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I know Sundance is one of those festivals that carry dozens of impressive, impactful films from writer-directors that really throw themselves into the art of filmmaking and storytelling. I anticipated being blown away by many movies that I knew nothing about or didn't recognize the crew and cast involved. I expected some films to emotionally impact me so much that I'd save them close to my heart until the very end of the year. With this said, I was unbelievably far from imagining that the very first viewing would be a heavy contender for my absolute favorite movie of the entire festival.
CODA (Child Of Deaf Adults) is the first film I watch by Siân Heder, and after this session, I can't wait to see what she did so far and what she's going to do in the future. The clearly interesting premise is developed through a much more emotional narrative than I expected. From rich visual storytelling to exceptional use of sign language, Heder is able to capture something unique and deeply important to transmit to the audience and to today's society. The world was fortunate enough to get Sound of Metal last year, and CODA reinforces the essential message that being deaf must not be seen as a massive disability or a brutal handicap.
As the movie cleverly communicates through its impeccable screenplay, having some sort of "limitation" doesn't automatically characterize someone as weird, different, or that the respective family members don't love each other as much or more than the so-called "normal" families. Except for a somewhat insignificant love relationship featuring the main character (that could have brought up an entirely different, unnecessary, and even distracting topic to the film's central, vital themes), I was incredibly invested in every single storyline.
In fact, I find every interaction within the deaf family much more compelling and captivating than any other dialogue in the movie, and this is mostly due to the amazing performances from the cast. Leaving the protagonist to the end, Daniel Durant (Leo Rossi, brother) and Marlee Matlin (Jackie Rossi, mother) are great as supporting characters, but Troy Kotsur (Frank Rossi, father) and Eugenio Derbez (Bernardo Villalobos, music teacher) literally left me in tears with their heartfelt displays. I could feel the outstanding commitment to their roles, and I'm delighted that Bernardo Villalobos isn't just another stereotypical, cliche, hysterical choir adult.
However, the biggest praise in my bag must go to powerful glue that holds everything together, elevating the whole film to a whole other level: Emilia Jones as the only hearing member of the family, Ruby Rossi. First of all, I love music, and Pentatonix is actually my favorite group (acapella or not), so hearing so many wonderful voices singing together would always be a massive plus for CODA in my review. Nevertheless, not only Jones' voice is sumptuously heartwarming, but her performance has everything an actor needs to receive acting nominations. I can't remember the last time I was fully invested in a single character in such an emotionally powerful manner, and Jones is definitely a major reason.
A final praise to Paula Huidobro's visually grabbing camera work and Marius de Vries, who composed the movie's subtle yet efficient score and who I'm guessing had a hand in the song choices. Either way, terrific job.
CODA may very well end up as my favorite film of the 2021's edition of the Sundance Film Festival, and it will undoubtedly become a must-watch movie when it's available worldwide. Siân Heder offers her impeccable direction and beautifully written screenplay, which is packed with emotionally powerful moments that left me tearing up for the last forty-five minutes. Boasting an educative, meaningful message regarding the deaf community and what our society perceives as a tremendous handicap/disability, the characteristic visual storytelling and the captivating interactions within the deaf family prove to be incredibly investing, deeply elevating the overall piece. With the help of heartfelt, genuine performances from the supporting cast (mainly Troy Kotsur and Eugenio Derbez), Emilia Jones takes off and lands one of my favorite female performances in a long, long time. A tear-inducing, thoughtful film that I hope will conquer audiences all around the world.
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