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Ballad of Narayama

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Sundance #8: 'Forty Shades of Blue'

May Contain Spoilers

PARK CITY, Utah--I saw 27 films at Sundance this year, but of course I missed all the screenings of Ira Sachs' "Forty Shades of Blue," which won the Grand Jury Prize for best dramatic feature. I had a chance to catch up, though; the festival showed it again Saturday night after the awards were (finally) over, and I found myself impressed, but more by the performances than by the story or direction. Miranda July's "Me and You and Everyone We Know" remains, for me, the best film of the festival.

Crusty, grumbly Rip Torn stars in "Forty Shades of Blue," as Alan, a veteran music producer in Memphis who knows a lot of people and goes to a lot of parties, but may not have a lot of friends. Much-married, he currently lives with Laura (Dina Korzun), a Russian he met on a business trip. She's the mother of his 3-year-old, a thin, blonde woman who is very solemn. As the movie opens, he takes her to a tribute in his honor, gets drunk, goes upstairs with a woman he knows, and leaves her to find her own way home.

Alan's adult son Michael (Darren Burrows) comes to visit. He's never liked or admired his father, and is angered by the way Alan treats Laura. But Laura explains "I live better than anyone I know. I do not deserve all of this luxury." She keeps her mouth shut, but her eyes speak volumes.

Torn's performance makes Alan not into an evil man so much as one without basic human feelings. His explanation for dumping her after the banquet? "I'm not proud of it." His consolation when she weeps? "Aw, honey…"

The film is well enough done, but conventional, with an ending shot borrowed directly from Fellini's "La Dolce Vita." Having been on a jury or two, I would have been fascinated to eavesdrop on this one as it talked itself out of the Miranda July film.

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