By Roger Costa
This terrific immigrant family drama is one of the greatest and most refreshing indie surprises of the year. Writer/Director Ekwa Msangi’s outstanding debut depicts the emotional turbulence of a family reunited after long 17 years apart. Angola-native Esther and her teen daughter Sylvia arrive in New York for a much-awaited reunion with Walter, the patriarch who’s been living a double life during his exile years, including having an affair with a nurse. These three characters will collide one at another, as they struggle to learn and understand each other, as well as developing empathy and natural love. Divided into three acts, the brilliant screenplay allows these actors to shape their characters amazingly and profoundly, delivering unforgettable performances. This lovely drama is one of those cases where the central actors deserve all praises and Awards recognition: Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine masterly carrying the uncertainty, sorrow and guilty of his Walter, Zainab Jah as the religiously devoted, determined mother and submissive wife, firm, yet fragile and lost Esther, and newcomer Jayme Lawson as the cultural clash aspiring dancer coming of age girl Sylvia, they all create a naturally sincere, deeply moving and warm atmosphere, conquering the audience’s hearts and affection. We follow them through their struggles and obstacles -Walter must deal with his consciousness and how he reacts to the overwhelming sense of love represented in his estranged wife; Esther must remain strong and attached to her faith, despite the temptations and inclinations of another culture’s tendencies and moral practices, all while remaining faithful to her commitment as a wife and mother; Sylvia doesn’t really connect to neither settings, yet is a thoughtful and careful daughter, who tries to find relief in a dance contest among folks of her age.
Set to an effervescent dancing soundtrack, shot with natural lights reflecting the family’s humble perspective on the world and precisely edited, and again extraordinarily performed, Msangi conceived a realistic, feel-good and heart-breaking story about family values, faith, redemption and healing seen through the pursue of the American Dream. Subtly pointing to the troubles of being Black and immigrant in the US, she also proves to be a strong new cinematic female voice.
(IFC Films. Now playing in Theaters and On Demand.)
Award-winning filmmaker Chad Hartigan is an incredibly versatile storyteller. After demonstrating his talent for stories depicting the ups and downs of relationships in both the nostalgic manhood tale “This is Martin Bonner” and the funny dramedy father-son examination “Morris from America”, this two-time Sundance-winner director returns with an astonishing sci-fi romantic melodrama, a beautifully structured film that marvelously evokes the sense of pure love and strong romance rarely seen on screen, or perhaps with the intensity and effects not seen since the “Before Sunrise” Linklater trilogy.
Two of the most accomplished and attractive contemporary British actors are on top of their games delivering the finest performances of their career: Olivia Cooke (“Sound of Metal”) and Jack O’Connell (“Unbroken”) give life to an incendiary, unconditional love affair that goes back and forth in time to recount details of their first meeting, encounters, hangouts and eventually, marriage. In a scary, accidentally timely atmosphere, the narrative introduces a mysterious disease devastating the population. Sort of a furiously fatal and stronger version of Alzheimer’s, NIA is an uncurable plague causing rapid memory loss on its victims. Their friends and neighbors get contaminated and they fight to maintain themselves free from the contagion, as well as their love and commitment.
Atmospheric, somber, melancholic and utterly romantic, the film is narrated by Emma (Cooke), disclosing her memories of pleasures and sadness, throughout her relationship with Jude (O’Connell), as well as her perspectives on the chaotic riots and social anxiety around her- the world goes crazy with the contagion, people wearing masks, running scared and showing violent reactions in the search of a cure (does it sound familiar, anyone?).
The great deal of the film is focusing on preserving the optimism and enduring love of the couple, as they face reality and tries at all costs to avoid the inevitable.
Blending a romantic story, a survivalist tale, a fantastic sci-fi and our current biggest fears, Hartigan scores a remarkably inventive, absorbing and crowd-pleasing film that plays with our heads and hearts with the same intensity and admirable effects.
Filled with smart, sharp dialogue, affectingly convincing performances from its lovebirds, this is an instant classic, entrancing, totally involving, enthusiastic and enchanting, as well as an urgent account on the importance of memory, and the objects, places and people that helps us keep it alive.
(IFC Films will release “Little Fish” in Theaters and On Demand on February 5th 2021.)