Telluride 45: Robert Redford and “The Old Man & the Gun”

“The Old Man & the Gun” is inspired by the true story of Forrest Tucker (Robert Redford), a man who robbed banks, was jailed, and escaped 17 times. The film shows his keeping up the illegal activities because as he says, “You find something you like”. A bank teller describes Tucker as “sort of a gentleman”.

Tucker and his cohorts (Danny Glover and Tom Waits) are described as “The Over the Hill Gang”. Detective John Hunt (Casey Affleck) is in a bank while it is robbed by Tucker and begins the pursuit of him.

Tucker and Jewell (Sissy Spacek) become drawn to each other after he stops to look at her stalled car as a way to elude police. Redford and Spacek have a strong on-screen chemistry. All the actors are in peak form in this lively and very enjoyable film.

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Robert Redford at Telluride (c) Ed Scheid

At a Q&A at Telluride, Robert Redford said he read an article on the true story of the bank robber that “struck a nerve”, He enjoyed the way that the man continued “being happy” by robbing banks. Redford made himself the producer because his clout could get the film made.

Redford added he had a “happy friendship” with David Lowery with whom he made “Pete’s Dragon” in 2016 and thought he would be perfect to direct story of the happy robber. Redford said wanted to support Lowery and protect him from interference.

Of his co-stars, Redford said Sissy Spacek was someone whose work he “admired for a long time.” Redford called Casey Affleck an “interesting guy” who brought a nice edge and growth to his performance as the detective pursuing Redford’s character.

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Casey Affleck at Telluride (c) Ed Scheid

Redford described the relationship between Casey Affleck’s detective and his bank robber character as “hunter and prey” with a “mutual admiration and odd respect” between the two that added “another dimension” to the film.

Director David Lowery who also worked with Casey Affleck on “A Ghost Story” and “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” said he wrote many drafts of the screenplay to keep the film from being journalistic and find the essence of the story.

Lowery sought to find the “archetype behind what’s personal”. He added that the story of a man who “loves what he’s doing and can’t quit” is a “metaphor for a filmmaker.” He said he wanted to ‘make a movie about people who are happy”.

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Sissy Spacek at Telluride (c) Ed Scheid

Sissy Spacek said that working with Redford had always been on her “Bucket List”. When she heard him say that “The Old Man & the Gun” would be his last appearance as an actor, she felt “I better get in line”. She described her character as “lonely” and that Redford’s character “made her laugh”, “but he didn’t want her sucked in” to his robbery plans.

The diner where Redford’s and Spacek’s characters visit is the same diner seen in “Killing of a Sacred Deer”.

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Robert Redford at Telluride (c) Ed Scheid

On his announcement that “The Old Man & the Gun” would be his last film as an actor, Robert Redford said “Never say never”, adding that after a “long career” and “approaching 82”, “moving to director and producer” is “appealing”.

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Telluride 45

As usual, the 45th Telluride Film Festival was held during Labor Day weekend in the former mining town in a mountain canyon of southwest Colorado. Following tradition, films are not announced in advance, but the Festival selections have been so strong that this doesn’t prevent all Festival passes being sold out months in advance.

During the Festival, nine indoor theaters show films daily along with outdoor panels and conversations with international filmmakers. A school gymnasium and an ice rink are among the places converted into theatres with top-of-the line projection and sound.

The first screening was a unique Telluride event. “Watergate-Or How We Learned to Stop an Out-of-Control President.”, was riveting throughout its over 4-hour length, and from the title, still relevant. Directed by Charles Ferguson (“No End In Sight”), the documentary has fascinating facts and previously unknown details like a Republican Senator being a mole for the White House. Afterward former Watergate prosecutors Jill Wine-Banks and Richard Ben-Veniste, former Congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman and journalist Leslie Stahl gave their insights on the era.

Leslie Stahl and Richard Ben-Veniste at Telluride (c) Ed Scheid

More on this and other Telluride films in a future blog.

