Amazed and Confused at Sundance

Troubled Buyers and True Believers

The Believer was not the only Sundance film about conflicted Jewish identity. Sandi Simcha Dubowski's documentary Trembling Before G-d deals with gay and lesbian Orthodox and Hasidic Jews who, because of the prohibition against homosexual activity, are forced into a torturous position of choosing between soul and sexuality. The film is filled with vivid testimony and anecdotal material, but it lacks a coherent analytical framework and insufficiently explores nonfundamentalist interpretations of Torah law.

What was new at Sundance was the emphasis on the relationships between parents and children, particularly on the conflicts of motherhood. Sissy Spacek's and Tom Wilkinson's performances in In the Bedroom as a bereft middle-aged couple won a special jury award. No less powerful was Tilda Swinton's portrayal of a mother who covers up a killing to protect her gay son in Scott McGehee and David Siegel's The Deep End, a pointless remake of Max Ophüls's insinuating oedipal melodrama, The Reckless Moment. Jacqueline Bisset shows hitherto untapped acting chops in Christopher Munch's haunting The Sleepy Time Gal, a film that manages to seem both emotionally naked and aesthetically restrained. Kerry Washington shines as a professional shoplifter who tries to win her mother's love with designer labels in Lift, DeMane Davis and Khari Streeter's surprisingly staid follow-up to their radical debut feature, Black & White & Red All Over. And Mark Lewis's eccentric documentary The Natural History of the Chicken not only makes the case against factory farming but movingly depicts a mother hen's courage in defending her young.

Wide awake: more-than-cult director Richard Linklater.
photo: Larry Hammerness
Wide awake: more-than-cult director Richard Linklater.

Among the many other notable films were Christopher Nolan's Borgesian thriller Memento, which won the screenwriting award; Jonathan Glazer's British gangster picture Sexy Beast, which combines a cool but sensuous style and a humanist approach that's closer to Melville than Tarantino; Daniel Minahan's Series 7, a dead-on parody of reality TV that's as merciless as it should be; and Randy Redroad's The Doe Boy, a richly photographed, understated Native American coming-of-age film that adroitly blends realism and allegory. All in all, there were so many fabulous films that little time was left for parties and gossip. But we did hear a rumor that the festival is shopping for a new venue. Let it be someplace warm for a change?

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