The 2023 Sundance Film Festival completed its sixth day of in-person and virtual programming yesterday on January 24th. Feeling the excitement from my productive Day 5, I wanted to keep the momentum going.
For Day 6, I was able to watch 6 feature films–all with interesting stories to keep me entertained. From a story about change to a horror feature boasting themes of sexuality, Day 6 felt like a much-needed late-stage momentum shift. Here’s a recap of festival highlights from my watchlist.
1. Mutt | Director: Vik Lungulov-Klotz
Sundance Synopsis: Feña, a young trans guy bustling through life in New York City, is afflicted with an incessantly challenging day that resurrects ghosts from his past. Laundromats, subway turnstiles, and airport transfers are the hectic background to this emotional drama that overlaps past, present, and future. Settling the disharmony of transitional upheaval in relationships familial, romantic, and platonic is Feña’s task at hand, and his resulting juggling act is equal parts skillful, fumbling, and honest. In negotiating his obliqueness, the poignant moments he finds between himself and others — as the distance between them closes — are warm, true, and touching.
Review: Navigating the life of a transitioning transgender man, Mutt scrutinizes the good, bad, and ugly of how people treat him through this change. Lungulov-Klotz’s directorial debut is tender in addressing the struggles of each character, balancing themes of reconnection and humanity. A quiet yet visceral performance from Lio Mehiel elevates this day-in-life-of story with compassion. And thanks to Lungulov-Klotz’s tender direction in capturing the mishaps and stresses of change, viewers may find themselves immersed in the story with great empathy for each character.
2. Landscape With Invisible Hands| Director: Cory Finley
Sundance Synopsis: Adam is a teenage artist coming of age in the aftermath of an alien takeover. The Vuvv, a species of hyper-intelligent extraterrestrials, brought wondrous technology to Earth, but only the wealthiest can afford it. The rest of humanity, their livelihoods now obsolete, have to scrape together money in the tourism industry. In the case of Adam and his budding love interest Chloe, that means livestreaming their courtship for the amusement of the coffee-table sized Vuvv, who find human love exotic and interesting. When Adam and Chloe’s scheme goes sideways, Adam and his mother have to find their way out of an increasingly nightmarish alien bureaucracy.
Review: I think it’s natural to watch Landscape With Invisible Hand while screaming out a couple of “WTFs” in the process. But underneath this quirky story about an alien takeover is a lesson about appreciating what you have, companionship, and family. Writer/director Cory Finley is ambitious in the way he tackles these themes in his story. Yet, there’s something about it that feels really sweet. Yes, it’s corny and a little over-the-top in its goofiness. But thanks to some sincere performances, it’s easy to find something to like about this despite its ridiculousness. Full review soon here at PCR!
3. My Animal | Director: Jacqueline Castel
Sundance Synopsis: Tamped down by an oppressive family dynamic orbiting around her alcoholic mother, kept on the sidelines of the hockey team she yearns to join, and imprisoned in her own home each full moon, Heather is in a struggle for her life against the constrictive forces in her small northern town. When an intriguing figure skater enters the rink, Heather’s life, sexuality, and personhood are pried open.
Review: I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I both loved and hated My Animal. When the script focuses on Heather’s character growth, it excels. For example, when she’s learning to embrace her new-found sexuality or when she’s bonding with her family or overcoming her troublesome relationship with her mother. These are moments when the film feels fresh yet familiar and relatable. The horror portions are where things get shaky and don’t feel necessary to the plot. With such a mixed bag of themes and execution, the film definitely won’t be for everyone! Full review soon over at Screen Rant.
4. Mamacruz | Director: Patricia Ortega
Sundance Synopsis: Julia joins her husband when he relocates to his family’s native Romania for a new job. Having recently abandoned her acting career, she finds herself frequently alone and unoccupied. One night, people-watching from her picture window, she spots a vague figure in an adjacent building, who seems to be looking back at her. Soon after, while alone at a local movie theater, Julia’s sense of being watched intensifies, and she becomes certain she’s being followed — could it be the same unknown neighbor? Meanwhile, a serial killer known as The Spider stalks the city.
Review: Co-writer/director Patricia Ortega’s sensitive film about a women’s sexual reawakening is tender. It’s also funny in how it breaks down religious repression using a satirical lens. The script enables Kiti Mánver to give a nuanced performance containing a heartfelt openness. And along with Fran Fernández Pardo’s cinematography, Ortega’s direction is delicate in capturing the frustrations within sexuality when age and religions are hurdles.