SHAYDA (Sundance FF2023) – Review by Nadine Whitney

Iranian-Australian director Noora Niasari’s potent and essential debut is based on her childhood experiences. As a child Noora was living in a women’s shelter after her Iranian mother had to flee her abusive father. Noora asked her mother to write an autobiography of her experiences dealing with the constant fear of her retributive husband, exile from the Persian community in Australia, and the determination to raise her daughter in as stable an environment as possible. The memoire became Niasari’s basis of Shayda. Shayda received the Audience Award for World Cinema: Dramatic at Sundance Film Festival 2023.

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SCRAPPER (Sundance FF2023) – Review by Nadine Whitney

Scrapper is an exquisite coming-of-age story for both its protagonists. Georgie and Jason learn what it is like to need and love each other in a manner that is naturalistic despite, or perhaps because of, director Charlotte Regan’s forays into the fantastical. Newcomer Lola Campbell is a brilliant presence who manages to make her character, young Georgie, deeply genuine in both her rebellion and aching sadness. Scrapper won the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic at Sundance Film Festival 2023.

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ALICE, DARLING – Review by Nadine Whitney

Alice, Darling is a frank examination of the common but hard to tackle phenomenon of abuse, In Mary Nighy’s debut feature. Anna Kendrick brilliantly portrays a woman who is being drowned by her boyfriend’s coercive control. The film may be imperfect in places, but it is important and gives voice to a group of near silent victims and places emphasis on how essential it is for those who suffer to have a support network.

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MY ANIMAL (Sundance FF2023) – Review by Nadine Whitney

What lets My Animal down is Jae Matthews’ script which meanders in too many directions and engages in a kind of fatalism that feeds into queer misery. Despite the strong central performances, technically accomplished direction, and an excellent soundtrack, My Animal doesn’t quite know what its central thesis is. Is it worse that Heather is a lesbian in a small community, or is it worse that she’s an actual mythical monster? If she becomes open about her sexuality does she unleash a beast?

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AURORA’S SUNRISE – Review by Nadine Whitney

In 1919 a silent film called alternatively Ravished Armenia or Auction of Souls premiered in America. The film, the story of Aurora Mardiganian whose non-anglicised name is Arshaluys Mardigian – a survivor of the Armenian Genocide. The film was a hit and propelled the teen whose experiences were the basis of the film and also the star of the film, to a small amount of fame. Immediately, however, director Inna Sahakyan informs the viewer that her documentary Aurora’s Sunrise is not about a meteoric rise to stardom, but about a survivor of unimaginable horrors.

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AMANDA – Review by Nadine Whitney

The titular protagonist of Carolina Cavalli’s delightfully absurd yet heartfelt film, Amanda has one of the worst cases of arrested development for a twenty-five-year-old in recent cinema history. The film is an absurdist coming-of-age story that is reminiscent of something Lanthimos or Baumbach might have put together but remains completely Cavalli. Amanda is perpetually fifteen, or even younger at times. She’s brilliant, devious, spikey, absurd, and yet somewhat wonderful. Marching across the streets of Turin in her odd (and rarely changing) costume of boots, an eighties inspired peter pan collar shirt, and a granny vest, Amanda is constantly sticking her middle finger up at almost everything.

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THE STARLING GIRL (Sundance FF2023) – Review by Nadine Whitney

Writer/director Laurel Parmet’s coming-of-age feature The Starling Girl is a clear-eyed vision of repression and control under the patriarchal gaze of an evangelical community in Kentucky. The titular starling girl is Jem Starling, a seventeen-year-old who has only ever known the close-knit religious group and is struggling to reconcile her natural desires with the strictures of the church.

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MORE THAN EVER – Review by Nadine Whitney

More Than Ever is suffused with both romance and melancholy, yet it never becomes a melodrama. Through the extraordinary performances of Vicki Krieps and Gaspard Ulliel (whose own untimely death overhangs the film), the audience is asked to empathize but not judge. Atef’s work is heartbreaking but clear eyed. It is brimming with intimacy and loss. What do the dying owe the living? Director Emily Atef answers with one word: honesty.

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JUMBO – Review by Nadine Whitney

Belgian director Zoé Wittock’s debut Jumbo tells a bizarre tale. Jeanne Tantois (Noémie Merlant) is a shy and “special” young woman who works as a cleaner in an amusement park. Something beyond reticent, Jeanne is reluctant to be around people and spends most of her time making models of park rides in her room in her mother’s house when she isn’t working. When the amusement park adds a new attraction, a large spinning ride, Jeanne finds herself falling in love with the machine she names Jumbo.

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SAVING ONE WHO WAS DEAD – Review by Nadine Whitney

Director Václav Kadrnka’s latest feature, Saving One Who Was Dead, is a profoundly effective drama about the liminal space between life and death, and how those who care for a loved one on the brink of the end of their lives experience that same liminal experience. The requires audience patience. It is deliberately purgatorial and offers limited respite for either the characters or the viewers. Kadranka has crafted a piece of art that engages with and subverts its simple set up, ultimately offering an innately humanistic approach to the ordinary but life changing experiences many go through and making it a valuable addition to the discourse of what it means to love and face loss.

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