Sundance: Day 2

January 23, 2016

By Piers Marchant
for blood, dirt & angels

Number of Films: 4
General Vibe: Bloodied but unbowed

The Free World: Jason Lew’s film is overwrought to be sure – you have most of the elements of what sounds like a failed Jim Thompson novel: freed convicts, murderous wives, a botched attempt to cross the Mexican border that ends in a blood bath – but its central sin is giving us a large world of characters for whom there is no true emotional center. The closest we come is with Mohammed (Boyd Holbrook), the con in question, freed by the Innocence Project, his record cleared, nonetheless remains a tortured soul. When he takes in a hysterical bloody woman named Doris (Elizabeth Moss), he inadvertently sets in motion the seeds of his own demise. The film is obtuse when it should be open; and far too obvious when it should be subtle (mind the building storm clouds!). But it does offer us at least an ending that is oddly unexpected, diffusing at least some of the built-up melodramatic static in ways you wouldn’t necessarily expect.

Wild: An ode to the natural world that somehow reduces it to an erotic fantasia for one increasingly deranged young woman. That woman (Lilith Stangenberger) discovers a wolf one morning while walking though a local park on her way to work. Intrigued, she begins to feed it, before hatching a ridiculous scheme to capture it and bring it back to her concrete slab of an apartment building. This, she accomplishes, and begins an increasingly bizarre quest to seduce the poor beast (eventually this involves her own menstrual blood – yes, this is the kind of film that goes exactly there). When this works beyond her wildest dreams, she dismantles the rest of her life in short-order, in order to head out to the wilderness to complete her autoerotic transformation. There are moments in the early going where you think the film will be made with precision and care, but its very premise is flawed, and the director, the former actress Nicolette Krebitz, instead relies on old fashioned German shock value to sell some of its more far out ideas.

Photo: From The Eyes of My Mother, courtesy Tandem Pictures.

Photo: From The Eyes of My Mother, courtesy Tandem Pictures.

The Eyes of My Mother: I will state that the extraordinary B & W cinematography, by Zach Kuperstein, is indeed something to behold. It’s a beautiful film, which makes the fact that the story it depicts is so utterly loathsome all the more disappointing. A young girl living on a farm with her strangely disaffected parents, has to witness her mother being brutally murdered by a traveling psychopath, only to have her father incapacitate the man and inexplicably chain him to the loft of their barn, where he becomes a sort of play-pretty for the girl, who tries her hand at several variations of surgery. As this girl grows, so too does her moral depravity, and the body count around her farm begins to rise. Bloody, senseless, and more or less without a point, other than its self-generated grinding narrative, Nicolas Pesce’s film floats on the whims of its artfully sadistic creator. It’s like an extended Edward Gorey cartoon, only without the grim sense of humor.

Author: The JT LeRoy Story: A fascinating doc from Jeff Feuerzeig about the curious case of alleged teen author JT LeRoy, a literary figure from the late ‘90s, who became famous for being a homeless child prostitute with HIV, whose mother was a truck stop hooker. It turns out that JT was the creation of a depressed, overweight, wildly creative woman in her mid-30s, named Laura Albert who felt she had no other outlet for her depression other than the fictive creations generated by an alter ego. Before too long, she enlisted the aid of her husband, and sister-in-law, to finalize the illusion of the character, who quickly became the literary célébre of many hipper-than-thou celebs of the day (including Courtney Love, Winona Ryder, Gus van Sant, and Billy Corgan). The doc follows the story of the character from the POV of Albert, much thinner and, we are to assume, more worldly for the experience, who explains her decisions in ways that are almost forcefully sympathetic. The film’s central tenet, which really explores the very idea of fiction in an age of the media cult of personality, is enthralling, and forces you on some level to define your own reaction to the false backstory of the author.

Tomorrow: We’ll see if we can’t up the positive percentage with films from Robert Cannan and Ross Adam (The Lovers and the Despot), Kelly Reichardt (River of Grass), Brian Oakes (Jim), and Whit Stillman (Love & Friendship).

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 2016 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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