Another special showing was a restoration of Orson Welles’ “The Other Side of the Wind”, 48 years after filming. John Huston is superb as an aging director making a film that satirizes the New Hollywood of the 1970s. Peter Bogdanovich who appears in the film with other young directors of the era was among those speaking after the film about working with Welles. Three documentaries on Orson Welles were on the Telluride schedule.

Peter Bogdanovich and John Huston in “The Other Side of the Wind”

Two films stood out. “Shoplifters” from Japanese director/writer Hirokazu Kore-eda about a family group in Japan that uses children (one taken when she was left alone) to do the thieving. Kore-eda builds his film, which received the Palme d’Or, the top prize at Cannes, to a poignant conclusion.

“Cold War” from director Pawel Pawlikowski (“Ida”) about a tempestuous relationship between a musician and singer in post-WW2 Europe moving from Poland to Paris. The film is full of striking images. A dance sequence to “Rock Around the Clock” is mesmerizing.

“Cold War”

I usually don’t give film festival priority to multiplex films, but it was worth waiting in the rain (ponchos provided) for the Q&A with Robert Redford, Sissy Spacek and Casey Affleck with “The Old Man & the Gun”. All the actors are in peak form in the very entertaining film about a polite bank robber (Redford) who keeps up the illegal activity because he enjoys it.

Robert Redford at Telluride (c) Ed Scheid

Nicole Kidman who looked stunning at an outdoor panel had two films at Telluride. In “Destroyer” she portrays a police detective with a troubled past. At an outdoor panel with Kidman, the film’s director Karyn Kusama (“Girlfight”) described Kidman’s character as one with “female rage directed inward.”

Nicole Kidman at Telluride (c) Ed Scheid

In “Boy Erased”, Kidman and Russell Crowe play parents of a gay son who send him to conversion therapy. Joel Edgerton (“Loving”) who portrays the therapy leader also directed. At another panel, Edgerton described his character as thinking he’s doing the right thing.

Melissa McCarthy was in Telluride with “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”, the true story of Lee Israel a writer fallen on hard times who turned to forging celebrity signatures.

Melissa McCarthy at Telluride (c) Ed Scheid

Another high-profile film based on events was “The Front Runner” from Jason Reitman with Hugh Jackman as Gary Hart, whose Presidential campaign ended with a tabloid scandal.

Telluride had 3 Tributes, to directors Alfonso Cuaron and Rithy Panh and to Emma Stone that included career clips, interviews and their latest films.

Cuaron who received the Directing Oscar for “Gravity” showed “Roma”, inspired by his childhood growing up in Mexico City and being cared for by an indigenous maid. The film is masterfully directed with vivid black and white images.

Alfonso Cuaron at Telluride (C) Ed Scheid

Rithy Panh’s powerful documentary of the aftermath of the Cambodia genocide, “Graves Without a Name” includes compelling testimony from survivors of the genocide (including Panh).

Rithy Panh at Telluride (c) Ed Scheid

Emma Stone’s new film “The Favourite” was accurately described as “Barry Lyndon” meets “All About Eve”. In early 18th-century Britain, Queen Ann (Olivia Colman) is severely debilitated by illness, but remains a formidable presence. She defers control to her royal favorite Lady Marborough (Rachel Weisz). Abigail (Emma Stone), a poor relation of Lady Marborough arrives, looking for a job. The three leads give strong performances in a lively fight for control. Characters are better developed than in previous films from Yorgos Lanthimos (“The Lobster”, “The Killing of a Sacred Deer”).

Olivier Assayas’ “Non Fiction” follows two couples, an actress (a radiant Juliette Binoche) and a book publisher (Guillaume Canet), as well as an author (Vincent Macaigne), who bases his books on his experiences, and his partner (Nora Hamzawi) who works for a politician. The film examines how the new digital culture has affected book publishing. “Non Fiction” is witty and entertaining, if not as substantial as previous collaborations between Assayas and Juliette Binoche like “Summer Hours”.

