Themes of sex and lust are all the rage at this year's Sundance Film Festival.
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25 Jan 2013 - 3:19 PM  UPDATED 16 Jan 2014 - 2:58 PM

After a relatively fallow year in 2012, Sundance has lived up to its promise of sex, sex and more sex in its 2013 program. The most obvious films, though, haven't necessarily been the best. Anne Fontaine's Australia-France co-production Two Mothers, about two women having long-term relationships with each other's sons, doesn't have an erotic bone in its body, while Naomi Foner's Very Good Girls, with a tagline of two teenagers losing their virginity to the same guy, was really a stolid study of women's friendship as in fact was Two Mothers.

At least both films are keeping fine actresses in work at a time when men dominate studio films. Naomi Watts and Robin Wright manage to rise above Christopher Hampton's risible dialogue in the former, while in the latter Dakota Fanning again stakes her claim as one of the most mesmerising young talents alongside an over-acting Elizabeth Olsen.

Two risqué films that hit the mark are Lovelace (pictured) nd Kill Your Darlings, partly because they are based on exceptional real life people and feature engrossing performances from major stars. Amanda Seyfried is endearing as the young Linda Boreman, who would later become known as Linda Lovelace in Deep Throat, while Peter Sarsgaard reminds us of his talent for playing creeps with his portrayal of her abusive husband.

With his turn as Allen Ginsberg in Kill Your Darlings, Daniel Radcliffe again displays his love for edgy subject matter and his willingness to go for it, here in a gay sex scene. Still, Dane DeHaan (Chronicle) steals the movie as Lucien Carr, Jack Kerouac's writer buddy (and ultimately the convicted murderer of a gay stalker) who Ginsberg loved though never discussed until Carr's death in 2005. Ginsberg died in 2007.

One of the best-received films in Sundance has been Before Midnight, which continues with the story of Ethan Hawke's Jesse and Julie Delpy's Celine after we saw them in Before Sunrise (1995) and Before Sunset (2004). Director Richard Linklater again co-wrote the screenplay with his actors and in Park City he was all smiles, knowing they were on a winner.

“We did the same thing we did on the others,” he explained. “We didn't think of it for five years or so and then we realised it's a new phase of our lives—early 40s is different to early 30s is very different to early 20s—and that we had something new to say.”

There's no doubting that audiences want to know what happens next. “It's flattering to us that Jessie and Celine are characters that people feel invested in,” Linklater continues. “In a movie sometimes you never know what people take away. These people are just fictional versions of our own experiences and thoughts so it's been a pretty satisfying collaboration.”

How has he changed over the years? “I think I'm more obsessed with how similar you are rather than how you've changed,” he responds. “It's really about how you kind of stay the same. You acquire a lot of baggage, you get older and have problems, but I think you are still essentially yourselves. If you see this film you'll definitely feel you're hanging out with the characters again.”

Other films that have fired up Sundance include Austenland starring the always hilarious Kiwi Bret McKenzie (let's just forget Two Little Boys shall we?) and Ain't Them Bodies Saints, a stylish, slow-burning drama focusing on an outlaw couple played by Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara (a stand-out performance of the festival) and directed by first-timer David Lowery, who has been compared to Terrence Malick.

Another actress who is truly going places is Juno Temple, the daughter of British director Julien Temple, who appears in two Sundance movies, as Lovelace's best friend and in the standout role of a stripper in Afternoon Delight, a poignant comedy dealing with female sexuality that is one of the festival's unsung gems. In the film, Kathryn Hahn's Rachel is a dissatisfied stay-at-home mum who is forced to endure the company of other non-working mothers in the affluent Silver Lake area of Los Angeles. Her app-creator husband Josh Radnor is a workaholic and their sex life is dormant. Things heat up when, together with another couple, they visit a strip joint and Rachel experiences a lap dance from Temple's McKenna. Eventually the two women become friends, with McKenna even moving into Rachel's family home.

In her debut as writer-director, TV writer Jill Soloway impresses with sharp dialogue, relatable characters and her feminist take on things. “It's so rare for films to portray female sexuality,” she says. “All the characters are part of me, even Juno's! I have a theory about something I call the divided feminine, which is the split in our culture between the good girl and the bad girl, the Madonna and the whore, the wife and the mother. It so distracts us and creates women-on-women hatred. This film is about healing the divided feminine in our culture, meaning all women have both these sides inside of them and shouldn't have to choose. They should be able to reclaim both sides within themselves.”

And yes, the film ends with an explosive sex scene between Hahn and Radnor that leaves anything in Two Mothers for dead.

Interestingly, Temple and Radcliffe co-star in Alejandre Aja's upcoming Horns. Apparently, the horns of the title have nothing to do with sex—or the film may have been in Sundance! The horns supposedly relate to Radcliffe's paranormal abilities that assist him in tracking down his girlfriend's murderer.