Sundance 2022 — Part 2

Much as I appreciate film festivals’ general commitment to heavy dramas and effectively dispiriting documentaries, I am equally pleased that there is often special space carved out for the gloriously gory. You Won’t Be Alone, the feature debut from seasoned short-film director Goran Stolevski, shares glimpses of plenty of entrails on the wrong side of their respective skin suits. The film is also deeply concerned with the elusive matters of human existence: staking out identity, cycles of abuse, the wounded fury that comes from being cast aside while watching others be embraced. Set in nineteenth-century Macedonia, the film’s plot is set into motion by a witch called Old Maid Maria (Anamaria Marinca) claiming a child as her familiar. Imbued with her own demonic powers, the girl grown to a young woman (played, initially anyway, by Sara Klimoska) is cast aside to find her own way. The film’s commitment to the pummeling harshness of the time in which it’s set makes it play as kindred to Robert Eggers’s The Witch, albeit with far more abstract philosophizing. Stolevski’s narrative is a little prone to redundancy — especially Old Maid Maria’s periodic reappearances to cackle the same basic taunts — but the overall effect of the film is fittingly mesmerizing.

The latest lo-fi genre freak-out from the directing of team of Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, Something in the Dirt, follows a couple newly acquainted Los Angeles neighbors (played by Benson and Moorhead) as they investigate metaphysical shenanigans in a dilapidated apartment. With an agreeably mischievous spirit, the filmmakers shovel in clumps of conspiracy like coal into a locomotive engine that’s already barreling along at top speed. The mounting paranoia means that every theory debunked spawns news spores of outlandish conjecture until it’s clear that there’s no real resolution, which Benson and Moorhead shrewdly make the very thesis of their film. It’s giddily inventive and relentlessly enjoyable.

Directed by Kathryn Ferguson, Nothing Compares is a documentary that attempts a corrective to the public story of Sinéad O’Connor, who is an early example of a public figure undone by reactionary opportunists who made a target of truth-telling. O’Connor was, of course, absolutely correct in most of the controversial stances she took, a point that the the film doesn’t make as compellingly as O’Connor does herself these days. More problematically, Ferguson largely ends her narrative in the early nineteen-nineties, at the point when O’Connor’s reputation was at her lowest. Years of music making are reduced to a footnote, effectively repeating the injustice of dismissal that the film ostensibly rails against. Combined with an unfortunate propensity for needless dramatizations of O’Connor’s childhood and a reticence to reckon with major complications in her personal journey — such as divorce, mental illness, and a late-in-life name change — Ferguson does her subject a disservice by making a film that doesn’t live up to O’Connor’s established artistic candor.

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