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A strange Alice-in-Wonderland-style stroll through suburban, downtrodden America, where the shadow of Trumpism still looms large, “The Sweet East” is the first film from the coolest of American cinematographers, Sean Price Williams.

American cinema always seems capable of surprising us. A case in point is this scathing comedy of wild freedom and creativity discovered at the last Quinzaine des Cinéastes (Cannes Film Festival 2023). We meet a gallery of funny and disturbing characters, from the neoNazi intellectual (the brilliant Simon Rex) to the colony of happy jihadists. Led by the young Talia Ryder in the lead role, the cast of “The Sweet East” includes some of today’s hottest new talents, such as Jacob Elordi and Ayo Edebiri (The Bear).

Beyond the film’s exciting writing and its characters, “The Sweet East” is also a film of images. First, there’s the setting: Sean Price Williams takes us on a tour of New York’s squalid suburbs, never before filmed. In particular, we discover an improbable shabby hotel soberly named “Le Paris”, on the roof of which sits a majestic replica of the Eiffel Tower.

The grainy shots in this film, shot entirely in 16 mm, are also the signature of its director, Sean Price Wiliams, a self-taught cinematographer with the look of a New York hipster. It was in video stores that this son of a Delaware garage mechanic learned the art of filmmaking. In particular, at the legendary Kim’s Video Store in New York’s East Village. It was there that Williams met Alex Ross Perry, who was to become one of the leading figures of New York independent cinema. The young cinematographer shot all Perry’s early films, including the acclaimed dialogue comedy “Listen Up Philip”, starring Jason Schwartzman and Elisabeth Moss (2014). From film to film, Sean Price Williams imposes his style: 16 mm, Kodak film, grainy images and often handheld, moving cameras. An aesthetic in keeping with the independent cinema of the 1970s, it quickly became the signature of a hip new cinema, soon imitated by advertising

After Alex Ross Perry, Sean Price Williams meets the most emblematic filmmaking duo of contemporary New York cinema, the Safdie brothers. For them, he signed the image of “Mad Love in New York” (2014), but above all “Good Time” (2017), an urban and nocturnal odyssey at full speed, carried by Robert Pattinson. The film takes the two brothers and their DOP to Cannes, in competition. The film world discovered this trendy director with a highly identifiable style. Although he accepted to shoot a few music videos (for A$AP Rocky or Brockhampton) and a few less personal works (Abel Ferrara’s Zeros and Ones), he continued to choose his collaborations with the utmost rigour, willingly working on short films or daring, budget-friendly independent productions (such as Nathan Silver’s C’est qui cette fille?). As a filmmaker, Sean Price Williams has not turned off his camera. We already know this from Nathan Silver’s next film, “Between the Temples”, starring – once again – Jason Schwartzman. But that hasn’t stopped him from announcing a possible sequel to “The Sweet East”.



Pierre Charpilloz