Telluride 42

The 42nd Telluride Film Festival was held during Labor Day weekend in the photogenic former mining town in the mountains of southwest Colorado. Quentin Tarantino had recently shot his upcoming “The Hateful Eight” in the area. 



As always, the film schedule is not announced in advance, adding a unique mystique to this Film Festival. The ice rink, the high school gym, and a library room are among places converted into theatres with top-of-the line projection and sound. One director told me that the sound at the new Werner Herzog Theater (over the ice rink) was the best he had ever heard.

With so many choices at nine indoor venues, along with outdoor options, it’s frustratingly impossible to see everything.

One of the most high-profile films, “Steve Jobs”, shown at a Telluride Tribute to its director Danny Boyle, divided festivalgoers. I was disappointed. Michael Fassbender, portraying Jobs as a charismatic egomaniac, leads a strong cast including Kate Winslet (as the marketing exec) and Seth Rogan as Steve Wozniak. Aaron Sorkin’s clever, fast-paced dialog doesn’t get beneath the surface. The screenplay’s structure of events leading up to three product launches, seemed like the same scene repeated three times. Sorkin, Winslet, Rogan, and Wozniak were among those representing the film at Telluride.

Michael Fassbender in "Steve Jobs"

Michael Fassbender in “Steve Jobs”

“Carol”, directed by Todd Haynes, was screened during a Tribute to Rooney Mara. The film, about the attraction and growing relationship between two very different women (Mara and Cate Blanchett) in the 1950s, and Mara’s performance lived up to the Cannes Film Festival hype. Mara received the Best Actress award at Cannes.

The third Telluride Tribute was to British documentary maker Adam Curtis.

A unique event happened after an opening day screening of the documentary “He Named Me Malala”, directed by Davis Guggenheim (“An Inconvenient Truth”). This film captures the warm and spirited personality of the remarkable young Nobel Peace Prize winner. At age 11, Malala Yousafzai was shot in Pakistan for her public support of schooling for girls. This documentary also tells the compelling background story of her father and his complicated feelings toward the life he encouraged for his daughter.

After the film, Malala appeared on screen for a conversation with the audience that included Telluride regular Ken Burns, Guggenheim, and her father Ziauddin Yousafzai. Malala was not at Telluride because she was taking tests in Britain for university entrance.

Malala onscreen at Telluride over director Davis Guggenheim, and her father Ziauddin Yousafzai

Malala onscreen at Telluride over director Davis Guggenheim, and her father Ziauddin Yousafzai

My two top films at Telluride:

“Son of Saul”, a powerful and shattering Hungarian film about a man responsible for cleaning the concentration camp showers. He desperately tries to have a religious burial for a young boy.

“Suffragette”, vivid historical details and a strong cast in a moving film about a young laundry worker (Carey Mulligan) who becomes involved with the suffragettes. Because of government inaction, these women are turning to violence in their quest to gain the vote. Meryl Streep plays the real-life suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst.

There were other notable film from around the world.

“Spotlight” is a gripping view of the newspaper investigation of clerical abuse in Boston. A top group of actors (including Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams and Mark Ruffalo) portray the investigative newsmen.

Telluride outdoor panel. Front row: director Sarah Gavron ("Suffragette"), Meryl Streep, moderator Annette Insdorf; Back row: director Tom McCarthy ("Spotlight"), Rachel McAdams

Telluride outdoor panel. Front row: director Sarah Gavron (“Suffragette”), Meryl Streep, moderator Annette Insdorf; Back row: director Tom McCarthy (“Spotlight”), Rachel McAdams

“Beasts of No Nation”, directed by Cary Fukunaga (“True Detective”), is an intense and disturbing film about child soldiers in an African civil war. Idris Elba is forceful and frightening as the rebel leader.

From France, “Marguerite”, based on a real incident has a terrific performance by Catherine Frot as a wealthy woman who sings publicly, but with no talent. Frot is amusing and also poignant.

“Rams” is a unique Icelandic film about two brothers living nearby who don’t speak. A disease caught by one brother’s sheep causes complications and contacts between them, often is deep snow. Lots of surprises, visually striking and with photogenic sheep.

