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Sundance 2023: ‘Freemont’- Film Review

Jan 26, 2023

Sundance 2023

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“Fremont”

 

Heavily influenced by the Black & White tinted and deceptively lackadaisical style of filmmaker Jim Jarmusch, Babak Jalali’s “Fremont” is a small film that too slowly reveals its intent.

For Jalali’s fourth feature film, the director uses the lack of color to level the cultural playing field, allowing for the stories of the main character to have deeper impact.

Donya (wonderful newcomer Anaita Wali Zada) is an Afghan refugee, who was once a translator for the U.S. Army and now lives in a local community of other Afghans.

Working an unsatisfactory job in a San Francisco fortune cookie factory with her stereotypical single friend, Donya does nothing but be at home, work, or in her therapist’s office.

Zada perfectly captures the isolation and loneliness of someone far their homeland. It is in the actress’s natural performance (one not sullied from years of coaching) where Jalali finds his film’s anchor.

Zada gives Donya a patience amongst the frustrations in her life. This is a young woman who is constantly in deep thought. We are sure Donya would like to relax, but she can’t make the time. There are too many serious thoughts in her head that play on a seemingly constant loop.

The character is plagued by guilt and can’t sleep. Donya fled Afghanistan for fear of being killed by the Taliban and had to leave her family behind.

She forces her way into a therapist and begins seeing him so she can get pills to sleep. The therapist treats her by comparing passages from Jack London’s “White Fang” to her own troubles. It is unclear whether the film intends for this man to be taken seriously. Either way, these sequences simply do not work.

Donya’s crisis is a deeply personal and existential one and there is a stronger story to be told.

Unfortunately, the extremely droll atmosphere that is meant to mirror Donya’s plight, causes eventual disinterest in the already slight sscript.

Director Jalali and his co-screenwriter Carolina Cavalli have a story to tell, but beyond their careful crafting of their lead character, the film becomes too disciplined to have any lasting impact.

The filmmaking here is to aloof, but in a purposefully mannered way. Jalali’s direction doesn’t feel naturally stylistic, as I’m sure was the intent. The deadpan aura and awkward silences between characters feel forced and overly designed, draining any emotion that may be held within the script.

In the age of Digital filmmaking, movies have become less cinematic. While I realize not every story needs to be told through a David Lean or Terrence Malick eye, too many modern filmmakers fail use their framing to help tell the story, be it big or small.

The “less is more” style can take a film only so far. One must have a screenplay and story that can be interesting enough to fill a running time and move within a static camera.

Many independent productions have been successful in this manner; two of the finest examples being Louis Malle’s “My Dinner with Andre” and Steven Soderbergh’s “Sex, Lies, and Videotape”.

Modern filmmakers are losing the ability to fill the silences with meaning. Staring into the distance in a well-framed shot doesn’t make Art.

“Fremont” is not a total loss. Anaita Wali Zada’s performance works for the way her character is written and Laura Valladao’s camerawork is certainly commendable.

It is the direction that stilts the drama and causes distraction.

As Depeche Mode sang, “Feelings are intense… words are trivial.” Cinematically, you must be able to blend the visual with the quiet, or the audience will not enjoy the silence.

 

Fremont

Written by Carolina Cavalli & Babak Jalali

Directed by Babak Jalali

NR, 91 Minutes, Butimar Productions/Extra A Productions

 

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