Art of the Real 728x90 Film Comment Film Society of Lincoln Center

Sundance Diary #5

By John Wildman on February 01, 2013

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SUNDAY, January 20, 2013

After a hearty breakfast of Airborne tablets, a mini-hoagie saved from the day before and a tankard of O.J., I’m on my way to see Ain’t Them Bodies Saints. I have a lot of friends involved in this one, from Texas Renaissance man David Lowery (who wrote and directed the film as well as co-writing Sundance entry Pit Stop and editing another Sundance entry Upstream Color) to producer James Johnston to various people in the cast.

Ain't Them Bodies Saints

AIN’T THEM BODIES SAINTS

Written and directed by David Lowery, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints is a cinematic tone poem about the struggle for redemption versus revenge. Set in rural Texas at an unspecified yet earlier, simpler time, the film follows the long-term repercussions following a standoff and shoot-out between the law and a trio of small-town outlaws.

Outlaw couple and soon-to-be parents Bob (Casey Affleck) and Ruth (Rooney Mara) survive the shoot-out, but he surrenders to take the rap for their actions, which include the wounding of one officer by her gun. When Bob escapes from jail, the town, which has lived under the shadow of the incident, braces itself for his return. Among the concerned parties are Ruth’s benefactor (Keith Carradine), who has deep ties to the incident; the wounded deputy (Ben Foster), who has taken it upon himself to look after her; and various other people either hoping to help Bob in his quest or seek revenge against him for the sins of his youth.

Ain’t Them Bodies Saints is a fully realized work by a filmmaker seeking to evoke a timeless tale of fierce loyalties, love, and hatred against a sepia-drenched Texas backdrop. Then again, as detailed as the production and sound design are, Lowery seems less concerned about pinning down specifics within the story as he is with creating a “legend” on screen. The precision and professionalism work against the film a little, opening up a bit too much distance for us to become completely invested in their collective fates. Mind you, this is admittedly splitting hairs, as the film is more than good enough to deserve the scrutiny.

Expected Sundance Reaction:

Will be placed in the upper tier of films in any list. It’s just too accomplished to do otherwise.

Expected Real World Reaction:

This one goes to the multiplex. I could also see it being placed and pushed in contention for indie awards consideration at the end of the year.

We are What We Are

WE ARE WHAT WE ARE

Directed by Jim Mickle, this is a very loose remake of Mexican director Jorge Michel Grau’s 2010 film about a family of cannibals whose younger members are pressed to take a more hands-on role in putting “meat” on the table following the death of one of the parents.

This time, it’s the death of their mother that forces sisters Iris and Rose into roles they aren’t fully prepared for in order to continue the family’s barbaric dietary traditions, as dictated and harshly enforced by their ailing father, who is behaving more erratic by the day. The teenagers balance caring for their little brother, while managing the house and dealing with the realization that they would like to escape this lifestyle and live their lives like other girls their age. Meanwhile, outside forces are conspiring against the family secret staying hidden for much longer: a young deputy who nurtures an attraction to one of the girls; a sheriff (played by Michael Parks) whose daughter went missing just a year prior; and a persistent rainstorm that is washing away the makeshift graves around their home and bringing the bones of their past victims to light.

An appropriate follow-up to Mickle’s 2010 apocalyptic vampire film Stakeland, his new film is a grungy, earthbound tale of family and community ties forged in the conflict between the survival of the species and love. The film nicely resists the urge to exploit the monstrosity of the family’s lifestyle, instead focusing on the cruelty of a home life dictated by tradition. A misstep comes in the excessive screen time spent on the Donner party-like events that set all of this into motion generations ago, but the film, bolstered by very effective understated performances across the board, never goes completely off the rails as it methodically heads toward its bloody climax.

Expected Sundance Reaction:

While the film isn’t flashy, genre pickings are so very slim at Sundance 2013 that even if they grumble a little, film fans hungry for that fare will still gobble it up.

Expected Real World Reaction:

Good, solid genre programming. While I can’t see it making the big splash, like Stakeland, the film could play well with the long game (VOD, DVD, etc.).

After that doubleheader, I head over to Main Street for the Texas party. The Dallas Film Society is teaming up with the Austin Film Society and Texas Monthly magazine and probably a half-dozen other Texas types with cinema lust, to throw the kind of event that groups like this need to do each film fest to remind everyone that they still exist and totally make and love movies and need your attention too. As I walk in, Calvin Lee Reeder and Lindsay Pulsipher (The Rambler) are having their pictures taken in a closet-sized step-and-repeat by the door. Space is going to be tight.

I perform some pretty deft limbo-type maneuvers and footwork to make my way through the schmoozing masses, stopping to say hello to various people I recognize like Dallas Film Commissioner Janis Burklund and Film Threat’s Don Lewis. Then I find Ruth Mutch talking to some people and she asks me the whereabouts of Farah White, the co-producer and star of the film I’m working on. “Why isn’t Farah here pimping you out?” Good question. Point made. And I make a mental note that Farah gets fewer close-ups in the next movie…. if there is a next movie. A Facebook update by Film Society colleague Matt Kaszanek lets me know the line to get into Escape From Tomorrow is already getting scary, so I make one more uncomfortable lap around the place to prove I attended this thing and then it’s off to see the movie.

Matt, who books the first-runs at the Film Society’s Film Center, saves me a seat and I settle in for the fun. As we wait for the film to begin, a neighboring journalist throws out the day’s winning factoid: “A 19-year old Carlton Fisk poured the cement for J. D. Salinger’s patio.” Talk about your non sequiturs.

Escape from Tomorrow

ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW

Randy Moore’s movie is about the surreal journey of a family man desperately trying to keep things together after learning he has lost his job, so that his wife and kids can enjoy the last day of their vacation at Disney World.

Jim receives the bad news via a confusing phone call from his boss just as the family is poised to make their way out to the Magic Kingdom on the final day of their vacation. Oblivious to his situation, his wife and kids are also oblivious to the fixation he begins to have on two pretty and fun-loving French girls who keep crossing paths with them. Soon, as Jim begins orchestrating ways in which he can follow the girls and make contact with them, his world—and Disney’s world of temptation—begin to close in on him in increasingly strange and frightening ways.

Because the film was shot at Disney World and Disneyland without the Mouse’s permission, Escape From Tomorrow almost by design takes on the significant of a “cinema event” beyond the content of the film itself. Whether or not it winds up like Todd Haynes’s infamous Superstar, only able to be shown at film festivals or secret screenings, the film has a crackling audacity to it that allows it to stand on its own. There’s ample wit to be enjoyed (at one point Jim responds to his son that in comparison to the French girls, his wife “is beautiful in an Emily Dickinson Tina Fey kind of thing”), and as the story plays out, it becomes creepy and haunting like a next-generation Carnival of Souls.

Expected Sundance Reaction:

This one quickly became an event. “Better see it here and now because you might never get another chance to do so!”

Expected Real World Reaction:

Time and the lawyers will tell...

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