Sundance 2022: 'Girl Picture' | 'Nanny' (Reviews)
You might have to add some additional search terms when trying to find the film but we reckon that it's very much worth the trouble in the end. Coming-of-age drama Girl Picture (Tytöt, tytöt, tytöt in Finnish) comes from director Alli Haapasalo and lets you in to the lives of three teenagers as they are figuring out their relationships, sexualities and own identities. Rönkkö (Eleonoora Kauhanen) and Mimmi (Aamu Milonoff) are two friends working at a smoothie bar; former struggling to find a pleasurable connection with men while latter falls for figure skating prodigy Emma (Linnea Leino) after an awkward first encounter.
Something that is invaluable for any film—particularly one with as many leads as Girl Picture—are great characters because that will always give a head start for its director and cast. Screenwriters Ilona Ahti and Daniela Hakulinen do mighty fine job in that department as all the girls feel fully realised, like all their lives are going on even when we're just following one. Haapasalo also directs them in a way that gives each both dramatic and lighter touches, though there are quite a few moments where shifts between the two are rather abrupt, therefore disrupting the tone in middle of scenes unnecessarily.
Still, the performances themselves do shine through, especially that of Leino's which accurately captures the somewhat unneeded rush to have it all together already in such young age, while she also channels the character's determination and anxiety with her body language. As Emma lets Jarmo Kiuru's cinematography and Laura Haapakangas' production design to use colder tones to fill the frame, Rönkkö and Mimmi's journeys use more intense shades to highlight their attempts to discover something unpredictable. Your investment in the trio feels justified at the end not only because the writing allows them to grow and adapt, but also because visually they're surrounded with warmer, more balanced shades when they begin to lean on each other.
Smileys: Linnea Leino, characterisation
Frowneys: Minor issues with tone
Supernatural vibrations are coursing through the story of Nanny, which is writer-director Nikyatu Jusu's feature film debut, exploring immigrant's experience in dramatic form with a splash of folk-horror mixed in. Anna Diop stars as Aisha, Senegalese immigrant in New York City who gets a job as the titular nanny for a rich family of three (Michelle Monaghan as Amy, Morgan Spector as Adam and Rose Decker as their daughter Rose). While Aisha is taking care of this little girl, it is revealed that she has a son left behind in Senegal who she hopes to reunite with when having enough money to do so. As more and more time goes by, she starts to experience ghostly visions, perhaps stemming from guilt or loneliness.
Jusu's own vision is at its strongest when focusing on the human drama in centre of it, Diop also finding more nuance in Aisha's separation from her loved ones rather than in predictable ''it-was-just-a-dream'' moments, though she's also not helped by weak child acting (always a coin toss, really). Jusu finds a great balance between relatable emotional stakes for all immigrants and important specificity of Aisha's home country and family situation, such as employing Wolof and French languages when the character is feeling restless in this weird environment with Amy and Adam who are acting equally weird.
Horror elements are less effective, partly because there have been better executions in last few years in movies with similar themes and angles, and partly what seems like a budget issue since they just don't look as good as rest of the film. Cinematographer Rina Yang shoots particularly the main apartment with inventiveness; increasing Aisha's angst with her compositions, dimming the corners and halls while using intimacy in scenes where Aisha feels more comfortable. If those moments weren't broken with shaky horror sequences, the ending would've also felt more natural and therefore more impactful.
Smileys: Cinematography, story