With this year’s Sundance Film Festival taking place virtually, we were able to “attend” the festival this year. Throughout each day of Sundance, we’ll give you reviews of all the films we see each day. So stay tuned for more coverage as the days go by.
In the Same Breath
After she found major critical success with her 2019 film, One Child Nation, taking a look at China’s single child policy, filmmaker Nanfu Wang has returned with a courageous and harrowing new film, In the Same Breath. It’s January 1st, 2020. China is celebrating a new year like normal with President Xi Jingping giving his usual speech declaring the Communist Party of China the greatest in all the world. Airing shortly after his speech is a report that 8 individuals have been arrested for spreading a “rumor” that a new pneumonia-like virus was infecting residents in Wuhan. From there, Wang chronicles the rise of the virus in Wuhan and its (obvious) spread into a global pandemic with unprecedented access.
Wang’s narrative focus expands after the virus spreads internationally and shifts gears from her homeland of China to the (similarly bungled) United States. Wang has always been critical of the authoritarian leadership of China — this time centering primarily on the massive cover-ups and the use of propaganda– and although that element is most definitely prevalent here, Wang also seeks to explore the throughline between the Communist Party of China and American leadership under now-Former President Trump. The filmmaker’s skilled storytelling is on full display as Wang — also serving as co-editor — intersects between footage of overflowing hospitals, both internationally and here in the states, and the anti-mask protestors. Wang isn’t pointing a cheap finger either as she makes the case for how devastating the rise of misinformation has been all over the world and how it effects each country differently. We’re also given some truly harrowing footage from inside Wuhan with often disturbing first-hand accounts from nurses, patients, family members who have lost loved one. While hope is given, Wang’s emotionally charged ending leaves the film on a devastating note that isn’t easy to reel from. It’s hard to imagine a better documentation of what led to our current lifestyle.
Courtesy of the Sundance Institute
In 1984, under Margaret Thatcher-ruled England birthed the Video Recording Act, a law enforcing all video releases to be submitted to the British Board of Film Censors (aka the BBFC) prohibiting the release of any film the BBFC deemed too graphic for any under-aged people, assuming the films couldn’t be edited down to a 15 or 18 rating. The films that were banned were deemed “video nasties”. Debut filmmaker Prano Bailey-Bond’s film Censor, follows Enid (Niamh Algar), a film censor living her routine life looking over exploitation film to determine what needs to be cut in order to receive an 18 rating or the film should be banned altogether. Enid, still struggling to cope with the disappearance of her sister who, after missing for many years has just been officially declared dead, and having seen far too many nasties for her liking, comes across a new film at work titled “Don’t Go in the Church”. When Enid views the film and its graphic content, she finds a connection to the film and her traumatizing childhood memories that she has subconsciously locked away, leading to her spiraling down a rabbit hole of hysteria, blurring the lines of fiction and reality.
Taking heavy influences from the likes of Dario Argento’s neon-coated Suspiria, to the low-budget gore of Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead, even some tonal cues from Peter Strickland, Prano Bailey-Bond certainly has the aesthetics and the knowledge of the genre down pat. Beginning with retro style opening logos and an opening titles sequences featuring notorious video nasties like The Driller Killer and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Censor wears it’s heart on its sleeve, and is anchored by a stunning turn from star Niamh Algar. Bailey-Bond even gets away with some clever satire on 80’s bureaucracy and the moral panic of the public. However, for a film running at just 84 minutes, Censor feels much longer than it is, with a middle act that largely spins its wheels. Some of Bailey-Bond’s stylings also tend to override much of the films dramatic emphasis on guilt. Thankfully, Censor builds to an unholy finale that largely retains much of what the films ingenious premise promised in the first place.