Sundance Round-up (Part 3): 52 Tuesdays, Fishing Without Nets, Private Violence

52 Tuesdays (Sophie Hyde, 2013)

I imagine there was some sense of frustration from the 52 Tuesdays  filmmakers when Boyhood  was added to the Sundance schedule at the last minute, making their own gimmick filming story seem rather quaint by comparison. Where Boyhood  filmed on and off over the course of 12 years, 52 Tuesdays  goes for the far more modest goal of filming once a week for a year, and only on Tuesdays. The gimmick is built into the premise of the film: when 16-year-old Billie’s mother (Tilda Cobham-Hervey and Del Herbert-Jane respectively) makes the decision to change her sex from female to male, it’s decided that Billie should live with her dad, and that the extremely close mother-daughter duo will meet only once a week for a year, on every Tuesday.

It’s an admirable concept, and as I mentioned in the My Prairie Home  write-up, stories about transgender people in film are always welcome, but the film fails to find a truly interesting angle with which it can use its gimmick. After a few weeks the story of mother(father)-daughter relations is forced to share time with the story of Billie’s sexual awakening, brought up by a friendship with a sexually active older couple at her school. The two plots begin to butt up against each other, with the end result that neither is particularly compelling. There’s also Billie’s uncle who keeps factoring into the plot in ways that rarely make sense and are often grating. Perhaps where the passage of time in filming shows most is in the performances, as most of the actors take a while to get hold of their roles, but by the end they have a pretty firm grip (Herbert-Jane is particularly heartbreaking). Unfortunately, by that point the film’s overall emotional impact is non-existent.

Fishing Without Nets (Cutter Hodierne, 2014)

Somali pirates have seen a sudden boost in popularity in the last two years, beginning with the Danish film A Hijacking, continuing with last year’s American blockbuster Captain Phillips, now up for multiple Academy Awards, and continuing still with the American indie Fishing Without Nets. Luckily, while there are plenty of overlaps between the three films in content, they’ve all managed to go for different angles on the subject. Where A Hijacking  and Captain Phillips  were more focused on the plights of the hijacked (though Captain Phillips  gives time to Barkhad Abdi’s lead hijacker early on), Fishing Without Nets  focuses more directly on the Somali pirates themselves, telling the story of how Abdi, a fisherman wishing to move away from Somalia with his wife and child, finds himself involved with a group of pirates due to his knowledge of the ocean.

Despite this novel take on the subject, the film struggles for a good chunk of its running time to become compelling. Abdi is the only fully fleshed-out pirate, which more or less negates the attempt to humanize their side of the story. It doesn’t help that the second most significant pirate ends up being a hot-headed idiot, though once said hot-headed idiot becomes prominent the film picks up momentum, which I guess means that this has the same problem as Hellion: in order to finally become interesting, the film has to sacrifice any sense of nuance. I’d be lying though if I said I didn’t have white knuckles for the final 20 minutes or so, a genuinely thrilling piece of filmmaking that shows Hodierne might have promise as an action filmmaker, though hopefully he can get more interesting scripts to work on.

Private Violence (Cynthia Hill, 2014)

I’m hard-pressed to remember the last time a film began with a scene as intense as the one that opens Private Violence. Throwing us right into a crisis at a home for battered women, we watch as the workers at this home navigate an intense situation for one woman, using an abusive husband’s attempt to meet with his wife as a chance to get him arrested. As they send texts to the husband for a meeting place, contact police, and make sure what they’re doing isn’t entrapment, the sequence is so precisely edited that you’re able to keep up with the situation with ease, and by the time the sequence resolved I found myself on the verge of tears from the sheer emotion involved.

Admittedly, a lot of this probably has to do with how inherently involving the subject of this film is. Focusing on the work of Kit Gruelle, a domestic violence advocate, the documentary follows her as she works on the case of Deanna, a woman who was kidnapped with her daughter by her abusive husband and brought across the country and halfway back in his 18-wheeler, being brutally beaten on and off through the whole ordeal. Detailing attempts to bring the case to federal court on the grounds of abuse and kidnapping, the film is used as a window into the issues that victims of domestic violence face, from abuse at the hands of their personal partners to how ill-equipped the law is to properly punish abusive partners (the biggest reason for this case actually being heard by federal court wasn’t the abuse, but the kidnapping charge). The presentation of the material isn’t necessarily groundbreaking (it’s mostly talking heads and footage of discussions between the advocate and the people she’s helping), but the story at the heart of the film is compelling enough that it’s always interesting to watch.