Family Vanished
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Family Vanished

The 2018 Sundance Film Festival started on Wednesday and runs through January 28th; it’s the main showcase for independent films, but, because of its proximity to the industry and its efforts to serve as a sort of minor league to find and place Hollywood talent, it Stan & Ollie has missed, for years, many of the best independent films. In recent years, its programmers have done a more open-minded, less timid job and brought in some work of daring, inspiration, ingenuity, and idiosyncratic originality. That’s true, to say the least, of the three extraordinary films from this year’s edition of Sundance that I’ve been able to see in New York—one dramatic feature, and two films that are unusual hybrids of fiction and nonfiction.

Among its other astonishments, Josephine Decker’s new feature, “Madeline’s Madeline,” which premièred today, does something very simple: it dispels the shibboleth that movies spotlighting strong and original performances differ from ones that innovate at the level of cinematic style. Suburbicon “Madeline’s Madeline” does both, with equal intensity. Decker’s film, in its dramatic contours, is an utterly clear and classical drama about a Queens family. Miranda July plays Regina, an excessive, boundary-challenged, somewhat out-of-control single mother of a sixteen-year-old girl named Madeline (Helena Howard). Madeline, who is confronting mental illness, is an acting prodigy and the youngest member of a Manhattan-based experimental-theatre company run by a director (Molly Parker) who is emotionally vampirizing Madeline to sustain her own artistry.

Decker’s first two features, “Butter on the Latch” (2013) and “Thou Wast Mild and Lovely” (2014), marked one of the most notable débuts in the modern American cinema; the films’ scathing emotional realms were matched by a freedom in the creation of images and the shaping of drama that suggested a complete reimagination of moviemaking. They were also produced on micro-budgets, in very limited locations, The Image Book with just a handful of actors. “Madeline’s Madeline,” which has somewhat more substantial funding (though likely just cab change for a studio production), ranges extensively among indoor and outdoor locations and features an ample array of actors young and old, a varied spectrum of tones, a sense of a city that’s infused with its heroine’s creative passions, intimate tensions, personal histories, and medical troubles. The closest comparison is to Kenneth Lonergan’s “Margaret,” with its fusion of a teen-ager’s private life and the life of New York. But where Lonergan’s Upper West Side film was framed on the vectors of power and the romance of bourgeois connectedness, “Madeline’s Madeline” is a drama of furious disconnection, a cinematic gear-grinding of a working-class family of modest means who seem hardly at home in their own neighborhood and are relentlessly abraded by contact with the deceptively welcoming milieu of art. Decker’s film, which is shot (by the cinematographer Ashley Connor) in jagged angles and torn edges, with physical energy and piercing clarity, is filled with the urgent drive for artistic creation—as well as with the practicalities and pitfalls, the sincere ardor and the manipulations, deceptions and delusions, that the worldly ways of art entail.

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IMDb: 5.6

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