23 January, 2009

Sundance FF: Not Just American Indies

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

The Sundance Film Festival, which enters its final weekend starting today, is best known as the proving ground for new films from the American independent scene. But over the past few years, the international component of the Festival has grown and now merits its own competition categories for World Features and World Documentaries. It is hard to track whether an award at Sundance for a foreign language title means very much commercially, but certainly the exposure and the publicity of the event does create momentum for non-American films looking to crash these shores.

One of the films drawing interest (and perhaps distribution) is UNMADE BEDS, an intimate feature film about two young Europeans adrift in and out of a London squat. The film is the second feature from the Argentine writer and director Alexis Dos Santos, whose first film GLUE was a hit on the international film festival circuit. This beautifully shot movie is as elliptical as the lives it concerns, with more than a casual nod to the Nouvelle Vague films of the 1950s and 1960s, when closeup of faces and on-going dialogue were enough to fill a scene.

COLD SOULS is an intelligent, gravely humorous English-language feature debut from the French writer and director Sophie Barthes. The American actor Paul Giamatti plays an actor (also named Paul Giamatti) who decides to put his troubled soul in cold storage.

LULU AND JIMI is German director Oskar Roehler’s visually flamboyant period romance, set in Germany during the 1950s. Actress Jennifer Decker, in a star-making turn, plays Lulu, the rebellious daughter of a proper bourgeois family, who falls in love with Jimi (Ray Fearon), an American who’s a one-man advertisement for black cool. The director has a debt to the films of David Lynch but also creates a distinct freaky joy ride that is all his own.

An American film that is heavily influenced by European aesthetics is THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE, the latest nonstudio venture from director Steven Soderbergh. The movie, a work in progress that was shown as a sneak preview, is the second in a series (the first was BUBBLE) of high-definition digital features he is making for 2929 Entertainment, which will be simultaneously released on different platforms. This newest addition involves a high-end Manhattan escort called both Christine and Chelsea (Sasha Grey, a porn actress), who lives with her boyfriend, a trainer with muscles and no personality, Chris (Chris Santos), and sells her body, and perhaps her soul, to whoever can afford her price. With obvious references to the early films of Michaelangelo Antonioni and Jean-Luc Godard, the jury was out about whether Soderbergh's latest elliptical experiment is a movie at all.

Awards in the World Cinema and World Documentary competition categories will be announced this Sunday and a story will appear in this blog on the winners and other non-American highlights of the Festival.

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