Travel

The 46th Annual Telluride Film Festival, August 30-September 2, 2019

Our personal 24th Festival began early on Friday as we walked from our condominium to the gondola for our first film at the Chuck Jones cinema up in Mountain Village. Crossing the San Miguel River, we are once again struck by Telluride’s beauty.

In the past few years the Festival has begun late on Friday morning with a showing of an especially long documentary film that fills the day until the evening’s Colorado Avenue “feed” and the first major film screenings. Last year it was WATERGATE. This year featured WOMEN MAKE FILM, a 273-minute documentary directed by Mark Cousins that visits the work of more than 180 women filmmakers from the era of the Lumières to today. Among those included are Chantal Akerman, Kathryn Bigelow, Jane Campion, Kira Muratova, Malvina Ursianu, Moufida Tlatli and Maria Plyta. As an organizing principle, Cousins chose an introduction to film techniques such as framing, tracking, editing, close-ups and many more. Although the informative clips and wonderful voice over by Tilda Swinton fascinated me, I soon felt a bit overwhelmed. More troubling, the introduction to film techniques eclipsed any reference as to whether or why the films we were seeing were in any way women’s films. Perhaps these questions are answered in the second half, but exhausted from travel and information overload, we left halfway through at intermission. I hope we can some day view the rest online.

RON’S GRADE: WITHHELD, PENDING.

The highlight of the day was an evening tribute to Renée Zellweger starting with clips of her films from BRIDGET JONES’S DIARY to JERRY MAGUIRE and CHICAGO, and moving on to an interview for which, as you can see, we had front row seats:

A premier screening of Zellweger’s latest film, JUDY, followed the interview. Directed by Robert Goold, JUDY is a moving portrait of the great screen actress Judy Garland, in the last years of her short life (she died at age 47). The Dorothy of Oz has become an inebriated and aging chanteuse seeking to carve out a living as a performer in London where she is still fondly remembered. But if the storyline of this biopic is familiar, Zellweger’s stunning performance is anything but. Movements of her eyes and lips not only convey the inner torment resulting from Garland’s harsh studio upbringing as a teen, but also the generosity of spirit that she learned from it. It’s no coincidence that late in her life Garland became a favorite of gay culture. Was this because gay men—represented in the film by two adoring gay partners and fans—identified with Garland’s suffering and her struggle to overcome it through her music? Look for an Oscar nomination for Zellweger.

RON’S GRADE: A-

SATURDAY, AUGUST 31

FORD v FERRARI

It’s the mid-1960 and the Ford Motor Company is hemorrhaging market share. Henry Ford II (well played by Tracy Letts) demands new ideas. Marketeer Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal) suggests turning the company’s staid image toward performance by mounting a racing team that can capture Ferrari’s years long ownership of first place at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Enter Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) and Ken Miles (Christian Bale) as respectively car designer and driver whose challenges include not just Enzo Ferrari’s skilled racers and a grueling endurance circuit, but also Ford’s corporate executives. Unused to the fast, innovative pace of Formula One racing, the Ford “suits” obstruct the new, independent Ford team right down to the finish line. James Mangold’s direction is crisp. The racing scenes are outstanding, exceeded only by Lett’s, Damon’s, and Bale’s performances. Look for a trunk load of Oscar nominations here.

RON’S GRADE: A

PAIN AND GLORY

Salvador Mallo (wonderfully played by Antonio Banderas) is an aging film director whose bodily pains and worries have forced him into retirement. A brief reunion with the star of Mallo’s landmark first film introduces the director to heroin, and we prepare for a slow if cinematically familiar descent into degradation. But 69-year-old director Pedro Almodóvar has deeper explorations in mind, as we watch Mallo rediscover a youthful gay relationship and also recall his first experience of sexual desire. At one point in the film, a character (is it Mallo’s mother played beautifully by Penelope Cruz?) says, “I hate auto-fiction.” But PAIN AND GLORY is autobiographical in the best sense, knowledgeably depicting the struggles and emotions of advancing age. Don’t miss the camera boom near the end.

