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Sundance 2009 | You Won’t Miss Me

Sundance 2009 | You Won't Miss Me

It is the end of the festival for me, only a few screenings left before I get on the plane and head back home. By the time my festival wraps up tonight, I will have seen almost forty films. The cumulative power of that much film-going has been to leave me befuddled, depressed and exhausted, stumbling across the icy parking lots of the Yarrow hotel and Holiday Village Cinemas between screenings, eating when I can and writing even less than that. So far, no film has knocked me out quite like Ry Russo-Young’s You Won’t Miss Me; by my reckoning, it is the best film at this festival and it, along with other excellent movies like Unmade Beds, Stingray Sam, Bronson and Humpday, has the audacity to reject the commercial formula of so many films in the festival in favor of a living, breathing demonstration of pure cinema.

Shelly (Stella Schnabel in a bravura performance) is a struggling actress who is on her way to being released from a psychiatric care facility after being institutionalized for her brutally honest behavior. While she won’t articulate the reasons for her actions, she instead seems to live in-between her desire to have an open, honest life where emotion and action allow her to carry on, and her need to find a connection to the world around her, much of which rejects her commitment to honest, serious emotion. She is a multi-faceted character, as much a shining gem as she is rock hard, and her search for truthful, deeply felt experience is coupled with a tremendous desire for tenderness. All of these feelings seem to surround Shelly, tossing her and turning her and leaving us breathless.

You Won’t Miss Me

Schnabel’s performance is the perfect embodiment of what seems to be missing from New York City in our time; she’s brash, wild and free. In other hands, this performance may have been lost to the dominant Sundance gentility of the HDCam two-shot or the now insufferable cliché of the languid montage of mundane close-ups, showing us the accumulation of details that make up the boring life we all seem to be living. Thankfully, Russo-Young rejects the tired, linear aesthetic of the Hollywood calling card film and instead uses multiple shooting formats (each of them evocative of the complexity of Shelly’s unspoken desires) and a non-linear narrative that throw us into the deep-end of Shelly’s state of mind. The cell phone camera, 8mm, 16mm and video blend together to express the accumulation of experience, to separate moments from one another and breathe cinematic life into Shelly’s story.

After days on end of scripted, plot-driven quirk loaded with downbeat winks and nods, seeing You Won’t Miss Me was like suddenly finding yourself leaving a tea party filled with strangers and walking smack dab into a riot. The movie felt like it had been pulled from a time capsule, from a different New York City, a downtown world that has the texture of the late-1970’s or early-80’s, a sense of vibrant danger and creative explosion. In this sense, You Won’t Miss Me describes a timeless independence, when movies rejected formula in the name of honesty and emotion. I can’t stop feeling it, even now, on my way out the door.

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