sundance day one: a queer homecoming and the rise and fall of belgian rock 'n' roll

Sundance's opening day featured a powerful yet funny film about cancer and an ode to club life with music by 2ManyDJs.

by Colin Crummy
22 January 2016, 7:20pm

Other People
The subject of cancer -- and the ability to sometimes laugh in its wake -- gets an appealing reshaping in writer-director Craig Kelly's new take on the genre, one that was inspired by personal experience. Other People is what happens when your mom (Molly Shannon) gets terminal cancer and you're a 29-year-old gay man who returns from his writing career and boyfriend in New York to look after her. With laughs and tears in equal measure, the film shows its principal gay character, David (played by Jesse Plemons, formerly of Friday Night Lights), performing a balancing act between deeply ordinary and fascinatingly complex. You know, as humans can be. 

David's glamorous network television writing career actually hasn't taken off at all; his relationship has broken up; he doesn't go to the gym his dad keeps needling him about joining. Still, David is not a simple, cuddly queer. He's a snob about moving back to his hometown, Sacramento, a fact that doesn't exactly endear his cute OK Cupid date. Nor is he a straightforward vicious queen. He is a good guy -- as he tells himself in meltdown mode -- who returned home to look after his sick mother. And he is, even if that gesture is not without some self absorption. 

Wider, wry observations about gay men abound. When a younger brother of David's friend performs an outrageous drag show for the neighbors, David apologizes for all the pre-adolescent boy gyrating. It's a cover up for his own unease; as his friend notes: "You're just jealous because he's 1000 times more confident than you'll ever be." The kid stomping all over gender rules is 14-year-old J.J. Totah, the film's scene stealer in this rich ensemble piece.

The rise and fall of rock 'n' roll is mirrored in Belgian director Felix Van Groeningen's Belgica, the name of the club two brothers turn into a "den of depravity" and, initially at least, a creative and social melting pot. Frank, the eldest brother, is wild and untameable despite commitments that include fathering a three-year-old boy (and another on the way). Jo, left with only one eye after a childhood illness, is the younger brother and deeper soul. It's into his burgeoning Belgica that Frank elbows, helping turn the enterprise into a bigger, madder proposition before -- inevitably -- money, sex, drugs,, and violence threaten to upend everything.

Van Groeningen enlisted the help of his friends Stephen and David Dewaele, better known as Soulwax or 2ManyDJs to create an authentic club experience in the film. As well as creating the score, they went a step further, creating fictitious bands to perform, which include The Shitz and They Live (both of which are good enough to be real). The film really takes flight in these extended scenes of live performance and crowd euphoria, though as ever, we wait for the crash.

Elsewhere at Sundance:
The luxury group Kering announced a collaboration with Women at Sundance Fellowship Program at this year's festival, to further promote and develop female filmmakers in the industry. Kering -- home to Gucci, Saint Laurent and Alexander McQueen -- will to provide year-long support to six female filmmakers and develop a special training workshop for this year's Women at Sundance Fellows. That fellowship program will take six women filmmakers from Sundance's Institute program and match them with industry leaders for one-on-one coaching.

Sundance founder Robert Redford declined to be drawn on the race row that overshadowed this year's overwhelmingly white Oscar nominations. He did, however, appear to suggest the solution lay with the filmmakers themselves. "Diversity comes out of the word independence. It's a word I operate from principally for most of my life. Diversity comes out of it. It's an automatic thing. If you're independent minded, you're going to do things different than the common form," said Redford. 


Text Colin Crummy

other people
Colin Crummy