Telluride 43: Isabelle Huppert in “Things to Come”

In “Things to Come”, Isabelle Huppert gives another masterful performance in a continually impressive career.

Unlike many of her roles which had a bizarre aspect, her character in this French film is Nathalie, a professor and author leading a calm and comfortable life which is unexpectedly thrown into turmoil. Her husband (Andre Marcon) leaves her, her mother (Edith Scob) is moved to a nursing home, and she is forced to confront more changes. Nathalie visits a commune where a former student resides.

Isabelle Huppert at the Telluride Film Festival  (c) Ed Scheid

Isabelle Huppert at the Telluride Film Festival (c) Ed Scheid

Huppert brings an emotional depth to Nathalie. Her close-ups are particularly expressive and intense. A scene where she unexpectedly views her ex-husband and his new partner is memorable.

Director Mia Hansen-Love, who was chosen Best Director at the Berlin Film Festival gives a potent sense of the details of Nathalie’s life, like her strong attachment to her favorite books. Hansen-Love, who also wrote the screenplay, effectively contrasts the crowded urban life of Nathalie with the quiet rural setting of the commune where she can contemplate her new life.

Isabelle Huppert at the Telluride Film Festival with moderator Annette Indorf  (c) Ed Scheid

Isabelle Huppert at the Telluride Film Festival with moderator Annette Indorf (c) Ed Scheid

At an outdoor panel at Telluride, Huppert said that her job as an actress is to show the emotional state of the character at a point of time and it is up to a film to connect these points. Both she and Hansen-Love are extremely successful collaborating in “Things to Come”, making the transformations of Nathalie’s life very compelling.

Isabelle Huppert at the Telluride Film Festival  (c) Ed Scheid

Isabelle Huppert at the Telluride Film Festival (c) Ed Scheid

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.

Telluride 43: “Moonlight”

“Moonlight” received a strong response at the Telluride Film Festival. Before a screening, stage director and Telluride regular Peter Sellars effusively praised the film and its treatment of a rare subject.

This film’s writer/director Barry Jenkins had first been to Telluride as part of the student program and returned as a volunteer. Jenkins joked that it was “eight fucking years” since his first film “Medicine for Melancholy”.

Peter Sellars and Barry Jenkins at Telluride

Peter Sellars and Barry Jenkins at Telluride

“Moonlight” is a uniformly well-acted film about Chiron, an African-American boy living in Miami with his crack-addicted mother (Naomie Harris, James Bond’s current Moneypenny).

Chiron, a lonely silent boy (Alex R. Hibbert) is befriended by Juan (Mahershala Ali, “House of Cards”) who becomes a supportive father-figure. Juan’s girlfriend (Janelle Monae) welcomes Chiron into her home whenever he wants to stay in a less stressful environment. Juan’s relationship is complicated as he is a drug dealer for Chiron’s mother.

Andre Holland, Naomie Harris and Mahershala Ali at Telluride

Andre Holland, Naomie Harris and Mahershala Ali at Telluride

The film is based on a play by Tarell McCraney. Both McCraney and Jenkins grew up in Miami with mothers having a crack problem. Harris is extremely vivid as a woman under the ravages of addiction.

Chiron tries to figure out why he feels different from others. He grows into a bullied teenager (Ashton Sanders) who explores his homosexuality.

Ashton Sanders in "Moonlight"

Ashton Sanders in “Moonlight”

“Moonlight” is compelling and often poignant, written and directed with sensitivity by Barry Jenkins. A reunion between a very different young adult Chiron (Trevante Rhodes) and Kevin (Andre Holland), his sole boyhood friend, is particularly effective.

Telluride 43

The 43nd Telluride Film Festival was held, as always, during Labor Day weekend in the former mining town in the mountains of southwest Colorado.

As usual, the film schedule is not announced in advance. Places like the high school gym and an ice rink are converted into theatres with top-of-the line projection and sound. Nine indoor theatres show films daily during the Festival, besides several panels and conversations with international filmmakers.

The main street of the town is closed off for the Opening Night Feed. This year’s Feed serving French food was the best I had been to.

French twist to the Opening Night Feed of the Telluride Film Festival       (c) Ed Scheid

French twist to the Opening Night Feed of the Telluride Film Festival (c) Ed Scheid

The biggest crowds were for Tom Hanks, in Telluride for “Sully” with director Clint Eastwood and co-stars Laura Linney and Aaron Eckhart. Hanks also participated in an outdoor panel with other actors.

