[Film Fest] "You were never here, and you never saw this film." Steven Soderbergh told the audience this after he premiered his The Girlfriend Experience Tuesday night, under a sheer veil of secrecy.
Some audience members were anticipating the film's unadvertised screening, while others expected a special extended sit-down discussion with one of the festival's top alumni. Sundance first billed the night first as "Sneak Preview 2," then as "A Surprise Evening with Steven Soderbergh." "Don't miss this special chance to meet the Academy Award-winning director," a ticket sales email said, "and hear first-hand the tales of his unique career ranging from sex, lies, and videotape to Traffic, from The Limey to Che, and beyond." Such an event isn't unheard of at Sundance, and Soderbergh was already in town for the celebration of sex, lies, and videotape's 20th anniversary. But with the screening scheduled at Eccles Theater's prime time slot, most people expected something more.
Before the screening, Soderbergh sat on a stool next to festival director Geoffrey Gilmore to begin the special evening. Soderbergh said that people kept approaching him during the festival to say that they were looking forward to seeing his film, and he had no idea why they thought he had a new film. "Maybe it's because we do have a film to show" he added.
Many in the audience may have found the stunt more entertaining than the film. The Girlfriend Experience revisits some of the structural experiments Soderbergh conducted in films like The Limey, but fails to craft an interesting story to scramble. While compelling for its compositions and labyrinthine restructuring of a simple story, the film can't shake the suspicion that the core story is rather tedious. Porn star Sasha Grey stars as a high-end call girl who goes from client to client while her boyfriend (Chris Santos), a personal trainer, tries to find financial stability. Working mostly with non-actors, Soderbergh often had them speak without any pre-written dialogue. Unfortunately, they don't always have interesting things to say.
The Girlfriend Experience is one of the most unique films of the festival, but in the end may be more interesting to talk about than to watch. (Jeremy Mathews)