Michael Cera at the Sundance Film Festival. (Jay L. Clendenin )
PARK CITY, Utah -- Among the screenings on the opening night of the Sundance Film Festival was the world premiere of a new film starring Michael Cera shot in Chile in Spanish and English by writer-director Sebastian Silva. But which one? The festival actually has two. “Crystal Fairy” played Thursday as part of world dramatic competition, while “Magic Magic” will premiere Tuesday as part of the midnight section.
Cera himself said he found it “uncanny” to have two films premiering at once that are so similar and yet so different. In “Crystal Fairy,” Cera plays Jamie, an American in Chile planning a road trip with some friends to find a specific hallucinogenic cactus. Setting out they meet a free-spirited nomadic American woman who goes by the name Crystal Fairy (Gaby Hoffman) and Jamie asks her to come along, immediately regretting the invitation. Along the way they all come to realize their preconceptions may have been too harshly formed.
Where “Crystal Fairy” starts out like a goof and builds to something emotionally resonant, “Magic Magic” builds on atmosphere in its unsettling story of a girl traveling with friends who may be losing her grip on reality. Besides Cera, the films stars Juno Temple, Emily Browning and Catalina Sandino Moreno. Shot by cinematographers Christopher Doyle and Glenn Kaplan, the film promises a building sense of creepy unease.
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“I don’t know why people are so confused. OK, Michael Cera in Chile is a factor,” Silva, who won the international dramatic competition’s grand jury prize at Sundance in 2009 with “The Maid,” said from New York City ahead of the festival. “It’s paradoxical how different they are, having so many similar elements. It’s really crazy. It almost feels like an experiment.”
The pair first met after Cera discovered “The Maid” after he ducked into a New York movie theater to get in from the cold. Liking what he saw, he reached out to Silva and the two struck up a friendship. Cera eventually made his way to Chile with the intention of shooting “Magic Magic,” but when funding fell through, Silva suggested they make “Crystal Fairy” instead. Working from only a brief outline and with a spare crew, they took a 12-day trip that roughly mirrored the movie itself.
“It was just an excuse to make something together, and also to have an adventure together,” said Cera. “The making of the movie was kind of the sort of adventure we go on in the movie. It ended up really feeling that just working on it.”
A few months after shooting “Crystal Fairy” in late 2011, during which time Silva made headway on post-production, Cera came back to Chile to at last shoot “Magic Magic.” Silva then finished the films somewhat at the same time, which is how they are both premiering now.
Cera hasn’t starred in a film since “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World” in 2010, and with the upcoming relaunch of the TV show “Arrested Development” and a role in the upcoming “This Is the End,” this could be big year for the 24-year-old actor.
Of his time away from leading roles, Cera said simply, “I hadn’t noticed my absence at all.”
And though he shies away from thinking of this year as some sort of comeback, he does allow that working with Silva “did feel a bit like a repositioning, going down to South America and doing something that was just a different experience. “
As for further clarification of the distinction between his two films premiering at the festival, Silva explained: “I like to say ‘Crystal Fairy’ is not even a movie, it’s more of a tiny little miracle that happened and it's fun and it’s great. Then I’d say that ‘Magic Magic’ is a good movie. But it’s really a movie."
“I feel that ‘Magic Magic’ could be judged more by critics or audiences," he added. "And I feel that ‘Crystal Fairy,’ if you don’t like it, you’re a bad person. You just don’t know how to enjoy yourself.”
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