The energetic rarely-shown “Cocksucker Blues” was Robert Frank’s 16mm recording of the Rolling Stones’ 1972 US tour. Dynamic stage performances alternate with excessive behind-the scenes behavior including naked airplane sex and casual drug use. Backstage visitors include Bianca Jagger, Andy Warhol, Truman Capote, and Tina Turner.

A highlight for me was an outdoor panel including Meryl Streep, her “Suffragette” director Sarah Gavron, Michael Keaton and Rachel McAdams with their “Spotlight” director Tom McCarthy (“The Station Agent”), and the director Lazlo Nemes and lead actor Geza Rohrig of “Son of Saul”.

Michael Keaton, Sarah Gavron, Meryl Streep

Michael Keaton, Sarah Gavron, Meryl Streep

The conversation got lively after a discussion of contemporary issues raised by “Suffragette” when a young woman asked Meryl Streep about inequality for woman in the film business. Streep answered that she could sense an “exasperation” among most of the males in the audience at the question. Michael Keaton replied “Bullshit”, adding that his three sisters are as tough and bright as his brothers. Keaton said that he thought “things were getting dull”.

Future posts will cover the films in more detail, along with insights from the actors and directors.

Photographs (c) Ed Scheid


French Rendez-Vous 2015: Fresh Views of a Familiar Subject

I was pleasantly surprised that two of the stronger films in the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema in New York were from the familiar the serial killer genre. Perhaps, these films made such an impression because both are based on real cases.

“SK1” (“L’Affaire SK1”) is a procedural that follows the multi-year search for and trial of a serial killer, nicknamed The Beast of the Bastille. Director Frederic Teller makes a notable feature debut, showing in fascinating detail the determination of the police investigating the murder of women in Paris. Mistakes prolong the hunt.

Raphael Personnaz and Olivier Gourmet in "SK1"

Raphael Personnaz and Olivier Gourmet in “SK1”

The film is extremely well-acted. The focus is on a young inspector (Raphael Personnaz, “The French Minister”). His partner is played by Dardennes regular Olivier Gourmet. One of France’s top actresses, Nathalie Baye (“Catch Me If You Can”) portrays a lawyer after the killer is caught and put on trial. Director Teller, who co-wrote the screenplay, maintains tension throughout. The film has some chilling scenes, particularly when the killer (Adama Niane) makes a court confession in front of the victims’ families.

Nathalie Baye at Rendez-Vous with French Cinema     (c) Ed Scheid

Nathalie Baye at Rendez-Vous with French Cinema (c) Ed Scheid

Director Frederic Teller and members of the cast discussed the film after the screening. Teller said he had access to a trove of documents for different drafts of the screenplay. Nathalie Baye who had been directed by Teller for television said she really enjoyed him as director, she felt they worked very close together as he understands actors.

Teller said his main influence was from French and American films from the 1970s and 1980s that focused on character like “Missing” and “Taxi Driver”. He described “SK1” as “obsessing, searching for the man behind the monster” and added that it was a “film about people fighting evil.”

Frederic Teller after the screening     (c) Ed Scheid

Frederic Teller after the screening (c) Ed Scheid

Also inspired by history, “Next Time I’ll Aim For the Heart” (“Prochaine Fois Je Viserai le Coeur”) has a very unusual twist in that the serial killer (Guillaume Canet, “In the Name of My Daughter”) is Franck Neuhart, a respected gendarme assigned to the case.

Before the screening, Canet added that because of the complexity of his role, it is the “best part” of his career. He also saluted his “spiritual father” director Jerry Schatzberg who was in the audience, saying Schatzberg discovered Al Pacino (“Panic in Needle Park”, 1971).

Guillaume Canet in “Next Time I’ll Aim For the Heart”

Guillaume Canet in “Next Time I’ll Aim For the Heart”

The film is directed and co-written by Cedric Anger, a former film critic. Set during 1978-1979, it is an absorbing study of a very conflicted character with several gripping twists to the plot as the gendarme attempts to impede the investigation of himself.

Guillaume Canet at Rendez-Vous with French Cinema     (c) Ed Scheid

Guillaume Canet at Rendez-Vous with French Cinema (c) Ed Scheid

Canet is impressive. His Neuhart is frightening, deadly violent to his female victims. But his private life, he carries on a tentative romance with his cleaning lady. In torment from the crimes he seems unable to control, Neuhart beats himself, and in unsettling scenes, has barbed wire wrapped around his bleeding arm.