Sundance 2023: Slow, Girl, Mami Wata | Pretty Reel

Three films selected for this year’s World Dramatic Competition find themselves examining interpersonal relationships in very distinct ways. In Marija Kavtaradze’s Lithuanian romance ‘Slow’, two lovers strive to meet each other’s needs. In Adura Onashile’s ‘Girl’, the closeness of an immigrant mother and her daughter living in Scotland is threatened by untransformed trauma. Finally, in “Mami Wata,” Nigerian director CJ “Fiery” Obasi uses the structure of fables to explore the tension between modernity and tradition.

Inundated with the beautiful and warm cinematography of Laurynas Bareiša, the deeply felt romance of Marija Kavtaradze ” Slow “ unfolds like the memory of a faded romance, where even the worst fights are perpetually shrouded in hopeful rays of sunshine. But even this fake sun can’t hide the bittersweet undercurrent of regret that tends to linger in memories like this.

Intensely passionate, contemporary dancer Elena (Greta Grinevičiūtė) uses her body to express her emotions and internalized traumas on the dance floor, but also in her interpersonal relationships. She descends from the charge of electricity shared by two people in the middle of a heavy flirtation. The more ruminative performer Dovyda (Kęstutis Cicėnas) expresses herself through conversation and small thoughtful gestures. Yet the two fall in love almost instantly. The immediate and intimate chemistry between Grinevičiūtė and Cicėnas, and Kavtaradze’s careful use of close-ups, remind us of what it looks like when two perfectly matched stars trigger cinematic magic.

Despite their connection, which Elena describes as the feeling that they’ve known each other forever, is overwhelming. But after Dovyda tells her he’s asexual, she struggles at first to understand what he could even get out of a relationship with her. She’s so used to connecting with men only on a sexual level, a relationship mostly built on an intellectual, almost mystical connection, leaves her perplexed.

Kavtaradze’s sharp script finds parallels between this indefinable connection with that of a high school friend of Elena’s who has dedicated her life to God and lives in a monastery. As Elena tries to figure out her connection to Dovyda, she turns to her friend’s situation for help. Wisely, there are no easy answers to be found in the situation of others. Elena and Dovyda must decide if their love for each other can truly conquer all, or if they should find someone who can meet their physical and emotional needs.

“Slow” heralds Kavtaradze as a director with a deep insight into human psychology and a genuine talent for working with actors, while the precision and emotional weight of what Grinevičiūtė and Cicėnas bring to their characters should not be overlooked. when discussing the great performances of the year.

The same cannot be said of ” Daughter, “ the compassionate but poorly executed feature debut of writer-director Adura Onashile. His background is in acting and the lack of cinematic experience manifests through Onashile’s disjointed and frustrating script, the odd direction and framing of the camera, the film’s lack of sense of location and editing choices. that undermine the performances of its actors and blur the story at its heart. .

Déborah Lukumuena, broke nearly a decade in the French drama “Divines”, for which she became the first black woman and the youngest winner of the César for best actress in a supporting role, plays Grace, an immigrant from a unnamed African country, living in Glasgow with his daughter Ama (Le’Shantey Bonsu). The duo are inseparable, sharing everything from the bed to the bathtub.

Grace told Ama a lie about her origins in the form of a fable, saying that as a young girl living alone with her grandmother, she went to a well and wished for someone who would always be her. friend. So happened Ama. But as the young girl enters puberty and makes a new friend (Liana Turner) at school, flashbacks slowly reveal the real story. As Grace’s paranoia increases and drives Ama away from school, she risks the authorities stepping in and pushing Ama away for good.

Unfortunately, Onashile’s script sticks to these very broad strokes. There’s no attention to detail in Grace’s story of her past or the neighborhood they currently live in. Stock characters are introduced but never developed. Cinematographer Tasha Back shoots using a very wide frame, but Onashile fills it with so little visual information that it’s never quite clear where the characters are in relation to their surroundings.

Lukumuena has an undeniably strong screen presence and creates bittersweet chemistry with newcomer Bonsu, which makes it all the more disappointing to see the two trapped in a film whose style totally consumes any substance they attempt. to bring to their characters.


In contrast, writer-director CJ “Fiery” Obasi’s “Granny Wata” the use of a very specific storytelling mode helps its themes focus better. Like last year’s Grand Jury Prize-winning film “Nanny”, Obasi’s film involves the titular African water spirit. The film opens with a title card that reads “hypotheses about Mami Wata exist throughout the diaspora – few exist in the remote village of Iyi. . . until now. What unfolds is a fable grappling with the tension between modernity and tradition, the lure and poison of capitalism, and the inherent strength of matriarchal societies.

When a young boy dies from a virus, the village begins to question the power of the middleman Mama Efe (Rita Edochie) and the very existence of Mami Wata, just like her daughter Zinwe (Uzoamaka Aniunoh) who does not not understand his mother’s resistance to modern medicine. . When a mysterious man named Jasper (Emeka Amakeze) washes up on shore, he seduces Mama Efe’s protege, Prisca (Evelyne Ily Juhen, in what should be a breakout role), who invites him to consider this land as his own. Slowly, however, her true intentions and character are revealed and the women must work together to bring peace and balance to their people.

Using monochromatic black and white cinematography and a moving soundscape of ocean waves and rhythmic dance music, Obasi creates a world separated in time. Iyi isn’t quite in the past, present, or future, even as Zinwe and Prisca invite progress in the form of doctors and Jasper brings with him the violence of capitalism. Above all this remains the (mostly) invisible presence of Mami Wata, whose mystical ways make themselves felt not only through inexplicable phenomena, but also through the actions of those who are guided by her.

Through the use of a fable structure, Obasi deftly weaves heavy political, philosophical and theological ideas with his keen sense of striking imagery to create a film that is both classic and futuristic. Mami Wata’s advice may be specifically for the people of Iyi, but we can all learn from her wisdom.

Sundance 2023: Slow, Girl, Mami Wata | Pretty Reel