Piers Marchant at Sundance 2017: Day 1January 21, 2017
Number of Films: 2
Vibe: Gasping for Air
Dayveon: First-time director Amman Abbasi takes his native Arkansas landscape and mines it exceptionally well in service to his story about a young man (Devin Blackmon) on the cusp of throwing his life down the tubes with a local gang. Living with his sister, and her kind boyfriend, who tries to keep him headed in the right direction, Dayveon struggles with the grief of losing his older brother to gang-related violence by inadvertently perpetuating the cycle. Despite its potential for melodramatic cliché, Abbasi sagely keeps a verité sensibility with his cast of mostly non-professional actors, and tones down any sense of Major Dramatic Upheavals. The young director will likely go on to do more complete works, taking his visual acuity and savvy timing even further, but this is a worthy beginning to what should be an interesting career.
I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore: Sundance love child Mason Blair (the muse of Jeremy Saulnier) makes his directorial debut with this sly dramedy. Melanie Lynskey is a stand-out as Ruth, a somewhat oppressed nurse’s aid, whose house gets burglarized, leading her to finally galvanize into action. Enlisting the help of Tony (Elijah Wood), a peculiar-but-game neighbor, she launches her own investigation, eventually leading to a blood-spattered showdown with the perpetrators. Consistently funny (with a sly turn from Blair himself as a boorish bar patron), the film actually works best when it plays more or less straight. By the time we reach the violent climax, it feels as if we’ve taken a wrong turn somewhere along the way. In emulating good buddy Saulnier’s bloody métier, Blair might have actually short-changed his film.
Tomorrow: On another critic’s recommendation, I will take in the Georgian film My Happy Family; finally see the intriguing Colossal, which earned good notice at TIFF; possibly take in the multi-character-arc Person to Person; and check out Cate Shortland’s Berlin Syndrome, about a young woman held hostage by a deranged ex-lover.
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 2017 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.