The 2023 Sundance Film Festival completed its fifth day of in-person and virtual programming yesterday, January 23rd. Unfortunately, there were equal parts high and low, which ultimately left me filling mixed on the quality of storytelling.
The theme of the day was definitely motherhood. Add in a little bit of trauma on the side, and I had myself a day here in Park City. Here’s a recap of some emotionally gripping and delicate storytelling from my 2023 Sundance Film Festival watchlist!
1. All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt | Director: Raven Jackson
Courtesy of Sundance Institute
Sundance Synopsis: Tender caresses and enveloping embraces are portals into the life of Mack, a Black woman in Mississippi. Winding through the anticipation, love, and heartbreak she experiences from childhood to adulthood, the expressionist journey is an ode to connection — with loved ones and with place.
Review: There are certain films that simply exist to be an experience. For All Dirt Roads Taste Like Salt, that seems to be the case. Unfortunately for me, the experience is lacking especially because of how the director chooses to execute the story. There are many characters with very little time given to flesh out who they are. Additionally, scenes overextend their stay, lingering on for what feels like an unnecessary eternity. The saving grace is the cinematography and intimate moments that emphasize the value of love and family. But while I can certainly appreciate what Jackson attempted to do, it simply wasn’t as good as it could have been, nor will it warrant, for me, multiple viewings.
2. Drift | Director: Anthony Chen
Sundance Synopsis: Having fled war-torn Liberia, Jacqueline (Cynthia Erivo), the formerly wealthy daughter of a government loyalist, finds herself struggling to survive on a Greek island. She gives foot massages to tourists on the beach, steals food to survive, and squats in caves and abandoned buildings. In the evenings, Jacqueline is haunted by memories of her homeland and the violent uprising that forced her escape. When she meets Callie (Alia Shawkat), a lonely American tour guide, Jacqueline takes a chance on friendship.
Review: Often reliant on its flashbacks to tell a coherent story, Drift is a mixed bag of decent storytelling and emotional upheaval. Cynthia Erivo gives a wonderful performance and does everything she can to elevate this story about homelessness and escaping a terrible and gut wrenching past. However, the script takes too long to provide its audience with how Jacqueline has come to her current predicament. The film is beautifully shot and contains sensational music as well. I just wish the entire 93 minutes were as great as the final 25.
3. Girl | Director: Adura Onashile
Sundance Synopsis: Mother-daughter duo Grace and Ama have established a deep bond that’s protected them from outsiders, but as they start anew in Glasgow, things begin to change. Ama’s burgeoning puberty and curiosity set off reminders of a past that 24-year-old Grace has been running from. The comforting fairytale-like origin story that Grace has been telling Ama for years is interrupted by flashbacks of her painful past — their sheltered world begins to erode from the inside.
Review: A remarkably understated experience about overprotective parenthood and trauma, writer/director Adura Onashile crafts a delicate and moving picture. It’s not every day I feel like I can relate to a film, even when I haven’t experienced everything within it. However, something about Girl feels like it will call to your soul and make you rethink everything you know about your childhood and the struggles your parents might have gone through to raise you. While often slow at times, Onashile’s dedication to achieving sincerity with a methodical approach in her storytelling is exceptionally authentic. Bravo to the cast and crew. Full review on Screen Rant soon!
4. Run Rabbit Run | Director: Daina Reid
Sundance Synopsis: Fertility doctor Sarah begins her beloved daughter Mia’s seventh birthday expecting nothing amiss. But as an ominous wind swirls in, Sarah’s carefully controlled world begins to alter. Mia begins behaving oddly and a rabbit appears outside their front door — a mysterious birthday gift that delights Mia but seems to deeply disconcert Sarah. As days pass, Mia becomes increasingly not herself, demanding to see Sarah’s long-estranged, hospitalized mother (the grandmother she’s never met before) and fraying Sarah’s nerves as the child’s bizarre tantrums begin to point her toward Sarah’s own dark history. As a ghost from her past re-enters Sarah’s life, she struggles to cling to her distant young daughter.
Review: Director Daina Reid crafts an interesting psychological thriller in which she incorporates unsettling imagery and atmospheric tension to represent Sarah’s growing destabilizing world. Containing wonderful acting from the film’s leads and a suspenseful script that complements the film’s haunting score, Run Rabbit Run has all the elements it needs to keep viewers entertained. Often, the film becomes a bit repetitive, especially in the final 30 minutes. However, it doesn’t take away from Reid’s fascinating examination of the mind when trauma is at the center. So, if you’re looking for a film that’ll keep you guessing until the very end, this may be the film for you!