Piers Marchant at Sundance, Day SixJanuary 30, 2020
Number of Films: 4
Best Film of the Day: The Killing of Two Lovers
The Killing of Two Lovers: Stereotypically, one hallmark of young directors on shoestring budgets is a lack of basic technical proficiency, but Robert Machoian‘s stunning film (his fourth feature) has style and expertise for days. From the opening sequence, with a distraught, estranged husband standing over the bed of his wife and her new boyfriend with malice in his heart, and a gun in hand, the film spirals out into incredibly well structured compositions, taking us inside and outside of David’s recurring psychosis, utilizing a bevy of techniques: The framing shrinks down around him, the sound gets muffled, as if underwater, save for the incredibly unnerving metallic sound of cables being stretched taut, and the sickening kathunk of a heavy car door slamming shut. As David makes his way through the days, tending to his infirm father, taking the kids out for a morning in the park, our sympathies are with him, but the recurring bouts of fury, in which he acts completely irrationally in ways that seem utterly foreign to our understanding of him. To hear him talk calmly with his wife, he sounds perfectly reasonable negotiating their shared plan, but we are always aware of the murderous fury in his soul. Given all that, and the very title itself, Machoian feels as if he’s drawing us down the inexorable vortex into violent catharsis, only, he ends up taking it in a far more unexpected direction. As well-crafted as it is, it forces you to examine this turn off the highway as something other than a curious misstep. Regardless, we should expect to see more from this talented director, and I will await his next project with great interest.
The Evening Hour: It certainly means well, but Braden King’s Applicachian drug-infested town drama mostly feels like a couple of lesser episodes of “Justified” strung together. Cole (Philip Ettinger) is a young man growing up in a rundown coal-mining town up in the mountains. He works at a nursing home by day, where is careful and conscientious with his patients, and has a thriving Oxy-selling scheme on the side. Notably, he doesn’t steal from those patients in his care, rather, he roams around the town, bringing bagged groceries to various other elderly residents, and pays them a small pittance for their unneeded prescriptions. When an old friend (Cosmo Jarvis) swings by to set up a Meth cookery, he runs afoul of the local drug-lord, Everett (Marc Manchaca), forcing Cole to step up and help. Shot on location in Kentucky, and with a good eye for natural detail, King puts his characters through their paces reasonably well, but it really isn’t anything we haven’t seen before.
Nine Days: A metaphysical weepie, Edson Oda’s film takes a somewhat similar framework to “The Good Place” only coming from the other end of a lifespan. Will (Winston Duke) is stationed in a small, somewhat forlorn house situated on a long, flat beach where the tide is always further away than you think. From there, in this pre-life way station, he monitors closely the lives of the souls he’s given the go-ahead to be born. When one of his souls dies mysteriously — possibly of a suicide he never saw coming — he has to interview a series of new candidates — including Zazie Beetz, Tony Hale, and Bill Skarsgard — in order to select a new soul to monitor. He is aided first by a fellow interviewer (Benedict Wong), but then Beetz’ character, Emma, also tries to help him. The film is, as you might expect, slow and somewhat somnambulant, with the exception of Beetz, filled with bubbly energy, and Hale, who injects some needed verve. Conceptually, it actually works pretty well, as long as you don’t look at it too closely (the rules, such as they are, remain almost comically vague), and it goes for the emotional jugular at the end, but I found myself appreciating it more than actually being engaged. One thing it does instill in you, however, is a feeling of gratitude, not letting everything whiz past you without your acknowledging the amazing complexity of our lives.
Horse Girl: A fascinating, and far more deeply personal, film than you might imagine from the simple log-line. A young, shy woman, obsessed with crochet, a TV show called “Purgatory,” and the horse she rode as a child, starts to lose her grip on her sanity, en route to a complete break-down. This being Sundance, it sounds at first blush as yet another quirky indie comedy where the woman needs to learn how to better survive in the world, and her friends and family all have to learn to take her how she is, but … this isn’t that movie. Instead, director Jeff Baena and co-writer/star Allison Brie take her character, Sarah, on a completely different journey. That is, eventually. Shrewdly, the first act of the film does in fact play like the comedy you might expect: Sarah is first merely eccentric and oddly lonely, peculiar especially because she is pretty, vivacious, and seems perfectly social. But shortly after she begins a romance, her dreams go into dark, confusing places, and she keeps sleepwalking out of the house, waking up in odd places (reminiscent a bit of Donnie Darko). Brie, who has talked on the press tour about her own family’s history of mental illness, isn’t interested in softening the disease, making it palatable (or comic) for the audience; but she also isn’t making some didactic screed. Rather, she and Baena have made an ungainly sort of feature, filled with bits and pieces that don’t swallow easily.
Tomorrow: On my last day of the festival, I start my day with the creepy atmospherics of Remi Weekes’ His House; and close out my Sundance 2020 experience with the lauded doc Boys State.
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 2020 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. 9:35PM | URL: https://tmblr.co/Z52bPy2nTGhNA
(view comments) (Notes: 3) FILED UNDER: sweet smell of successssospiers marchantfilmsmoviessundance 2020sundance international film festivalpark citythe killing of two loversrobert machoianthe evening hourhorse girlallison brienine daysjeff baenawinston dukeEdson Odatony halezazie beetzbill skarsgardarkansas democrat gazette