The second year of the hybrid Sundance Film Festival recently came to a close, with people around the world participating virtually along with those in Salt Lake City, Utah. Like the festivals of previous years, Sundance 2022 introduced many films to a wider audience; this is especially true now that Sundance has introduced a more accessible online experience, which is how I experienced the festivities. This year’s lineup of feature films sparked conversations about the messy reality of modern life, technology’s impact on our growth as people and the future of relationships in an unpredictable world.
One excellent entry this year was Joachim Trier’s romantic drama “The Worst Person in the World,” which garnered heaps of praise upon its initial Cannes release in 2021 and maintained its position as an audience favorite throughout Sundance. “Worst Person” opens with the protagonist, a medical student named Julie (Renate Reinsve), deciding to drop her studies to pursue psychology — then dropping psychology to pursue photography. When her spontaneity launches her into a relationship with an older man, a rebellious cartoonist named Aksel (Anders Danielsen Lie), she begins to question what she really aspires to in her life. Paralyzed by her self-doubt and the endless life decisions that her 20s confront her with, Julie goes on a surreal, daunting journey to discover what she truly wants. Much like Trier’s previous work, particularly his magical realist drama “Thelma,” “Worst Person”’s thematic core is satisfyingly crafted and intensely personal, supported by an outstanding, brutally earnest screenplay.
Another standout of my festival experience was South Korean director Kogonada’s “After Yang,” an emotionally driven science fiction drama. In the vein of Spike Jonze’s “Her,” “After Yang” takes place in an immaculate future where technology has merged with warm, minimalist aesthetics. The film centers around a family’s grief as they watch their dying robot son, a pillar of their lives, slowly deteriorate beyond repair. Originally purchased to teach the family’s adopted Chinese daughter about her heritage and serve as her de-facto older brother, the titular robot, Yang (Justin H. Min), suddenly malfunctions and breaks during a virtual family dance tournament. This sends the household patriarch, Jake (Colin Farrell), spiraling down a path of desperate attempts to fix his daughter’s closest friend. What makes “After Yang” memorable is its atmospheric approach to speculative science fiction; a slowly encroaching feeling of loss and melancholy pervades the film. In a world where technology has become a family’s emotional backbone, intimately incorporated into the fabric of their home lives, it’s hard for them to reconcile their emotional connection to Yang with the flaws of his underlying technology — and the flaws of his creators. “After Yang” paints a picture of a visually lush and memorable future, tenderly scored by Mitski and Ryuchi Sakamoto and supported by a career best performance from Colin Farrell.
What stands out for both features is their thought-provoking yet relevant themes of modernity and the human experience. I’m looking forward to seeing these releases again in theaters and catching next year’s Sundance Festival!
“The Worst Person in the World” will enter U.S. theaters in February 2022.
“After Yang” will enter U.S. theaters on March 4, 2022.