Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Sundance with Abe: Herself

I’m thrilled to be attending and covering the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah for the seventh time. I’m seeing as many movies as I can each day and will post reviews of each as I can, as well as video reviews uploaded to YouTube.

Directed by Phyllida Lloyd

There are many questions people ask when relationships are revealed to be abusive, and the answers are never easy or simple. It’s difficult for someone on the outside to understand what it’s truly like and to put themselves in the shoes of the victim, who may feel a sense of sheer terror that any attempt to get away could result in even harsher consequences. Those that do have a plan to get out may find their efforts foiled by circumstances beyond their control, and even if they are able to make an escape, they aren’t completely out of harm’s way.

Sandra (Clare Dunne) is brutally attacked by her husband when he finds money she has been hiding, and a prepared plan with her eldest daughter results in the police being called. Placed in city housing, Sandra yearns for more stability and security for her two daughters. She finds a video tutorial online that tells her that she can build a house on her own for €35,000, and thanks to the kindness of the woman who employs her as a house cleaner, she has a lot on which to build. With a crack team of volunteers, work begins on this dream house as the threat of Sandra’s husband remains all too strong, particularly when one of her daughters repeatedly refuses to go with him on his assigned custody days.

This film opens violently, with Sandra’s hand injured maliciously by the man who seeks to exert control over her. Watching Sandra develop strength and conviction is an inspiring process, though the journey is full of deeply upsetting moments. This is not a film about a woman finding herself and coasting to a pleasant existence, but rather about someone pulled in so many directions intent on putting the livelihood of her children above all. There is comedy to be found in the scope of her undertaking and the responses of her volunteers both when she asks them and during the project, which is sincerely welcome given the need for some levity in a grave situation.

Dunne is simply incredible as Sandra, conveying so much emotion with every look and such passion when she speaks in defense of her family. It’s a formidable performance indicative of a long and successful career to come. The ensemble around her is very solid too, including Conleth Hill as a contractor and Harriet Walter as the sponsor of her new home. Director Phyllida Lloyd, best known for “Mamma Mia” and “The Iron Lady,” delivers an excellent, important film that tells a difficult story with an extraordinarily compelling protagonist.


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