Sundance 2013 Final Recap

Fred Topel reviews After Tiller, Citizen Koch, Gangs of Wasseypur, In Fear, The Rambler and What They Don't Talk About When They Talk About Love.

Fred Topelby Fred Topel

My flight out of Sundance was grounded due to icing at the airport, so I actually got a whole extra day in Sundance to see more movies. It’s definitely not a bad place to be stuck. In fact, there may be no better place to be snowed in. Alas, I did have to come home eventually, so here is my final recap of the movies of Sundance 2013.

After Tiller

After abortion doctor George Tiller was killed in 2009, there were only four doctors remaining who could perform third trimester abortions. This documentary follows those four doctors and it is a sensitive exploration of all the complex decisions made by both doctors and patients in late term abortions.

The patients’ faces are framed out but their voices are included so the viewer can get a sense of the circumstance that would lead someone to need an abortion near the end of a pregnancy. Of course it is never a simple black and white issue, and in the examples from the film, never a frivolous decision. The way the doctors speak with their patients shows the profound sensitivity with which they address issues of fetal health and sexual abuse, and illustrate why this highly specialized skill is needed in the medical community.

The politics and protests are covered but the focus is on the doctors and patients. The filmmakers had some pretty intimate access to the operating rooms, consultations and home lives of the doctors. Every scene is some kind of emotional or ethical question, and that’s powerful drama whether it’s narrative or documentary.

Photo Credit: Yes and No Productions

Citizen Koch

This documentary is about corporate contributions to elections. The filmmakers call out Charles and David Koch but the Kochs are hardly in the movie. It’s mainly about the general corruption in politics and how “people’s” groups like the Tea Party, Americans for Prosperity and Citizens United actually represent corporate interests.

There isn’t a whole lot of new information to me, and the film is too unfocused to really illustrate a beginning, middle and end to the problem. A large section of the film covers Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker stripping the teacher’s union of collective bargaining rights. I remember that from the news, but was illuminated by sections addressing similar issues for the correctional officers union. That wasn’t reported like the teachers’ union was.

I did discover republican candidate Buddy Roemer through this film. He was not allowed into the primary debates because of financial requirements that ensure only wealthy or corporate funded candidates can participate in our elections. Seeing the Roemer campaign office juxtaposed against the Romney campaign is poignant, if a bit obvious.

There’s plenty of material in Citizen Koch about which to get angry, and the filmmakers present some specific evidence in the way of IRS documents and details to support their claims. It just seems like all outrage and no focus. I don’t mind that they called it Citizen Koch and it’s not really about Koch. A title’s just a title. I just wish they’d broken it down into more digestible units with suggestions for what steps the rest of us can take to prevent abuses like these in the future.

Photo Credit: Matt Wisnieski

Gangs of Wasseypur

Yeah, I watched the five and a half hour Indian crime epic. Why wouldn’t I watch a five and a half hour Indian crime epic? It’s a little hard to summarize over five hours of plot in a recap, but it is a traditional story of a crime family’s ups and downs, feuds and retaliations over seven decades and several generations.

The style is pretty accessible by American standards. Except for the subtitles, you’ll recognize the character types and their struggles. The camera is elegant, creating the epic quality of rises and falls, passion and violence. The violence itself is unique and striking. The film is always exciting.

It’s not a musical in the Bollywood tradition but there is music that either plays as score, or a few moments where characters sing because they are actually performing music. They don’t break into song though, so if that’s a turnoff to some American audience (it’s not to me, I kind of wish they did), this isn’t that kind of Indian movie.

The only things that give away the five and a half hour run time are biological effects like hunger, restroom needs and the rotation of the earth in the time you spend watching it. Otherwise it doesn’t feel long, although by the time you get to the third generation, so much has transpired it feels like you’re already in the sequel. We have our epic crime legends in Hollywood so it’s exciting to see the equivalent in exotic lands and cultures.

Photo Credit: Sundance Institute

In Fear

From the midnight movie section comes a bare bones horror movie that ultimately builds to some genuine scares. It’s basically a couple, Tom and Lucy, played by Iain De Caestecker and Alice Anglert, driving in a car being lost in the woods. They drive around for a while before anything really happens, but once they start encountering mysterious figures, it really picks up.

