Sundance Opening Night: Robert Redford, The Queen Of Versailles and Wish You Were Here

Despite dark times there's no paralysis here, says founder.

by Amber Wilkinson

The Queen of Versailles

The Queen of Versailles

There's something a bit different about Sundance Film Festival this year. For a start, I arrived in Park City to mild weather and light drizzle - a far cry from the usual snowdrift central. And secondly, Robert Redford, who usually keeps his opening press conference references to politics firmly in the categories of oblique and waspish, let rip more direct criticism than usual.

And can there be any greater criticism than suggesting someone likes Transformers?

Despite prefacing his remarks with the insistence that "I'm not going to get into politics", he went on to say that the current round of Republican debates - as the US gears up for the next election - have a "mushroom cloud of ego hovering over everybody".

He added: "It’s kind of silly and stupid and I’m sorry about it but we don’t get into that.”

As for those Michael Bay blockbusters...

“[Republican candidate] Mitt Romney can go see what he wants to see,” Redford said. “If he wants the Transformers, great. It’s there for him. But that’s not where we are.”

Describing the times as "dark and grim", Redford didn't pull any punches with regard to the Obama administration either. "We’re suffering from a government in paralysis," he said. "That makes it all a pretty grim time. But the happy thing is that here, for this week, we’re going to see work from artists, even though their work might be reflective of these hard times, there is not paralysis here.”

There are, however, some explorations of grim times - even for the rich, such as Lauren Greenfield's hugely entertaining and surprisingly sympathetic examination of the money woes of billionaire David Siegel, wife Jacqueline and his family - The Queen Of Versailles (read the full review here).

It sets the bar high for the rest of the documentaries to come at this year's Sundance.

Australian drama Wish You Were Here
Australian drama Wish You Were Here

Sadly, the dramatic film I also caught on opening night doesn't quite reach the same heights. Australia flick Wish You Were Here, hovers somewhere between emotional drama and psychological thriller but never quite pulls off either as well as you wish it had. It's a shame, because the opening 15 minutes, featuring Alice (Felicity Price) and Dave Flannery (Joel Edgerton) on holiday with Alice's sister Steph (Teresa Palmer) and her boyfriend Jeremy (Antony Starr) in Cambodia, is a lovely edited sequence ending with a scene of brooding menace.

The film, which is about the effect that the sudden disappearance of Jeremy has on the other three and the secrets and lies that lurk in families, suffers from uneven pacing. Its brooding goes on so long that it becomes monotonous, while plot points aren't so much developed as dolloped in. The final 20 minutes sees all the film's major moves arrive in such a rush that they feel hurried, especially considering the stately pace that has gone before. Still, debut feature director Kieran Darcy-Smith shows a keen eye for a good shot and the acting is excellent across the board. But, given the many (and better) Australian films that have failed to secure UK distribution in the past five years, I can't imagine it coming to British cinemas any time soon.

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