Telluride 42: “Son of Saul” with director and actor

“Son of Saul” is a powerful and often shattering Hungarian film about a Saul, a sonderkommando, responsible for cleaning out the concentration camp showers. This film which received the runner-up Grand Prix at Cannes, is a remarkable debut for director Laszlo Nemes who co-write the screenplay.

Géza Röhrig in "Son of Saul"

Géza Röhrig in “Son of Saul”

The film has a unique visual style. Often the images behind Saul (Géza Röhrig) are blurred, reflecting how he has had to block out what’s happening around him in order to survive. Saul’s actions in cleaning out the camp showers are shown to devastating effect. The focus of the film remains on Saul.

Géza Röhrig gives a masterful and often intense performance as Saul. Saul sees the body of a boy he may remember and desperately tries to have a rabbi give funeral prayers. Someone says “We’re already dead.” “Son of Saul” remains an indelible experience.

At the Telluride Film Fesival, director Laszlo Nemes and Géza Röhrig, lead actor of “Son of Saul”, appeared at a wide-ranging outdoor discussion with Meryl Streep and representatives from “Spotlight”. Röhrig was introduced as a poet.

Laszlo Nemes and  Géza Röhrig  at Telluride

Laszlo Nemes and Géza Röhrig at Telluride

Nemes said that he did not want to “show too much” in “Son of Saul”, to “give something to view” of “a visceral experience not common in cinematic form” that would be “at the heart of human experience.”

He added that he wanted the film to be “immersive” and “hypnotic”, by keeping the camera “so close to the main character.”

Röhrig described “mainstream” films on the Holocaust as a “falsification, at worst melodramatic”. He added that most of these films center on “survival tales” which were “an anomaly.” He said these films are “so stereotypical” and full of clichés that he called “Holocaust trash”.

Lazlo Nemes and  Géza Röhrig  at Telluride

Lazlo Nemes and Géza Röhrig at Telluride

Röhrig said that most sonderkommandos like Saul would clean the gas chamber and burn the bodies of the victims for a “better food ratio” and to be able to wear their hair long. He said that every 3 or 4 months these sonderkommando were liquidated.

He spoke about “genocide happening in Yemen, Syria, northwest Iraq” from ISIS, adding that “70 years pass and we haven’t learned a bit, governments condemn and can’t stop” the mass killing.

Nemes described cinema as an “intense medium to speak to the subject of what it means to be a human being in the middle of” the tragedy of the concentration camp. He wanted to “explore the subjectivity of it”, adding that “to create empathy was our hope.”

Telluride 42: “Hitchcock/Truffaut”

“Cinefile porn” is how James Grey, one of the directors (“The Immigrant”) appearing in the documentary “Hitchcock/Truffaut”, accurately described the film to its director Kent Jones, as related at the Telluride Film Festival.

In 1962, French director Francois Truffaut, a 30-year-old former film critic, had directed three films, including being chosen Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival for “The 400 Blows”. He interviewed celebrated director Alfred Hitchcock who was finishing his 48th feature film “The Birds”. The conversations became a well-received book “Hitchcock/Truffaut”.

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Very skillfully edited, this fascinating film covers both directors and the enduring appeal of Hitchcock’s films. The audio tapes of the Hitchcock/Truffaut conversations give remarkable insight into Hitchcock’s creative process that created many memorable scenes in film history.

Hitchcock meticulously planned his films in advance for maximum impact. I remember that the book had extensive photos that documented the visual development of key sequences.

Hitchcock’s comments are skillfully combined with many clips of his films for an entertaining and insightful analysis. Excerpts of important scenes like THE shower scene in “Psycho” and the unique candle carried by Cary Grant in “Suspicion” visualize the discussion.

Francois Truffaut and Alfred Hitchcock

Francois Truffaut and Alfred Hitchcock

Hitchcock also gives some personal anecdotes as when Montgomery Clift clashed with the director by refusing to follow the director’s plan for a scene in “I Confess”.

Besides Grey, directors including Martin Scorsese, David Fincher, and Wes Anderson discuss Hitchcock and their experiences with “Hitchcock/Truffaut”. Hitchcock is described as an artist who wrote with the camera, and, more than anyone, concerned with the psychological underpinning of his characters.

The film covers the lasting effect of the book “Hitchcock/Truffaut” that changed the reputation of Hitchcock from entertainer to artist.

At a reception at the Telluride Film Festival, I told the film’s director Kent Jones, also an author, how impressed I was with how much was covered in the 80 minute running time. Jones said he likes to work compactly. I also told Jones that his film was the first time I got to see parts of my favorite Hitchcock “Notorious” on the big screen.

Telluride 42: Tribute to Rooney Mara and “Carol”

One of the three Tributes at the Telluride Film Festival was for Rooney Mara. “Carol”, for which Mara received the Best Actress award at the Cannes Film Festival, was shown as part of the Tribute. Both Mara, whom I thought was overpraised in “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”, and “Carol” lived up to the Cannes hype.

In a conversation during the Tribute, Mara who has worked with directors that include David Fincher (“The Social Network”, “Dragon Tattoo”) and Todd Haynes (“Carol”) said “I live and die by the director”, adding “I respect them so much” and “if I feel I have something to give, I will follow … to the ends of the earth.” Mara said she is starting to feel “like an artist, not in for hire”.

Rooney Mara at Telluride

Rooney Mara at Telluride

She described Todd Haynes her “Carol” director as a “genius” in costuming. Originally her character was to be dressed in pants. Haynes had her wear skirts.

For her scene at the beginning of “Social Network” where her character breaks up with Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg), Mara said that the film’s director David Fincher and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin timed her exchange with Eisenberg at rehearsal to make sure they maintained the trade-mark rapid fire delivery of Sorkin’s dialog.

Mara comes from a sports background. Her mother’s family founded the Pittsburgh Steelers and her father’s family founded the New York Giants.

Rooney Mara in "Carol"

Rooney Mara in “Carol”

She spoke about her long-time charitable interest in a boys and girls club that enriches the lives of the children in a Kenya slum.

“Carol” was describes as a film about the “importance of being true to self”. Director Todd Haynes (“Far From Heaven”) said that when he signed on to the film, Cate Blanchett had already been attached. He proudly spoke of bringing Rooney Mara on to the project.

“Carol” is an absorbing film about the developing relationship between two very different women in the 1950s. They first meet when the sophisticated Carol (Cate Blanchett) is shopping for a Christmas gift for her daughter and meets the younger Therese (Rooney Mara) behind the counter. A glove left behind leads to further contact between them.

The film is based on “The Price of Salt”, an early novel by Patricia Highsmith (“Strangers on a Train”, “The Talented Mr. Ripley”).

Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett in "Carol"

Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett in “Carol”

Carol is separated from her husband (Kyle Chandler) who is still drawn to her. Therese has ambitions toward photography. She is tentative in her personal life, frustrating the young man who considers himself her boyfriend by not agreeing to go on a trip with him.

Director Haynes masterfully shows in subtle glances the growing attraction between Carol and Therese. Both actresses are exceptional. Carol is more determined than Therese, but is aware that her actions could threaten contact with her daughter. Carol is also the more emotional, particularly when confronting her husband.

Haynes also does an impressive job in visually recreating the 1950s. In an overhead shot, Carol’s red clothing stands out against the drab setting and clothing of passersby. As for Therese, Carol remains the strongest presence for the audience.