Docs and Female Jocks in the Ring at Sundance

Among the highlights of a strong World Cinema section were Claire Denis's great Beau Travail (opening in March), in which the body is depicted even more sensuously than it is in Girlfight, and Laurent Cantet's Human Resources, an extremely intelligent and wrenching film about a labor dispute that unexpectedly pits a son against his father. (It's been selected for MOMA's New Directors series.) Hidden away in the Native Forum was Terrance Odette's Heater, a Beckett-like tour de force about two homeless men (acting giant Gary Farmer plays the more grounded of the pair) wandering around frozen Winnipeg trying to sell an awkwardly boxed space heater for the price of a room for the night.

The economic gap between on-screen haves and have-nots was as conspicuous as in the real world. Three of the most fascinating films were set in the greedy world of megamergers and stock shenanigans. Michael Almereyda's inventive Y2K Hamlet is a visually stunning portrait of the new New York. Although I wish he had cut the text by half, it was still the most risky English-language film at the festival. Mary Harron's smart and scary Swiftian satire American Psycho is a huge leap up from the bland I Shot Andy Warhol. And Ben Younger's Boiler Room (opening next week) provided the ritual Sundance testosterone jolt.

Despite the dozens of dotcom companies filling storefronts along Main Street (iFilm set up shop in a corner of the venerated Sundance landmark Dolly's Bookstore), and the many displays of digital technology, there were fewer digitally produced features than expected (after this year, the deluge). Miguel Ortega's haunting Chuck and Buck uses the digital camera more expressively than any film to date (and that includes The Celebration). A disturbing evocation of a symbiotic relationship, Chuck and Buck was unfairly overlooked by the jury but landed a distribution deal with Artisan, which has a penchant for quirky pictures.

Girlfight's Rodriguez: "Karyn [Kusama] saw the animalistic side of me come out."
photo: Henny Garfunkel
Girlfight's Rodriguez: "Karyn [Kusama] saw the animalistic side of me come out."

"The docs are great" is a familiar Sundance refrain that this year proved true. In addition to Long Night's Journey Into Day, Frances Reid and Deborah Hoffman's film about post-apartheid South Africa, which won the documentary grand prize and opens next month at Film Forum, Josh Aronson's Sound and Fury, which is almost as much about children's rights as it is about deafness in the age of cochlear-implant technology, and Marc Singer's Dark Days, a portrait of homeless people living in abandoned train tunnels below Manhattan, provoked passionate audience responses. Singer, who'd never picked up a movie camera before he decided to film the tunnel people, took the advice of a friend and shot the entire film in 16mm black and white, employing his equally inexperienced subjects as his crew. The result is a gorgeous film that's also a rigorous piece of urban ethnography. The behind-the-scenes story made Dark Days a sentimental favorite, but it fully deserved the three prizes it took home.

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