Piers Marchant reports from Sundance, Day Four

January 28, 2015

By Piers Marchant for blood, dirt &angels

Number of Films: 3*
General Vibe: Ground down

Princess: An Israeli film concerning a precocious 12-year-old girl, Adar (Shira Haas), living in a largely ungoverned house with her mother, Alma (Karen Mor), and her mother’s boyfriend, Michael (Ori Pfeffer). Adar is gifted but truculent, skipping school at her leisure, and engaging in increasingly inappropriate games with Michael, whose running joke is to call her a boy. When Adar takes in a beautiful homeless boy, Alan (Adar Zohar-Hanetz), who very closely resembles her, the lines blur between the two of them, and Michael’s increasing sexual effusiveness, which starts to boil over. Give director Tali Shalom-Ezer full credit for investigating the queasy subject matter without shying away from its abhorrence, suggesting that a child’s environment shapes them in ways they can’t easily dispatch, but its disturbing nature is confounded considerably by its shady adult characters, especially Alma, who seems to be several different people through the course of things.

Slow West: A genuinely enjoyable Western, with a simple premise as its base: A young Scottish man, Jay (Kodi Smit-McPhee) travels to the States and heads

Photo from Slow West, courtesy See-Saw Films

Photo from Slow West, courtesy See-Saw Films

West in order to reunite with his love (Caren Pistorius) and her father (Rory McCann), after they are forced to flee their native land after an accident leaves a nobleman dead. Along the way, he meets a lone brigand, Silas (Michael Fassbender), who sees in the kid a spirit and an innocence that will get him quickly killed, and also a means to track down the kid’s girlfriend and collect the bounty the Scottish authorities have put on her head. Standing in the way of the plan are a great number of obstacles, including but not exclusive to, Indians, flood waters, a pair of desperate Irish parents, a bounty hunter dressed as a reverend, and a full gang of outlaws, lead by Silas’ old running partner, Payne (Ben Mendelsohn). Naturally, everyone ends up at Rose’s homestead at once, and there is a fearsome climactic shoot-out (that involves one of the best sight gags I’ve seen in a film in quite some time). John Maclean’s western throws a lot of elements together, but not hastily, and the actors really seem to bite into their roles.

Mississippi Grind: One of those gambling addiction movies where you really pull for the lovable loser — in this case Gerry (Ben Mendelsohn again), a shambling sort of dude who listens endlessly to a tape of Poker tells on his car stereo, and whose shaggy countenance practically screams small-time — and he keeps breaking your heart for it. Gerry is enlivened when he meets Curtis (Ryan Reynolds), a flamboyant spirit, who likes gambling, but even more just likes hanging with interesting people and sharing their journey with them. They hit the road with a half-assed plan to gamble all the way to New Orleans where they can then take part in a big money game with a $25K buy-in. It’s easy to pull for actors — yes, even the much maligned Reynolds — who work this hard to give their characters soul, but directing team Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck offer a pretty wild batch of mixed messages along the way. For one thing, suggesting that the way out of a massive gambling debt and a compulsion that has cost you very nearly everything in your life, is to go all in when you get the chance feels more than a little disingenuous. It’s amiably easy going, but doesn’t particularly stick to your ribs.

Tomorrow: This could be the motherlode: A potential six-film day (!) with Racing Extinction, Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead, Experimenter, Hot Girls, ’71, and The Nightmare.

*There was intended to be a fourth film today, Noah Baumbach’s Mistress America, but your intrepid reporter utterly misread the time printed on his ticket and showed up for an 8:30am screening at 8:30pm. Not my finest hour, especially appealing to the ticket woman, who had to talk me down off the ledge.

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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