Snapshots from Sundance 2022: On ‘When You Finish Saving the World’, ‘A Love Song’ and ‘Fresh’

A still from ‘Fresh’

A still from ‘Fresh’

Beautifully imperfect

Unsentimentality is the best part about Jesse Eisenberg’s When You Finish Saving the World , which smartly casts Julianne Moore in a very Julianne Moore character. Adapting his audio project of the same name, the film is about the fraught relationship that Ziggy (Finn Wolfhard, who is brilliant at channelling the restlessness of a teenager) and his mother Evelyn (Julianne Moore) share.

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In the opening scene, we see Ziggy live streaming his rock songs to his 20,000 followers, a number he seems to have become obsessed with. Ziggy’s passion toward music means a lot less to his more formal, stubborn mother. Actually, both share the same stubbornness. I laughed my heart out when Ziggy asks Evelyn to drop him at school, asking her to give five seconds. She looks at her watch and leaves exactly after without Ziggy, of course. Evelyn runs a shelter for survivors of domestic abuse. Both Ziggy and Evelyn, though share the same space, live in their own worlds.

A still from ‘When You Finish Saving the World’

A still from ‘When You Finish Saving the World’

Discipline is what some would say Evelyn expects from Ziggy, but it has more to do with the generational gap. Perhaps, it is the disciple?? Or discipline that draws her towards Kyle, who lives in the shelter with his mom, Angie. Evelyn is taken in by Kyle’s kindness and the responsibilities he shoulders. Her maternal instincts kick in and she gets increasingly affectionate towards him, even to the extent of doing things she hasn’t done for Ziggy.

Ziggy, on the other hand, is charmed by his classmate Lila, who is the textbook character of today’s youth activists. He tries to impress Lila, perhaps, in a way to understand his mother and the cause she fights for. In films such as this, it is invariably about that one big moment that will arrive, which would help see them or who they are rather than what they could be. Jesse Eisenberg smartly does that in the form of their personal discoveries and learning. At 88-minutes, When You Finish Saving the World does get the emotional disconnection we seem to share with our parents. But one does get the feeling that the film did not have enough material to hammer down its point.

A still from ‘A Love Song’

A still from ‘A Love Song’

Alone together

The translucent light from the evening Sun, squeezed between mountains, glides its way through, gently stroking its flourishes on the surface of the lake. With the defeated look of the Sun and sounds of the evening birds, this image, no doubt, looks celestial. But not so much, if you’re alone with a mounting sense of grief.

The protagonist of A Love Song Faye (Dale Dickey) is camping by the lakeside, mourning over the loss of her husband who died seven years ago. She goes about her day mechanically: makes coffees, fishes and eats crawfish, reads a book and mostly stares into nothingness, as she awaits a message from her high-school sweetheart Vito (Wes Studi), who she hasn’t seen in decades.Max Walker-Silverman’s debut feature is a quiet introspection of life. It is hard not to get reminded of Chloe Zhao’s masterpiece Nomadland , also about loneliness, humanism and grief, but the similarity ends there.

For Faye, time and reality often wrestle with each other, almost blurring the lines — like how she takes the calendar and puts a pen to a random month, random date. She wakes up each day looking at the empty space next to her in bed, wishing morning to her dead husband. I was sure it sounded like that, but the subtitle says she meant “mourning, love”.

When Vito, also a widower, comes to visit, they find comfort in each other’s aloneness. They reminisce about the good days, the bad days and the worst days. They sing to a song whose lines go something like: “Can’t you see I’m in misery,” as if they are asking each other and the audience.

On the hard days, Faye tells Vito she has one book for the day and one for night, as if she has two different personalities. One of my favourite scenes has an awkward Vito making his tent next to Faye’s trailer and when Faye almost mockingly tells: “Come inside.” The night they spend together in bed is as gentle as the film’s cinematography. Dale Dickey is aching beautiful as Faye and given the uncertain times, she tells why one shouldn’t hold back.

Pieces of a woman

A friend of mine once messaged her location when she had gone to meet someone she met online and became friends with and lost touch over time. Was she playful with me or did she actually feel threatened? I couldn’t say. Knowing her, I never really cared to ask because I was quite convinced it was the former. But this small act of letting somebody know you are safe speaks volumes on why women, at large, feel threatened to go out with someone they barely know.

It is also a ghastly reflection of the times we find ourselves in; the growing fear of being watched by someone — online or offline. Let us not even get started on the kind of sadistic messages that slide into their personal space.

These everyday fears and anxiety that come as baggage in our modern dating world, perhaps, can be attributed to why Noa (an excellent Daisy Edgar-Jones) says she hates dating and the awkward preamble that sets it. She is, let us say, a representative of average women we come across. She gets inappropriate pictures from horny men in DMs; goes on a date with a guy who uses the B-word when things don’t work in his favour. “How do you do this dating thing? I always end up being alone,” she tells her friend, Molly, the kind to whom you would share your location details.

Then comes Steve (a fantastic Sebastian Stan in an over-the-top performance). He is smart, charming and cute — at least Noa thinks that way. They don’t meet in virtual space, but in a supermarket. Their meet-cute is actually sweet — really. Steve is a reconstruction surgeon, Noa learns. They go for a drink and exchange the typical first-date questions. At the end of it, they cheer for their “dead parents”. Noa takes a photo of a glowing Steve in bed. And when Steve invites Noa for a weekend getaway, she wants to let loose. Why wouldn’t she? After all, the guy is charming, decent and has a respectable profession.

The credits for Fresh roll at this point and this is when red flags are raised. Turns out, all this while, we have barely scratched the surface, for, the film enters into a very Park Chan-wook kind of horror. Mimi Cave makes a winning debut with Fresh , a gory allegory on women perceived through the gaze of a man.

Stylishly shot and edited, Fresh is written by Lauryn Kahn and reminded me of Bhaskar Hazarika’s engrossing Aamis . Anything more would be revealing spoilers but this much we can say: Fresh is both a literal and metaphorical interpretation of the demands of the flesh.

The film is thrilling and sardonic for the most part and doesn’t get bogged down by the urgency to make a commentary. In the post #MeToo era, Fresh is a cautionary reminder for people holding #NotAllMen placards on Twitter.

All films were screened at the ongoing Sundance Film Festival 2022. Watch this space for more.

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Printable version | May 18, 2022 10:37:53 am |