What I Watched At Sundance This Year (Part 2): The Down Under Edition
Rounding out the full-length screenings for me were Animal Kingdom, a modern film noir from Australia and Boy, a half-comedy, half-tragedy from New Zealand. One thing linking both films is that they involve kids who must deal with grown-up problems because the grown ups around them haven’t quite grown-up.
My first thought regarding Animal Kingdom was that it was an Australian version of the Departed (or Infernal Affairs), where the young protagonist, “J” (played by a newcomer, James Frecheville*), is forced to move in with his grandmother and bank-robbing uncles after his mother O.D.’s on heroin. As his uncles and the cops engage in an extended game of cat and mouse and murder, J is put in the middle, with his sociopathic Uncle Pope and Oedipally-charged grandmother on one end, and a sympathetic cop played by Guy Pierce on the other. (Throughout the movie, I thought how much I enjoy Pierce’s performances when he plays cops. It’s interesting to see him in middle-age, instead of that fresh face in L.A. Confidential). The settings are seedy, everyone related to J is creepy, and the suspense properly unfurls as we try to guess whether little J makes it out alive.
As for the second film, Boy, this was the one that Kenners and I drove all the way out to Ogden to watch. The movie, set in 1984, is told from the point of view of Boy, an 11-year-old in an idyllic, albeit poor, town some where on New Zealand’s coast. Like J, Boy and his adorably cute and sad-eyed brother Rocky are practically orphans; their mother is dead, their pop is in jail, and they live in a run-down little house with their grandmother. Boy has an aunt, but she’s got her hands full occupying every job in town (school bus driver, post woman, convenience shop keeper). These initial details unfold in a cartoonish (animated crayon drawings), fun(ny) (three of Boy’s friends are named Dynasty, Dallas, and Falcon Crest), popping way, that had my hopes up for the movie, but when their father, Alamein (played by the movie’s director Taika Waititi, the same guy behind Eagle vs. Shark), shows up on the scene, the audience is left to deal with the true kid, the absent father, who tries to connect with his two sons, but is an eternal man-boy. There was something about the scenes between Boy and Alamein that struck a personal cord with me. When Alamein first re-encounters Boy, he tells him that E.T. was a great film that he’s scene four times, but he doesn’t take his own sons to see a movie, clearly designed for children. This parental selfishness reminded me of own self-centered father when I was Rocky’s age (my father took me to movies, but thought Rambo, First Blood Part 2 was appropriate for a 7-year-old). Much of the humor in Boy is used to cover up the somber tone that results from the absence that the two kids feel from their missing mum, and for Alamein, from his dead wife. In the end, this shared absence is what unifies the three.
*As an aside, Frecheville was at the premier, and in person had the looks of a Ralph Lauren casual winter ad.
Separate from these films, I also saw a collection of shorts. While we selected the series of shorts because one was directed by James Franco, his short, Herbert White (based on this graphic poem), left us very disturbed (all that I will say is that Franco’s work makes the joke about his relationship with Kimiko, the body pillow seem plausible and normal). The one short in our set that was the most entertaining and that garnered the most applause was Pablo Larcuen’s Mi Amigo Invisible, a very geeky, cute little film that Larcuen made for a class. Thanks to Larcuen’s sense of the wacky and absurd, I hope to see a full-length work from Larcuen in the years to come.