WORDS / LANCE ST. LAURENT
Saturday’s schedule was set to be the easiest for this critic; only two films on the docket. Much to my surprise, my first film of the day more than made up for my light film queue.
Vincent Grashaw’s Coldwater was by far the most intense, emotionally impactful film of the fest that I have seen. P.J. Boudousqué (who strikes a very similar visage to Ryan Gosling) plays Brad Lunders, a young drug dealer who is taken from his home in the dead of night and brought to Coldwater prison camp, all with the approval of his mother (think an R-rated Holes). As we watch Brad struggle and eventually acclimate to the cruelty of Coldwater and its leader Col. Frank Reichart (a fantastic James C. Burns), we learn about Brad’s troubled past. When that past finds him at Coldwater, a series of events are set into motion that climax into a spectacular and hard to watch finale.
My only struggle with Coldwater is the concern that I am equating a visceral emotional response with a quality film. Coldwater is well directed and acted all around, but it is also cruel, to its characters and its audience. It made me feel as much as any film at the festival, but the narrative occasionally becomes an exercise in torture.
Does this add up to a good film or just a physically and emotionally affective one? It’s tough to say, though I’m leading toward the former. Those with strong constitutions are encouraged to check out Coldwater if it finds distribution.
My other film of the day, Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer, takes on injustice and cruelty in the real world, though with less impact than Coldwater. Detailing the formation, rise, arrest, and trial of Russian punk activist group Pussy Riot, A Punk Prayer has the huge advantage of actual behind the scenes footage of the band. It is this footage that is the most potent and fascinating material in the film.When the film resorts to more conventional documentary tactics like talking head interviews, it loses its sense of urgency and anarchic punk power that the trio of arrested women imbue the film with. Anyone who has been following the Pussy Riot stories in the news should find the film fascinating on a strict content level, but the film ultimately lacks the style or originality of a film like The Kill Team to rise above the level of an average documentary.