Sundance 2023: To Live and Die and Live Movie Review

Amin Joseph and Skye P. Marshall appear in To Live and Die and Live by Qasim Basir. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

To Live and Die and Live

Sundance Film Festival NEXT Section

Reviewed for by Abe Friedtanzer

Director: Qasim Basir

Writer: Qasim Basir

Cast: Amin Joseph, Skye P Marshall, Omari Hardwick, Cory Hardrict, Dana Gourrier, Maryam Basir

Screened at: Prospector Theatre, Park City, UT, 1/20/23

Opens: January 20th (World Premiere)

Returning home after a long absence for a somber life cycle event can be challenging. While there may be elements of nostalgia, it’s hardly the ideal scenario in which to reminiscence with friends and revisit formative places. That can be true even without extenuating factors that have nothing to do with a departed love one, and can become further complicated and problematic as grief sets in. To Live and Die and Live follows one man’s chaotic homecoming as everything in his life begins to catch up with him at the same moment.

Muhammad (Amin Joseph) has come from his busy life as a Hollywood filmmaker to Detroit for the funeral of his stepfather. His first stop is at a club, where he sets his eyes on a woman dancing, Asia (Skye P. Marshall) and takes her to another, more private spot. A night of cocaine and drinking leads into early morning, where he must confront his family. Asked to collect on unpaid invoices by his stepfather’s construction partner, Muhammad spirals as his family members project their ideas of success onto him and resent the lifestyle they believe he leads.

Muhammad takes a remarkably self-destructive path through the city, downing a bottle of liquor before speaking to a class of students from his Alma mater and each time he’s about to get behind the wheel of his rental car. He becomes verbose only when people don’t want to talk to him, nearly scaring off Asia on multiple occasions and alienating his family. There is clearly plenty of baggage that he has not dealt with, though none of it comes from his relationship with his late stepfather. The absence of a dynamic that seems to have been surprisingly positive surely cannot help with his overall mental state.

There are added dimensions that complicate the aftermath of his stepfather’s death, like the presence of a stepsister he never knew and the Muslim rites involved with the burial. Being subtly motioned to wipe the cocaine off his nose during a prayer service indicates that Muhammad does not have things under control, and it only gets worse from there. It’s hypnotic to watch him move from place to place, alternatively driving and stumbling. He doesn’t feel completely present, and audiences are given a window into that perspective and mindset through the deliberate cinematography and the slow pulse of the city that feels like it’s overtaking Muhammad.

Filmmaker Qasim Basir was last at the Sundance Film Festival in 2018 with A Boy. A Girl. A Dream. which has a similar style to it but focuses on two main protagonists. While Asia’s scenes are among the most magnetic in this film, this really is Muhammad’s story. There are moments in which it’s possible to truly connect to what Muhammad is going through and in which both Joseph and Marshall excel, and others where the film seems to be losing its sense of direction, just like Muhammad. Overall, it’s a deeply intriguing and compellingly-made look at the contradictory facets of one man’s life.

105 minutes

Story: B

Acting: B+

Technical: B+

Overall: B

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