Thursday, January 27, 2011

Views from Provo Canyon

The word "blog" just sounds messy, doesn't it?--lumpy, unfocused, apt to lose the point and head off in a different it's the word's fault that this post is going to be a bit tangential to RLAG-ing.

Got back yesterday from the Sundance Film Festival, where I was reminded of what one of the possible permutations of a perfect day is for me. The day starts with a cross-country ski high up in Provo Canyon, on trails which cross avalanche run-off and eventually make me feel like a bird, soaring in the canyon cleft above the trees, the sun baking me on the uphills, but not yet strong enough to ease the sharp chill of the downhills.

Then, once my body has had its chance to work up a sweat, it's my mind's turn to work, with three movies in a row at the Sundance Screening Room (we like the quiet part of the festival and stay away from Park City), followed much later by a dinner of deliciousness at the Tree Room and an opportunity to dissect and discuss.

And so...what I saw, in order of preference:

Happy, Happy, a Norwegian film, which some of you probably already know is one of my favourite filmmaking countries (along with Finland and Iceland, of course!). A very dark sex comedy plus drama, in the classic Scandinavian model of somewhat depressing circumstances (and snow, naturally) shaded by a strong will to find the happiness that's possible and accept the strangeness of the world.

On the Ice, a first feature by a Native Alaskan director, set in the bleak, yet stunning landscape of Barrow, Alaska (more snow), where two childhood friends, now on the cusp of adulthood, test the limits of their loyalty to each other when they are involved in a gruesome accident on a seal hunt.

little birds, a first feature from a former Boston gang member, two girls coming of age in a nowhere, poverty-stricken town on the edge of the Salton Sea; one struggling to escape her childhood and the claustrophobic future which seems to be bearing down on her, while her friend seems to cling more to the naivete of girlhood, though (somewhat predictably) it is her who sees more clearly how brutal the loss of innocence will be for them.

The Salesman (Le Vendeur), a Quebecois film, set in a snowy landscape (yes, more of the white stuff, it was a bit of a theme) north of Montreal, where a pulp and paper mill is shutting down and a car salesman keeps on keeping on, even as the pervasive mood of tragedy gets more personal. A beautiful meditation on what it is to be happy, or even just to survive.

Lost Kisses, a mess of an Italian film, in which the heroine tells people that a statue of Madonna has spoken to her and the resulting miracle mayhem.

Page One, a documentary ostensibly about a year inside the life of the New York Times, as a structure to explore the constant obituaries being written about print media, and the importance of in-depth analysis in media. Yes, I agree, real research and analysis is sorely lacking from a lot of the "instant" or "online" media, which threatens to replace venerable old institutions like the print newspaper. Yet, the movie categorically fails to address the fact that print is being replaced, whether or not the smart, but hoary, chain smoking, unhealthy and rumpled newspapermen portrayed like it or not; oh...and yes... I do mean "men," because women were largely absent from the film. So the real question, in my mind, is how not to throw out the proverbial baby with the bathwater--the baby here being intellectual rigour, deep research and thoughtful analysis; and the bathwater being dead trees turned into paper on which we print the resulting articles. In case you didn't guess, I found the movie somewhat smug and ostrich-y--this from a girl who is very happy to have a real old-fashioned book coming out soon and still uses pencil on paper to mark up manuscripts.

In short, and in case it wasn't obvious--the first four are well worth seeing (if the stories sound appealing and you can find them!) and the last two can be skipped without regrets.

If you've read this far, and indulged my movieholic-ism, I will say that the next blog post, coming very soon, is back square in the middle of the spirit of running like a girl--an interview with Nicole DeBoom, the founder of Skirt Sports.