Cinematic Catharsis at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival

Photo of Peter Knegt By Peter Knegt | The Lost Boys January 29, 2012 at 4:11PM

Alright, I'm going to go there: The past 12 days at the Sundance Film Festival were a bit of a rough ride. And not simply because of severely first world problems like high altitute, long lines for free liquor, mediocre movies or alcohol-fueled exhaustion. Fresh from the extraordinarily despondent end of a 6-year relationship (that frankly was challenged by the essential double life that comes from spending half your time at film festivals), I made my way into Park City hoping somehow for distraction and comraderie and that sense of professional community that makes Sundance such an occasionally magical place.
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Keep The Lights On
Keep The Lights On

Alright, I'm going to go there: The past 12 days at the Sundance Film Festival were a bit of a rough ride. And not simply because of severely first world problems like high altitute, long lines for free liquor, mediocre movies or alcohol-fueled exhaustion. Fresh from the extraordinarily despondent end of a 6-year relationship (that frankly was challenged by the essential double life that comes from spending half your time at film festivals), I made my way into Park City hoping somehow for distraction and comraderie and that sense of professional community that makes Sundance such an occasionally magical place.

And while that certainly occurred (I don't think I would have survived without it, and a drastic thank you to the many who listened to how-do-I-get-him-back-petering-on-the-verge-of-a-nervous-breakdown rants), I cannot say it was easy. In large part this was due to the fact that a major theme in the narratives of the films at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival was, yep, the destruction of long term relationships.

In "Simon Killer," a deranged young America escapes to Paris after the derailment of a 5 year relationship... and then basically goes on a rampage of violent self-destruction (I'll gladly note this was the least relatable of them all).

In "Celeste and Jesse Forever," high school sweethearts cope with the end of their decade long marriage by spending all their time together. Until, of course, that implodes.

In "The Surrogate," a severly disabled man has to move forward after his relationship to a hired and temporary "sex surrogate" turns into his first sense of real love and human connection.

In "The End of Love," a man has to confront the severe pain of loss and the courage it takes to change when the mother of his son tragically dies.

In "Smashed," a marriage built on mutual alcoholism spirals out of control when one of them decides to get sober.

In "Save The Date," a woman attempts to rebound from an intensely dramatic breakup while watching her sister plan her wedding.

In "Keep The Lights On," the challenged 9 year relationship of two gay men with some seriously self-destructive behavior slowly and painfully falls apart.

Over and over again, any attempt to repress or deny my own situation was made impossible by varied responses to break-ups care of a mostly talented bunch of Sundance filmmakers.

"Keep The Lights On" was by far the most relatable, and not simply because it was about gay men. Director Ira Sachs paints a painfully realistic portrait of an epic relationship that I'm sure is universally heartbreaking for any audience member. I almost thanked god when I came out of the film to find a blizzard of snow that helped mask the fact that I was hysterically crying the entire walk back to the Indiewire condo.

The point of all of this? Beyond the teenage girl in me coming out to be dramatic and over-personal in a blog post?  These films reminded me yet again of the power of cinema to creep inside you and bring perspective.  It's pretty remarkable how powerful the essential death of a human connection can be. It can completely transform you, for better and definitely for worse. With every film, I desperately hoped for the happy ending I so desperately want for myself. And sometimes it happened and I thank those filmmakers for giving me a temporary sense of (false?) hope (the aforeblogged "Reality Bites" retro screening was perhaps the highlight of such hope - Troy and Lelaina 4evr). But more often than not, I got a harsh reminder that we can't control our destinies and sometimes things don't turn out the way we planned. It's a simple lesson, but given the fact that so much art - whether film or whatever else - is themed around it goes to show just how fucking hard it is for us humans to wrap our heads around it.

But that this group of filmmakers clearly made it to the other side and lived to turn their experiences into varying degrees of art is in retrospect somewhat comforting. Sometimes all we can do is patientally turn these soul-sucking experiences into an opportunity for positive growth, whether artistically or simply personally. And while I'll gladly take that optimism with me on my long walk home, I also cannot wait to get the fuck out of here. Cathartic or not, no one likes to spend 12 days crying in movie theaters.