Telluride 44: “Wonderstruck”

“Wonderstruck” was shown at the Telluride Film Festival as part of a Tribute to its cinematographer Ed Lachman. Like other collaborations of Lachman with the film’s director Todd Haynes, “Far from Heaven” (2002) and “Carol” (2015), “Wonderstruck”, one of the finest selections at Telluride, has a distinctive period look.

The film is based on the novel by Brian Selznick, who wrote the screenplay. Another Selznick work was also the source of Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo”. “Wonderstruck” intercuts compelling stories of 2 hearing-impaired 12 year-olds in different eras and their personal quests in New York City. For each sequence, the film impressively recreates the style of films of the era.

Todd Haynes at Telluride

In 1977 Minnesota, Ben (Oaks Fegley) has been orphaned after his mother (Michelle Williams in flashbacks) died in a car accident. Ben’s mother had never responded to his questions about the identity of his father. Ben loses his hearing after being struck by lightning. Among his mother’s things, he comes across a book and the address of a book store in New York City. Ben secretly travels to New York City, hoping his findings will offer clues to his father.

In 1927, Rose (Millicent Simmonds) a deaf girl, leaves New Jersey to find a famous actress (Julianne Moore). Her section of the film is in the style of a black & white silent.

Millicent Simmonds in “Wonderstruck”

Ben’s story, particularly In New York City, has the deep color of 1970s films, emphasizing the intensity of the change in Ben’s environment.

Both Rose and Ben will discover the Museum of Natural History. Ben’s search is aided by Jamie (Jaden Michael) whose father works at the Museum. The film captures the wonderment and adventure of new discoveries.

Julianne Moore and Oaks Fegley in “Wonderstruck”

Todd Haynes has made “Wonderstruck” with a deep sensitivity to the emotions of the youthful characters. Julianne Moore portrays a different character in the modern section who connects the two stories. The young actors give notable performances as do Moore (Haynes’ “Safe” and “Far From Heaven”) and the adult cast.

“Wonderstruck” continues Haynes’ interest in the search for connection and affection. The film ends at the location of the 1965 Words Fair as characters poignantly deal with memory and loss.

Jaden Michael, Oaks Fegley, and Julianne Moore in “Wonderstruck”

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Telluride 44: “Faces Places”

My favorite selection at the Telluride Film Festival was the documentary “Faces Places” directed by Agnes Varda, called “the Godmother of the French New Wave”, 87 when the film was shot, and street artist JR, 32. Their film highlights their marvelous rapport, providing a warm humor as they travel throughout parts of France not often shown in films.

At Telluride, JR said that once the two first met, they looked for any excuse to meet again. “Faces Places” was the result and was accurately described as life, friends, cinema, and art. The film was made over a 2 year span and was the first time Varda had a co-director.

Agnes Varda and JR traveling in “Faces Places”

In the film, Varda speaks of meeting amazing people by chance. She and JR collaborate on pasting large photographs on building exteriors as they interact with others throughout France.

Photos of coal miners from a previous generation are enlarged and pasted up in a mining area. In an amusing scene, Varda photographs a fish in a store. The giant image of the fish will be pasted to a water tower. Other photos radically change the appearance of an abandoned town and attract visitors.

JR and Agnes Varda in “Faces Places”

“Faces Places” shows Varda’s boundless enthusiasm which is infectious. She maintains a keen interest in new experiences and an enjoyment of life.

This film becomes more serious, with a sense of loss as treatment of Varda’s declining vision is shown. A visit to an old colleague of Varda’s concludes “Faces Places” with an unexpected melancholy.

Agnes Varda was not in Telluride. Her daughter Rosalie Varda was there with JR. Rosalie said she thought that her mother and JR would enjoy each other and introduced them. She added that her mother made her first film “La Pointe Courte” in 1954 and had not seen a lot of films before then. Her first film was made before the Nouvelle Vague (French New Wave) began.

JR remembering Agnes Varda at Telluride

Rosalie described her mother’s earlier filmmaking as “more modern than the Nouvelle Vague”. She called her mother a “pint-sized iconoclast” with a “great curiosity” and “positive energy” who “speaks constantly”.

On his work in the film JR said “I love pasting” (photographs). He said that he and Agnes Varda have the “same vision”.

Rosalie said that Agnes and her family lived in Los Angeles for a time beginning in 1967. Rosalie added that there were open houses at their home. Agnes became close to Jim Morrison and was present at his burial in Paris. Rosalie said that in “Faces Places”, her mother and JR show there is “No age for art.”