Sundance 2013: Day One

Good and bad relationships in Two Mothers, This Is Martin Bonner, Newlyweeds, Mud, The Moo Man.

by Amber Wilkinson

Two Mothers visual dexterity does not save it from poor scripting

Two Mothers visual dexterity does not save it from poor scripting

My first full day at Sundance and the films - Two Mothers, Mud, The Moo Man and Newlyweeds - were all about relationships, good and bad - and not just within the films themselves. At the Q&A after the premiere of Two Mothers, a member of the audience asked director Anne Fontaine if there was anything that surprised her when she was watching the movie this time around.

Her candid, and rather unfortunate, answer was: "The laughter. It was as if it was a comedy more or less, it was very strange... I don't know what it means exactly."

What it means, exactly, is that despite her best efforts behind the camera, which display a strong eye for visual storytelling, the script of the film is, in places, laughable. The blame doubtless lies with someone other than Fontaine whose English, although perfectly fine, is probably not sufficiently fluent to pick up the clonkiness in the dialogue almost every step of the way. Read my full review here.

Matthew McConnaughey's rejuvenation continues in Jeff Nichols' Mud
Matthew McConnaughey's rejuvenation continues in Jeff Nichols' Mud
Much better when it comes to relationships is Jeff Nichols' follow-up to Take Shelter. Mud sees the renaissance of Matthew McConnaughey continue as he takes on the role of man on the run who strikes up a relationship with two young teenagers, Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland). Nichols gives the film a slightly fabulous edge, with much of the action concerning the trio's attempts to extract a speed boat that has become lodged in the top of a tree by floods. As with Take Shelter, the action seems on one had to be firmly anchored in reality but on the other there's a whisper of a boy's own adventure or fairytale.

Nichols is particularly good at catching the idealism of the young, when true love can strike like a lightning bolt and should surely last for life. He also holds the idea of father and son relationships up to the light and probes it from all angles. it joins crackers such as Stand By Me and Son Of Rambow in the category of film that is written about children but is not necessarily intended for them to watch, exploring what it means to move from youthful idealism to adult pragmatism whether you like it or not.

Newlyweeds Photo: Daniel Patterson
If the runtime of Mud flowed quickly, the 93 minutes of Newlyweeds feel like an eternity. Shaka King's debut feature concerns the relationship between pothead pairing of Lyle (Amari Cheatom) and Nina (Trae Harris), a couple who spend most of their downtime getting high. Once or twice in King's film a good idea surfaces but for the most part it's like sitting in a room watching a load of people get high when you are stone cold sober. They, of course, think that everything they are doing is filled with meaning, hilarity and portent, whereas you can see it's a conversation that is leading nowhere. Enough said.

The most unusual relationship I saw yesterday lies at the heart of excellent British documentary The Moo Man, which charts a year in the life of dairy stockman Stephen Hook and his herd. Director Andy Heathcote perfectly captures the everyday challenges, defeats and victories that make up Hook's life as an organic, 'raw' milk producer. Hook talks to his animals - around 75 in all - and has names for each of the 'ladies' in his herd. He outlines the importance of good husbandry but also the economic realities of running a farm in Britain today and the ever-present threat of TB. Heathcote pays attention and isn't scared to stand and watch while something happens, whether its the long and difficult birth of a calf or Hook's attempts to get his queen of the herd Ida back in the horsebox after a day's photoshoot in Eastbourne. We share his victories and even shed a tear. Moo-ving.

This Is Martin Bonner
This Is Martin Bonner
Finally, I'd like to recommend the affecting This Is Martin Bonner - screening in this year's Next section. Charting the relationship between the newly paroled Travis (Richmond Arquette) and Martin Bonner (Paul Eenhoorn), a volunteer co-ordinator who becomes his off-the-books mentor. Unusually these days, the film features no sex, no violence and no death. Rather it is a gentle character study, probing ideas of fatherhood, responsibility and friendship driven by the twin engines of Arquette and Eenhoorn's performances. Chad Hartigan is an unfussy director who won't be hurried through a scene, but who generates both a good sense of place and self.

As far as my relationships with the films went on Day one proper, I'd say three are keepers.

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