Sundance 2008: Day Four

Sean Ellis on The Broken, plus films including Red, Incendiary, Mancora and Phoebe In Wonderland

by Amber Wilkinson and Tony Sullivan

Another day, another interview at 10am in the Marriot Summit Watch. Just as well they have comfy chairs and wi-fi. Today I was there to speak to Sean Ellis about The Broken. I wish I had liked the film more, since Sean is a thoroughly pleasant chap, who clearly knows what he wants to achieve. It's certainly good to see British directors producing something other than gritty urban landscapes or costume dramas, so more power to his elbow.

With Cashback finally getting a UK release on April 25, I asked him why he thinks it has taken so long for it to make it to the multiplex.

He said: "It has been a real struggle with that. It's been a bit disheartening and a bit disappointing that there has been so little support in my own country for the film. But finally, we did it. Last territory to be released in the world. It came in America in July last year, the first country to release was France in January last year. So it's been a full year.

We had big trouble trying to secure distribution for the film in the UK.

"I think probably one of things is that one of things is that when we say we made it independently we really did make it independently. I mean a lot of the time there's some money there that at least has some kind of partnership with a distributor. We got rejected from the Edinburgh Film Festival and the London Film Festival, which I was a bit upset about to be honest with you. I mean, it's a British film and I think there should be more support from our own festivals. And I think that had a big thing to do with it because an English distributor sees it playing in an English Festival and your half way there. If you're getting rejections from film festivals in your own country it sends out mixed messages. But we signed with The Works, they loved the movie and they are behind it 100 per cent and now the whole machine is working so that's really good."

As promised, I also asked him about his decision to steer clear of offering up any easy explanation of the dopplegangers in The Broken.

"It was a creative decision," he said. "I wanted the film to be something that you personalised – that you had an opinion on. I didn’t want to cornfeed the audience the story.

"I don’t respond to those kind of films myself – this mirror’s cursed or this old legend of this, for me it’s just not that interesting. In a weird way it was more in a weird way how you would write a novel, maybe, more cerebral and a bit more open to interpretation. I wanted it to be an adult-themed horror film with dark, atmospheric overtones."

Certainly, he has got atmosphere in spades, it's just a shame the story is so paper thin.

While I was speaking to Sean, Tony was attending to more basic matters.

He writes...Greeted by four inches of snow - and with it still falling thick and fast - it was time to upgrade the footwear from trainers to a stout pair of snow boots to keep me little toesies warm.

Alas only two films today.

In Mancora, reeling from the suicide of his father, Santiago wants to get away from it all. His trip coincides with a visit from his stepsister, Ximena, and her new husband who end up accompanying Santiago on his odyssey from Lima to Mancora, a coastal fishing community. A free-spirited hitchhiker, Batu, joins them en route as they do the sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll thing. Sexual tensions spring up between Santiago and Ximena complicated by Santiago's short fuse.

A sort of Peruvian version of Y Tu Mama Tambien, but no new ground is broken, no insight gained from these pretty, vapid folk.

Phoebe In Wonderland concerns a freethinking literary family headed by Bill Pullman and Felicity Huffman, and their troubled daughter, played by Elle Fanning. The little girl is clearly having problems at school and only seems comfortable during her drama class, which is staging Alice In Wonderland, overseen by quirky teacher Ms Dodger (Patricia Clarkson). While dealing with worthy causes and suffused with an air of magic as assorted bits of Wonderland come to life, one can't help thinking that this is what happens if one overindulges a child - but this is not my debate.

All this and a spirited argument over the merits of Derek Jarman with a fellow member of the press.

Amber writes: While the boot buying was going on I headed to see Sunshine Cleaning, the sort of Indie crowd-pleaser that has been rather lacking from the festival so far - or at least from the films that I have been watching. Boasting a similar vibe to the likes of Little Miss Sunshine, it stars Amy Adams - yet again on top form. If ever an actress cornered the market on fragile perkiness, it is her. Here she stars as a single mum who forms a cleaning firm with a difference with her devil-may-care sister (Emily Blunt, who really needs to eat more. She's still a terrific actress, but didn't this used to be the woman with curves?). As their dad (Alan Arkin) plots get-rich-quick schemes, they are cleaning up crime scenes. With a heavy dollop of comic incident and a lot of heart, this is certainly my favourite film of the festival so far and will doubtless be gracing a screen near you in the coming months.

I rolled straight from that screening into another - Red, which stars Brian Cox in the first of his Sundance brace of films. This is a real actor's movie and hinges almost entirely on his performance - no bad thing since he is terrific. He plays Avery, an old-timer who finds his life torn apart when his dog is killed for kicks by some kids while he's on a fishing trip. Searching for retribution and an apology things begin to go pear-shaped. Although the latter third of the film becomes somewhat overblown - in a rather similar fashion to the way The King Of Ping Pong did, actually - it is worth the in price for Cox's performance alone. He is utterly compelling and, part way through, has one of the finest monologues I've seen on screen in quite a while.

Sadly, the law of diminishing returns seemed to apply to the day - as next up was Incendiary and, unfortunately, it really is likely to bomb. Michelle Williams - again proving her English vowels are second to none - plays a high-rise mum, all short skirts, skinny-rib shirts and fags. Her accent may be good but somehow she's too clean cut for the role, as a self-proclaimed 'slapper' she doesn't quite make the mark. That said, this is the very least of the film's problems. Williams' character provides an irritating voice-over - curiously reminiscent of the Bridget Jones's Diary incerpts - in which she writes letters to Osama. The reason? She's just lost her son and husband in a terror attack at an Arsenal v Chelsea match, which to add insult to injury time happened on the telly while she was getting jiggy with dodgy journalist Jasper (Ewan McGregor). The implausibility piles up - Jasper has never eaten fishfingers, faces of the murdered are placed on blimps and flown over London as a "cemetery in the sky", her husbands copper colleague moves in on her before hubby is even in the ground.

Plus the genre shifts wildly. One minute we're watching Williams' mental breakdown, the next we seem to be on the verge of a revenge drama - certainly the most interesting of the options, but sadly the least explored, and the next we are thrust into a cut-price romance in which "I’ll pick up the broken pieces of your heart and put them back together, no matter how long it takes.” and a quick trip to a caravan show (yes, really) pass as the way to a woman's heart.

It may concern burning issues, but this film is little more than a damp squib.

It occurs to us that we may not have mentioned much star quality this year. We have, obviously, been way too busy watching films to do any serious partying but among those we have seen out and about are: William Hurd - dashing into the loo and Tom Arnold - heading off skiing. The two, I should add, are in no way connected.

The rest of the evening, we confess, was spent sampling the local ale. Polygamy Porter is a particular favourite with its excellent taglines: "Why just have one" and "take some home for the wives".

We're promised colder weather for tomorrow, which we'll report on if we're not snowed in.

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