“The Sweet East”, by Sean Price Williams, travels through a lost America


Before The Sweet East , a question torments us: where has American independent cinema gone? It’s been a while since much has reached us from that continent. The blessed time when we were waiting for the latest nugget at Sundance, the American independent film festival, is over: the festival has been progressively burdened by the formatting and self-caricature that always ends up producing a recipe that works too well. There was also, at the tail end of the comet, mumblecore : broke fictions which filmed clumsy and mumbling bodies ( to mumble ), capturing a generation (the 20-30 year olds) caught in the mud of their narcissism and their inability to communicate. The genre was precisely the swan song of a certain do-it-yourself cinema, taking note of a phenomenon of gentrification of forms and subjects which has slowly made it impossible to represent the margins.

Sean Price Williams knew this era well. For twenty years, he was the cinematographer for the great names of independent cinema, Ronald Bronstein ( Frownland , 2007), Alex Ross Perry ( The Color Wheel , 2011) and the Safdie brothers ( Uncut Gems , 2019). In The Sweet East , his first feature, there is an acute awareness that a form and a mode of production must reinvent itself, that a cinema as crazy as the United States today is sorely missing. . And what better way to paint a cross-sectional portrait of a country that no longer has its wits about it than to opt for a picaresque tale?

Contemporary radicalism

Lillian (Talia Ryder), a young girl with diaphanous beauty, follows her classmates on a school trip. Following the intrusion of an armed man into a pizzeria, she decides to run away with a young punk and finds herself at the heart of a cell of anti-fascist neohippies. Lillian’s trajectory seems to follow a rule: never linger too long in one place, fleeing just when people start projecting their fantasies onto her. Obeying to chance, she crosses the entire spectrum of contemporary radicalism: a demonstration of white supremacists, an Islamist cell, a group of left-wing woke artists who want to make her the star of their period film.

In a sort of crazy rereading of Alice in Wonderland , The Sweet East renews the imagination linked to this sacred figure of Western culture that is the young white girl, object of all lust and all fantasies. In this respect, the most successful sequence happens to be the moment when Lillian lands at the home of a university professor (the magnificent Simon Rex), a sort of Humbert Humbert who refrains from pounced on his guest.

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