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Sundance: Armless a Strange and Twisted Tale

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Stewart's 3rd Blog from Sundance

At Sundance, the wild and odd are everywhere. Some hit you like a bolt of dynamite; others gnaw on your brain, one cell at a time. The stinkers I saw yesterday are part of the process of making diamonds. And diamonds are what I saw today, in particular Armless, a low-budget very odd diamond.

John is depressed. He leaves his wife, Anna, who flies into one of her frequent panic attacks and rushes over to her mother-in-law who convinces her that John is merely having an affair -- which throws Anna a spastic pill popping state. The two women track John down in New York and so begins a strange tale with the realization that John is a lot more than depressed - he suffers, according to a doctor he visits, from "Body Identity Integrity Disorder."

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John had asked the doctor to amputate his arms, which of course had a noticeable effect on the doctor. And you can imagine his wife!

John represents the person in desperate search for pain to cover a deeper pain. He wants to suffer. He wants to be free, which somehow has been twisted to being free from his own arms. And so everything comes to a conclusion with John locked in a closet, an electric saw buzzing, the doctor and his secretary, the wife hysterical ... well, it's a fitting conclusion to a very odd story.

Yet, this film would have petered out pronto fast if the plot was the fuel. What carries Armless is not the strange, but the superb acting. An entire cast that brilliantly plays roles tuned to perfection in centimeter. Performances by Daniel London, Janel Moloney, Matt Walton, Zoe Lister Jones, Laurie Kennedy, and Keith Powell suck you into this strange tale and carry you off on a twisted cloud of fantasy right to the very end -- the saw buzzing in the closet.

Armless is preceded by the short film Gone to the Dogs, which is about Americans obsessed with their dogs. Dogs they have anointed with human qualities. People disconnect from people and this vacuum is filled by their fuzzy little animals. This is step one in the strange, regardless of its prevalence in our society.

Both Armless and Gone to the Dogs spotlight American society as gone nuts with a people deeply alienated. The disconnection from fellow humans in Gone to the Dogs retreats inward into a disconnection from one's own body in Armless. While dogs are the savior in the short, the power saw is the savior in the feature.

Yes, there are some peculiar slippy slopes out there.

It is interesting that the youthful screenwriter of Armless, Kyle Jarrow -- whose sharp dialogue and crisp pace are stellar -- reaches back in time to the disaster of Vietnam. John, as a child, saw an armless Vietnam veteran who over the long, painful years evolved into his very strange model for existence. Whereas the Vietnam War gave some Americans "Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder," and missing limbs, for John our screwy America has driven him to "Body Identity Integrity Disorder."

There are many ways to present America as a mental basket case and a people deeply confused, grasping, and desperate. In Gone to the Dogs the superficiality of the characters and their insincerity merely highlights their desperation. In Armless, depression and desperation are rampant, and everyone is desperate to seek release -- for John, from his arms.

Director Habib Azar 's first feature film, with a low-budget he has crafted a high quality film -- an odd, high quality film.