Imitation of Life

A journal about film, music, literature and any other form of imitation of life. Seeing through a glass darkly…


Rodrigo Garcia’s Mother and Child, starring Naomi Watts and Annette Bening, took top honors at the Deauville American Film Festival. The Jury Prize was shared by Debra Garnik’s Winter’s Bone (winner at Sundance) and David Robert Mitchell’s The Myth of the American Sleepover.

The International Critics’ Award went to Rodrigo Cortés’ Buried, which will be presented in the San Sebastian Film Festival later in September and will be released worldwide in October.

After the trailer you can read my review of the film, which I wrote when I saw it in its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival back in January.

Some cinemagoers queued up last, night up to six hours to catch the world premiere of Rodrigo Cortés’ second long feature Buried in the Library Center Theater at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival and, for those eager for a breathtaking, nail-biting experience, it was worth the wait.

 The claustrophobic script by Chris Sparling takes lone onscreen actor Ryan Reynolds, a US contractor working in Iraq, on an agonizing countdown when he wakes up buried in a coffin with a lighter, a cell phone and the daunting task of getting a $5 million ramson or else give in to the fate of pushing Iraqi daisies.

This extreme Lifeboat situation is a defining formal and thematic premise of the film and therefore the source of its many virtues and, inevitably, of its self-impossed limitations. Buried is indeed a very Hitchcockian film, starting with its credits and with an outstanding Bernard Herrmann-influenced score by Víctor Reyes, but rather than Hitchcock’s Lifeboat, the more obvious reference of the picture is 1964 episode Final Escape of the Hitckcock Hour series. That short film, and its 1985 female remake, had a convict planning to escape in a coffin with the help of the prison mortician, who is supposed to dig him out. When, in the last scene, the prisoner strikes a match and discovers that the stiff he’s sharing the coffin with is his supposed savior, the viewer is left with the unplesant and disturbing task of imagining the poor guy’s fate.

Cortés’ picture picks up literally where that short film left off and thus dares to embark the viewer on a story that no filmmaker ever wanted, or was brave enough, to tell before. Some might argue that from the perspective of traditional narrative, the exercise is not only highly risky, but also unnecessary. It’s like trying to have a take on Lewis Carrol by writing a sequel to Alice in Wonderland when the girl wakes up or, in other words, to explicit the part of the story that no one wants to read or, in the case of Buried, to see.

Cortés’ directorial effort, however, proves this theory wrong. To start with, it is a cinematic achievement to be able to keep the film’s tension until the very last minute in such a limited location and pull off a couple of terrific action scenes to boot. Admittedly, Sparling’s script is inventive enough as a whole but uneven at times, as it gives the impression that he is just trying to come up with a new idea to torment the guy with in his death trap.

The helmer’s response to these writing flaws is consistently brilliant, thanks to a masterful camera work that moves inside the coffin as if it were a football stadion and, specially, to the austere but highly effective lighting effects.

Reynolds is nothing short of brilliant in this challenging role and, surprisingly enough, is helped by a good offscreen supporting cast, with Stephen Tobolowsky (to whom Reynolds publicly thanked in the Q&A session) a standout.

Rodrigo Cortés had proved in his previous work that he is no ordinary director, and this film confirms not only his talent but the brilliant future that lies ahead of him. From the reaction to the film of the audience that packed the theater in its Sundance midnight world premiere, I guess I’m not the only one to think so.


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5 Responses

  1. uncle Walt says:

    Well done Rodrigo! I think we’ll be hearing a lot about ‘Buried’ come Oscar time… By the way, I read something in ‘Empire’ a few days ago that made me think about you: in their review of’ Winter’s Bone,’ to which they grant their five-star maximum rating, the caption to the movie still they show reads ‘and the 2011 Bewt Actress Oscar goes to Jennifer Lawrence’. Can’t wait to see it! Take care!

  2. steandric says:

    Re:Rodrigo Garcia’s Mother and Child, starring Annette Bening and Naomi Watts, took top honors at the Deauville American Film Festival.

    Sorry, this film CLEARLY stars Naomi Watts and Annette Bening. Why did you people slight Ms. Watts – again.

  3. @steandric
    Hey! Thanks for the comment.
    Since I haven’t seen the film yet (hence my objective statement of the film’s victory in Deauville with no comment), I merely took the billing order published at the Deauville Festival’s press release. In the sonnyclassics website official credits of the film, actors are billed in order of appearance, starting with Alexandria Salling (Karen aged 14) and with Bening before Watts.
    The official cast list, however, gives Watts top billing and therefore I will immediately correct my blog entry avec plaisir :-)
    As for slighting Watts, I think you’re right, but not by me. I think she’s one of the few actresses unable to be bad in a performance. It’s a joke that she’s been nominated for an Oscar only once. Her turn in Mulholand Drive deserved not only a nomination that year (it was ridiculous that she wasn’t) but the Oscar for a decade. She was snubbed again for King Kong, where she was great and gave a human face to that huge blockbuster (which I personnally enjoyed in all its 180 minutes). I hope they don’t snub her again this year for Fair Game, but honestly, I don’t know…

  4. @Uncle Watt
    Let’s see, it would be great to see Rodrigo Cortes’ as a best director nominee, although I think the film has a better chance in the cinematography (which is amazing in Buried), that is, if voters realize that cinematography is not about beautiful landscapes.
    As for Lawrence’s Oscar bid, let’s see what happens. Its gonna be a hot category this year. Annette Bening and Julianna Moore for The Kids Are All Right, Natalie Portman for Black Swan, Lesley Manville for Anothet Year, Naomi Watts in Fair Game, and still many films to come.
    Exciting year for the Best Actress race…

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