Olivier Assayas at Telluride (c) Ed Scheiud

With ”The White Crow”, his latest directorial effort, Ralph Fiennes shows he is as distinctive a director (earlier films “The Invisible Woman” and “Coriolanus”) as actor (“The English Patient”). This film covers the early life of ballet star Rudolph Nureyev, culminating in a tense sequence when he defects in Paris. As Nureyev, Oleg Ivenko is charismatic, conveying his ambition and dedication. Fiennes portrays Nureyev’s Russian dance teacher.

Oleg Ivenko at Tellurie (c) Ed Scheid

In another film with a Cold War subject, director Werner Herzog showed his latest documentary “Meeting Gorbachev”. The theater over the ice skating rink is named after Herzog. Another documentary selection was “What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael”, about the influential and often maddening film critic.

In “Dogman”, Marcello Fonte who received Best Actor at Cannes, creates a notable characterization as Marcello, a gentle dog groomer who loves his animals. When he becomes involved with criminals, Marcello is forced to take action, leading to an intense conclusion

Marcello Fonte at Telluride (c) Ed Scheid

“The Border” was the most unique film I saw at Telluride. A customs officer with a unique appearance has an intense sense of smell that lets her detect which travelers are breaking the law. When she meets a man with a similar appearance, the film takes some bizarre turns with unique effects.

French Rendez-Vous 2018: “Custody”

“Custody” (“Jusqu’à la garde”) is a gripping drama of a broken family as the father uses his young son as a weapon against his ex-wife. The film is an extremely notable first feature for Xavier Legrand who also wrote the screenplay. Legrand received the Silver Lion for Best Director at the Venice Film Festival for this film which builds on Legrand’s Oscar-nominated 2012 short film “Just Before Losing Everything”.

When his parents divorce, the court decides that the father will share joint custody of 11 year-old Julien (Thomas Gioria) even though Julien rejects his father (Denis Ménochet) as he is very uncomfortable around him. Julien’s older sister is old enough to decide to stay away from their father.

Thomas Gioria (front) in “Custody”

The cast is impressive. Gioria’s expressive face conveys a range from sadness to pain and fear. As the father’s anger builds toward his ex-wife (Léa Drucker), his actions involving Julien become more threatening. Ménochet becomes a frightening presence to the fearful ex-wife and children.

Xavier Legrand skillfully builds excruciating tension to an extremely tense climax.

After the film Xavier Legrand said that he changed the POV (point of view) of the film to create tension. The camera would follow a character without adopting his POV.

Xavier Legrand at Rendez-Vous With French Cinema in NYC

He added that the father manipulates the others as Legrand believes that violent men, before violence, are manipulators. He said he wanted to investigate the “repercussions of violence”. He wanted to make the audience “listen to silence”.

Legrand said his film is “not in any way personal”. He described himself as a “theater actor fascinated by Greek tragedy.” Léa Drucker who gives an intensely emotional performance as the mother is a theater actor like Legrand. The director said that through testing, he found Thomas Gioria (the young boy) whom he described as an “enormous talent”.

Legrand realized that “Custody” is a “very difficult and dangerous subject for a first film”. He spent three years doing “immersive research” with judges, support groups, and violent men.

French Rendez-Vous 2018: “Jeannette, the Childhood of Joan of Arc” with music

It was audacious for Bruno Dumont to make an electro-rock musical about the young Joan of Arc. Dumont’s previous films like “Humanity” and “Camille Claudel 1915” had a raw physicality. His recent “Slack Bay” was a comedy dealing with cannibalism.

“Jeannette, the Childhood of Joan of Arc”

In “Jeannette, the Childhood of Joan of Arc”, beginning in 1425 during the Hundred Years’ War, the 8-year-old shepherdess Jeannette (Lise Leplat Prudhomme) has become distressed by the British domination of France. Jeanne Voisin portrays the teenaged Joan. Dumont has included cinematic effects like levitating characters. While the film captures Joan’s increasing determination to free her country from English control, the musical numbers are inconsequential and repetitious, making the film seem drawn out.

