IT WAS NEARLY A WEEK into the 2001 Sundance Film Festival. Things were chugging along in decent fashion with what seemed like the usual mix of somewhat promising first films and many other pictures that will never go anywhere. Then I saw “Intimacy,” a perfectly dreadful high-art Eurotrash production directed by French auteur Patrice Chereau from stories by the celebrated English writer Hanif Kureishi, and I suddenly realized that many of the low-budget American indies I had been seeing all week actually had something on their minds, which “Intimacy” decidedly did not.
The first refreshing aspect of the dramatic competition entries this year is that not a single trend can be noted. As if waving a wand, the new millennium swept away the unlamented Gen-X slacker genre, and the countless Tarantino clones responsible for the big trend before that evidently are now all in hiding. Even the Dogma/digital/verite feature has blended into the general fabric without attracting too much special attention anymore; either a film is good enough, regardless of how it was shot, or it’s not.
And this year, a higher than usual percentage of the dramatic entries have had something to offer that made them worth seeing. Granted, no film has stood decisively above the pack, no film on the level of, say, last year’s “You Can Count on Me,” that looks destined for a mainstream embrace. So be it. But the great variety of subject matter has kept things interesting: “The Believer” looks at a “Jewish Nazi” in New York, “Lift” concerns a young black woman’s compulsion to shoplift, “MacArthur Park” centers on down-and-out druggies in L.A., “The Sleepy Time Gal” is about a dying woman and the daughter she has never met, “Green Dragon” reveals the lives of Vietnamese refugees in U.S. camps after the war and “L.I.E.” and “Donnie Darko,” in very different ways, explore the treacherous waters of adolescence. There were even two musicals, “The American Astronaut” and “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” a Sundance first.
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From ReporterTV: John Penotti, prexy of Greene-Street Films, and Ted Hope, Good Machine co-founder, sell “In The Bedroom” to Miramax. Director Bill Bindley causes quite a splash with “Madison.” Also, Scott McGehee and David Siegel discuss how they manage to share the roles of director, producer and screenwriter. View streaming video from the Sundance Festival.
OF COURSE, IF ALL YOU HAVE are good subjects, you probably should make documentaries (which, as usual, have been in splendid abundance here), and for the buzz-meisters who flock to Sundance to spot This Year’s Model among directors, style has always counted for more than substance. In terms of cleverness and glib expertise, “Memento,” a nonlinear, puzzlelike suspenser about a man with no short-term memory, is probably the most technically accomplished film in the competition, and I have no doubt that its director, Christopher Nolan (“Following”), will have a notable career. But the concerns of the film are so small, its constant circling back on itself so debilitating after a while, that it becomes more frustrating than rewarding.
Richard Kelly is another filmmaker I’d put money on for the future, given the irrepressible imagination and stylistic flair he unleashes in “Donnie Darko,” even though the film itself represents a case of far too many ingredients in the stew.
The two dramatic entries here that stand a head above the field in the ways they fuse style and content are Todd Field’s “In the Bedroom,” a deeply felt look at a New England family and the ways in which the survivors cope with the murder of a teenage son, and Scott McGehee and David Siegel’s “The Deep End,” a meticulously crafted inversion of classic film noir principles that in a different way deals with tragedy surrounding a teenage boy and the way his mother handles it. To hardcore cinephiles, “The Deep End” will be the more appealing of the two because of the beauty of its visual style and its dedication to genre; for them, “In the Bedroom” probably is too devoted to ennobling “tradition of quality” literary and acting considerations, and also may possess a suspicious political agenda. For mainstream audiences, both films have too much the air of “art” about them to stand much chance of breaking through in a significant way. But they are, by a small but clear-cut margin, the two best competition entries I saw at Sundance.
AS FAR AS “INTIMACY”is concerned, I use the rather harsh term “Eurotrash” because the film represents merely the latest example in the noticeable trend of Euro directors working hardcore sex scenes into otherwise “serious” but meretricious pictures, doing so out of what I believe are highly cynical and calculated marketing motives rather than artistic necessity, then crying censorship and philistinism when anyone objects. I’m thinking, of course, of “Romance” and “Baise-Moi,” although “Intimacy” covers new ground by featuring two respected actors, Mark Rylance and Kerry Fox, going at it rather than unknowns and former porno performers.
The film is a turnoff, not for the compulsive and virtually anonymous sex (which looks like it was a lot better for him than for her), but because of the draggy story, the vastly selfish and no-account male character, the narrative decision to concentrate on him and his uninteresting friends instead of on the woman (Fox’s performance, despite limited screen time, marks the film’s one virtue) and Chereau’s tiresomely aggressive, in-your-face shooting style, which is becoming more annoying with each picture.
But the Euros struck a balance with Jonathan Glazer’s “Sexy Beast,” which along with Richard Linklater’s dual entries “Waking Time” and, especially, “Tape,” is one of the most purely entertaining pictures seen at Sundance. Yes, it’s yet another East End gangster yarn, the Spanish setting replicates that of “The Hit” and it’s nothing more than pulp fiction in the end. But the tart writing, live-wire direction and editing (at the public Q&A, the uncommonly well-spoken Glazer graciously credited one the film’s editors for the brilliant idea of intercutting different story elements in the pic’s climax) and the skilled performances of Ben Kingsley, Ray Winstone and Ian McShane enable the film to fully realize intentions, something that can’t be said of too many other films here.