Sunday, January 22, 2017

Sundance with Abe: Free and Easy

I’m thrilled to be attending and covering the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah for the fourth time. I’ll be seeing as many movies as I can and offering reviews throughout the week.

Free and Easy
Directed by Jun Geng
World Cinema Dramatic Competition

Crime is one of the oldest professions, and it has come and still comes in many different forms. There can be varying levels of sophistication to how a crime is perpetrated, from a simple pickpocketing to a full-on murder spree. As showcased in film and on television, crime is usually a serious business, though there are also lighter takes on even the most deadly of subjects – the incomparable “Fargo” comes to mind. “Free and Easy” is a fun and entertaining film that takes place in a land filled with very few people, most of them con men posing as something other than what they are.

The first two characters introduced are both selling something, but it’s the man who gives his customers a sample of the soap he wants them to buy who comes out ahead thanks to the unconsciousness that follows a whiff of the sweet-smelling soap. Acting as a stoic, matter-of-fact salesman, his trick works on many unsuspecting passersby who later wake up relieved of most of their belongings. When he encounters a monk who refuses to smell the soap, telling him that he trusts its quality and just asks for charity for his temple that has burned down, he recognizes a fellow con artist, and further antics continue from there as those in this small town circle back to each other with nowhere else to go.

There is a marvelous simplicity to the construction of this film. Set in a snow-covered town in northern China, it makes complete use of its sparsely-populated area to dwell on each of its characters, following them as they put up missing persons signs and walk through the streets peddling their products. All those, even the ones who lie – which is most in this film – present their actions in a straightforward manner, and the only complexity is to figure out whether there’s actually a grain of truth to their stories.

All the actors fit their parts very well, and enthusiasm and energy, seldom seen, are placed purposely when needed to show emotion and feeling of these relatively subdued characters. It’s when the more silent types choose to scream and expel what they’ve been keeping inside of them that this film demonstrates an effective dramatic component of an otherwise mostly comedic film. There’s plenty of cleverness to be found here, and this film has just the right deliberately slow pacing to make it all work masterfully.

“Free and Easy” has screenings coming up Monday, January 23rd at 10:00pm at Redstone Cinema 2, Thursday, January 26th at 2:30pm at the Prospector Square Theatre, and Friday, January 27th at 1:00pm at the Holiday Village Cinema 4.


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