More of a supplement to Part 1 than a second half, this collection of roundups on films screening at Sundance, Rotterdam, Berlin and SXSW this year is simply the result of my looking back at those four festivals and realizing that several films that have made a mark in the first quarter of 2010 were somehow overlooked in the frenzy at the time. There is no argument woven into the following batch, nor should it be read as a "best of" anything. It's simply an addition to the reviews and "coverage of the coverage" entries we've already posted (and gathered under the following tags: Sundance, Rotterdam, Berlin and SXSW). The only criterion for inclusion is that the films have been in some way, any way notable.
"The best film I saw at the Sundance Film Festival was at Slamdance," writes Amy Taubin in the current issue of Film Comment. Days before either festival opened, she spoke with Steven Soderbergh about And Everything is Going Fine for the New York Times, and we learned that he and editor Susan Littenberg had spent three years editing 15 hours of monologuist, writer and actor Spalding Gray's performances, caught on film or video, his television interviews and home movies down to 90 minutes. The aim, as LA Weekly film editor Karina Longworth has quoted Soderbergh as telling the Slamdance audience, was to create "'a new monologue [with] Spalding telling his own story.' It's amazing how well this works, and not a little eerie. Littenberg's spot-on construction creates an uncanny replica of a Gray monologue's pace and cadence, but also, Gray seems to have been imagining his death his entire life. In the opening image of the film, from a performance document obviously transferred from an obsolete tape medium, Gray enters the frame ghosted by rainbow video artifacts. Later, he tells an interviewer, 'I like telling the story of life better than living it.' As more and more of the past seems to point directly to Gray's untimely demise, Fine certainly does takes on the quality of 'a new monologue' — a new monologue from beyond the grave."
More from Pamela Cohn (Hammer to Nail) and Arthur Ryel-Lindsey (House Next Door). I'd simply add an observation that's going to come off as terribly obvious but needs appreciating nonetheless: Soderbergh thinks his films through completely. While And Everything is Going Fine is a film that's been made at the editing table, and impeccably so, too, the opening titles and closing credits are the only additions to preexisting footage. And they're perfect; there's a slight electronic edge to the lettering suggestive of the analog video era from which much of the material's come. They're nowhere near as crucial to the film as the maps that open each part of Che are, but again, just perfect. It'll be screening at Hot Docs in Toronto on April 30 and May 1.
"No movie I've seen at Sundance this year conjures the possibilities — or the current, gloom-and-doom marketplace environment — of independent film more powerfully than Blue Valentine." Entertainment Weekly's Owen Glieberman: "A lushly touching, wrenching, and beautifully told story, directed by Derek Cianfrance with a mood of entwined romantic dreams and romantic loss, it stars Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams as Dean and Cindy, a young, semi-working-class couple who meet, fall in love, get married, raise a little daughter, and lose their spark, though not necessarily in that order." The problem: "How many moviegoers today, even those who seek out independent films, are going to want to spend two hours tasting the bittersweet vibe of this sad, troubled marriage?" In fact, for Ella Taylor, blogging for NPR, "hands are wrung too often, to too little effect." More from Logan Hill (New York), Eric Kohn (indieWIRE), Karina Longworth (Voice), Wesley Morris (Boston Globe), Nathan Rabin (AV Club) and ST VanAirsdale (Movieline). Interviews with the makers: indieWIRE, Kevin Kelly (Cinematical) and Anne Thompson.
"Sort of like an Australian Goodfellas (but with less sweep and more low-rent grubbiness), Animal Kingdom tracks the entree of a teenage boy into a life of crime," writes the AV Club's Noel Murray. "First-time feature-director David Michôd borrows a little from other hip genre filmmakers" but "Animal Kingdom is plotted well, with some good twists down the stretch." For Movieline's ST VanAirsdale, Michôd "reinvents straightforward genre trappings — the hothead too crudely ambitious for his own good, for example, or the sinister underworld lord — as conduits for a new generation of crime story, one for an age where the family matriarch sincerely tells her bloodthirsty son, 'Maybe you should go back on your medication' and where 21st-century paranoia might as well be in the water." More from Ryland Aldrich (Twitch) and Brandon Harris (Filmmaker).
In the first narrative swath of Lovers of Hate, Bryan Poyser lays the groundwork for a classically farcical set piece played slow and easy. We learn that Rudy (Chris Doubek) used to tell stories to his kid brother, Paul (Alex Karpovsky), who's turned them into a wildly successful series of children's books, which has turned Rudy, in Paul's words, into "a perpetual resentment machine." Rudy's wife, Diana (Heather Kafka), has thrown him out. The twist of the knife: Paul and Diana have always had a thing for each other. The lovers wind up in a luxury condo for a weekend, unaware Rudy's inside, watching and listening to their every move — and doing his best to sabotage the tryst.
