The 2021 Sundance Film Festival has been in full swing. With a fully reinvented experience, this year’s festival has been able to reach different people from across the world. There have been many eye-catching premieres as days pass, but there have also been a couple of films that have received reviews bathed in disappointment. “Rebel Hearts” finds itself linked more so with the former.
The feature documentary premiered as part of the U.S. Documentary Competition. It follows a tight-knit group of nuns — Anita Caspary, Helen Kelley and Corita Kent — in Hollywood during the 1960s. Their livelihood is threatened when the cardinal, a higher authority and member of the church, uses them as pawns for his business ventures. As a result, these progressive nuns decide to push back and stand up for their rights. They discarded their habits and formed part of the social activism of the times.
Pedro Kos is the director of this rare documentary. He is an award-winning Brazilian filmmaker that has worked on previous feature-length projects. One of them being “Bending the Arc,” which premiered at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. When bringing this project to life, there was a focus on the animation and the musical composition. Brandon Blommaert worked on the animation and Ariel Marx worked on the music. Both of these aspects elevated the story onto a different level. This was in part due to a score accompanied by visuals that communicated the tone of the film instantaneously.
“Rebel Hearts” was surprisingly wholesome, delightful and cheeky, showing another side of women that devote their lives to religion. They had the courage to stand up for what was right. Due to this, they took part in various movements throughout history from marching on Selma to changing the education system. Many have regarded their fight for justice as one of the biggest religious showdowns of the 20th century.
At its core, the film is about divorce. It follows women looking for salvation from the oppressive cultural responsibilities required of women back in the ’50s and ’60s. However, while they escaped a future as housewives, they entered another holy union; the subjugation they tried to get away from followed them. “Rebel Hearts” explores the patriarchal repression deeply implemented in every aspect of society, especially within the very institution that declares that they stand for equality among all.
They were specifically the sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. In addition to their rigorous duties maintaining the house, they were forced to become educators. Due to the obligations bestowed upon them by a higher authority, they became educators at the Immaculate Heart school and the Immaculate Heart College. Fortunately, this meant that they could receive an education, which was hard to come by during those decades.
While they challenged the patriarchal order of the Church, they did not sacrifice their values and beliefs. The rebellion manifested itself through art and protest that honored religion while making a statement about their cause. In the end, they fought for what they thought was right. They fought for those they believed deserved better, flipping the bird ever so politely to the system.
“Rebel Hearts” premiered at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. More screenings to be announced. Make sure to keep up with the Shuffle’s Sundance shenanigans on Twitter and Instagram.
Josie Meléndez is a Puerto Rican screenwriter and film critic. Named an emerging content creator by NALIP and an emerging journalist by TIFF, she is also the founder of the Film Posers podcast, a platform hosted by four Boricuas dedicated to analyzing film and television from their cultural perspective. Meléndez is also a member of the Hollywood Critics Association.