Sundance 2013: The Round-Up Part Two
Posted on Wednesday January 23, 2013, 10:34 by Damon Wise in Words From The Wise
Two years ago I fell in love with Drake Doremus's Like Crazy, the small and intimate but very beautiful story of a British girl who falls for a classmate while studying in the US and begins a transatlantic relationship with him. The follow-up, Breathe In, reuniting Doremus with the fantastic Felicity Jones, is an equally low-key but much more adult affair, this time telling a similar story from the perspective of a much older man. Guy Pearce stars as a married music teacher whose family welcome a teenage girl - Jones, again playing a foreign-exchange student - whose precocious talents as a pianist, and jaded adult outlook, stir something in him and reawaken his youthful dreams. That it doesn't end well goes without saying, but though it does deal with the aftermath, Breathe In is more a superbly crafted character story, with a soulful central performance by Pearce.
Michael Winterbottom's The Look Of Love also rests on one man's shoulders, with Steve Coogan on excellent form as British sex-industry kingpin Paul Raymond, pioneer of strip shows in the UK and proprietor of pornographic magazines. Raymond's life was an interesting one to say the least, starting out as one half of a mind-reading act called Mr And Miss Tree, then ending up one of the richest men in Britain, having invested his porn profits in prime West End property. Though Winterbottom's film does capture the picaresque qualities of that, The Look Of Love portrays Raymond through the key women in his life - his wife, mistress and daughter - revealing how Raymond's heart was broken when the latter died of an accidental overdose. Though it doesn't labour the sentiment, the result is perhaps one of Winterbottom's more emotional projects; there are plenty of laughs (not to mention nude body parts, mostly female), but, ultimately, this is the melancholy story of a man who had it all, at the expense of the woman that mattered most to him.
In Fear is a very ambitious British horror-thriller that must be seen cold to experience the maximum impact. Filmed in an experimental style that required its two main players to be in character at all times, without any script or pages of dialogue, it begins with a young couple setting off from a pub in rural Ireland. The two haven't known each other long and are headed to a music festival, but Tom (Iain De Castecker) has a surprise for Lucy (Alice Englert): he has booked a hotel nearby. When they try to find it, however, things start to get weird: the signs lead them back to the same spot over and over, while strange figures seem to be lurking in the woods. Some of the film's pre-publicity suggests a Blair Witch-style creepfest with a supernatural flourish, but I'd say Jeremy Lovering's film owes more to The Game, a satisfying mystery that, once solved, falls beautifully into place.
The East piqued my curiosity simply because it is the new collaboration between Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij, whose Sound Of My Voice was a minor hit here a few years back. The East, however, is one step forward and two steps back: it's slicker and brighter but the story is much sillier, telling another infiltration story, this time with Marling as a private-sector investigator who goes undercover to spy on Anonymous-like pressure group The East. The East believe in an eye for an eye, and strike back at evil corporations by given them a taste of their own medicine - literally in the case of a pharma giant that is flooding Africa with dangerous drugs. It's timely for sure, but nothing in this would-be edgy drama rings true, from Marling as a resourceful female Jason Bourne to a rich-kid dropout cult that puts on straitjackets when they eat their chickpea curry.
Stoker by Park Chan-wook was one of the more divisive titles here, and if anyone was expecting something along the lines of Park's vibrant, violent Oldboy they were going to be sorely disappointed. Stoker is vibrant, and it certainly is violent, but this is the playful, deliriously surreal Park that gave us I'm A Cyborg But That's OK, a wonderland of zooms and offbeat angles that counterpoint the claustrophobic intensity of the story. Mia Wasikowska stars as India Stoker, an 18-year-old schoolgirl whose father has just died in a mysterious car crash. At the funeral, India's uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode) appears out of nowhere, and at around the same time, people start disappearing, including India's housekeeper and a visiting aunt. The explanation is part of an intoxicating, hallucinogenic thriller that keeps us guessing till the end, portraying a dreamworld so twisted that nothing in it is ever what it seems. Black Swan is a decent enough comparison, but leavened with black humour and dressed in Southern Gothic weeds.
Finally, to become the most hated man in indie filmdom, I have to say I was very disappointed by Richard Linklater's Before Midnight, the third film in the Before trilogy. This one finds Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) on holiday in Greece with their two girls. After this surprising reveal, we learn that two are together, living in Paris, but Jesse is fretting about his teenage son, now growing up with his ex-wife in the US. After a long, boring dinner party scene, the pair take themselves off to a hotel that his been booked for them, a) so they can have a break from parenting, and b) as a pretext for a walk that enables them to banter like they did in the first two movies.
I'm not knocking the quality of the acting or the writing, but I do think his new Before entry lacks the freshness and authenticity of its predecessors. Where previously Hawke and Delpy sparked as people, and there was a genuine will-they-or-won't-they tension to the scenario, here the arguments seem laboured and the will-they-won't-they element is really a red herring (despite his protests, Celine is convinced that Jesse wants the family to move to America, and so threatens to leave him). To me, it seemed the duo were merely reprising well-rehearsed characters rather than inhabiting them as fully as they did before. I know I'm in the minority, but I'm just putting it out there. Apparently I don't get it because I'm not married, but, hey, I'm divorced, so touchē to that, mon ami.