Vague Visages’ Tomorrow, Tomorrow, Tomorrow review contains minor spoilers. Martina Radwan’s 2023 documentary features Baasaajav Munkhbat, Nasanjargal Gongol and Batbileg Tul. Check out the VV home page for more film reviews, along with cast/character summaries, streaming guides and complete soundtrack song listings.
The messiness of belonging weighs down on so many people looking to be accepted and/or understood. Through the visual arts, one can find clarity and personal connections while breaking cycles of trauma. In Tomorrow, Tomorrow, Tomorrow — a 2023 documentary about second chances as an ongoing process — prolific cinematographer Martina Radwan (Saving Face) helps three Mongolian children rebuild their lives after being abandoned during an economic collapse. To borrow words from a main player, the documentarian creates “wonderful magic” by examining her own motivations and genuinely attempting to understand her subjects’ true needs.
Radwan gets straight to the point in Tomorrow, Tomorrow, Tomorrow. She doesn’t wax poetic about the world’s injustices but rather speaks clearly and concisely about the context for each loaded scene. While filming a documentary about Mongolian “manhole children” (homeless kids living in heated underground spaces), Radwan meets Baaskaa — a charismatic yet hardened movie lover who later finds work on a farm (it’s his dream to own 40 cows). Over time, the German-born documentarian of Syrian descent travels back and forth to Mongolia from her home in New York City, ultimately deciding to help two more children: Nasaa (a girl who was orphaned after her mother’s death) and Baani (a wide-eyed boy who was abandoned by his homeless mother). As Baaskaa adheres to “the laws of life” and raises question about his working conditions, Tomorrow, Tomorrow, Tomorrow transforms from a charming humanitarian production into something much more complex; a film about underprivileged youths who need to be understood and respected, first and foremost.
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In a way, Radwan’s interpretive process functions as the heart and soul of Tomorrow, Tomorrow, Tomorrow. As a cinematographer, she understands the importance of quiet observations. More importantly, though, Radwan calmly drops her guard while reflecting about growing up in somewhat similar conditions as Baaskaa, Nasaa and Baani, allowing the kids to relate and connect, even if they can’t fully comprehend the past. The filmmaker openly admits her naïveté as she realizes that lending a helping hand simply isn’t enough — her subjects will seemingly get swallowed up by the system, especially when considering their lack of documentation. On paper, Baaskaa, Nasaa and Baani don’t exist.
But perhaps it’s the art of photography that grounds Tomorrow, Tomorrow, Tomorrow. Over and over, the young subjects find inspiration through Radwan’s profession, with Baaskaa even traveling to Bangladesh to work on a film set. Each youth seems genuinely intrigued by photography and cinematography, almost like they’ve seen a world beyond their own for the first time. Overall, Radwan mostly maintains a practical storytelling flow in Tomorrow, Tomorrow, Tomorrow; however, a series of spectacular photo montages enrich key sequences. In addition, the documentarian keeps a safe distance, never pushing herself on the kids or urging them to embrace her personal and professional interests. This not only sets up a climactic tearjerker moment, but also displays Radwan’s finesse as documentarian.
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Radwan also breaks pace well in Tomorrow, Tomorrow, Tomorrow. The documentary flows organically from setting to setting, with the central focus being the subjects’ state of mind and growth. By the second half, though, Radwan extends specific scenes that reveal layers of the kids’ personalities. Meaning, Baaskaa isn’t necessarily just a rough-neck farmhand — he’s a father figure of sorts, a natural leader who looks out for others. As for Nasaa, an education-themed sequence helps the audience better understand her spirit in the face of immense bureaucratic challenges. And Baani, well, he’s the unknowing star of Tomorrow, Tomorrow, Tomorrow’s most intense scene, in which the boy reluctantly reunites with his birth mother. Radwan holds the camera on her young subject, just long enough to show that he’s distressed but won’t be broken by the experience. And that’s the spirit of a survivor who understands the messiness of belonging.
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Radwan loses some momentum with Tomorrow, Tomorrow, Tomorrow’s climactic structure but makes up for it with yet another moving cinematic moment, one that at once speaks to her kindness and the gratitude of her eldest subject. One of the biggest takeaways is the filmmaker’s ability to engage with traumatized youths who may be frightened to say the wrong thing. And that’s a trait that certainly applies well to modern culture, in which people scroll and judge without showing much interest in the context or actual truth. Powered by Radwan’s empathy and the subjects’ collective determination, Tomorrow, Tomorrow, Tomorrow is a must-see world cinema documentary.
Tomorrow, Tomorrow, Tomorrow premieres November 10 (6:30 p.m. ET) at DOC NYC (sold out). A second screening has been added for Thursday, November 16 at 6:15 p.m. ET (Village East by Angelika). For tickets, visit Doc NYC.
Q.V. Hough (@QVHough) is Vague Visages’ founding editor.
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