"Poyser scores some nasty laughs and exploits the inherent creepiness of the fly-on-the-wall scenario," writes Dennis Lim for SUNfiltered, "but the viewer is likely to realize its limitations even before Rudy does. That said, the squirmy humor is a bit one-note, and a more controlled visual scheme would have ratcheted up the suspense. Still, thanks in no small part to the very game and vanity-free actors (all three are terrific), Lovers of Hate leaves an impression — it's nice to see a film that doesn't feel the need to redeem or condemn the bad behavior of its characters."
More from James Greenberg (Hollywood Reporter) and Nathan Rabin (AV Club). Monofonus Press presents a comic book, Eleven Interviews with the Makers of Lovers of Hate. Interviews with Poyser: Brian Brooks (indieWIRE), Chris Garcia (Austin American-Statesman), Mark Olsen (Los Angeles Times), David Poland (video) and Alicia Van Couvering (Filmmaker).
The Berlinale's Forum tends to stretch as globally as possible but does usually feature a measured selection from the US, including one or two Sundance titles (Winter's Bone this year, along with Laura Poitras's documentary The Oath, also at SXSW), a dash of the avant (Sharon Lockhart's Double Tide) and a world premiere of a little DIY something all but destined for SXSW. Last year, that film was Andrew Bujalski's Beeswax. This year: Matt Porterfield's Putty Hill, which everyone seems more impressed with than I am, but fine.
"The plot, as in Porterfield's Hamilton, is meant to be disregarded," writes Vadim Rizov at GreenCine Daily. "A junkie's overdosed, and these are the days leading up to his funeral — days of a weird, Linklater-esque quality, where time melts and days dissolve. You could see it as hopelessness (and there's a lot to support that), but there's a lightness of touch here like nothing I've seen in recent American regional filmmaking."
I found patches of it gorgeously done, others just plain clumsy, and the juxtaposition is startling. At any rate, more the New Yorker's Richard Brody ("if there's an independent cinema, this movie is it, and if there's a new director, here he is") and from Cullen Gallagher at Hammer to Nail, where Porterfield writes about the film's making.
"There's nothing oblique or nuanced in Berlinale competition selection Caterpillar, Koji Wakamatsu's indictment of right-wing militarist-nationalism and the partner-piece to his relentless expose on left-wing extremism, United Red Army." Maggie Lee in her nail-on-the-head review for the Hollywood Reporter: "As consciously strident in tone as the various forms of WWII Japanese war propaganda he deploys satirically, his conviction is so strong, and his argument so persuasive that this masterpiece has the blunt force of a tank rolling over naked flesh. Instead of the raw verite style of Red Army, Caterpillar has a riveting fictional framework and visual bravura."
"I thought that the youngsters in United Red Army were born the way they were precisely because their parents had lived through such an era," says the director in an interview for the film's sales label, Dissidenz International, and he goes one further in his talk with Cristina Nord in die taz: The two films were originally planned as a single project, an absolutely fitting, but of course, utterly unmarketable proposition.
Jeff Malmberg's Marwencol "profiles Mark Hogancamp, a former, self-described 'angry drunk' who, following a brutal bar beating that sends him into a coma, builds an intricate, WWII-era, fictional world filled with GI Joe dolls and constructed villages," writes AJ Schnack, who's already done the rounding up of raves for this winner of the Documentary Competition Jury Prize at SXSW.
"Honestly, Tiny Furniture should be intolerable," writes Alison Willmore at IFC.com. "It's about post-college malaise, which is the type of topic that becomes exponentially harder to relate to as you get distance on it. It's about the added doldrums of figuring out a career when you come from the kind of privileged background where you're not actually required to get one, which is the type of topics that's hard to relate to at all. And it's semi-autobiographical, with writer/director Lena Dunham starring as Aura and her mother and sister playing Aura's artist mother and younger sibling, respectively, a set-up that implies all sorts of navel-gazing self-indulgence. That's it's not at all intolerable — it's actually quite funny and charming — is thanks to Dunham's nigh-majestic lack of vanity." Winner of the Narrative Feature Prize at SXSW; David Carr profiles Dunham for the New York Times.
Tiny Furniture is produced by Alicia Van Couvering, who had another film at SXSW, too: "Unjustly under-buzzed was Audrey the Trainwreck, director Frank V Ross's latest naturalistic dramatization of workaday banality," writes Karina Longworth in her SXSW wrap-up for the Voice. "Ordinary life's manic seesaw between misery and levity is Ross's recurring subject; his previous, ultra-indie efforts (Hohokam, Present Company) have flown under the radar, which has allowed him the time and space to quietly build up the formal control necessary to support these incisive portraits of the suburban working-class." More from Matt Singer (IFC) and DE Ortega, who's written up a "Best of SXSW 2010" list here at The Auteurs.
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