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Sundance 2012: Documentaries dominate

'Ethel,' about R.F.K.'s wife, and 'The Invisible War' leave a somber aftertaste.

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The much buzzed-about Lauren Greenfield documentary The Queen of Versailles, a rags-to-riches-to-rags story about Florida billionaire David Siegel and his self-described trophy wife, Jackie, was underwhelming. In part this is because bankruptcy isn't what it used to be: It's difficult to commiserate with a guy whose idea of living low is squatting in a mansion big enough to house – well, the Kennedy clan. (Fun festival sideshow: Siegel is suing the festival and Greenfield, claiming the publicity surrounding the film is defamatory.)

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More enjoyable was Matthew Akers's Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present, about the famous performance artist whose recent show at the Museum of Modern Art involved patrons, one after the other for perhaps 10 minutes each, sitting across from her in a shared silence. More enjoyable still was the "silent party" Abramovic hosted at a nearby art gallery featuring video images from the film and chichi hors d'oeuvres. About a hundred people upon entry were handed white lab coats and plastic earphones and told not to speak or use their cellphones. A loud clock ticked in the background, for that existential effect. Redford showed up and stood for photo ops. Silence at a film festival, where chatter is rife, is indeed golden, even if more than a few present, including Redford, surreptitiously whispered. The publicist for the film did more than whisper to me. "What do you think of the film?" she wanted to know.

The dramatic movies I caught at Sundance, compared with the docs, seemed fairly middling. Bachelorette, starring a Kirsten Dunst definitely not in "Melancholia" mode, is a "Bridesmaids" knockoff. Lynn Shelton's Your Sister's Sister, with Emily Blunt, was a sort of mumblecore Noel Coward romantic triangle comedy. The yellow peril Australian hot ticket Wish You Were Here, about a tropical getaway gone very wrong in Cambodia, made me wish I wasn't there. So Yong Kim's For Ellen, starring Paul Dano as a dissolute rocker trying to bond with his baby girl, had some heartfelt sequences and lots of longueurs. James Marsh's Shadow Dancer, about IRA unrest and starring Andrea Riseborough and Clive Owen, was effective, but it made me wonder why so very many Irish-themed movies are about The Troubles. Maybe I should have turned up for Grabbers, a midnight madness festival entry about an alien invasion off the coast of Ireland where its inhabitants discover that getting drunk is the only way to survive.

It takes all kinds to make a film festival.

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