Sunday in the Park
On the last Sunday of the Sundance Film Festival, after a full week with a well-rounded sampling of films, I slipped into the theater for two final screenings. Yes, they were award winners. But I have learned from experience that that doesn’t mean I may love them in the same way a sophisticated jury of filmmakers did. So I grabbed a seat not knowing if I would stay.
"Beasts of the Southern Wild" is a strange title and has no known cast. I had few expectations. It is dreamy in its cinematography. The story could be considered a coming-of-age story for a young girl, or for a place, or for this time when climate change is showing its massive hand in forceful, frightening ways. It is a story of profound loss and longing. It is fearless and so original you wonder where it came from. It is timeless and timely and raw. It is, as you may have guessed, not easy to describe. The post-Katrina aura in the Bathtub region of the Gulf is the location and squishy timeframe, and that may be the only thing familiar. There are tender moments and fierce fantastical beasts.
If I had to compare any piece of it to anything known, I would choose the movie version of "Where The Wild Things Are," because it too explores that time of life/age of six or seven or eight, when children are wild, untamed creatures, exploring the edges of the real and imaginary and having a difficult time separating them. A powerful time, when a child may perform heroic deeds but longs to be held. To be lifted up. To be set free in a kind of amoral uncivilized wild fashion. A beast really, still frightened by imaginary beasts. It was both futuristic and apocalyptic and I was lost, lost, lost, for hours in a place I vaguely remembered and revisited in glimpses with my own children and now their children.
It was all so ethereal and primal and lushly beautiful I considered just going for a long drive to let it soak in.
But there was one more award-winning film I really wanted to see. Quite frankly, I was curious by the buzz surrounding "The Surrogate," the story of a sexual surrogate hired by a man who lived in an iron lung who had a priest for a confidant. The work of the cast had earned an ensemble acting award and it was the named the audience favorite. I grabbed a snack. Stretched my legs. And then hunkered down for back-to-back award viewings.
It did not disappoint. But what first appears to be a titillating subject turns out to be a story of exquisite love. John Hawkes, Helen Hunt and William Macy perform a dance of storytelling that gently seduces you into their sway. You are reminded of the basic desire to experience the ecstasy of intimacy and how the idea that can only be obtained sexually is an eternal debate. And there is the immutable fact that the mind is the sexiest organ of the body.
I was surprised how easily and often I cried in the film. Wanting the poet to find his muse and then realizing, by the film’s end, that the filmmaker had crafted a poem out of the entire film. I cried at the sad parts, sure, but I cried at the tender parts and at the parts so painfully beautiful I was holding my breath. I giggled at the awkward sex moments we have all had to work through before we mastered technique. And I watched one character be fully in love with the essence of a man but unable to love the body of that man. I watched William Macy become a loving priest who was willing to put aside dogma for a glimpse of the divine. To err, perhaps, on the side of human kindness. To reserve judgment. And to extend unexpected blessings on a life limited and expanded. To witness grace.
I understood why audiences had given the film standing ovations. We were so engaged with those characters who were so brave and fragile and loving we wanted to celebrate that … embrace it.
In the months that follow, these films, already purchased and headed out for distribution, will be viewed by millions of people. They may earn awards for their writers and performers and directors. And when they do, as Sundance films have done for more than a decade, a handful of folks in a small former silver-mining town in the mountains, who themselves for decades have been the first to screen such treasures, will sit back and applaud once again. When those folks reflect upon all the films they saw here first, they may wonder just when someone will create a film about the town that shaped Sundance and how Sundance shaped a town.
… The scene opens with wild-haired hippies sitting around a fireplace listening to an unknown filmmaker explain his film to a dozen folks sipping cocktails and looking for love …
Perhaps the dreamy, filmy vision of the past two weeks has clouded my vision. Which is a lovely place to be, if only for another Sunday in the Park …
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the organization that provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.
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