A Chinese Mr Ripley worms his way into a family, three Afghan refugees find themselves second class citizens in Iran, and life imitates art imitates life in a Haitian kidnap caper. Its our second roundup from Sundance 2024
Brief History of a Family (Jianjie Lin/ China, Denmark/ 2024/ 99 mins) has been drawing comparisons to Saltburn, but there is more of The Talented Mr Ripley‘s ambiguity in this coolly angular and impressive drama. Schoolboy Tu Wei feels guilty after striking the reserved Yan Shuo (Xilun Sun) with a basketball so invites the quiet student home to play videogames. Wei’s parents are impressed by the polite young man and it isn’t long before Shuo is a regular feature at the Tu residence; almost part of the family in fact.
Jianjie Lin’s film thrives in the questions raised between the exceptional shot compositions and unknowable demeanour of his characters. Is Shuo an arch manipulator? A laser-focused opportunist? To what extent are the stories about his broken home true? Lin has the confidence to leave those mysteries in place and resist the urge for spectacle and neat resolution. We don’t really know if Shuo is even a villain in this startling and chilly examination of the aftermath of China’s one-child policy. What havoc is wrought on this family, they invite it willingly. 4/5
In the Land of Brothers (Raha Amirfazli, Alireza Ghasemi/ Iran, France, Netherlands/ 2024/ 95 mins) The status of immigration is a hot topic, even more so now than usual. Yet some would have us belief that such issues take place in a vacuum. Twenty years of wars in Afghanistan has led to around five million Afghanis seeking refuge in Iran. Raha Amirfazli and Alireza Ghasemi’s delicate triptych In the Land of Brothers traces three stories from the same family across three decades, drawing exemplary performances from apparently non-professional actors.
In 2001 teenager Mohamed (Mohammad Hosseini) is bullied into free labour by Iranian authorities because of his status as an immigrant. 10 years later, the girl on whom he has a crush Leila (Hamideh Jafari) faces a threat of deportment once a death in the family leaves her legal status in jeopardy. And in 2021 her older brother Qasem (Bashir Nikzad) also deals with a bereavement, but also the potential joy of finally gaining legal citizenship. The stories all subtly intertwine and the filmmakers handle potential melodrama with sensitivity and skilled direction. A quietly impressive portmanteau. 3/5
Kidnapping Inc. (Bruno Mourral/ France, Canada, Haiti/ 2024/ 103 mins) Any flippancy in setting a madcap kidnapping caper in the ‘kidnapping capital of the world’ is tempered by the knowledge that several of the crew were themselves snatched from the streets of Port au Prince during production, requiring the intervention of the governments of Haiti and the neighbouring Dominican Republic. It adds a queasy edge to the knockabout tone as luckless criminals Zoe (Rolaphton Mercure) and world-weary partner Doc (Jasmuel Andri) get embroiled in a conspiracy that encompasses the upcoming Haitian elections.
The political concerns and satirical of Kidnapping Inc. rather gets lost in the rush of screaming, frantic editing, and farcical violence that begins once Zoe gets a little too zealous with the president’s son in the boot of his car. It seems more concerned with references to the rivalry between Real Madrid and Barcelona and a brutal sense of humour that seems aimed at the politically vulnerable rather than those pulling the strings. It’s brilliant to see a film coming out of Haiti, a country that has suffered more than most over the last 250 years, but any insight and discernible satirical intent is buried under the sheer chaos and half-baked Tarantino-isms. A shame, as there is a talented stylist buried in there. 2/5
Screened as part of Sundance Festival 2024