This magical micro-budget sci-fi romance premiered way back at Sundance 2021 but didn’t land in theaters until 2022. It’s unlike anything I saw in either year. “Strawberry Mansion” embodies filmmaking for filmmaking’s sake, crafted by co-directors Albert Birney and Kentucker Audley with a love and ingenious inventiveness that’s sorely lacking in many movies today.
Audley stars as James Preble, a lonely taxman whose job is to audit dreams that are recorded on VHS tapes. While on assignment to audit an elderly artist named Arabella Isadora (a delightfully mischievous Penny Fuller), Preble finds himself in a dreamlike odyssey through the unknown lands of her mind. He eventually falls for her younger self (a winsome Grace Glowicki) who has come to warn him about the insidious advertisements poisoning his own dreams.
No other romance film this year has touched me so deeply, or features quite as many mouse sailors or frog-headed waiters. The more fantastical elements of “Strawberry Mansion” will surely wow anyone who loves practical effects, creative camera tricks, and stop motion animation, while its colorful art direction is a balm compared to the bevy of drab, beige films currently in vogue. Maybe this all sounds a bit too twee, but there’s a heart to “Strawberry Mansion” that transcends its whimsical style. Birney and Audley’s film will reignite your sense of cinema’s truly endless creative possibilities.
Another Sundance favorite for me was Alli Haapasalo’s delightful horny audience award winner “Girl Picture” (known in its home country of Finland as “Tytöt tytöt tytöt” or “Girl, Girls, Girls”). I wrote about this film out of Sundance and even interviewed Haapasalo for its initial theatrical run in August, but there are few movies I’ve loved as deeply all year as this one. I intend to keep recommending it as long as I can.
Set over four weekends, “Girl Picture” follows teenage smoothie shop workers and best friends Rönkkö (Eleonoora Kauhanen) and Mimmi (Aamu Milonoff) on their quests for sex and love. Rönkkö is determined to finally experience pleasure through a sexual encounter, and spends much of the film trying out different strategies for communicating her needs and desires while finding a partner who can help her achieve them. Mimmi has her sights on life-changing love, which she finds with a high-strung ice skater named Emma (Linnea Leino).