My top selection at Telluride was “Manchester by the Sea”, directed by Kenneth Lonergan (“You Can Count on Me”, “Lobby Hero” on stage) and shown as part of a Tribute to its leading actor, Casey Affleck. The film about a janitor (Affleck), leading a solitary life, who returns to his home town after a family tragedy and faces the consequences of his past actions is powerful and emotionally intense.

Casey Affleck in "Manchester by the Sea"

Casey Affleck in “Manchester by the Sea”

Two other films stood out. From Germany, the unique “Toni Erdmann” concerns a father who uses practical jokes and a fake identity to reconnect with his workaholic daughter. Guest director Volker Schlondorff (“The Tin Drum”) accurately describes it as “Ingmar Bergman meets Borat.”

“Graduation”, from Romania was a gripping look at pervasive corruption as a father is determined to do whatever is necessary for his daughter to study abroad. The director is Cristian Mungiu (“4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days”).

Gael Garcia Bernal at Telluride    (c) Ed  Scheid

Gael Garcia Bernal at Telluride (c) Ed Scheid

Another Tribute was for Amy Adams with her science fiction film “Arrival”. The other Tribute was to Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larrain who showed his intriguing new film “Neruda” about the celebrated poet who goes into hiding because of his leftist politics and his pursuit by a determined policeman (Gael Garcia Bernal, also at Telluride).

Larrain also showed promising scenes from his new work “Jackie” with Natalie Portman as Jacqueline Kennedy returning to the White House after her husband’s assassination.

Pablo Larrain and Isabelle Huppert at outdoor panel at Telluride    (c) Ed Scheid

Pablo Larrain and Isabelle Huppert at outdoor panel at Telluride (c) Ed Scheid

Isabelle Huppert was in Telluride with “Things to Come” in which she gives yet another notable performance as a woman facing unexpected changes to what she thought had been a comfortable life.

Pablo Larrain and Isabelle Huppert at outdoor panel at Telluride    (c) Ed

Pablo Larrain and Isabelle Huppert at outdoor panel at Telluride (c) Ed Scheid

Bryan Cranston and Richard Gere were also in town with films that showed them to strong advantage. In “Wakefield”, Cranston plays a man who fakes a disappearance to secretly watch how his wife (Jennifer Garner) reacts to his absence. Gere stars in “Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer” a man passing himself as a business “consultant” who gets involved with Israeli politics.

“Moonlight” is a sensitive and well-acted film about a gay African-American boy living in Miami with his crack-addicted mother (Naomie Harris, the current Moneypenny) who grows from a silent child into a bullied teenager. This film’s writer/director Barry Jenkins had first been to Telluride as part of the student program. He came back as a volunteer and spoke of popping popcorn, cleaning bathrooms, and building a nearby concession stand.

“La La Land” was popular at Telluride. Damien Chazelle (“Whiplash”) combines elaborate song and dance scenes with a predictable screenplay about the relationship between an uncompromising jazz musician (Ryan Gosling) and a would-be actress (a captivating Emma Stone).

Emma Stone at Telluride     (c) Ed Scheid

Emma Stone at Telluride (c) Ed Scheid

Wine and cheese seemed very appropriate for serving between parts of the Pagnol Trilogy, three French films from the 1930s based on the works of writer Marcel Pagnol. The films “Marius”, “Fanny”, and “Cesar” are about love on the waterfront of Marseilles. Alice Waters, owner of the celebrated Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley, loved the Trilogy in the 1970s when she saw them with Tom Luddy, the Festival’s director. Her restaurant is named after one of Pagnol’s characters. Luddy told her to name it after Panisse, the only character “who made money.”

Another French film was Bertrand Tavernier’s marvelous documentary “My Journey Through French Cinema” with remarkable insights on films the director (“Round Midnight”) has seen throughout his life. Tavernier joked about the small attendance at the screening I attended, saying that 40 years of French film history can’t compete with Richard Gere (who was at a competing screening of “Norman”).The film was over 3 hours long. Afterwards I told Tavernier, his film could have gone on all day for me.

Telluride guest director Volker Schlondorff

Telluride guest director Volker Schlondorff

One of the most entertaining films at Telluride was Fritz Lang’s 1928 German silent “Spies” (with live accompaniment) selected by guest director Volker Schlondorff who had a lot of fun facts. He told the audience that “Spies” was made after the studio lost a lot of money with Lang’s now-classic “Metropolis”. Schlondorff said “Spies”, with its evil mastermind in a wheelchair, femme fatale, double crosses, and the Orient Express, made James Bond possible. He added that an earlier science fiction film directed by Lang had designs by Wernher von Braun and introduced the countdown before its rocket launch.

