I admit, my completely unplanned Sundance excursion gave me pause: would the catchy notion of letting the universe dictate my snowy path through Park City be just that, a catchy notion? Driving to the airport, I realized I didn't even have a deck of cards to play solitaire with alone in my hotel room.
Fortunately, the creatively chaotic Brownian motion of the festival hit me as soon as I boarded my platinum-blondes-filled flight (kind of like The Social Network's co-ed party bus with wings.) I immediately ran into a couple of old friends, including one very talented member of the very talented cast of Filly Brown. A first time festival-goer, his anxious enthusiasm -- what will people think of the film, how will it be received, do I need chains for my rental car -- surprisingly brought a counterpoint of calmness to me.
Landing in Salt Lake City, I forewent the common-sense tactic of dropping off my luggage at the hotel to pick up my press pass and tickets because I knew otherwise there'd be no way on Robert Redford's frozen earth that the shuttle system would get me to Park City's Eccles theater on time for my first film: Antonio Campos' diffident-20-something-Americans-behaving badly movie Simon Killer. Brady Corbet gave a chilling, mumble-filled performance as an ex-student who flees to Paris after his girlfriend dumps him, possibly for being more than just a little clingy. Basically, he's the kind of sad, mousy man-boy who gives cute girls the willies even though they could probably split him in half.
Simon soothes his broken soul with the attentions of a gamine French hooker, and soon finds himself living every male 20-something's dream: bedroom-bound days full of damaged sex, interspersed with blackmailing his lover's Johns. What could go wrong, right? Part of the joy of the film is letting that tension play out; the other part is the sex. Produced by the team behind Martha Marcy May Marlene (I think I got that right) Campos' film combines the slow ominous pans, disjunctive framing and epileptic cinematography of that film with an inner pathos reminiscent of The Talented Mr. Ripley, which is to say, your stomach is turned in knots and then you feel like you need a cold shower afterwards. (I'm not kidding about the epilepsy. Festival director John Cooper offered ticket refunds to any of the patrons who didn't think their seizure tendencies could take it.)
Even if you find yourself recoiling more in horror than connecting with The Talented Mr. Corbet, it was an impressive film. It's hard to say one "enjoys" such a film, but I was certainly affected by it, or would have been if I'd taken a few moments to reflect on it rather than failing to make it to Filly Brown on time. Fortunately this gave me the chance to drop off my bags and catch part two of my frustrated-male-erotic desires double feature, Madrid 1987.
David Trueba's jaded bon mots-filled film starts off with a promising postcard of Spanish intellectual ennui. An aged, chain-smoking columnist in post-Franco Spain meets a lithe young journalism student ostensibly to let her interview him. Who are we kidding about ostensibly: he wants to sleep with her and makes it apparent five minutes in by inviting her back to his painter friend's abandoned studio. However, if you think this is some tale of naïve youth despoiled by lecherous, liver-spotted age, think again. Sure, the clothes fly off quickly as the columnist tries with all the aristocratic grace of a late 50s Spaniard to bed his young Daphne. Soon, she's showering and he's walking in on her in the bathroom: the twist comes when the bathroom door jams behind him, locking them both inside, naked. Now, there will be sex. But what intrigues, and sometimes frustrates, about Trueba's film is just how much talking is involved both before, during and after. His leads spend 90 percent of the movie nude, chewing the existential fat over the power of writing to change the world (hint: none), the charming greed of youth and the weary selfishness of age. As is true of most meandering European films, a handful of judicious trims could have helped, but there is something undoubtedly mesmerizing about the banter between the columnist and his young prey as they find themselves forced to face each other, totally naked, and actually communicate. Oh, the price of sex for an old man.
While it is ideological pure to rail against the Main St. party scene at Sundance, it is fun to partake in it. By the grace of some fellow blogging colleagues, I found myself whisked away to the finger-food heaven of the Acura-something-something-something-sponsored party for the well-received Your Sister's Sister. While snacking on plentiful crab cakes and pinot noir, I tried not to make too much eye-contact with Emily Blunt -- in keeping with the evening's theme of male-sexual frustration -- and instead marveled at the two Acuras roped off in the middle of the converted shop space. After bemoaning the eternal struggles of indie film financing with some producers, I left, catching NPR's Mike Birbiglia (here for Sleepwalk With Me) accosting cab drivers with a wickedly playful grin and drunken non sequiturs. Despairing of a cab myself, I walked past one of Park City's trashier venues, The Bing Bar, where muscle-bound bouncers live to turn you away: No joke, a real quote from last year when I brought several friends as my plus ones*: "you're lucky you're with pretty girls." Since I was distinctly deficient in the pretty girl department this year, I decided to enjoy the long trek back to my hotel, breezing past a static yellow line of cabs as unseen dark clouds above gently sifted light snowfall across my shoulders. As poetic as that sounds, it did get tiring, so I hopped on a late-night shuttle, packed to the gills with joyful drunks. As if karma were blessing my impromptu Sundance project, I ran into my friend from Filly Brown again. Thinking perhaps I couldn't tell from his exhausted smile, he confirmed that the Filly Brown premiere had gone over like gangbusters with a hell of a party at the Supper Club after.
*Yes, that's an oxymoron, one that makes sense only in the context of Sundance.