RON’S GRADE: A

A HIDDEN LIFE

“Time moves slowly when you live it under stress,” says Franz Jäggerstätte the Austrian farmer whose real life encounter with Nazi persecution is portrayed in Terrence Malick’s magnificent new film. Malick himself seems to take this approach to time seriously, slowly following Jäggärstätte’s story over almost three hours. But the time is well spent, offering intimate glimpses into the familial and common life of a small community deep in the Austrian Alps during the period from the Anschluss to the middle of World War II. It’s a hard life. The film begins with scenes of the farmers and their wives arduously scything grain. Jäggerstätte’s wife (Valerie Pachner) scrapes potatoes from the earth with her fingernails. But the beauty of this bucolic setting renders it a paradise of sorts until Jäggerstätte is called up for service in Hitler’s army for which he must swear an oath of allegiance to the Führer, a leader whom the devoutly Catholic Jäggerstätte rightly believes incarnates evil. Thus begins Jäggerstätte’s predictable journey to the guillotine. His quiet stoicism and religious commitment are superbly conveyed by August Diehl. The family, including, his three young daughters, are reviled as traitors to their nation and race. In police or judicial hearings, Jäggerstätte is repeatedly told that his gesture is futile, that it will accomplish nothing, and that it will only bring harm to his loved ones. As we watch his wife and sister struggle to survive in his absence, we see how true this is.

A kiss from a fellow prisoner near the film’s end tells us that this is more than a story about one courageous resistant. It is the Gospel narrative in which Jäggerstätte and his family live out the biblical scenes painted on the walls and ceiling of the town’s simple chapel—scenes often viewed but misunderstood by their neighbors.

RON’S GRADE: A

SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 1

We rose early today to get seats in the sure-to-be-crowded special tribute to Adam Driver. At the base of the gondola I ran into the morning’s star.

When I texted this picture to my family, my daughter-in-law, Melissa, quickly texted back: “Your grandson, Harrison, would be so jealous. His granddad got to meet Kylo Ren.”

The tribute included clips from several of Driver’s best performances—including STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS (where Driver appears as Kylo Ren), PATERSON, and BLACKkKLANSMAN.

A screening of Driver’s latest film, THE REPORT, followed. In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the CIA embarked on a program of Enhanced Interrogation Techniques amounting to the outright application of torture to terrorist captives. Director Scott Z. Burns’s riveting drama follows Senate investigator Daniel Jones (Adam Driver) as he tries to wrest information from the secretive and self-protective agency. His sole supporter is Senator Diane Feinstein (beautifully played more like DiFi than DiFi herself by Annette Bening), and even she wavers as political pressures mount to bury the whole ugly mess. Driver’s lucid descriptions of his horrific findings (recreated in vivid flashbacks) guide us through the investigation’s complexities. His eyes and facial gestures convey the depth of his commitment to uncovering the truth about one of the worst episodes in US history. THE REPORT offers ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN up to a new generation of viewers. Its depiction of leadership-directed lies and cover-ups makes it relevant to today’s political environment.

RON’S GRADE: A

LYREBIRD

World War II has just ended and the streets of Amsterdam, littered with debris, are swarming with mobs bent on executing collaborators. A crate is found in a freight car in a railway tunnel. It contains a priceless Vermeer destined for its buyer, Hermann Göring. Joseph Piller (Claes Bang), a Dutch Jew and resistance fighter now working for the Allied occupation authority sets out to find which collaborators have assisted the Nazis in looting the nation’s treasures. He soon arrests Han van Meegeren (Guy Pearce), a witty, debonair aesthete and failed painter. We follow the twists and turns as van Meegeren amply demonstrates and then evades his guilt. Director Dan Friedkin’s beautifully filmed recreation of a true story sometimes loses us in its many plot turns. Not until the end do we understand who or what van Meegeren was and in what ways he represents Holland’s own moral doubts about its response to occupation.

