18 June 2024

Sundance 2021 Film Review – The World To Come (2021)

Love. Love changes everything. Yes, we really did just quote a line from a song from Aspects of Love, so sue us, but we needed an “in” to dissect and discuss Mona Fastvold‘s sumptuous, epic, enchanting new film The World To Come, which has been making the festival rounds since its debut last September at a much-changed Venice Film Festival. This week, it made its way out West to the virtual wintery surroundings of the Sundance Film Festival and it’s very much at home here as the cold, stark, freezing snap of Utah mirrors much of what’s contained in Fastvold’s quite marvellous endeavour.

That isn’t to say the film reflects the frostiness of those freezing conditions in any way shape or form, but that it has a few notable snowstorms that reflect the growing suspicions and icy friction that simmer just below the surface. Transporting us back brilliantly to 1st January 1856 and the American Frontier, we are in the company of Abigail (Katherine Waterston) and her husband Dyer (Casey Affleck) as they begin a new year on their remote farm. After much heartache and loneliness, Abigail has begun journaling her days – she narrates the events as she writes – aching for a life that suits her emotional state rather than the staid existence she finds herself in. As the months change, new neighbours arrive in Finney (Christopher Abbott) and his wife Tallie (Vanessa Kirby), an free-spirit, confident woman who Abigail quickly becomes enamoured with.

Through Abigail’s journals, we discover her yearning for the “world to come”, be it the physical space she inhabits or the new lease of life she is craving but one that may take what feels like an eternity to come her way. On Tallie’s arrival, however, her thoughts change to the here and now, no matter the stakes, as her yearning becomes fulfilled, even briefly, by her counterpoint in another. As the seasons change further, so does their love, blossoming in the incandescent sun and warm, supple days as their relationship becomes more intense.

And Fastvold’s use of this is immaculate, with colours bursting from the screen in both moving and subtle ways, backed by André Chemetoff‘s intoxicating camerawork, Daniel Blumberg‘s hypnotic score and David Jancsó‘s sublime editing. But as the days become longer and the rain and thunder set it, so does the gloomy outlook for their time together: storm clouds as never-ending as their husband’s desires – and their own personal, oppressed status – become overbearing. Centre of it all, though, is the film’s ensemble, all of whom are sensational throughout, not least Kirby and Waterston who are both magnetic apart but together are the perfect storm of allure and romance. Affleck again showcases his ability for stoic, quiet heartbreak whilst Abbott, who has had a year to remember (much like Kirby) continues his rich vein of superb turns.

If there is a bum note throughout it is the aforementioned narration which does become overbearing and a little ponderous at times, but doesn’t derail what is a remarkable, thoughtful film about love, repression, friendship and the reverberations of time that is already staking its claim as one of 2021’s very best.

★★★★1/2


Drama | USA/Norway, 2020 | 15 | Sundance 2021 | UK – 2nd April 2021 | Sony Pictures Releasing | Dir.Mona Fastvold | Katherine Waterston, Vanessa Kirby, Christopher Abbott, Casey Affleck


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