The Sundance weekend is in full swing and that means that Park City has undergone its annual transformation from sleepy ski resort to a mini-Hollywood on the snow. Main Street is now officially gridlocked: cars, stars and selfie-shooting fans are wall-to-wall in an endless parade of tweeting smart phones and designer skiwear.
In the screening rooms, meanwhile, the action is heating up – as well as the Buzz. Ah yes, that vital lymph of the Sundance festival is being exchanged in movie lines, après-ski lodges, gift lounges and swag suites all around town; for this one week everybody is a critic (ok, so most of them in this case really are actual critics) and that buzzing you hear is the sound of opinions being shared, the ones that every year end up focusing on one or two breakout films.
Buzz can go both ways and sometimes word on the street is, well…on the fence. That appears the be the case with Camp X-Ray, screenwriter Peter Sattler’s debut feature which takes it title form the name of the infamous US military prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. It’s the story of a young woman, played by Sundance veteran Kirsten Stewart, who joins the military and ends up being assigned to the camp as a guard. There she begins to question the prisoners’ treatment and forming a bond with one of the Muslim detainees.
Although some reactions were positive others were decidedly less enthused by the film with which the director said was an attempt to “focus on humanity, not politics”. In general there’s been high praise for Stewart’s work (she’s being compared to Jodie Foster for intensity), as well as some complaints for an opportunity missed to fully delve into the painful issues which that prison camp represents. The final verdict will likely not be delivered before all the film’s screenings have taken place.
Buzz can also fuel curiosity – and being called the festival’s “extremely graphic, dirtiest and weirdest movie” is pretty sure to do the trick. That’s what’s happening with Wetlands a German film in the World Competition section which is being touted as this year’s scandal film. Directed by David Wnendt, and adapted from the bestselling German erotic novel of the same name by Charlotte Roche, the movie stars. Carla Juri, an intensely charismatic young actress, as an uninhibited, liberated but emotionally troubled teen daughter of a divorced couple. Helen is a sunny, articulate, and appropriately rebellious, teen skateboarding around Berlin, who also expresses inner emotional turmoil through an obsession with orifices, bodily fluids and the attendant hygiene (or lack thereof). The story largely takes place in the ward of the hospital where Helen undergoes a proctological operation and where her fantasies begin to blend with reality in thoroughly original ways.
More than gratuitously pornographic, the film is resolutely scatological and uncensored in a way that comments on repressive conventions from an unabashedly feminist, and female, perspective. A boundary-pushing entry that sent scores to the exits while thoroughly pleasing many others; in other words the perfect Sundance film.