by Tim Gordon
Here are the films that will compete for the top prize in the World Cinema Dramatic category at the Sundance Film Festival.
And Breathe Normally
(Director & screenwriter: Ísold Uggadóttir) – On Reykjanes peninsula in Iceland, Lara trains as a border patrol officer at the Keflavík airport. Despite struggling financially and fighting personal demons, she’s a devoted mother to her young son, Eldar. One day on the job, Lara spots a suspicious passport, resulting in Adja, a female refugee from Guinea-Bissau, being detained. Days go by as Adja is held in a state of limbo, and the two women’s paths continue to cross in the small town. Despite resentment and cultural differences, the women—neither with obvious paths in life—find a unique bond that rests on a moment when Lara is faced with a crucial decision.
(Director & screenwriter: Tolga Karaçelik) – Cemal, Kenan, and Suzi are siblings who have grown apart since leaving Hasanlar, the tiny village where they grew up, and going their separate ways. When an unexpected call from their estranged father demands they return to the village immediately, Cemal, the eldest, is tasked with reuniting the family and convincing his brother and sister to take a road trip back to the places and memories they have been working so hard to forget. As they try to piece their dysfunctional family back together and confront their shared past, they’ll have to contend with each other’s peculiarities and get to know one another all over again, even as the strangest elements of all await them in the village.
(Director & screenwriter: Cathy Yan) – A mysterious stream of pig carcasses floats silently toward China’s populous economic hub, Shanghai. As authorities struggle to explain the phenomenon, a down-and-out pig farmer with a youthful heart struggles to make ends meet, while an upwardly mobile landowner fights gentrification against an American expat seeking a piece of the Chinese dream. Meanwhile, a romantic busboy hides his job from his father, while a rich young woman struggles to find her independence. Like a mosaic, their stories intersect and converge in a showdown between human and machine, past and future, brother and sister.
(Director: Isabella Eklöf; screenwriter: Isabella Eklöf & Johanne Algren) – Michael, a Danish gangster, takes his girlfriend, Sascha, and his extended criminal family on a luxury vacation in a fancy villa in gorgeous Bodrum, Turkey. Shopping, waterparks, barbecuing, and hardcore partying fill their days and nights. Having little regard for anything or anybody outside their world, they exist in a bubble of excess that is governed by Michael’s rules—and if the code is broken, they all know that violence will follow. But when Sascha befriends a Dutchman with romantic designs on her, she toys with Michael’s authority and creates a situation that cannot end well.
(Director: Gustavo Pizzi; screenwriters: Gustavo Pizzi & Karine Teles) – Irene is raising four rambunctious sons in a home that is physically crumbling but warm and happy. As Irene simultaneously shelters her sister Sonia (who just left a volatile marriage), supports her own husband through a financial crisis, and plans her own long-awaited high school graduation, Irene’s eldest son, Fernando, suddenly announces he has been recruited by a professional handball team in Germany and will be leaving in just three weeks. Consummate caretaker Irene prickles at the idea of emancipating the 16-year-old so he can travel and live alone, and she becomes increasingly anxious about what her future holds.
(Director: Babis Makridis; screenwriters: Efthimis Filippou & Babis Makridis) – A man is distraught, sorrowful. With his wife lying in a coma, each day begins in tears. But despite this sadness, he is happy. Showered with pity—from his secretary, his dry cleaner, and a neighbor who brings homemade Bundt cakes—the man realizes how much better his life is. He’s grown accustomed to pity—addicted even. What a vexing dilemma he’d face were his wife ever to recover.
(Director: Aly Muritiba; screenwriters: Aly Muritiba & Jessica Candal) – Tati and Renet are high school students who share an instant connection over social media that deepens during a class trip. Their nascent relationship screeches to a halt the next day, though, once Tati discovers that her lost phone has resulted in the leaking of an intimate video to the entire school. Desperate for answers and frustrated at the shaming that ensues, Tati tries to hold her head high even as her resolve threatens to crumble. Simultaneously, Renet grapples with instability at home, where his separated parents vie for control over what is best for their children, and their fragmented parenting starts to take its toll.
(Director: Gustav Möller; screenwriters: Gustav Möller & Emil Nygaard Albertsen) – When police officer Asger Holm (Jakob Cedergren) is demoted to desk work, he expects a sleepy beat as an emergency dispatcher. That all changes when he answers a panicked phone call from a kidnapped woman who then disconnects abruptly. Asger, confined to the police station, is forced to use others as his eyes and ears as the severity of the crime slowly becomes more clear. The search to find the missing woman and her assailant will take every bit of his intuition and skill, as a ticking clock and his own personal demons conspire against him.
The Queen of Fear
(Directors: Valeria Bertuccelli & Fabiana Tiscornia; screenwriter: Valeria Bertuccelli) – Eccentric yet lovable Robertina is a celebrated theatre actress whose one-woman show is set to open in a week. Occupied with half-hearted rehearsals, she tries to distract herself from her husband’s unexplained absence, even as her underlying anxieties threaten to overwhelm her. When she discovers a close friend from her past is dying, she doesn’t hesitate to drop everything and fly across the world to visit him one last time. Their bittersweet reunion forces Robertina to re-examine her priorities and the opulent lifestyle she has fashioned for herself.
Time Share (Tiempo Compartido)
(Director: Sebastián Hofmann; screenwriters: Julio Chavezmontes & Sebastián Hofmann) – Pedro and Eva arrive at the Vistamar mega-resort to “heal” their lives. Settling into a private villa with their young son, they’re surprised to find another family at the door; a clerical mistake has left them double-booked. The families make do, attending the resort’s time-share seminar and enjoying its pools and activities, and they are catered to by the staff of “leisure experts,” including Andres and Gloria, an estranged, middle-aged couple. While Gloria advances her career, Andres toils in a laundry job, dubious of the resort’s new corporate ownership. As Pedro becomes paranoid that his family is being pried away from him, he and Andres band together to expose the sinister forces at work in the tropical paradise.
(Directors: Rodrigo Barriuso & Sebastián Barriuso; screenwriter: Lindsay Gossling) – In 1989 Havana, Russian literature professor Malin gets a mysterious note at the university with orders from the government sending him to a local hospital, where he learns he is expected to act as translator between the Cuban doctors and the families of young patients from the Chernobyl disaster. Initially raging against his new role, Malin is forced to stay on, and he eventually becomes deeply devoted to his patients. But while he becomes “king of the kids” at the hospital, his relationships with his pregnant wife and young son suffer. Meanwhile, life around all of them shifts as the “Special Period”—the economic crisis in Cuba that followed the dissolution of the Soviet Union—begins.
(Director: Idris Elba; screenwriters: Brock Norman Brock & Martin Stellman) – On a hot night in Kingston, Jamaica, 1973, Jerry Dread stops the music at an outdoor party to encourage a truce between warring gangs. His little brother Denis looks on from the crowd as an assassin’s bullet rings out, taking Jerry’s life. A decade later, Denis is the right-hand man to gang boss Fox, who sends him on a loyalty-testing mission to London. But when the mission goes wrong, Denis hides out with an old flame and decides to find his brother’s killer.