Peter Sarsgaard

From a jungle on the beach in Quintana Roo blooms the Riviera Maya Film Festival. Now celebrating its third birthday, the festival -- spread across Playa del Carmen, Tulum and Cancun along the Caribbean --  brings over 70 films to Mexico, 40 of which have never been seen in Latin America. Many of the films are challenging auteur works off the festival circuit ("Nymphomaniac," "Night Moves," "Under The Skin") while others are homegrown Mexican indies you're not likely to see in the US -- or maybe anywhere else, ever.

Sunday night marked the fest's opening night premiere of Kelly Reichardt's "Night Moves." In attendance was star Peter Sarsgaard, who came down to the peninsula with wife Maggie Gyllenhaal on his birthday and charmed the international press at a conference earlier in the day. By "Night," he got the lavish red carpet treatment and as a gift from the fest, was endowed with a giant conch shell covered in saran wrap. "My daughter is going to freak out," Sarsgaard told the audience as he accepted the odd swag. (Click through for more quotes from Sarsgaard, who opens up about the anxiety of acting, Jesse Eisenberg, religion, marriage and more.)

Coming from the director of slow-paced dramas like the neorealist "Wendy and Lucy" (2008) and the revisionist western "Meek's Cutoff" (2010) -- whose pace is akin to petrified molasses -- it's surprising that "Night Moves" turns out to be an old-school thriller. But in Reichardt's sure hands, it's pure dark magic and her most accessible (and possibly best) film to date, with Jesse Eisenberg nailing his role as an environmental zealot, and the lovely Dakota Fanning proving her subtle gifts yet again in a small-scale movie. Sarsgaard, as always, is brilliantly subdued in a small but key role. His next part will be onstage in New York as Hamlet under the direction of Austin Pendleton.

"When people see a good film, they see a reflection of their own lives, and they learn something and they connect. It can be serious, it can be frivolous, but it's a reflection of your own life. It validates your life," said Sarsgaard warmly at the press conference.

The film, set for 2014 distribution by Cinedigm, is about a group of so-called eco-terrorists who craftily assemble a bomb from ammonium nitrate fertilizer to destroy a dam that's holding back a wealth of Oregon's water supply. The film's universe is one of complex moral fabric, where red herrings fall like flies and paranoia, among other things, is in the water. (Here's our 2013 Venice review.)

"A Kelly Reichardt movie has nothing else except for the actors in it to help sell it and move the story forward," Sarsgaard said in the press conference. "It's all on us. When you're in a larger movie [like "The Green Lantern"], it's easier, but it's deceptive because you can fall asleep. It definitely feels like you're on a vacation in a big movie. In a Kelly Reichardt movie, running from scene to scene, from shot to shot, there's a lot of work to be done as actors. There's not a chance to do five takes because she's got other things to do, and we only have 20-something days to shoot it."

After about 30 minutes of introductions from fest programmers and government officials in hasty Spanish, the screening began and Sarsgaard and Gyllenhaal hit the road. But later, at the industry after-party in Cancun, I learned that, apparently, some sort of jewel heist had gone down in the area, and local police were shutting down the highway to search every car at three discrete checkpoints. Sarsgaard and Gyllenhaal's private van was among them. It was like the 2013 Cannes Film Festival all over again. Los Angelinos, imagine the 101, the 5 and the 405 being shut down, and you get an idea of what a sticky jam everyone was in.

More from Sarsgaard after the jump.