Paste film editor Michael Dunaway is at Sundance this week. Here’s a round-up of just some of the narrative films he’s seen so far.
Miranda July hit indie gold with Me and You and Everyone We Know. The new film also revolves around the love life of a shy introspective girl, but instead of the search for love, July focuses on the struggle to keep loving. July is as winning as ever, and Hamish Linklater is charming if a bit too John Krasinki-esque in the opposite role. Some will find the narration cloying and the touch of magic realism jarring, while others will find them whimsical and exciting. But the major plot twist two-thirds of the way through the film was just needlessly cruel. A mixed success.
Colombia’s entry into the World Dramatic Competition is a strong one. Carlos Moreno’s thriller boasts one of the most unlikely heroes at the festival—a short, stocky, cross-eyed farmer who finds a mysterious pile of dead bodies in his fields on election day. His attempts to see that the right thing is done with the bodies takes on near-mythical proportions as he must struggle with the interests, desires and suspicions of the press, the military, the government and even his own family. Alvaro Rodriguez, one of the most famous actors in Columbia, is very, very good in the lead role, and Jorge Herrema is delightfully slimy as a corrupt, beleagured government official. It’s a political film, but in a deeply subversive way—not a comment on specific policies or leaders, but a challenge as to what an individual’s duty is to stand up for what is right in the face of menacing might. It’s a tone that puts some of the shriller Sundance polemics to shame.
Sometimes the music in you just won’t die. In Yuji Sadai’s inspiring story, a Zen Buddhist monk happens to be a former punk-rock guitarist and singer. In the opening scene, he snaps and begins yelling at a group of high school students at a public speaking engagement. It soon becomes clear that he’ll have to integrate the two sides of himself to be truly happy. For a film about the love of punk rock, it’s remarkably slow and quiet. It’s shot beautifully and Sadai’s lead actor Suneiohair is wonderful. He’s a well-known musician in Japan, and he brings a striking authenticity to the part. He’s also improbably convincing as a Buddhist monk. Rie Tomosaka is wonderful as his long-suffering, spunky wife. And, rare among this year’s festival films, this one takes a very positive view of its central character’s faith. By the time you learn what the film’s title means, you’ve long since been sold.