HIFF 2022: What We Do Next, Home Is Somewhere Else, and It Happened One Weekend

It Happened One Weekend is filled with so much affection for Indianapolis that you’d swear its writer/director/star was a native of the city. Filmed mostly around downtown Naptown, Zac Cooper’s film is a kind of take on When Harry Met Sally… as it explores two long-time friends and their budding romantic feelings for one another. The film doesn’t exactly break new ground in the romantic comedy department, but Cooper and co-star Merry Moore have palpable chemistry together, and it serves to highlight some of Indianapolis’ brightest spots. Shot in black and white, the film shows that Cooper knows how to craft an engaging story, and can lead a film both in front of and behind the camera. Indy residents will appreciate the spotlight on some underappreciated landmarks, but film fans in general will appreciate Cooper’s engaging characters and relatable story.

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If you’re among the many that liked last year’s Oscar-nominated Flee, you’re likely to enjoy Home is Somewhere Else, and not just because it’s another animated documentary about immigrants. But whereas Flee told one man’s traumatic experiences in a foreign land, Home is Somewhere Else is more of a triptych, comprising three short stories about migrating from Mexico to the United States. Each segment is introduced by a type of emcee, who spews platitudes about home and longing, and each segment has its own unique animation style. This creative decision adds to the sense that each of the stories comes from a personal place, rather than a uniform experience. The stories range from those of young adults to children, but they all share a common theme of fear. Fear of fitting in, fear of the authorities, and fear of forgetting their birthplaces. Thankfully directors Carlos Hagerman and Jorge Villalobos steer the film away from tugging at heartstrings and stick to telling their subjects’ stories with an emotional honesty that will resonate after the credits roll.

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What We Do Next shares a lot of similarities with Mass, one of Heartland’s biggest hits from last year. The film bills itself as a story told in seven parts, and each of those parts unfolds as a sort of short play, with a story that continues to build in tension and stakes. Specifically, it’s a film about a young girl named Elsa (Michelle Veintimilla) who was born fighting an uphill battle and was never given the tools to succeed. After a heartbreaking opening during Elsa’s childhood, the film picks up after she’s been released from prison for murdering her father, who molested her. But it turns out that Sandy James (Karen Pittman), an up-and-coming politician, may or may not have supplied Elsa the money to buy the firearm used to kill her father. Thus begins a back-and-forth that spirals throughout the film of bribery and underhanded tactics to make one party look less culpable than another. Also brought into the fray is Paul (Corey Stoll), an attorney and former partner/fling of Sandy’s. The film can’t help but feel like a stage play; each scene is contained within its own location, and only utilizes the three actors. The only times we see New York City is in the interstitials, when we can track Sandy’s political career through a radio narrator. Sometimes the profundity that director Stephen Belber seeks works, like when race is brought into play in such a sticky legal situation, and sometimes the tightly-packed dialogue lacks the emotional oomph it needs. At a brisk 77 minutes, What We Do Next announces itself as efficient, effective cinema that shows confidence on the page and behind the lens.

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