Promising New Voices | First features at Sundance 2021

  Sundance is the playground for directorial debuts and the foundational steps of a career to blossom. Like any other year, despite taking place online, the 2021 entries showcased that same promise. There were so many stories to fall in love with this year, and today I wanted to highlight three feature directorial debuts from Sundance that caught my eye and made me curious to see the filmmaker's next steps in the industry.  

Ma Belle, My Beauty dir. by Marion Hill

93 mins | Drama, Romance 

The place where people fall in love, the south of France, is seen in all its romanticised beauty in Marion Hill's feature directorial-debut; Ma Belle, My Beauty. Shot in Anduze, the former polyamorous love-affair between Bertie, Lane and Fred burns anew during a brief reunion after the marriage of Bertie and Fred. Both written and directed by Marion Hill Ma Belle, My Beauty is a promising debut where desire blossoms secretly on cobbled pathways or in a single momentary glance. 

Idella Johnson and Hannah Pepper use the naturalism of Hill's script to paint an intricate portrait of a fraught affair and invite us to be part of it for a fleeting 93 minutes. It's romantic, sultry and grand with unobtrusive force. Hill allures with the same quality of a summer's evening in France and Ma Belle Ma Beauty will become a favourite of those who love to watch beautiful people fall for one another in a beautiful setting. 

El Planeta dir. by Amalia Ulman

79 mins | Drama, Comedy

Reminiscent of the late Agnes Varda's Cleo from 5 to 7 Amalia Ulman's feature debut, El Planeta is a black and white vision exploring contemporary ideals of wealth and influence. Starring, writing and directing, Amalia Ulman plays Leonor opposite her mother, Ale Ulman as María. Together they show the intricate parallels of the mother/daughter dynamic, as similar as they are different, taking their coats off before they leave for the day. It is wonderfully off-beat and precise in its handling of money and dreams, drifting in a timeless ether where everything remains the same adjacent to everything changing.

It is as critical as it is idiosyncratic, diving deep into economic desire and its effect on lives, particularly for artists. María is in a purgatory-esque space where prison is no deterrent to her spending habits, and it is melancholic as it is funny to watch her share her ideas of it being a place of "free housing and food". Intimately capturing the romance and exhaustion that comes with being a daughter, together Amalia and her mother have made a beautiful hidden gem that'll be well-loved by those who find it. 

On the Count of Three dir. by Jerrod Carmichael

84 mins | Drama, Dark Comedy

Slightly more experienced in that this is Jerrod Carmichael's first theatrical feature as opposed to a film made for television, On the Count of Three showcases Carmichael's skill as both actor and director. Written by Ari Katcher and Ryan Welch, the film received the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at this year's festival for its darkly comic, but beautifully crafted screenplay. 

Best friends Val and Kevin mutually agree to end their lives at the end of the day and spend the last together in an initially unextraordinary way that spirals out of control. Both Carmichael and his co-star Christopher Abbott demonstrate the power of performance and what it can do when discussing topics as brutal and painful as mental health and suicidal tendencies. There's some painstakingly crushing attention to detail in On the Count of Three, from things as small as music choice to quiet asides from various characters. All of it works, all of it is deeply cared for by its director. 

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