Piers Marchant’s Sundance Day One

January 19, 2018

Sundance 2018: Day 1

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Number of Films: 2

Best Movie of the Day: Private Life

The Guilty: A taut Danish thriller that takes place entirely within an emergency call center, and, more significantly, between the eyebrows of its main protagonist, a corrupt and recently demoted cop named Asger (Jakob Cedergren), on the eve of a formal investigation into his actions. On this particularly eventful night, he takes a call from a terrified woman who claims she has been kidnapped by her murderous ex-husband. Trying to help her anyway he can, Asger gets more and more desperate in his attempts, and as a result makes worse and worse decisions on her behalf. We never leave his office, but director Gustav Möller expertly mines the placid environment of office chairs, phone headsets, and co-workers lurking in the background to create visual and emotional resonance, and utilizes the talents of his leading man, who creates a resoundingly complex and moody character. The film also makes expert use of the claustrophobia of sound, hearing everything through the ears of Asger, as he anguishes on behalf of the victims.

Private Life: Tamara Jenkins’ first foray behind the camera since 2007’s The Savages is a vaguely morose sort of dramedy about a long-suffering New York couple (played by Kathryn Hahn and Paul Giamatti) who have spent the last couple of years exhaustively attempting to have a child by any means necessary. Their marriage has turned into a kind of grim march, with raised hopes dashed against the rocks over and over again. In absolute desperation, they make an offer to their step-niece (Kayli Carter) to be their egg donor, a query that severely rankles her mother (Molly Shannon), but with which the young woman enthusiastically agrees. The film is long – this is something of an early print and could likely use a trim or two – which gives it a bit of an air of unnecessary sprawl, but Jenkins has enriched the characters into well-wrought three-dimensional beings. There isn’t a single moment between them that feels unearned or pat. The performances are all terrific as well, and it’s refreshing to see a film about realistic characters who actually look and act like real people, rather than gorgeous actors going slumming for a role. There is no gloss or pomp, just emotional depth, and a portrait of a couple whose life together becomes shaped irreversibly by the suffering and disappointments they endure along the way.

Tomorrow: The first full day of the festival promises to be an interesting one: I start out my day by taking in the female-lead non-rom Rust; move over to Bart Layton’s American Animals about a quartet of young men who plan an insane rare book heist; jump from there to Juliet, Naked, based on the Nick Hornby novel about a reclusive musician and one of his biggest fans; and close out the evening with The Game Changers, which concerns a special-forces officer who finds out a dark secret about human nutrition.

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 2018 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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