Sundance: Day seven

The festival has officially wiped me out. I am a shell of the energetic festival-goer I once was, or at least fancied myself to be. Mid-week is here and the crowd, as predicted, is a great deal less than it was only a day ago. Those in town for the party are long gone and the bulk of business to be completed is for the most part done and done—movies bought, talent signed. Now the festival is at last—a film festival. Unfortunately I leave tomorrow, and will miss the final two days of Sundance.

My day is wall-to-wall interviews, mostly with foreign directors of films including Blue Eyelids, a fantastic feature by Mexico’s Ernesto Contreras. My sole North American interview of the day is with Death in Love‘s director Boaz Yakin and lead actor Josh Lucas, whom romantics will know from Sweet Home Alabama. Fans of this film will be sorely disappointed if they are looking for another dose of Lucas as the striking leading man. While he may play the lead in Death in Love, he is hardly a romantic figure in this film, which is far more death than it is love.

Yakin’s epic tale of existential angst and familial grievance is not for the faint of heart. At every turn, the narrative punches the viewer in the face with a new realization, presented in the bleak light from beyond the grave. It’s difficult to envision Lucas as the fatalistic lead in the film upon meeting him. Relaxed in a way that only Southerners seem capable of (Lucas is a Arkansas native), the actor is handsome but more unassumingly so in person than on screen, in his cable-knit sweater and jeans. Lucas has a genuine charm that has you leaning in for more chatter.

I watch a short later on in the day entitled Relationship in Four Days, and within the first five minutes of this 25-some-minute work, I decide that this may be among the best piece of cinema I have watched the entire festival. This has nothing to do with the fact that I have previously met and hung out with the director (Peter Glanz), one of the producers (Juan Iglesias) and a couple of the actors (Pete Chekvala and Patrick McKenzie)—no, the film is deserving of all accolades thrown its way, including mine—ever so slightly biased though it may be. A vignette of the relationship we all had in our twenties, or in the lead character’s case, thirties, the film is aesthetically a kiss on tired eyelids and narratively, the sort of story that makes you smile when thinking of a scene a week later on the subway to work. Check out a related music video by the Parson Red Heads on YouTube, it’ll be enough to have you searching for its corresponding film.

Tonight is quieter than most. I have a late dinner and then head over to a midnight screening of director’s Michael Haneke’s Funny Games starring indie-faves Michael Pitt and Naomi Watts. The film is the English facsimile of Haneke’s 1997 German film of the same name, which was nominated for a Palme d’Or at that year’s Cannes Film Festival. Expect much the same horror, but see the original first if you haven’t already.

After the screening, I somehow end up at an impromptu premiere party at a small house, where the cast and director of the film are all in attendance. I leave the house only a couple of hours before my 6 a.m. pickup for my 8 a.m. flight back to Toronto. I wrestle with thoughts of staying, sharing the struggle with the poor cabbie who picked me up at this ungodly hour. He tells me to stay, marry a Mormon, and have eight kids. I decide to keep going in the direction toward the airport.

Until next year…

By Jennifer Lee

Photo: Still from the short film, Relationship in Four Days.

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