Letterboxd’s Festiville crew tease out the eerie coincidences and converging themes from the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.
We already knew that Sundance was putting the climate crisis in sharp focus with many of its 2022 film selections and talks, and its strong, direct land acknowledgement before every screening (“Can we acknowledge the land without listening to the land?”). The festival’s commitment to accessibility also held strong for a second virtual year, as did its focus on Black filmmakers, queer stories and world voices.
But in every film festival, there are the other unexpected links: films that made unintentionally perfect double-features; concerns shared between filmmakers a world apart. And there are the costume choices, needle drops and production design gems we couldn’t stop thinking about (here’s looking at you, After Yang’s sectional sofa).
So these were just a few of our Festiville crew’s favorite themes, and things, from Sundance 2022.
The sexual to-do list is a central conceit in both Sophie Hyde’s Good Luck to You, Leo Grande (written by comedian Katy Brand), and Lena Dunham’s Sharp Stick. Over the course of several hotel room sessions with her hired help—the young, handsome, and very good conversationalist Leo Grande (Daryl McCormack)—Emma Thompson’s Nancy works her way through a heart-achingly humble list of desires, after a long marriage of perfunctory sex. In the process, she uncovers a few uncomfortable truths about herself, while slowly getting comfortable with the idea of her self.
In Sharp Stick, Sarah Jo’s list runs far more X-rated, but similarly to Nancy, it’s all in the pursuit of moving on from a state of stunted growth. And hey, in these times, it’s great to have goals. Make plans, hold them lightly, etc. Long live the sex list!
AI Family Members.
The “Dance” in Sundance.
One uniting theme across the various arenas of Sundance this year was the power of moving our bodies to some sweet tunes. It makes sense. After two years of being unable, or afraid, to physically connect with another human being, there’s something in the air that makes us miss all the different things dancing can do for us and our relationships with others.
And what a jukebox Sundance 2022 had! The toe-tapping sounds of “Always Alright” from Alabama Shakes introduces one of Good Luck to You, Leo Grande’s most charming moments between Thompson and Daryl McCormack, while Blood Orange’s melancholic “You’re Not Good Enough” brings Sebastian Stan and Daisy Edgar-Jones closer together in Fresh—although those lyrics contain a bit of worrying foreshadowing.
In Riley Stearns’ Dual, “Get Low” facilitates the dark comedy’s most hilarious scene with some very committed performances from Aaron Paul and Karen Gillan. Dance scenes are all over Girl Picture, as is appropriate in a film about teen girls making their way in the world, and Cooper Raiff eyes up Dakota Johnson on the dance floor in Cha Cha Real Smooth. Leonor Will Never Die also has its own moment of unbridled, possibly unscripted danciness (not to mention a divine closing credits singalong).
The sheer thrill of what dance can do was perhaps no better captured this year than in the opening credits of kogonada’s After Yang, in which we see our quartet of main characters move, to camera, in a masterfully coordinated dance sequence as part of a competition program with families from all over, battling one another to see who can stay synchronized the longest. (Attention network programmers: it’s the housebound reality TV show we need to get through the ‘cron.) After Yang came early in the festival’s schedule, and there remains no better scene from the entire fest than this show-stopping sequence. The power of dance, baby!
Somebody call Art of the Title! 2022 is all about opening titles that are screen-consuming, often ALL CAPS, bright and delightful words, usually over picture. Seen in: After Yang. Sharp Stick, Brian and Charles, My Old School, Cha Cha Real Smooth. Picture start!
Take us back in time, narrow our world, tighten our view with those sweet, sweet side-strips of black. Every Day in Kaimukī is fed by nineties indie films, with pillarboxing to suit the vibe, and when the title character in Leonor Will Never Die slips into a coma, the screen narrows to television proportions as she slips into her own schlocky action film. We are here for all the aspects.
Antiquated Abortion and Birth Practices.
The number of films about abortions might prompt an eyebrow raise or a little sigh of despair, but they are vital in the way they show how women simply get it done. The Janes and Call Jane offer two retellings of the underground movement in Chicago, Jane, in which a group of women administered over 11,000 illegal abortions successfully. The former lets these women calmly explain what happened to camera in a lucid doc finally letting them speak up, while the latter gives Elizabeth Banks the role of her career in a galvanising fictionalisation.
And then there’s Happening, Audrey Diwan’s Golden Lion winner, which takes the story to France, still in the 1960s, following the unjust journey of one thriving student forced to fend for herself to terminate a pregnancy when the language of doctors at the time was still “you have no choice.” Women will always find a choice—as will the allies working painstakingly to make their lives that bit less difficult.
Additionally, the award-winning documentaries Aftershock (Impact for Change special jury award) and Midwives (Excellence in Verité Filmmaking) tackle childbirth complications and birthing equity issues in the US and in Myanmar. Whatever the time or place, there will always be good reasons to keep telling these stories.
Less chat about how there is no sex in American cinema. More chat about the incredible bodies we got to gaze at in all sorts of Sundance 2022 contexts, and the performers who put them in the frame. Zélia Duncan and her orgy pals in A Wild Patience Has Taken Me Here. Laura Galán in Piggy. Emma Thompson and Daryl McCormack in Leo Grande. Rocky Salumbides in Leonor Will Never Die. Jon Bernthal in Sharp Stick.
And speaking of the gaze, the way Scott Speedman’s porn star character Vance Leroy looks at us (and his co-stars) while delivering a slew of lovely compliments mid-fuck, is indeed far better than a poke in the eye with a Sharp Stick.
Exit Through the Gift Shop.
Finally, a message to the marketing department. We have requests, please:
● The Lily Chou Chous tee (and the tea) from After Yang
● The pink sweater (and matching pink finger vibe) from Leo Grande
● The pink swatting tassels from Utama
● The Ziggy Katz hoodie from When You Finish Saving the World
● Tig Notaro’s Jane Campion wig from Am I Ok?
● The soundtrack to Every Day in Kaimukī (that one’s easy, it’s here!)