Hamptons Film Festival 2010: A Day at the Beach

If this week’s earlier box office recap had a certain “written while waiting for dinner at an East Hampton bar” feel to it, well, that’s exactly the situation it was written under. The fact was that I took a drive out to East Hampton for the day to attend the Hamptons International Film Festival. And let me tell you, it was a whole lot of fun. So much fun, in fact, that I’m already planning to spend the whole weekend out there next year, not one measly day. The entire crew was incredibly hospitable, things were organized and efficient, and the town was beautiful. (It was my first time out to the Hamptons.) What did I see there? Read on to find out!

127 Hours (Danny Boyle)

My first movie was late in the afternoon because I got caught up in traffic (so I missed ‘Blue Valentine.’ Grrrr…). Danny Boyle’s true life thriller ‘127 Hours’ is based on the sticky situation that amateur adventurer Aron Ralston (played by James Franco) found himself in after getting his arm caught underneath a boulder, which left him hopelessly wedged against a cliffside. The “127 hours” of the title refers to how long he’s stuck there until he does the unthinkable… which, if you don’t know the story of the real-life guy, then I’m not going to ruin here. Let’s just say that things get pretty intense.

After his water runs out (and he’s forced to drink his own pee), well, the middle-aged woman who was sitting next to me put her head in between her legs and started rocking back and forth. Her daughter, one seat next to her, leaned down and whispered, “Don’t look, mom, don’t look.” But beyond this one sequence, the movie is absolutely amazing.

It starts off in a burst of energy, by taking large scale, ‘Koyaanisqatsi’-esque footage of people going about through the hustle and bustle of their daily lives. The screen divides into three separate sections, and eventually narrows down to see Ralston as he packs and leaves for a weekend of big sky adventuring. Along the way, he meets a pair of adorable hikers (Kate Mara and Amber Tamblyn) and exposes them to the wonders of nature. What’s so striking about the movie, and it’s condensed structure, is that we don’t really know anything about Ralston until after he’s become trapped. All of the psychology, all of the back story, and all of the emotional weight come after he’s been squeezed into this crevasse, as he looks back on his life and sees the events that he feels led him to this spot. It’s really beautifully done and really gets you, emotionally, in a way that makes the physical, visceral sensation of the act that frees him from his situation seem puny by comparison.

I’m not going to front: I welled up a couple of times. Director Boyle, working with much of his ‘Slumdog Millionaire‘ team (composer A.R. Rahman, screenwriter Simon Beaufoy, cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle), has created yet another exhilarating, emotionally gripping, and ultimately life-affirming film. (Yes, I know how cheesy that last bit sounds – but it’s true!) It will leave you on the edge of your seat. This is the kind of big, bold filmmaking that Boyle has always been so good at, and it could earn him another pile of Academy Awards.

Black Swan (Darren Aronofsky)

I just happened to be at the festival in time to catch the closing night film, Darren Aronofsky’s ‘Black Swan’! A lot has been written about the movie already, both good and bad. The Bonus View’s very own Josh saw it at Toronto and seemed to be more amused than enthralled, splitting the difference between the two responses: rapture and repulsion.

When Aronofsky introduced the film, he said, “I’m sorry for what you’re about to see.” There was a whole lot of squealing, shrieking, and gasping at the Sunday night screening in East Hampton, for sure. The movie, which is being marketed as a kind of highbrow ‘Single White Female,’ is much more of a balls-to-the-walls psychological horror film. (Comparisons to Polanski’s “apartment trilogy” are dead-on.)

It’s the story of rigid, perfectionist ballerina Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman), who gets the lead in a new production of ‘Swan Lake’ and who is, basically, going completely bonkers. Is her castmate Lily (Mila Kunis) really a psychotic stalker with lesbian designs? Is her mother Erica (Barbara Hershey) really a controlling Mrs. Bates-esque figure? Is her director Thomas (Vincent Cassel) really a lecherous, backstabbing weasel? And what of all those ghastly visions, which tip increasingly towards phantasmagoria as the movie wears on? Well, these are the things you have to decide.

The movie takes place inside Nina’s head, basically. It’s a huge testament to Portman’s performance that you stick with this point-of-view, which often borders on hysterical madness, for the duration of the film. Aronofsky is, as always, at the top of his game. He’s managed to make a movie that combines the trajectory of ‘The Wrestler‘ (after the movie, he said that they’re companion films that he hopes one day are screened as a double bill in art house theaters) with the over-the-top movie-ness of ‘The Fountain.’ I found it to be a beautiful, totally riveting piece of work, a wonderful aria of a genre masterpiece. I cannot wait to see again. This may be my new favorite movie of the year.

The Housemaid (Im Sang-soo)

In the interest of full disclosure, I didn’t actually see this movie at the Hamptons International Film Festival. I saw it a few weeks before the Toronto Film Festival, actually, but I never got around to reviewing it and I didn’t know when I would, because the film doesn’t open until February of next year. So when I saw it on the screening grid at the Hamptons, I thought, “Yay! I can finally write about this!” So, I am. Deal with it.

The movie, which competed for the top honors at Cannes this year, is a remake of a South Korean film from 1960. In this new version, Euny – a housemaid played by Jeon Do-yeon – gets involved in a love triangle with the heads of the household. That’s pretty much the entire plot. But the movie does an amazing job of bringing you into this privileged world.

In my estimation, there are three very distinct “movements” within the film. It starts off as a fairly standard domestic drama. Then it mutates into a kind of far-flung melodrama, with elements of a sexual thriller. Ultimately, it reconciles itself as a haunted house picture, with the sins from the earlier parts of the movie manifesting themselves brilliantly. And what a house to be haunted! Architecturally, you’ve never seen anything like the house in ‘The Housemaid.’

As much campy fun as ‘The Housemaid’ is, I also found it to have a fairly strong emotional core, especially when you think about what the prologue means, after all is said and done. It’s a movie that, much like ‘Black Swan,’ continues to haunt me, both for its sheer artistry and its resonant content. It’s already one of the best films of next year and proof that there aren’t filmmakers in the world who do genre as well as the South Koreans.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *