Live from Sundance 2013: Sunday, Jan. 20

January 21, 2013

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I had a four-movie day Sunday at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival and still felt a little like I was slacking off.

Maybe it’s that I had time to kill between films. Maybe it’s that I enjoyed these films more than most of the ones I saw on Saturday.

And it’s not as if everything I saw on Sunday was a gem. Only a couple of them were.

The most intriguing film of the day was “Concussion,” a film by Stacie Passon that could be considered a Sapphic version of “Belle de Jour.” Except, in this case, the wife, Abby (a marvelous Robin Weigert), isn’t frigid; instead, she’s unsatisfied in her marriage to lawyer Kate (Julie Fain Lawrence). But it takes a bonk on the noggin – a ball thrown by one of their children – to rattle that need loose from where she was keeping it locked away.

Before long, she’s set herself up as Eleanor, sexual guide for other women who may have needs their husbands can’t fill and the curiosity or long-gestating urge to look elsewhere: “You’re like a hot dyke housewife,” she’s told, as a way of how to sell herself to a discreet clientele. She quietly and secretly begins to see clients at a loft she’s been rehabbing in Manhattan, even as she seems to be happily living the married life in suburban New Jersey.

Weigert gives a subtle, moving performance as a woman who finally takes control of her own needs and makes a number of discoveries about herself. It’s a quiet, controlled and compelling film, one that could conceivably make a star out of the warm yet self-protecting Weigert.

I also liked “A Teacher,” a shorter (75 minutes) feature in the festival’s Next section, directed by newcomer Hannah Fidell. Lindsay Burdge plays Diana, a Dallas high school teacher who is having an affair with one of her students, Eric (Will Brittain). Things are fine until she gets spooked at a close call when they almost get caught. When Eric waves it off as not as big a deal as she thinks, she begins to have second thoughts about the affair she enjoys so much. But when she breaks it off with him, she has second thoughts about that as well – and second-guessing becomes her downfall.

Though compact and self-assured in its telling, “A Teacher” generates a lot of tension – and then an amazing sense of doom as Diana makes one misstep after another, after obviously being a skilled player up to that point. Fidell never judges Diana; indeed, she and Burdge make her seem both brave and daring, seeking her own happiness (though what she’s doing is obviously illegal). The movie a tight little ball of stress, handled with deftness by Fidell.

I haven’t been a particular fan of the work of David Gordon Green. I thought his “George Washington” was artsy and pretentious and wasn’t much crazier about “All the Real Girls” or “Snow Angels,” though I sort of liked “Undertow.” Then he started making movies with his school chum Danny McBride – “Pineapple Express” (an overrated comedy that was only half good) and the wretched “Your Highness,” as well as McBride’s TV series, “Eastbound and Down,” which ran out of jokes after the first season.

Still, there was a big lineup for the public screening of his newest, “Prince Avalanche,” which stars Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch. Tickets were so scarce that one woman outside the Park City Library (where the film showed Sunday afternoon) held up a sign that said, “I’ll trade sex for a ticket,” and was chanting, “Boobies for tickets, boobies for tickets.” In retrospect, she may have been offering herself far too cheaply.

The film itself is a low-key affair about a pair of highway workers in central Texas in the late 1980s. They’re painting lines on miles of highway one summer, camping and cooking out because they’re too far out to commute. Rudd is the more sensible of the two; Hirsch is the spacey brother of Rudd’s girlfriend, hired as favor. Not a lot happens; they argue, they fight, they reconcile. And each has elements of his personal life back in the city that seem to keep intruding.

It feels too long at 98 minutes and too slow at times – and Gordon is overly enamored of real-life locals whose appearances in the film have nothing to do with what little story there is. And yet I was drawn into the back-and-forth between the pompous Rudd and the amiable but slacker Hirsch. As I said, I’m not much of a Green fan – but this one bothered me less than most of his others. Faint praise, I realize,

The first film of the day was Michael Winterbottom’s “The Look of Love,” the true story of late British real-estate magnate and soft-core porn king Paul Raymond (Steve Coogan). The film itself seems flat and lacking in the highs and lows that a story like this one requires – and in spite of the fact that there are a rollercoaster’s share of ups and downs in Raymond’s life.

But Coogan almost carries the day, playing Raymond as a clever, suave promoter, who opened London’s first strip club, brought nudity to the West End theater and published a line of men’s magazines, even as he built a massive portfolio of real-estate holdings in London’s Soho. But Raymond’s personal life was chaotic and tragic, caused by his own selfishness, and Coogan brings a level of sadness to this upbeat character that’s hard to deny. He’s always fascinating and funny, even when the movie isn’t.

Monday starts with a screening of Park Chan-Wook’s “Stoker,” and, with luck, will end after a total of five films. Stay tuned.

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