A very absorbing documentary had an unlikely title – “California Typewriter”. The film, named after a family-owner repair store, covers the history of the once ubiquitous machine, an artist who makes sculptures from typewriter parts, and why Tom Hanks (a collector), Sam Shepard and John Mayer prefer the typewriter.

Future posts will cover the films in more detail.

French Rendez-Vous 2016: Award-winning “Fatima” and Louis Garrel’s directorial debut

Rendez-Vous with French Cinema had early screenings of “Fatima” which received the Cesar, the French Academy Award, for Best Film and Best Adapted Screenplay. With its short 79 minute running time, the film is more of an overview than a deep study of its characters. But this film remains a compelling portrait of Fatima, a middle-aged single mother (Soria Zeroual) and her two much more assimilated daughters living in France. The older daughter (Zita Hanrot, Cesar for Most Promising Actress) is a medical student.

Soria Zeroual and Zita Hanrot in "Fatima"

Soria Zeroual and Zita Hanrot in “Fatima”

The not always appreciated mother tries to fit into a different culture, even facing scorn from some Muslim neighbors. The film builds to a poignant conclusion as Fatima frankly expresses her intimate feelings about life in an adopted country.

Louis Garrel (“The Dreamers”) was at Rendez-Vous with his directorial debut, “Two Friends” (“Les Deux Amis”), an engaging if not original film about the conflict between two male friends that develops when one (Vincent Macaigne) becomes attracted to a female convict (Golshifteh Farahani) on work release in a railway station. Garrel plays the worldlier friend. Surprisingly the film was co-written by Garrel and Christophe Honore who directed Garrel in more unique and intense films (“Love Songs”, “Ma Mere”).

Louis Garrel at Rendez-Vous

Louis Garrel at Rendez-Vous

After the screening Garrel called his film a short “Rules of the Game” and added that the menage a trois is a “gold mine” for conflicts. He said the film shows the “transfer of power” between the two friends after the complication of a third party.

French Rendez-Vous 2016: “Disorder” and Diane Kruger

Director Alice Winocour (“Augustine”) and Diane Kruger were in New York for Rendez-Vous with French Cinema to discuss their film “Disorder”. Winocur expertly builds tension through editing and sound in this thriller about Vincent, a former soldier with PTSD, another impressive performance from Matthias Schoenaerts (“A Bigger Splash”).

Matthias Schoenaerts in "Disorder"

Matthias Schoenaerts in “Disorder”

Close-ups of a shaking hand show the lingering trauma of the war in Afghanistan for the former soldier. He is hired as security for a shady Lebanese financier. When the financier leaves for business, Vincent becomes guard for the rich man’s trophy wife (Diane Kruger). Winocur has staged gripping scenes of suspense as the new bodyguard must protect the woman and her family from mounting threats.

Rendez-Vous with Diane Kruger and Alice Winocour

Rendez-Vous with Diane Kruger and Alice Winocour

After the film, Winocour said that she is obsessed with dysfunction. She chose Schoenaerts because his role was “very physical.” She described Kruger’s role as a “perfect trophy wife who liberates herself.” Kruger said her character is married to a “much older” man and “locked in a golden cage…not comfortable.” The film was called an “impossible love story” where Winocour said “he awakens her.”

Diane Kruger, who was born in Germany, said she’s neither American nor French unlike most of her film work. Appearing in large budget films like “Troy” as well as in smaller scale choices, Kruger described herself as “not typecast” which opens doors in her career.

Rendez-Vous with Diane Kruger

Rendez-Vous with Diane Kruger

Director Winocour spoke of using sound and music to “express the violence of war.” She described “Disorder” as having a “dark romanticism” and remaining on the point of view of the paranoid bodyguard to “understand what he understood.” She wanted to bring “heightened senses” to the film where the “real world seems crazy.”

French Rendez-Vous 2016: Huppert on Huppert

A high point of the latest Rendez-Vous with French Cinema in New York City was an appearance by Isabelle Huppert to discusses her enduring career. It was mentioned at the event that she has appeared in 128 films.

This actress often makes fearless choices in her roles. Even in comedy. In her 2013 “Tip Top”, she played a policewoman who enjoyed physical pain, happily licking up blood dripping from her nose. In her recent “Elle”, directed by Paul Verhoeven, she portrays a woman who has an unorthodox approach to a sexual assault.

Huppert said that in choosing a film “I look for a good director in the first place. I like to expand my space of investigation…not stay in my home county.” She considers “cinema connected to travelling”, having a “double significance”, adding “I like to explore new territories.” She compared acting in film to “travelling in self”, an “inner trip.”

