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I have seen 'The Future' -- Miranda July's deep and artful new film lingers in the mind long after Sundance

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The 2011 Sundance Film Festival is over. With the departure of rushing, movie-mad visitors swaddled in snarling shades of indie black, the streets of Park City have been returned to strolling, ski-happy visitors dressed in cheery colors of Barbie pink and snowflake white. The Red State picketers have packed up their stupid signs. And here I am, still itching to talk about a Sundance movie that has stayed in my mind for days. Sometimes the only way to really understand and appreciate a movie — either during a multiple-titles-a-day film festival or even if it’s the only thing on your own Must List — is to wait for the dust to settle and the Tweeting circus to leave town.

I’m talking about The Future. I’ve seen The Future. I mean, I’ve seen the movie The Future, written, directed by, and co-starring Miranda July. And its pleasures and profundities expand the more I think about it. Fans like me (as well as those who don’t respond to her distinct, feminist-free-spirit style) will remember July as the maker of the 2005 Sundance (and Cannes) award-winner Me and You and Everyone We Know. July — who traded her given last name of Grossinger for something more summer-y — is a performance artist, a writer, a musician, a video artist, a web artist, and a fan of cats. At least I assume she’s a fan of cats: An injured feline named Paw-Paw narrates the future in a voice suspiciously like that of July if she were a sick kitty. We don’t see Paw-Paw’s little cat face; we do see her little front paws, one of which is bandaged.

Paw-Paw has a month to heal at the vet’s before she’s adopted by Sophie (July) and Sophie’s live-in boyfriend, Jason (Hamish Linklater, from TV’s The New Adventures of Old Christine and, even more to the point, from a lot of terrific New York stage work). Even in their mid-30s, Sophie and Jason feel time slipping away. They are not making the most of their potential! They are sobered to learn that after they adopt Paw-Paw, they will have to devote years of energy to their cat’s fragile health. They will have adult responsibilities! Suddenly, making the most of their freedom feels urgent. They decide to unplug from the Internet. Sophie will make dances. Jason will follow his bliss, although he has no idea what that bliss is. Frustration begins to cast a shadow over the daily lives of these two wan hipsters.

That’s when The Future gets really interesting. That’s also when the filmmaker gets daring: She starts to manipulate cinematic time as if it were clay, or a rubberband, or a Moebius strip, or a rolling object that can only be stopped (and only temporarily) by being pushed back with one’s brute strength. Sophie’s life splits off from Sophie’s life as we’ve seen it, and she becomes a different Sophie, someone married to someone else and living in passive suburban affluence. Jason becomes a man bereft and Sophie-less. There’s an extraordinary dance sequence involved in which July, enveloped in stretchy yellow fabric, strings together movements that are part Martha Graham, part Mummenschanz. There’s a breathtaking scene in which Linklater steps to the shore of an ocean and contemplates vastness, emptiness, eternity.

Watching this mutable, inventive, true-to-itself film, the work of an artist who delights in mixing media, I didn’t realized until I exhaled how I had been holding my breath. I’m so glad Roadside Attractions picked The Future up at Sundance, so it can be in your future, too.