Smoke Sauna Sisterhood: Sundance 2023 Film Review

Year: 2023

Runtime: 89 Minutes

Director/Writer: Anna Hints

By Morgan Roberts

In Estonia, women gather to a dark smoke sauna to discuss life, loss, insecurities and strengths. Joining the women in this intimate setting, “Smoke Sauna Sisterhood” highlights the power of stories and connection. The idea is that, in this space in the damp heat, the women can share their pain and shame to remove it, re-entering the world stronger and less burdened.

What is fascinating about this film are the stories shared. There are some overlapping experiences, such as dating or motherhood. But some share experiences which are solely their own trauma. While some women share their experiences with motherhood, there is one woman in the group contemplating terminating her pregnancy. The other women ask questions, but it is not an attempt to humiliate. Rather, it is just to ensure they are fully understanding their peer. There is no topic that is off limits. And so, the film gives us insight into discussions very few people have. Another woman shares the pain she endured giving birth to a stillborn. It is not often we hear from people who have experienced infant loss. 

A still from Smoke Sauna Sisterhood by Anna Hints, an official selection of the World Documentary Competition at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

One woman shares her story about being sexually assaulted. During some moments, the women seem to talk over one another or share little quips. But not here. Every single woman becomes focused and holds space for this woman as she recounts her assault. It is one of the moments when you, as the audience, become very still with the other women. You too want to care for this woman, for her history, and so you make space as well. It is incredible how the filmmaker simply puts you in the sauna, and the audience becomes just as much apart of this group as the women on screen.

But it is not all serious. There are certainly moments of levity. Whether the women lament about modern dating or they run outside to play in the snow, “Smoke Sauna Sisterhood” shows the duality of womanhood. The greatest joys and the most painful lows. But above all, it mirrors the way in which women support each other. The way they will laugh together, cry together, hold one another. It is awe-inspiring to witness their vulnerabilities and the film calls upon its audience to honor the truths of these women. And given how quickly the women win you over, it is not a difficult task to do. 


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