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This blog is about pretty much what the title implies... movies, music and everything else.

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Tuesday, January 31, 2006

SUNDANCE 2006: a guide to recognizing your saints


I saw a total of 19 films this year at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival. A GUIDE TO RECOGNIZING YOUR SAINTS was the last one. It was also the first on that really showed the passion of the filmmaker. Dito Montiel had to make this film and it comes across in every frame.

A GUIDE TO RECOGNIZING YOUR SAINTS is based on the memoirs of the same name by Montiel, chronicling his life in Astoria, N.Y. as a young adult. At the beginning of the film, an adult Dito (Robert Downey Jr) addresses the audience, explaining that by the end of this story, Giuseppe will be dead, Antonio in jail and Nerf a drug addict… He goes on to say that he is not ruining the story because “there’s a lot of shit that happens between now and then.” That is a hell of a way to start a movie and it gets better from there.

Montiel had never made a movie before this and he has never written a script. He didn’t know how and really had not interest. It wasn’t until Downey approached him and convinced him to write the film. Once he finished a draft, he was accepted into the Sundance Institute and developed the script further. The fact that he didn’t know how to make a move is a major factor to why this movie is so impressive. Dito was just telling the story. He didn’t know the rule, so he didn’t know that he was breaking them.

SAINTS is filled with unconventional filmmaking including cutting to black and reading the dialogue as it is spoken, jump cuts inter-cut with a second of black, incorporating voiceover in scenes with dialogue and cutting back and forth repeating what is said at times. In a way, this movie is a mess, but it works in a way I have not seen in a movie before. I can’t tell you why these techniques worked, but they did. This is a special movie and is what Sundance is all about.

The events are shocking with their violence and language at times, but I felt like I was there in his memories at all time. I felt like all of this actually happened and I had the privilege of being inside Dito’s head as he remembered it. This is a film about Dito looking back on the world he left at 16 years old. We see the story though those memories and that is part of the reason that the chaos of the filmmaking works so well. Memories aren’t clean. They jump around and back and forth like the movie.

The performances are all fantastic, but this is a film about three of them. Robert Downey Jr. as the older Dito and Shia LaBeouf as the young Dito are amazing. During the Q&A I discovered that the two never had met until the festival days earlier, but in the movie, there are mannerisms and character traits that link them, reassuring you that they really are the same person. This is a hard life for a kid to grow up in, but there is also a strong bond of friendship and family that is unlike anything else. These two captured not only experiencing that kind of a life, but also the effects of living it. The other performance is Chazz Palminteri as Dito’s father, Monty. He loves his son, but is hard on him and never wants to let him go. Dito cannot see his father’s love for him or his love for his father until years later as he writes the book. With this knowledge, the portrayal of his father and their relationship is skewed in a way that the audience can see, but not the characters. Palminteri captures an intense love that he can’t seem to show to his son. It is a heart-breaking performance.

I was so happy when I discovered that A GUIDE TO RECOGNIZING YOUR SAINTS won two awards at Sundance… Best director and best ensemble. To say that it deserved both is an understatement. This was my favorite film that I saw at Sundance. It might not be the “best”, but this is what Sundance is all about for me… I feel like because of the Sundance Film Festival and the Sundance Institute, we have uncovered a great talent. Dito might not ever go on to make another film, but this was a story that he had to tell and Sundance gave him that opportunity.

2 Comments:

Anonymous G. N. said...

I loved this film. I saw it with my daughter at the Angelika Film Center in SoHo, Manhattan, opening day, and I loved it. Downy was exceptionable himself.

3:18 PM  
Anonymous Tino said...

I read the book and just watched the movie. I love both of them.

What's the name and band of the song that is played in the movie when dito and mike go to Frank to get their money? send me an ail to tino (at) dontino.de I'd really appreciate it means a lot to me right now.

1:07 PM  

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