Movie/review

Sundance 2022: Leonor Will Never Die, Utama, You Won’t Be Alone | Festivals & Awards

There are shades of John Ford and Sergio Leone in the framing of cinematographer Bárbara Alvarez’s painterly shots, evoking their later revisionist films. We meet Virginio as he walks into a golden yellow sun, setting over the rolling hills of Bolivia. His constant heavy breathing clearly indicating that all is not well with the craggy old cowboy. Tensions rise between Virginio and Sisa when their grandson Clever (Santos Choque) arrives from the city, urging them to come and live with him. 

Out with the llamas one day, Virginio tells his grandson “These are sacred places.” Unlike the cowboys of classic westerns, Virginio is mourning the loss of a whole culture on the brink of erasure due to climate change migration. Jose Calcina’s melancholic performance reminded me of Mary Twala Mhlongo in “This Is Not a Burial, It’s a Resurrection,” another film about loss of a heritage and community that is so intrinsically linked with land. 

In perfect harmony with Calcina, Luisa Quispe’s patient Sisa feels as lived as a performance can get. Her stoic face and matter of fact way of talking belie a hidden well of emotions, that come to the surface in striking bursts. Never has a mortar and pestle spoken so loudly. 

Meditative and deeply romantic, “Utama” understands that renewal is just as inevitable as death, sometimes hope is a much richer path than despair, and that a home is the life you build with others. 

Rooted in folk horror, Goran Stolevski’s “You Won’t Be Alone” opens with shape-shifting witch Maria (Anamaria Marinca) attempting to eat a baby. “A bit of blood. That’s all. A fresh born,” she explains to the child’s panicked mother Yoana (Kamka Tocinovski). A deal is struck. She will raise her child until she is a teenager and then hand her over. Hiding her baby in a cave, Nevena (Sara Klimoska) grows up with no knowledge of the outside world. Maria of course finds the child, transforming her into black-clawed witch like her. The rest of the fable-like story follows Nevena as she learns about life while taking on the identities of others.

To shape-shift, these witches must consume the organs of the next shape it takes. The scar-tissue covered Maria, sometimes choosing a cat, a wild dog, or a stag for her new form. These moments are gruesome and not for the weak of stomach. Despite the detailed hair and makeup styling and Marinca’s dedicated performance, Maria never quite feels as ancient or decrepit as a crone ought to feel. 

Nevena’s journey begins when she accidentally kills a mother (Noomi Rapace) and decides to take on her form. Later she tries out being a man (Carloto Cotta), finally, eager to give birth herself, a wife (Alice Englert). Each performer does a great job of seamlessly portraying Nevena, taking in each new experience with the same piercing eyes searching gaze.

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