Isabelle Huppert at Rendez-Vous with French Cinema      (c) Ed Scheid

Isabelle Huppert at Rendez-Vous with French Cinema (c) Ed Scheid

She said that a “great relationship” between actor and director is “quite unique…extraordinary” and “exploratory.” She spoke of having “quality moments in life” spent with a director, including seven films shot with director Claude Chabrol. She joked that after she makes a film with a director, it’s frustrating when he chooses another actress for his next film instead of asking her.

Huppert said that Chabrol “never idealized cinema”, treating “his characters as human beings”, as in “Violette” (1978), being “as honest as possible” in their film about a young woman who tries to poison her parents. She said Chabrol was “as accurate as possible” in “Story of Women” (1988) in which her adulterous character who performed secret abortions during WWII was “not nice” in “my observation.”

The staging, Huppert believes “gives the right answer” to a film where “camera movement has to be right.” She said that each film has “it’s own organic movement.” She described her 2012 hostage kidnapping film “Captive”, from Filipino director Brillante Mendoza as physical and “amazing” and quite different from the films she made with Michael Haneke (“The Piano Teacher”, “Amour”).

Isabelle Huppert at Rendez-Vous with French Cinema      (c) Ed Scheid

Isabelle Huppert at Rendez-Vous with French Cinema (c) Ed Scheid

In her recent “Valley of Love” (https://cinemasight.wordpress.com/2016/04/10/french-rendez-vous-2016-huppert-and-depardieu-in-valley-of-love/), Huppert appears with Gerard Depardieu for the first time in over 30 year, since “Loulou” in 1980. She had appeared in “The Nun” (2013) (https://cinemasight.wordpress.com/2013/08/26/french-rendez-vous-2013-the-nun/), a previous film from Guillaume Nicloux, the director of “Valley of Love”. She liked the roughness he brought to the earlier period film, instead of being very dry like she feels many costume films are. Huppert thought the chemistry with Depardieu would be “interesting.” She found the heat of the Death Valley setting of “Valley” “inconceivable”, but later added that “human nature can get used to any extreme situation.”

She said that this movie could be interpreted in many ways, including as a “spiritual, mystical metaphor about cinema”. In this film the characters played by Huppert and Depardieu receive a letter from their dead son to visit certain locations in Death Valley. Huppert said “The son is really director” who “pulls strings” on his parents.

Huppert will soon make another film with Depardieu. She described herself not being too influenced by their previous experience working together. She called him “just an actor with whom I have a great relation as actress.” She said they “play well” together, adding “we don’t talk much, before or after” filming a scene.

Isabelle Huppert at Rendez-Vous with French Cinema      (c) Ed Scheid

Isabelle Huppert at Rendez-Vous with French Cinema (c) Ed Scheid

When asked if she would want to direct, Huppert answered “No, too lazy, maybe out of curiosity…an expensive curiosity.’ She described herself as “fulfilled as an actress.” She begins with the “outside vision of character”. She called the costume the “first sign” of a character…essential, what we first see.” For her, being able to “transform (her)self” is a “great pleasure.”

Huppert was asked to name favorites of her films. She mentioned two very different experiences. She “warmly” recommended the controversial high-budget Western “Heaven’s Gate” (1980) for which she spent seven months filming, calling it a “great masterpiece.”

She described her 2012 South Korean film “In Another Country”, written and directed by Hong Sang-soo as “one of the most interesting…a special adventure.” Three stories dealing with a foreigner were built around her. For the day’s filming, she received screenplay pages each morning. Filming was “so precise, nothing was improvised.” She called Hong Sang-soo a “great director.”

Isabelle Huppert at Rendez-Vous with French Cinema      (c) Ed Scheid

Isabelle Huppert at Rendez-Vous with French Cinema (c) Ed Scheid

Huppert added that “I think my youngest son hasn’t seen ‘The Piano Teacher'”, one of her controversial films for which she was chosen Best Actress at Cannes in 2001.

Huppert said that she liked “White Material” (2009), adding that “films are political”, with a “certain vision of the world.” She said Claire Denis, this film’s director/co-writer wanted to describe the point of view of a woman determined to continue running a plantation in an African country during a time of upheaval. She said Denis wanted to give power to the victim, adding “this woman was viscerally attached to this piece of land…and why she wanted to stay there.”

She added “What you expect of a film…to make people think, that’s already very political.” She said that she doesn’t “ferociously seek out” films with a “very loaded context.”

On choosing favorites of her films, Huppert said “I don’t want to choose, I love them all.”