The 46th Telluride Film Festival held in the photogenic mountains of southwest Colorado started off appropriately with Mark Cousins’ fascinating documentary on women directors “Women Make Film: A New Road Movie Through Cinema”. 273 minutes of excerpts from over 14 hours were shown (with intermission). Much of the program focused on little-known international directors.
Bonuses for me were having my 2 favorite actresses in the program. Scenes of two early Liv Ullmann films I never saw were excerpted and Jane Fonda narrated parts. Cousins said he loved watching Jane’s “beautiful right hand” move while narrating – like a conductor. I saw TCM host Alicia Malone at another screening who told me TCM has purchased the entire documentary.
Renee Zellweger had a Tribute along with “Judy”, in which she portrays Judy Garland late in career performing in London. Zellweger was sensational as Judy, charismatic performing on stage and also heartbreaking as Garland deals with insecurities, addiction and the pain of not being able to provide a home for her youngest children. I and other festival goers couldn’t imagine a better performance this year.
A future post will cover the Tribute and Zellweger’s comments on her career and her decision to take a multi-year break.
The Opening Night Feed which closes off the main street for food and drink had a Wizard of Oz design relating to “Judy” including a faux yellow brick road, poppies, and miniature hot air balloons.
Another tribute was to Adam Driver with 2 films. One was “Marriage Story”, about the breakup between a playwright (Driver) and actress (Scarlett Johansson). The other was “The Report” a gripping film with Driver impressive as the Senate staffer heading the investigation of the CIA’s torture policies after 9/11. Annette Bening gives a standout supporting performance as Senator Dianne Feinstein. Daniel Jones, the staffer Driver portrays, appeared with Driver in a post-screening Q&A.
The best of the 16 films I saw at Telluride was “A Hidden Life”, one of Terrence Malick’s (“The Tree of Life”, “Badlands”) finest. This emotionally powerful and masterfully photographed film is about an Austrian farmer (August Diehl) who refuses to take a loyalty oath to Hitler. Valerie Pachner portrays his devoted wife.
Adam Sandler is very good as a scheming diamond merchant continually driven to escalating gambles in “Uncut Gems” directed by the Safdie Brothers. Some disliked the extremely loud soundtrack, but I felt it reflected the feverish state of Sandler’s character.
Antonio Banderas who received the Best Actor prize at Cannes was exceptional and quite affecting in Pedro Almodovar’s “Pain and Glory” portraying a director based on Almodovar. This is one of Almodovar’s finest, showing the main character in physical and emotional pain looking back on his life and confronting people from his past.
The Korean Palme d’Or winner “Parasite” depicts a poor family deviously insinuating themselves into a rich household. This film, directed by Bong Joon-ho (“Snowpiercer”) is entertainingly twisted, but lacks the depth of last year’s Palme winner “Shoplifters”.
”Portrait of a Lady on Fire”, which received the Best Screenplay award at Cannes was absorbing and masterfully filmed by director/writer Celine Sciamma An artist (Noemie Merlant) arrives to paint a portrait of a young woman (a superlative Adele Haenel) for a prospective husband. Artist and subject become drawn to each other.
“Lyrebird” was an intriguing film set in Post-WW2 Holland. A Jewish veteran investigates whether a failed painter was collaborator or something more devious. Guy Pearce plays the suspect with flair.
The highlight of the Festival for me was seeing Martin Scorsese speak about Agnes Varda before a showing of her last film, the marvelous “Varda by Agnes” which covers her remarkable and long career with Varda’s unique humor and insights.
I saw 2 other documentaries. “The Human Factor” from Dror Moreh (“The Gatekeepers”) was an engrossing behind the scenes view of the years of Middle East peace talks.
“Tell Me who I Am” was a very poignant look at the bond between twins. When Alex was 18, he was in a coma from a motorcycle accident. When he woke, he recognized his identical twin Marcus, but remembered nothing else. Marcus helped Alex rebuild his life, for a time hiding some painful events.
Both brothers were in Telluride. Marcus spoke of how both were hugged at Telluride, laughing “we don’t do that in Britain”.
“Waves” was a well-acted drama about an Africa-American family. The more intense first half about a promising student-athlete (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) whose life is falling apart was superior to the next part dealing with his sister’s (Taylor Russell) reactions.
2 foreign films were vivid representations of different eras. “Beanpole” was a harrowing look at 2 female army veterans struggling in post-WW2 Russia. In “Verdict”, an abused and desperate Filipino wife fights back through the country’s currently over-crowded justice system.
In the title role of “The Assistant”, Julia Garner (“Ozark”) gives a notable performance as a young woman working for a film executive. The film becomes chilling as, going about her mundane daily duties, the assistant discovers the sordid behavior of her boss.
Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones who appeared in Redmayne’s Oscar-winning “The Theory of Everything” were at Telluride with “The Aeronauts” about explorations in hot air balloons.
Jonathan Pryce came with “The Two Popes”. This film about the relation between the current Pope (Pryce) and the previous Pope (Anthony Hopkins) who resigned received strong audience buzz.
Edward Norton and Willem Dafoe were in town with “Motherless Brooklyn” which Norton also directed and co-wrote. Norton portrays a detective with Tourette Syndrome attempting to solve the murder of his mentor. This film noir received a mixed audience reception.
More details of the films will appear in future blogs.