Culture

SXSW Film 2012: Tuesday

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Day 5 of SXFilm 2012 is upon us! After this, Heave will be shifting gears to SXMusic for the next few days, but check back this weekend for our SXFilm wrap-up with the last crop of movies we catch over the waning days of the festival. Also, due to illness, Chris Osterndorf will be off-duty for today’s reviews, and so your contributors are:

AD – Amy Dittmeier
DM – Dominick Mayer

Citadel

Rarely does genre filmmaking feel as intimate as Citadel does, and that has a lot to do with the very real place from which it emerged. Writer-director Ciaran Foy, after a near-death experience in an estate neighborhood in the Irish suburb of Edenstown, developed near-crippling agoraphobia, unable to leave his house with the constant paranoia of reprisal hanging over his head. It’s appropriate, then, that Citadel makes that terror literal, combining a horrifying nightmare of urban decay with the heartbreaking tale of Tommy (Aneurin Barnard), a loving husband whose life is torn apart one day when he’s unable to save his pregnant wife from a roving pack of murderous feral children. His daughter survives, but his wife does not, and Tommy is left to cope with a perpetual state of crushing fear.

Tommy finds comfort with Marie (Wunmi Mosaku), a kind hospice nurse, and much less with an embittered priest (James Cosmo) who knows that there’s more to these children than Tommy could possibly know, and knows that for he and his daughter the nightmare has only begun. Citadel is scary as hell at points (the opening scene is brutal to watch), but its real beauty lies in Barnard’s great turn as Tommy. His constant terror is palpable, and when Tommy is forced to rediscover his courage or perish, Barnard brings you into every gasping moment. By the time the truth behind the evil children becomes clear, Citadel evolves into a poignant exploration of courage in the face of constant danger. DM

Francine

I understand how hard it is to be a filmmaker, to get your vision out into the world in the style you want it to be in. However, that doesn’t mean I have to like them. Francine was one of the most uncomfortable movies I’ve ever sat through, and if that was the filmmakers’ intent then they definitely succeeded. Academy-Award winner Melissa Leo plays Francine, an ex-con who comes back to the real world and tries to re-adapt herself to life on the outside. She does this by hoarding animals, engaging in promiscuous activities, and taking random, short-lived jobs to support herself. The unlikable protagonist is the bread and butter of the indie drama community but Francine creates the most unlikable one I’ve seen so far. Francine has nothing about her that makes you connect to her. Her impulsive behavior, her mistreatment of her pets, her manipulation of the people around her. It’s hard to find something to like about her at all. At times you do pity her, thinking that life in prison is the reason she’s become this unhinged, but she never even attempts to amend her flaws. It’s hard to sit through a 20 minute conversation with a person you hate, let alone watch a movie about someone like that for 74 minutes. Leo is a fantastic actress but I’d rather watch one of her other roles again then see Francine. AD

Los Chidos

The Gonzales family is one of the most hopelessly frightening dysfunctional movie families in recent history. Abusive and hopelessly delusional, clinging to their religious ideals as absolute and literal fact, they mistreat and berate one another casually, and worse. When an American stranger (Kim Stodel) appears one day at their barely-functioning auto shop, they take him in, humiliating him without his awareness while also bringing him ever deeper into their bizarre web of incest, repressed homosexuality, homophobia, cannibalism, orchestrated rape and more.

As deeply original as it is unabashedly bizarre, Los Chidos is a brazen display of vision from Omar Rodriguez-Lopez (of The Mars Volta/At The Drive-In fame). Whether that’s a good thing is hard to say, because Rodriguez-Lopez is exploring too many things here to easily categorize. From Mexican culture (the press synopsis drips with vicious sarcasm) to religious allegory, there’s almost too much happening in Los Chidos for its own good. Periodically, the film lapses into near-unwatchable deviance, but the film is saved from any of these weak points by the fact that it’s absolutely confounding from start to finish. I’ll ask again: Is that a good thing? I’m not sure, but I’m tentatively inclined to say yes. DM

Electrick Children

Music is a powerful medium, we can all agree on that. But does it have the power to get your pregnant? Rachel (Julia Garner), a fundamentalist Mormon in Utah, thinks she’s had an immaculate conception after listening to the Nerves “Hanging on the Telephone,” and leaves her colony to go find the person behind the tape. As she travels through Las Vegas with her brother Mr. Will (Liam Aiken), she discovers a life outside her Mormon colony and finds a companion through the brazen skate Clyde (Rory Culkin). Rarely does a movie take place in Las Vegas that doesn’t make the city its central plot point, but in Electrick Children it becomes merely a setting for with Rachel to find herself in. It explores the city’s music scene rather than focusing on the casinos and the vice surrounding them. This would have been an easy plot device to show how Mormon morals clash with Las Vegas, but Electrick Children goes the more interesting route by making gambling part of the background.

Rachel is already a very strong character from the get-go. She sticks to her beliefs, she’s sure of herself and quick-witted. Basically everything that isn’t what we normally see when we watch other depictions of fundamentalist Mormons. Director and screenwriter Rebecca Thomas pushes aside our preconceived notions of the religion and shows a different side of it all through Rachel and Mr. Will. Thomas’ first project was a documentary about the other sects of Mormonism, she herself being raised in the religion, and that movie heavily informed her writing Electrick Children. Seeing the Mormon culture expressed in such a unique light makes the connection to these characters even stronger. AD

Sleepwalk With Me

Created as a series of standup bits that begat (in order) a stand-up special, one-man show, book and now a movie, Sleepwalk With Me might be the apex of Mike Birbiglia’s running experiment in how many different ways he can tell an intensely personal story. The film focuses on Matt (Birbiglia, who also directed and co-wrote), a struggling stand-up comedian whose anxieties about his work and his long-term girlfriend (Lauren Ambrose) cause him to enact his dreams in physical form while sleepwalking, which leads to no dearth of danger. For the most part, though, the film is about the struggles of being a comedian on the road. Sleepwalk features some of the most excruciatingly uncomfortable moments in recent movie history, as we’re forced to watch Matt flail onstage and develop his style by way of a little trial and a lot of error.

Most entertaining about Sleepwalk is the way in which it seamlessly blends a lot of really genuine laughs (Birbiglia’s fourth wall-breaking narration is hilarious, if mostly drawn from his released material) with some fairly brutal observations about relationships, especially related to the struggles found in contentment that don’t get too much note. To its major credit, though, even some genuinely unnerving moments late in the movie never lose the droll hilarity that Birbiglia does so well. Sleepwalk has a lot going on, but when it’s all this charming and honest, you end up not wanting it to end. DM