Sundance winner has US critics raving

Preview by Jack Foley

AS ALL eyes look to the 2003 Sundance Film Festival (the line-up has just been announced), we have decided to focus on another of last year's festival favourites, Personal Velocity - a film which took Grand Jury Prize in 2002 and which opened in America this weekend (Dec 6-9) to rave reviews.

Writer director, Rebecca Miller, has adapted a trio of short stories from her 2001 collection and turned them into one of the year's must-see films of the year (States-side), all of which focus on women and their trials and tribulations.

The three women in question are portrayed by indie favourites, Parker Posey, Kyra Sedgwick and Fairuza Balk and all are said to be in mercurial form in front of the camera.

Sedgwick plays Delia, a gutsy, yet scarred, working-class housewife who takes off with her children to escape her violent husband, while Posey stars as Greta, a Manhattan cookbook editor, whose suppressed hunger for something more is expressed in casual infidelity. And finally, there's Balk, as Paula, 'a tormented punkette', who takes off with a hitchhiker and heads to New York City.

All three have reached turning points in their lives and all three are about to rebel, in order to escape the tragedy which has befallen them, in various ways.

For Miller, the daughter of playwright Arthur Miller and wife of actor Daniel Day-Lewis, the acclaim the film has attracted is just reward for the effort that was put into making it. The 40-year-old mother-of-two shot Personal Velocity quickly, on a digital-video shoestring, yet still managed to win both the Sundance Grand Jury Prize for drama and the award for excellence in cinematography - no mean achievement, given the calibre of film it was up against.

According to Posey, the movie features 'three different women all going through changes'. Yet she doesn't know where she has seen that before, 'other than in European movies'.

"The film has no problem showing women who are passionate, and [it] doesn't judge," she told Entertainment Weekly, one of its biggest fans (see below).

But it is a point that Miller concurs with, as she told the magazine: "It [the movie] probably has a different expression of sexuality than most. I didn't try to conform to any idea of what's romantic or what's sexy. In Delia's case, I was interested in the whole idea of the slut personality. Everyone always thinks these women are used by men, but what about the woman who's also using men and gets pleasure from it? The idea that women only want love and to be faithful is a fiction that's handy for men."

Miller, who previously studied painting at Yale University, before embarking on a brief career as an actress (appearing in films such as Regarding Henry and Consenting Adults), maintains she set out to 'give the viewer a kind of feast - a film that's beautiful to look at, that's funny and sad, and about real people'.

She maintains that, despite dealing with difficult issues, it's an 'extremely positive film', which does not fall prone to contradictory elements.
"In movies, there's a desire to simplify for the sake of the message," she added. "I didn't worry about the message. It's whatever you want to bring home with you."

Critics have obviously found plenty, while the film looks set to develop a huge indie following both in the States and when it opens in the Uk next year.

What the US critics said...


Entertainment Weekly gets the ball rolling by awarding the movie an A and raving: "Just because a movie is delicate and humane doesn't mean it's not an adventure. In Personal Velocity, the writer-director Rebecca Miller, adapting a trio of short stories from her 2001 collection, creates portraits of three highly distinct women, and virtually every second we spend with them tingles with discovery." It is a sentiment that is pretty much echoed by all critics.

E! Online stated that, 'so what if the resolutions aren't always satisfying — they obviously aren't meant to be', before awarding it a solid B+, while Film Threat referred to it as 'intensely moving and oftentimes haunting'.

The New York Times predicted that 'Ms Miller's thoughtful, vibrating sensibility will also provoke discussions afterward', while the New York Post referred to it, merely, as an 'intelligent chick flick' and awarded it three out of four.

Reel Views felt that 'the acting is uniformly excellent', while TV Guide described it as 'a trio of tightly focused, beautifully acted half-hour films'.

Of the negative reviews, The Onion's A.V. Club was perhaps the most scathing, describing it as 'a watershed of feminist clichés', while Village Voice felt that 'the stories lean toward self-importance'.

But the majority felt it was a terrific little film, which fully merited the awards it took at Sundance. People, for instance, went as far as to say that it is 'worth sharing', while FilmCritic.com felt that it was 'simply, a refreshing character study about choice'. Film Journal International went one step further, describing it as a 'chick flick that transcends its genre'.

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