Sundance Film Festival 2012: Chris Rock Talks to Barack Obama, and Other Random Festival Notes

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After eight days in Park City, I'm back in Los Angeles; the festival continues through the weekend, with the awards announced Saturday night. Here are some notes on films I didn't get a chance to write about at length. Keep an eye out for my wrap-up of the festival in next week's print edition.

2 Days in New York
Actress/director Julie Delpy's (of Before Sunset/Sunrise fame) self-proclaimed "sequel" to her 2007 film 2 Days in Paris has Delpy's character split up from the earlier movie's boyfriend, played by Adam Goldberg, and now living with Mingus, a journalist (who Delpy's character meets while working at the Village Voice) played by Chris Rock. 

Like Paris, New York is essentially a film about a romantic relationship threatened by family and culture clash: this time, it's Delpy's tres French father, sister and ex-boyfriend who show up on her turf and throw her new, blended family into crisis. The set-up allows Delpy to plum broad stereotypes for farce. The jokes riffing on the French as sex-obsessed and hygiene-adverse are merely stale; the running gag about her black intellectual boyfriend confiding to a cardboard cut-out of Barack Obama is ... something else. A film in which Vincent Gallo shows up for a one-scene cameo as the voice of reason that puts everything in perspective should be a lot more fun.

The Impostor
The incredible story of a Texas family whose teenage son went missing, and then "came back" in the form of a 23 year-old French con artist, is told through present-day talking head interviews, and ample recreations of events past. The overall effect is James Marsh Man on Wire lite -- it's a beautifully crafted non-fiction narrative, with nothing to say.

This Must Be The Place
Paulo Sorrentino's film, starring Sean Penn as a washed-up goth rocker who emerges from hiding in Ireland and returns to the States when his father dies, has been recut since its flop world premiere last May in Cannes. The first forty minutes or so are now a strange, snappy, funny study of an outsider who can't shake his long-held depressive affectation; then the movie turns into a weirdly breezy Nazi hunt, and completely falls apart. Penn's performance, first knowing and then limp, declines with the film.

Room 237
A brilliant work of alternative film criticism -- and critique of criticism -- exploring conspiracy theories surrounding Stanley Kubrick's The Shining -- not the production so much as the final product, in which a handful of self-proclaimed experts see allusions to the Nazi holocaust, the genocide of the American Indians, and Kubrick's implicit admission that he "directed" the Apollo 11 moon landing. These pundits are heard but not seen; filmmaker Rodney Ascher has created an illustrative montage to complement their explication of their theories. The director refrains from his own verbal commentary, or from pushing towards a single interpretive conclusion. He merely collages imagery from the film (and from other films, most notably Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut) against the litany of interpretations offered on the soundtrack, allowing the viewer to sort out the reasonable from the crackpot with help from their own experience of movie.

[@KarinaLongworth]

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