Film Reviews: Sundance 2022, Dispatch #5 — Nature, and Healing

By Peg Aloi

A scene from Shaunak Sen’s All That Breathes. Photo: Sundance Institute

These three Sundance films supplied very intense viewing experiences. One of them has already won a prestigious festival award. All of them will have wider releases soon, so do watch for them.

Shaunak Sen’s All That Breathes was one of the first films I selected to view from the program because it was about wildlife rescue in an urban setting. It’s a breathtaking documentary that follows Saud and Nadeem, two brothers who run a rehab facility for birds out of the garage of their humble home in New Delhi. When they were boys, they loved watching huge kites flying overhead. Now, they have dedicated themselves to rescuing these carrion-eating birds, helping them when they are injured and sick. Among the dangers affecting these local birds: many of them are falling from the sky, overcome by the toxic fumes of the city’s pollution, and are hurt when they fall. The poor air quality also affects humanity. The brothers’ family members comment on this threat, as well as other challenges that face those that live, amid poverty and overcrowding, in a majestic but struggling city. The thoughtful movement of the camera through the landscape is a perfect counterpoint to the soft-spoken brothers as they go about their daily lives, working at jobs they dislike, but doing their best to save birds as they dream of a better future for all. (Winner: World Cinema Grand Jury Prize: Documentary)

Thandiwe Newton in God’s Country. Photo: Sundance Institute

God’s Country is a thriller set in Montana. Cassandra (Thandiwe Newton) is mourning the recent death of her mother, sorting through her belongings, enjoying the peace and quiet of the rural home where she was a caregiver for the last few years. When two hunters trespass on her property, her polite request that they park elsewhere is met with rudeness, and their encounters continue to escalate. Meanwhile, her job teaching writing at the local college has its share of difficulties, particularly because she is one of the few women of color teaching there. A new hiring committee assignment is fraught with microaggressions and insincere glad-handing.

Cassandra’s department chair lives up the road and isn’t being of much help with the hunter situation, which has her feeling uneasy. There is only one sheriff (Russian Doll’s Jeremy Bobb) assigned to a huge geographic area, so there’s not much hope he will convince the hunters to back down from their increasingly threatening behavior. Cassandra tries to show compassion for these men whose lives are not easy, but their entrenched toxic masculinity proves to be an imposing obstacle. There are terrific performances here, especially from Newton as a woman pushed too far. Julian Higgins’s self-assured directorial debut is an unsettling look at the prejudice and cruelty that can exist in the most beautiful places.

A scene from You Won’t Be Alone. Photo: Sundance Institute

Set in 19th-century Macedonia, You Won’t Be Alone is a brilliant debut from Australian-Macedonia filmmaker Goran Stolekvski. A witch known as Old Maid Maria (Romanian actress Anamaria Marinca, in a delicious role) tries to take an infant girl from her mother, but her mother gets the witch to agree to wait until she is 16. The child is raised in a cave for her own protection, observing weather and animals and seeing almost no one. When Maria collects on her promise, the teenage girl is also made into a witch, and begins an unusual journey that finds her inhabiting the bodies of different people.

The newly made witch narrates in a soft, breathy voice-over, using an impressionistic language she taught herself in the cave, which is beautifully rendered via the film’s English subtitles. The casting conceit is clever, using a series of different actors to portray the witch through her different incarnations, including Noomi Rapace and Alice Englert. This film is an unutterably beautiful meditation on nature, and on the fleeting quality of human existence, even as it contains some scenes of brutal horror. You Won’t Be Alone  has haunted me more than any other film of the festival, with its dreamy imagery and odd story, equal parts fairy tale and existential epic.

Next up will be reviews of Descendant, My Old School, and Piggy.

Peg Aloi is a former film critic for the Boston Phoenix and member of the Boston Society of Film Critics. She taught film studies in Boston for over a decade. She writes on film, TV, and culture for web publications like Vice, Polygon, Bustle, Mic, Orlando Weekly, Crooked Marquee, and Bloody Disgusting. Her blog “The Witching Hour” can be found at

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