By Sherrie Li
By Falling James
By Amanda Lewis
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Jennifer Swann
By Scott Foundas
By Sherrie Li
Simon claims early in the film to have been a neuroscience student specializing in the way the brain relates to the eye, and the gorgeous cinematography is constantly drawing attention to the way eyes — and cameras — work, with extreme focal changes amplifying the tension between foreground and background, and pulsing color-field abstractions acting as transitions. Slowly revealed as a pathological liar, Simon may or may not be an expert in the science of perception, but he shows particular aptitude for manipulating the perception of women, who repeatedly take what Simon shows them at face value and lose their ability to focus. Sensually rich, Simon Killer embodies cinema's power to manipulate the eye and the brain while also effectively dissecting the mechanics of male sexual compulsion.
That what we see is up for infinite interpretation is borne out by the most innovative nonfiction film at Sundance, Room 237, filmmaker Rodney Ascher's brilliant work of alternative film criticism — and a critique of criticism — that explores the conspiracy theories surrounding Stanley Kubrick's The Shining. Self-proclaimed experts, who are heard but not seen, make the case that the film is loaded with hidden allusions to the Holocaust and the genocide of the American Indians, and includes Kubrick's implicit admission that he "directed" the Apollo 11 moon landing. Ascher refrains from his own verbal commentary, or from pushing toward a single conclusion. Instead, he collages imagery from the film (and from other films, most notably Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut) against the litany of interpretations offered via voice-over on the soundtrack, allowing the viewer to play filmic detective, sorting out the reasonable from the crackpot based on our own experience of the movie.
Disappointments? There were a few, including the uncontested "hit" of the festival, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Benh Zeitlin's thematic sequel to his much-acclaimed 2008 short, Glory at Sea. Billed as wholly original, the film is in fact an uneasy mash-up of Where the Wild Things Are, The Tree of Life and Trash Humpers. Set in a magical ghetto island of outcasts floating off the southern coast of Louisiana, it is all fairy-tale fantastic wonder, all the time. It stumbles in its attempts to anchor that wonder to something real: The film's central apocalyptic storm and its prehistoric beasts (both brought on by global warming), and its subsequent detour into a mainland displacement camp, make the Hurricane Katrina metaphor painfully literal.
And yet, it's the ultimate example of Sundance 2012's gallery of crises. At one point in Beasts, its 6-year-old heroine says something like, "The entire universe depends on everything fitting together just right, and if you can fix the broken piece, everything can go right back." This childlike faith in the possibility of returning to an old normal is undeniably naive — and, in positing wistful thinking as a game plan, it bore troubling resemblance to the supposedly adult perspectives delivered in what seemed like half the films at the festival.
Join My Voice Nation for free stuff, film info & more!