Sunday, 29 April 2012

Sundance London: Day 4

Music continues to be a major theme of this first Sundance London event, with a panel discussion today on movie soundtracks and screenings and concerts featuring Rufus and Martha Wainwright. This has been an unusual event for London, a South by Southwest-style combination that seems to have struck the right balance with audiences. Whether ticket sales have been strong enough to guarantee a second festival isn't clear yet. But it's been great to have the chance to see small, inventive films that might not normally get a UK release. More importantly, some are getting a release simply because they have been screened here! Here are some highlights from the final day (including Safety Not Guaranteed, pictured above)...

Safety Not Guaranteed
dir Colin Trevorrow; with Aubrey Plaza, Mark Duplass 12/US *****
The script for this inventive and deceptively simple comedy is so beautifully balanced that it's difficult not to fall in love with the characters. It also helps that the cast members deliver note-perfect performances. Aubrey Plaza stars as a disaffected youth who takes a job as an intern at a Seattle magazine, and is sent to help investigate a classified ad asking for a partner for a time-travel mission. Her character's arc is so delicately written, directed and played that we almost don't notice it happening right in front of us. And the same thing happens with characters played by Duplass (the time traveller), Jake Johnson (the journalist) and Karan Soni (another intern). All of them are dealing with issues relating to their pasts and futures, but Derek Connolly's screenplay doesn't lay any of it on heavily, while Trevorrow's direction consistently pulls us into the scenes. Easily one of the best films of 2012.

The Queen of Versailles
dir Lauren Greenfield; with Jackie Siegel, David Siegel 12/US ****
Filmmaker Greenfield clearly has a wonderful eye for the absurd, finding moments of offbeat humanity all the way through this involving documentary. It starts out as a comical chronicle of a ludicrously wealthy family, then shifts into something much more dramatic. And important. The title refers to Jackie Siegel, third wife of time-share kingpin David. As we begin, they are living in the lap of luxury in their 30-bedroom home in Orlando while building a mammoth 90-bedroom mansion they call Versailles. It will be the biggest family home in America. And then the financial crisis of 2008 hits them hard, bringing on downsizing and pressure to rein in their spending. What follows is startlingly serious, as David lapses into a very dark depression and Jackie reacts by continuing to buy things that they don't really need.

Sundance London Shorts
There were nine short films in this programme, which is rather a lot, really. But the variety of tones and styles is remarkable. They range from offbeat jokes (British creativity romp Don't Hug Me I'm Scared) to searing political commentary (Somalia pirate thriller Fishing Without Nets), from downbeat melodrama (The Return from Kosovo) to farcical comedy (Tooty's Wedding from Britain) to politically correct animation (Song of the Spindle from the US). But the four most memorable films were the UK's haunting dystopia-riot drama Robots of Brixton, which carries an eerie gut punch; the surreal, thoughtful and very brief look at British immigration in Extranjero; the hilariously inventive The Arm, an exploration of peer pressure in the social media age; and a warm and hauntingly sweet trip to a 1-year-old's birthday party in Dol (First Birthday).

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