The program guide for Sundance said director Jeremy Lovering withheld the script from the actors to capture genuine fear and surprise. I don’t know if that means the dialogue was all improvised or he only hid the scary parts, but it doesn’t feel like one of those amateur improv movies. The characters ask questions about what’s going on and what they should do, and it’s all task oriented and to the point.

The situation creates some real psychological tension in the car. When Tom and Lucy pick up Max (Allen Leech), he starts messing with them and causing more problems. The third act builds to a lot of excitement and it’s a solid effort of limited means, if not a total classic.

Photo Credit: Jules Heath

The Rambler

This is the crazy Sundance movie I was waiting all week to see, and it was my last midnight movie on my last night that I wasn’t even supposed to have but I got to because of the ice. Dermot Mulroney plays a nameless man who drifts from encounter to encounter with different weird people.

Director Calvin Lee Reeder uses the boldest style I’ve seen all week at Sundance, with frequent jump cuts and otherwise quick editing that’s also accompanied by video glitches. As if the Rambler’s adventures weren’t weird enough, they’re also filtered by a weird unreality that only exists in cinema.

The Rambler’s adventures are episodic, and the characters he meets in each episode are oddly, unnaturally self-aware. They’re just sincere, whether they’re a mad scientsit, a scam artist, ambitious or angry. Mulroney goes with it all. Random, sudden violence explodes frequently in surreal and gross interludes. Poor Lindsay Pulsipher plays a girl who’s brutalized every time The Rambler sees her.

All I could compare this to is David Cronenberg meets David Lynch meets Troma. I don’t  think it’s a complete original but I had to stay to see what happened next.

Photo Credit: Julian Halvorson

What They Don’t Talk About When They Talk About Love

This movie is probably the very reason I was given an extra day at Sundance. At the Toronto International Film Festival I saw Imagine, an amazing film about an unorthodox teacher at a school for the blind. What They Don’t Talk About… is an Indonesian drama about a school for the blind and deaf and it is also beautiful. It doesn’t have the hook of a controversial teacher but it is a study of how people with impediments most of us, certainly the viewing public, never experience.

Watching the daily routines of people who need different faculties to get around is inherently cinematic. Everything they’re doing is visual and we understand the differences intuitively. Many of the sequences are composed with entirely different scenes going on in the backgrounds. At one point we get to see some Shakespeare in sign language which is just an awesome thing.

There’s not a lot of plot, but there is a love story that plays out amid all the daily routines we see. The film is more about an experience than executing a narrative, though it does both beautifully. There’s very little dialogue so it really is a film that relies on the visuals, but doesn’t need the crutch of making the visuals enormous. Subtlety rules.

When Imagine and What They Don’t Talk About When They Talk About Love each come out, we may have a volcano situation on our hands. Imagine may be the Volcano because it has a provocative plot about controversial teachings, but What They Don’t Talk About is a way more worthy Dante’s Peak to Imagine

Photo Credit: Sony Seniawan

And make sure to check out all of Crave Online's coverage of the 2013 Sundance Film Festival here!

Who is Dayani Cristal?; starring Gael Garcia Bernal
Two Mothers; starring Robin Wright and Naomi Watts
Austenland; starring Keri Russell
Emmanuel and the Truth About Fishes; starring Kaya Scodelario
Don Jon's Addiction; starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Scarlett Johansson
Virtually Heroes; produced by Roger Corman
Breathe In; starring Felicity Jones and Guy Pierce
Inequality for All; featuring Robert Reich
Blue Caprice; starring Isaiah Washington and Tim Blake Nelson
Fill the Void; starring Renana Raz
Running From Crazy; featuring Mariel Hemingway
Wrong Cops; starring Steve Little
Hell Baby; starring Rob Corddry
Stoker; starring Nicole Kidman
Escape from Tomorrow; shot without permits at Disney World
Before Midnightstarring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy
We Are What We Are; starring Ambyr Childers and Julia Garner
Afternoon Delight; starring Kathryn Hahn and Juno Temple
Ass Backwards; starring Casey Wilson and June Diane Raphael
I Used to Be Darker; starring Deragh Campbell
Magic Magic; starring Juno Temple
Prince Avalanche; starring Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch
Sweetwater; starring January Jones, Jason Isaacs and Ed Harris
Crystal Fairy; starring Michael Cera and Gaby Hoffman
S-VHS; sequel to found footage horror film V/H/S
, starring Amanda Seyfried

Fred Topel is a staff writer at CraveOnline. Follow him on Twitter at @FredTopel.