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MO' FROM TO
• Wendy and Lucy: Following the footsteps of Kelly Reichardt's tender 2006 film Old Joy, this even smaller experience trails Wendy, a Midwestern girl (pricelessly played by Michelle Williams) driving across the country to start a new life in Alaska. This heartbreaking journey beautifully confronts the tiny issues that arise from being out of step with modern society and will be particularly celebrated by anyone who felt Sean Penn's Into the Wild (2007) was frustratingly misguided and overly romanticized
• Vinyan: When a rich Caucasian couple's child goes missing, the parents make a trek through the tsunami-destroyed bowels of Thailand, searching all the way into Burma. The shrill sound design, claustrophobic camera work, and xenophobic storytelling perfectly punctuate the Harvey Keitel–ish hysterics unleashed by French heartthrob Emmanuelle Béart and UK toughie Rufus Sewell (who gave a similarly audacious performance in the overlooked Sundance gem Downloading Nancy). As the pair descend into utter madness, this hypnotic hybrid of The African Queen (1951) and Don't Look Now (1973) could be read as a brutal attack on Western tourism. Throw in a hundred creepy jungle kids and some controversy about the filmmakers' alleged insensitivity toward tsunami victims, and you've got a genuine cult classic in the making!
• JCVD Jean-Claude Van Damme decided to star as himself in Belgian director Mabrouk El Mechri's deconstructive thriller (à la 1975's Dog Day Afternoon). Van Damme gave up his control issues, allowing the director to expose his most intimate flaws (including a monologue given directly to the audience that jams a frog into the throat of even the most jaded, ironic hipster). The sold-out Midnight Madness audience was so completely stunned by Van Damme's solid and moving performance, I hope the filmmaker gets some credit for creating a genuine tribute to this genuine genre actor.
More to come from the second half of the festival: Wong Kar-Wai's Ashes of Time Redux, the Dardenne Brothers' Le Silence de Lorna, and supposedly the most violent horror film ever made: Pascal Laugier's Martyrs. (Jesse Hawthorne Ficks)