Piers Marchant reports from Sundance, Day Two

January 26, 2015

By Piers Marchant for blood, dirt &angels

Sundance: Day 2

Number of Films: 4
General Vibe: Slightly exasperated; slightly more freaked out (see The Witch, below)

6 Desires – D.H. Lawrence and Sardinia: On the heels of getting shut out from The Witch in the morning, I switched gears quickly to take in this peculiar Mark Cousins vehicle. True to form, the film involves a tremendous amount of his lilting brogue in voice over, as he and his crew roughly retrace the journey the English novelist D.H. Lawrence took with his wife, Frieda, through the Sardinian countryside. Cousins employs a curious direct and informal address with Lawrence (referring to him endlessly as “Bert”), and makes a point to hold up laminated 8×10 photos of the writer and his wife against the imagery of the land. Engaging to a point, it would make an interesting 50-minute PBS piece, but as an 85-minute feature, it gets stretched pretty thin.

White God: What to make of this Hungarian film from Kornél Mundruczó? It starts out as a sweetly tinged girl-and-her-dog piece with 12-year-old Lili (Zsófia Psotta) being left with her severe estranged father for several months while her mother is away. But after the callous man takes her beloved dog, Hagen, and throws him out of their car to leave him by the side of the road, things take more and more curious turns. The heartbroken Lili attempts to find him but fails and gives up after a couple of week; Hagen, meanwhile, undergoes a nightmarish succession of dog catchers, homeless vagrants, pimps, hustlers, and most horribly a dog fighting trainer, who beats and abuses him in order to bring out his fury. Eventually, Hagen escapes, and much like Caesar in the Planet of the Apes remakes, somehow enlists an army of other stray dogs to assist him in his revenge. This is definitely a difficult film to watch as a dog lover (I had to avert my eyes more than once), but its curious mix of literal and lyric is compelling.

Z for Zachariah: One of the hottest tickets in the early days of the festival, Craig Zobel’s follow-up to the much-debated Compliance (which played at Sundance back in 2012 to much controversy) adapts the 1974 sci-fi novel by Robert C. O’Brien and stars Margot Robbie as a sweet-faced farm girl up in the mountains of what might be West Virginia after human beings have almost entirely died out due to an unexplained nuclear cataclysm. She eventually meets up with a former government engineer (Chiwetel Ejiofor), and the two plan a reasonable life together until a third man (Chris Pine) arrives and threatens the delicate balance of their sanctorum. It’s not without its strengths — the three-person cast is pretty strong, and Zobel has a gift for creating subtly effective atmospheres — but it deviates so far from the book (which does not have a second man), the conclusion it draws is more than a little murky. Suffice it to say, Zobel doesn’t seem to have found any great solace in the great spirit of mankind since his last cinematic foray.

The Witch: The film, all told, I waited close to three hours to see, but Day_2the damn thing is it was just about worth it. Robert Eggers’ 16th century horror story takes place in the wilds of New England, with a pilgrim family lead by a proud, God-fearing patriarch (Ralph Ineson) getting banished from their small village to forage on their own. They settle down on a clearing right on the edge of a great and malevolent forest. After their small baby is suddenly whisked away right from under gaze of their oldest daughter, Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), things turn worse and worse for the family: The crops grow fallow, the goats start milking blood, and the rest of the children are in constant peril, until the family begins to turn on itself and the accusations of witchcraft readily fly. Expertly constructed, with a startling use of both growing, incessant sound and eerie silence, Eggers terrifying folk-tale captures a lot of the angst we feel confronting a natural world that we can’t bend to our force of will. This is one ghoulish story you most definitely do not want to tell your kids around the campfire, unless you want them huddled around you shaking and sobbing all night.

Tomorrow: They are coming fast and furious with the Aussie missing children drama Strangerland; the somber sounding Christmas, Again; the sexual assault revenge thriller Reversal; the trailer park documentary Pervert Park; and the adaptation of the Phoebe Gloekner graphic novel The Diary of a Teenage Girl.

Into the frigid climes and rarefied thin air of the spectacular Utah Mountains, I’ve arrived in order to document some of the sense and senselessness of the 2015 Sundance Film Festival. Over the next week, armed with little more than a heavy parka and a bevy of blank reporter’s notebooks, I’ll endeavor to watch as many movies as I can and report my findings.

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