Telluride 43: Tribute to Casey Affleck and “Manchester by the Sea”

My top selection at the Telluride Film Festival was “Manchester by the Sea”, written and directed by playwright Kenneth Lonergan (“You Can Count on Me”, “Lobby Hero” on stage) and shown as part of a Tribute to its leading actor, Casey Affleck.

During his tribute, Affleck who had acted in one of Lonergan’s plays said there is “none better than Kenny.” He spoke of getting to understand himself better during filmmaking as he understood the character better. He added that actor and director have the “most profound relationship.”

Casey Affleck at Telluride   (c) Ed Scheid

Casey Affleck at Telluride (c) Ed Scheid

Affleck joked about falling in love with Rooney Mara making “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” (2013). He said that he shows “scripts I like” to “people I like” including friends and family, and “Kenny constantly”. He added “my kids have never been wrong.”

After high school. Affleck moved to Los Angeles. An early film was “To Die For” (1995). He said the film’s director Gus Van Sant guided him because “I hadn’t the slightest idea” what to do. He became a close friend of Joaquin Phoenix, a co-star in the film. Affleck added they “bonded more” when he married Phoenix’s sister. Affleck also directed Phoenix in “I’m Still Here”, passed off as a documentary on Phoenix’s leaving acting.

Kenneth Lonergan at Telluride    (c) Ed Scheid

Kenneth Lonergan at Telluride (c) Ed Scheid

Affleck added that it can seem like “a nightmare” playing a character living a nightmare. He added that an actor has to be patient and not too thin-skinned.

“Manchester by the Sea” is about Lee Chandler (Affleck), a janitor leading a solitary life, who returns to his home town after a family tragedy and finds that he has been given custody of his teenage nephew. Lee is forced to confront the consequences of his past.

Kyle Chandler and Casey Affleck in "Manchester by the Sea"

Kyle Chandler and Casey Affleck in “Manchester by the Sea”

This powerful film is exceptionally directed and written by Kenneth Lonergan who has created a variety of complex characters that are portrayed by an impressive cast that includes Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler, Gretchen Mol, and Matthew Broderick.

Affleck gives a superb, award-caliber, intense performance, movingly conveying his character’s conflicts. Lee who had considered himself “just a backup” must face new responsibilities, leading to volatile fights with his young nephew (Lucas Hedges) about a future disruptive for both. Affleck gives Lee a haunted appearance as he relives the pain brought on by his visit home. Lee and his ex-wife (Williams) have a devastating scene of raw emotion.

Michelle Williams and Casey Affleck in "Manchester by the Sea"

Michelle Williams and Casey Affleck in “Manchester by the Sea”

Both Kenneth Lonergan and Casey Affleck participated in an outdoor panel. Lonergan said that the setting of a film become an integral part of the story. Affleck who is from Massachusetts said that the Manchester location is close to where he grew up. He added that it can be disorienting while filming if you don’t know the location.

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