Bruno Dumont discussed his film at Rendez-Vous with French Cinema. He based “Jeannette”, the first part of a planned trilogy on the poetic work of Charles Péguy on Joan. As with his previous efforts, Dumont used mainly non-professionals.

“Jeannette, the Childhood of Joan of Arc”

Dumont said he wanted to explore the “mystery of the vocation of Joan of Arc…how an ordinary shepherdess put the King of France on the throne” and chases the English out of France. He felt that “Music might enlighten us” and that with “musical ecstasy” the “body takes over”, adding “mysticism”. Dumont said he was influenced by American and French musical films.

The director said that “Only cinema can approach the mystery of Joan…I film what you don’t understand…things mysterious to see into the heart of the individual, into the depth of the soul.”

Bruno Dumont at Rendez-Vous with French Cinema

The songs and dialog were from Péguy with melodies composed by actresses themselves. Dumont recorded the songs a cappella with direct sound. The heavy metal musical score composed by Igorr (Gautier Serre) was added later. Dumont said he always uses direct sound for happenstance. He believes that the sound of sheep puts reality into the film.

Dumont said his period film needs to be believable and needs “modernity to touch you.” He feels the electronic music adds this contemporary aspect.

French Rendez-Vous 2018: “The Workshop”

The recent Rendez-Vous with French Cinema festival at Lincoln Center in New York City showed a wide range of recent French films, including several nominees and recipients of the César, the French Oscar.

My top film was “See You Up There” (“Au Revoir La-Haut”), terrific storytelling, which received the César for Best Director and several Césars for its expansive recreation of a harrowing WWI battlefield and the vibrant post-War Paris. Two veterans, one portrayed by director Albert Dupontel, and another disfigured during the War concoct an elaborate scam taking advantage of memories of the war. More on this and other films in future blogs.

“See You Up There”

The most audacious, if not the most successful, selection was “Jeanette: The Childhood of Joan of Arc”. Director Bruno Dumont, known for raw realism, combines the childhood of the 15-century female warrior with heavy metal music.

Several films had a contemporary resonance. “The Workshop” (“L’atelier”) was a fascinating and tense thriller directed and co-written by Laurent Cantet who received the top prize at Cannes for “The Class” (2008). With thought-provoking results, a writing workshop in a distressed area exposes the divisions between students and the instructor Olivia (César nominee Marina Fois), a novelist.

The setting is La Ciotat, a once prosperous shipping town, now with high unemployment, where the main jobs are servicing yachts of wealthy owners. The assignment for her teenage students is a murder mystery set in their home town.

Matthieu Lucci (2nd from left) and Marina Fois (4th from right) in “The Workshop”

Other students are frightened by the violence expressed in the early writing submission from Antoine (Matthieu Lucci) who is seen playing violent computer games and listening to the tirades of right-wing politicians. Arguments break out between Antoine and his fellow students and prejudices are exposed The instructor considers Antoine‘s writing a promising first draft. The riveting “Workshop” dramatizes how decay incites prejudices.

Antoine’s endless provocation is described as exhausting. As more and more of Antoine’s thoughts are revealed, Olivia becomes increasingly frightened from potential threats of violence. “I scare you”, Antoine says. Cantet skillfully builds tension between student and teacher.

After the film, Laurent Cantet participated in an intriguing discussion.

Director/writer Laurent Cantet at Rendez-Vous with French Cinema

He said that after finishing “Human Resources” (1999), he had a desire to explore working class culture further. Since the Charlie Hebdo killings, he wanted to make a film on what is like to be 20 in France today. In regard to his character of Antoine, Cantet said “Boredom is killing him”. He added that Antoine has a “thirst for violence” with the border between real life and literary fiction blurred.

He described a long casting process where finding the right young personalities could take up to six months. Cantet’s daughter was involved in the casting. Matthieu Lucci who plays Antoine was found the first day.

