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Sundance 2012 shakes off the angst

The light stuff
By HARLAN JACOBSON  |  February 1, 2012

2 Days in NY
2 DAYS IN NEW YORK Chris Rock and Julie Delpy star in this comedy of manners and cultures, which owes a nod to both Woody Allen and Jean Renoir.

PARK CITY, Utah — Two full production years following the market collapse in the third quarter of 2008, the tonal zeitgeist of films on display at the Sundance Film Festival — a reliable snapshot of independent filmmaking — has shifted from dark to light. The scripts that found financing in 2010-11 certainly refer to the world we live in now — money and jobs and nature all in a tizzy — but see no reason for their characters to become undone. It makes you wonder if the production meetings responsible for the movies screened in the 10 days of Sundance 2012 that ended Sunday night were filled with earnest young filmmakers doing jumping jacks and pantomime to make the money people happy.

Ironically, the one film in which a character does do jumping jacks, Craig Zobel's COMPLIANCE, is possibly the squirmiest of the 114 or so others that rolled across screens here. Set in the edgier "Next" series rather than in the competition, the film more nearly approximates the Sundance films of old: small-scale, low-budget pressure cookers taking a stab at a big metaphor. In this case, the spectre of authority coaxing a nation into atrocity is enacted in the unlikely microcosm of a fast-food joint. It certainly had that good old-fashioned Sundance notoriety buzz going for it when a woman in the audience protested that Zobel and company had exploited female sexual degradation for illegitimate artistic ends. Supporters and defenders took sides all week long on the issue.

But the big-ticket feature films here have been mostly happy-happy, with bigger budgets and name casts doing a lot of fizzy romantic play. The films that are in a depression about the Depression are by definition more on the doc side, but few of these achieved anything approaching must-see status.

There was so much angst and anger last year at Sundance — reflecting the finance cycle of 2009-10 — that the place felt like an asylum. There were angry white guys (Tyrannosaur), women on the run from religious cults (Martha Marcy May Marlene), a lesbian here and there looking for a break in Tehran (Circumstance) or Brooklyn (Pariah), doomed marriages (Like Crazy), kids with growing pains (Win Win), and at least one film from the business-porn genre (Margin Call), reconfirming the viewer's certainty that Wall Street lacks grace when greed is no longer so good.

This year, the angsty point of view seemed represented more by female characters. Women in many of the Sundance films are behaving badly — not Thelma-and-Louise-style so much as naughty, resulting in some nice comedy roles. Todd Louiso's HELLO I MUST BE GOING set the tone as one of four opening-night films, this one kicking off the US Dramatic Competition.

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  Topics: Features , Utah, josh radnor, ben lewin,  More more >
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