, not imagery, but those words have such impact. I haven’t heard such compelling dialogue in such a long time. It is safe to say that this film will stay in my mind for a long time.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Ma Belle, My Beauty

Director: Marion Hill
Writer: Marion Hill
Starring: Idella Johnson, Hannah Pepper, Lucien Guignard

Synopsis: A surprise reunion in the South of France reignites passions and jealousies between two women who were formerly polyamorous lovers.

This ended up being a nice little film that would be the sort of thing to play in the background, not requiring too much thought. The performances from the two leads are great and there are some wonderful moments within the film, particularly when the story focuses on the music sub-plot that runs from the first frame to the last.

I sadly could not find myself caring too much about any of the relationships in this film. The film became extremely predictable in how it handled these relationships. This is the same sort of storyline many films like this do, where two exes rekindle their love behind closed doors and see how they feel throughout. It just lacked originality and a need for this story to be told.

The film does try and take some risks in some of the sub-plots, particularly with certain side characters that come into play in the second half of the film. However, these storylines are quickly rushed through and not given a chance to properly develop, instead focusing on following the beat-for-beat narrative we previously were following. Whilst this film isn’t bad and the filmmaking itself is quite strong, it certainly wasn’t anything special either.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

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