Lisa Schwarzbaum
January 19, 2009 AT 12:00 PM EST

A tale (literally) out of school: Owen and I ran into each other last night, leaving the Eccles Theatre at Park City High School around 11:30 p.m. after the world-premiere screening of I Love You Phillip Morris. (Click here to read Owen’s take; me, I had a harder time decoding the movie’s attitude towards the gay romance at the story’s center, what with such an outsized personality as Carrey cast as a con man/lover with a Dorothy Hamill haircut.) The night was cold and clear.  Venus was bright in the sky.

Well, as we navigated occasional patches of black ice on a footpath to our hotel past the flimsy apartment homes of hispanic workers who do the unshowbiz jobs in Park City’s tourist economy, we got to talking about how we look at what we see at Sundance. And we agreed that, intent as we are about considering each film on its own merit, we also find ourselves imagining what our responses — and your responses — would be to the same movie shown at lower altitude, away from the fur-trapper-hats-and-iPhone chic of Sundance. That’s assuming you get to see these same movies at all, distributed at lower altitude. We’re not marketers or publicists nor should we be, and we’re not box office gurus (or, as you well know, gurus of any kind). But even for box-office-neutral critics, Sundance, more than any other festival, presents a challenge, privileged as it is, to analyze art in an atmosphere of a whole lot of gas.

So take anything you read out of Sundance — from me, from Owen, from any other you-heard-it-here-first oracle you encounter as you surf cinemaniacally for movie news — with a grain of salt and a mound of snow.

So much for preamble. On to An Education. This slight, charming, lulling coming-of-age story tells of teenaged Jenny (Carey Mulligan, poised for breakout after this showpiece and her central part as dead-boy’s-girlfriend in The Greatest), and David (Peter Sarsgaard), the mysterious thirtysomething man who introduces her to a world of sophistication beyond her stodgy London suburb in dull, pre-Beatles Britain. Danish director Lone Scherfig (Italian For Beginners) has an appropriately gentle, feminine touch. (Is it okay for me to say feminine? This year’s festival is a casual marvel when it comes to the number of female filmmakers in the mix, and I trust that from now on, no mention of sexual equality will be necessary since the situation will just be … normal.) The friendly and soothing script is adapted by the redoubtable Nick Hornby of glorious High Fidelity and About A Boy fame from an autobiographical magazine piece by British journalist Lynn Barber.

And certainly the cast is plummy and hip: Sarsgaard plays a fine

balance of suave and slippery as the gentleman caller; Mulligan, 22 at

the time of filming, emerges from schoolgirl togs to look Audrey

Hepburn-yummy; Dominic Cooper and an effortlessly funny Rosamund Pike

nearly steal the pic as David’s ever-so-raffish friends; and Alfred

Molina and Cara Seymour fuss and fumble as Jenny’s tea-cup-rattling

parents, a pair that might have been played by Graham Chapman and Terry

Jones in an episode of Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

The movie is pretty but just a little bit square, cozy but just a

little bit inert. Great sets and wardrobe, though, and great Holly

Golightly updo on Mulligan when she goes to a jazz club.

So can I tell you my favorite Sundance film so far? It’s the one I didn’t get to the other day when I thought I would: It’s Cold Souls! Turns out this fine, fresh, intellectually stimulating, beguiling debut from writer-director Sophie Barthes really does

balance “on a tightrope between deadpan humor and pathos, and between

reality and fantasy.” I promise I’ll never doubt promotional catalog

copy again! Since the story (which, the filmmaker told the audience,

arose out of a dream) is about Paul Giamatti playing an actor named

Paul Giamatti, a literate movielover is bound to think of Being John Malkovich.

But don’t. This meta creation is its own French surrealist universe

(Barthes was born in France), and sustains its own integrity in its

inquiry into what makes each of us each of us.

The hook: Struggling with his role in a production of Uncle Vanya, and having read in the uber-reputable New Yorker

magazine about a scientific/metaphysical breakthrough in the extraction

and deep-freeze storage of souls as a way to alleviate suffering,

Giamatti’s tortured “Giamatti” signs up for the procedure, at least for

the run of the Chekhov play. (As head of the high-tech soulectomy

company, David Strathairn personifies scientist-as-CEO commercial

hustle.)  Let’s just say soullessness isn’t all Giamatti hopes it would

be, his art suffers, and soon he’s deep into a twisted adventure

involving a Russian black market in soul trafficking, a Chekhovian

human “mule” (wonderful Dina Korzun), and a spoiled Russian soap opera

actress and wife of a rich man — a Real Housewife of St. Petersburg

who’d ideally like her hubby to buy her the soul of Al Pacino.

Barthes’s philosophical considerations are as graceful and

meaningful as her filmmaking is assured and witty. Plus, I promise you,

Paul Giamatti’s great performance will hold up when transported down

from Wasatch Mountains, too.   

And certainly the cast is plummy and hip: Sarsgaard plays a finebalance of suave and slippery as the gentleman caller; Mulligan, 22 atthe time of filming, emerges from schoolgirl togs to look AudreyHepburn-yummy; Dominic Cooper and an effortlessly funny Rosamund Pikenearly steal the pic as David’s ever-so-raffish friends; and AlfredMolina and Cara Seymour fuss and fumble as Jenny’s tea-cup-rattlingparents, a pair that might have been played by Graham Chapman and TerryJones in an episode of Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

The movie is pretty but just a little bit square, cozy but just alittle bit inert. Great sets and wardrobe, though, and great HollyGolightly updo on Mulligan when she goes to a jazz club.

So can I tell you my favorite Sundance film so far? It’s the one I didn’t get to the other day when I thought I would: It’s Cold Souls! Turns out this fine, fresh, intellectually stimulating, beguiling debut from writer-director Sophie Barthes really doesbalance “on a tightrope between deadpan humor and pathos, and betweenreality and fantasy.” I promise I’ll never doubt promotional catalogcopy again! Since the story (which, the filmmaker told the audience,arose out of a dream) is about Paul Giamatti playing an actor namedPaul Giamatti, a literate movielover is bound to think of Being John Malkovich.But don’t. This meta creation is its own French surrealist universe(Barthes was born in France), and sustains its own integrity in itsinquiry into what makes each of us each of us.

The hook: Struggling with his role in a production of Uncle Vanya, and having read in the uber-reputable New Yorkermagazine about a scientific/metaphysical breakthrough in the extractionand deep-freeze storage of souls as a way to alleviate suffering,Giamatti’s tortured “Giamatti” signs up for the procedure, at least forthe run of the Chekhov play. (As head of the high-tech soulectomycompany, David Strathairn personifies scientist-as-CEO commercialhustle.)  Let’s just say soullessness isn’t all Giamatti hopes it wouldbe, his art suffers, and soon he’s deep into a twisted adventureinvolving a Russian black market in soul trafficking, a Chekhovianhuman “mule” (wonderful Dina Korzun), and a spoiled Russian soap operaactress and wife of a rich man — a Real Housewife of St. Petersburgwho’d ideally like her hubby to buy her the soul of Al Pacino.

Barthes’s philosophical considerations are as graceful andmeaningful as her filmmaking is assured and witty. Plus, I promise you,Paul Giamatti’s great performance will hold up when transported downfrom Wasatch Mountains, too.   

You May Like

Comments

EDIT POST