RON’S GRADE: B+

BEANPOLE

Over a million citizens of Leningrad froze or starved to death during the Nazi siege of the city. Director Kantemir Balagov’s second feature (after TESNOTA) takes us to the city in the fall of 1945, just months after the end of the war. Nurse Iya (Ksenia Kuteova), the tall blond beanpole of the title, and Masha (Vasilisa Perelygina), an orderly, are both injured veterans whose work with badly wounded soldiers provides further evidence of the terrible toll the war has taken. Together, the two explore sex, love, and procreation in failed efforts to raise life from death. The sets are wonderful, but at times it seems we have detoured from a fascinating historical recreation into a soap opera. I wish that the young, 28-year old director had paid more attention to the real stories of those who lived through this unique historical tragedy.

RON’S GRADE: B

MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 2

PARASITE

Writer/director Bong Joon-ho’s clever but heartless Cannes Palme d’Or winner, imaginatively portrays the consequences of drastic income inequality both in South Korea and the world today. The slum dwelling and apparently work-shy Kim family survive by snatching Wi-Fi signals from neighbors until a tutoring opportunity with a rich family opens up for their college-reject son. The Park’s drip wealth and live in a stunning, architect-designed home that constitutes the film’s main set. Soon the Kim’s daughter signs on as an “art therapist” for the Parks’ doted-upon young son. When she cleverly ousts the chauffeur, the Kim family patriarch (well played by Song Kang-ho) gets the job. Mom is last to enlist—as a replacement housekeeper. The Parks remain oblivious as this whole grifter family is installed beneath them like the stinkbugs in the Kims’ slum. However, this humorous and somewhat preposterous beginning soon reveals a darker side, one that replaces our anxieties about the family’s inevitable discovery with horror. Overall, the emotions and relationships in the film seem contrived to move forward a clever narrative and a sharp criticism of the class divide.

RON’S GRADE: B+

PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE

It’s the late 1700s and a young artist Marianne (Noémie Merlant) arrives on the tormented coast of Brittany to secretly paint a portrait of Héloïse so that a prospective husband back in Milan can decide whether he wants to marry her. Héloïse is clearly not keen on the union, but her mother, the owner of their faded chateau, imposes it on her in the realization that there are no economic alternatives. Marianne, in contrast, lives by her fees and knows that the portrait must be good. What starts as a painter’s professional regard soon turns to mutual passion. Like Eurydice’s husband Orpheus, Marianne finally realizes that a glance backward to her beloved in the form of the completed painting also seals the death of their relationship. In an era of Marvel movies, writer-director Céline Sciamma’s wonderful period drama reminds us that the French can still make great films about human beings, gay or straight.

RON’S GRADE: A

TWO POPES

It is 2012 and Cardinal Bergoglio of Argentina (Jonathan Pryce) visits Pope Benedict XVI (Anthony Hopkins) at the pope’s summer residence at Castel Gondolfo. Bergoglio, distressed by the conservatism of the Church, carries a letter of resignation, but the elderly pontiff, fearful that the letter will be taken as a protest against his scandal-ridden papacy, won’t accept it. However, what begins as a tense encounter between utterly opposing personalities becomes a deep personal relationship as the two men continue a series of conversation over the next few years until Benedict retires and Bergoglio becomes Pope Francis. Although Benedict can’t accept Bergoglio’s liberal vision of the Church, he comes to perceive in the Cardinal the integrity his successor must have. We watch as the two men are brought together by their mutual love for the Church and their acknowledgment of their own and others frailty and flaws. Director Fernando Meirelles (CITY OF GOD), writer Anthony McCarten (DARKEST HOUR) and Pryce and Hopkins have given us a masterful film with an important lesson for today: that individuals of sharply different ideologies can come together when there is communication, affection, and humility.

P.S. Watch the candle smoke at the very end.

RON’S GRADE: A+

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS:

The 46th Telluride Festival was one of the best we’ve experienced in our 24 years of attendance. My award of so many A’s reflects not grade inflation but the overwhelming quality of the US and foreign films we viewed. One down note was the crowding. In the past we allowed an hour’s wait before any film, but this year two hours were needed to assure a seat in even the largest venues. Why was this so? Was it because more passes were issued than ever? The answer remains a mystery. Despite this problem, the films made it all worthwhile. We’ll be back next year—toting fold-up seats and our iPhones and Kindles.

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