Cantet co-wrote a precise script with dialog as literary as possible. He checked the script with people closer in age to the characters to make certain his writing was not off-track. In rehearsal, days were spent talking about film, lives and issues which turned into new improvisation scenes, to verify “The Workshop” was not an “old fool’s view of what’s going on.”

Cantet said he wanted to explore how boredom can become fertile ground for extremism to gain a foothold, attracting the extreme right and jihadism.

Telluride 43: Annette Bening in “Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool”

Annette Bening deserves to be an Oscar front runner for the emotional range and poignancy she brings to her portrait of Gloria Grahame in “Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool”.

This film is based on the memoir of Peter Turner, the younger actor who became involved with Grahame in 1978 after the actress’s movie career faded and she appeared on stage in Britain. Turner was at Telluride.

Jamie Bell and Annette Bening in “Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool”

Bening’s portrait of Grahame vividly combines sensuality, romanticism and vulnerability with the charisma of an Oscar-winning actress (“The Bad and the Beautiful”, 1952) who had acted with top stars.

When Grahame collapses before a stage performance, she asks Turner (Jamie Bell, “Billy Elliot”) if she can recuperate at his home. Flashbacks show the different stages of the often intense relationship between Grahame and Turner.

Peter Turner at Telluride

The film would not be as successful without the strong chemistry between Bening and Bell that makes their characters’ enduring emotional connection believable. Jamie Bell is also impressive as the younger man who remains drawn to the older actress.

Julie Walters who appeared with Bell in “Billy Elliot” creates another notable performance as Turner’s sympathetic but realistic mother. Vanessa Redgrave has a memorable scene as Grahame’s mother in a reunion with her daughter.

Annette Bening and Vanessa Redgrave in “Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool”

Intercutting the central relationship in different time frames, director Paul McGuigan has made an intriguing, absorbing, and ultimately moving film.

Telluride 44: Contemporary Issues in Films From Finland and Russia

Two impressive films reflecting international issues were shown at the Telluride Film Festival.

One of my favorite directors, Aki Kaurismaki, brings his unique deadpan style with eccentric characters to “The Other Side of Hope”. Kaurismaki has made 19 films over 35 years. His latest is a compelling film about Khaled (Sherwan Haji), a Syrian refugee who smuggles himself into Finland hiding under coal on a barge.

Sherwan Haji (center) in “The Other Side of Hope”

Khaled is beaten up by thugs, but he encounters Wikstrom (Sakari Kuosmanen). Wikstrom is an older man who has left his wife and job of selling shirts to follow his dream of opening a restaurant. Khaled joins the staff of the new restaurant.

The deadpan dialog delivery is combined with expressive faces. Kaurimaki combines quirky humor with deep compassion for his characters. As with previous Kaurismaki works like “The Man Without a Past”, this marvelous film has a warm feeling of people on the fringes of society banding together to help each other. Scenes of the makeover of the restaurant to attract new customers are cleverly amusing.

Sherwan Haji and Sakari Kuosmanen (both at thable) in “The Other Side of Hope”

After the screening Sherwan Haji said that Aki Kaurismaki gives precise instructions, wanting the actors “not to act at all”, and to “drop lines like bricks” for the deadpan style. He added that Kaurismaki gives actors “enormous space to contribute”, so as “not to be a marionette”.

In response to my question, Haji said that there is no improvising on the set, no word of the script is changed.

“Loveless” from writer-director Andrey Zvyagintsev, who made the acclaimed “Leviathan”, presents a harrowing view of contemporary Russia. At Telluride, Zvyagintsev said that he wants the film set in Russia to have resonance outside of the country.

Matvey Novikov in “Loveless”

Boris (Alexei Rozin) and Zhenya (Maryana Spivak) are continually quarreling and about to divorce. Neither wants to find a place for their teenaged son Alyosha (Matvey Novikov). In a deeply poignant scene, Alyosha, hearing his parents, cries behind a door in the shadows. The soon to be divorced couple reflect the indifference and emptiness of a self-centered Russian society. Zvyagintsev has filmed many striking scenes of a decaying country falling apart.