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.


Telluride 2014: Hilary Swank Tribute and “The Homesman”

At her Telluride Film Festival Tribute, a relaxed Hilary Swank joked that she didn’t feel old enough for a Tribute. She recently turned 40. After she received her first Oscar for “Boys Don’t Cry” in 1999 without many notable credits, Swank was called an overnight success. She said amusingly, that it was “one long night.”

Swank said she doubted such success could happen, but her mother believed in her. She began acting at 8 years old in school plays like “The Jungle Book.” She said she enjoyed making characters come alive.

Unlike her most celebrated films, Swank started out in comedy. She had a role on TV in “Beverly Hills 90210”, but her character was cut from the show. She said she felt she was “not good enough for 90210”, but 2 months later came “Boys Don’t Cry”.

Hilary Swank (left) in "The Homesman"

Hilary Swank (left) in “The Homesman”

Swank described her collaboration with Clint Eastwood and Morgan Freeman on “Million Dollar Baby” (2002), for which she received her second Oscar, as a highlight of her life. She said her role of a boxer coached by Eastwood, who also directed the film, paralleled her off-camera relationship with him.

In both of her Oscar-winning performances, Swank’s characters died before the end of the film. She said she would like roles where she can “live to see the credits”. On films, she added “I love what connects us all” and that the quality of the script is important for her in making choices.

Hillary Swank’s latest film “The Homesman” with Tommy Lee Jones, another actor/director, was shown as part of her Tribute. She believes the film is “richer and better because of Tommy Lee” who also co-wrote the screenplay. She described Jones as “so specific” and said he “stands apart” because he is both “book and people strong.”

In preparation for a film, Swank always writes a sentence about her character on her script. Of Mary Bee Cuddy whom she portrays in “The Homesman”, Swank wrote “she goes where angels fear to tread” and also described her as “so selfless.”

Tommy Lee Jones and Hilary Swank in "The Homesman"

Tommy Lee Jones and Hilary Swank in “The Homesman”

Swank said it was “a dream come true” for her to work with Meryl Streep, but they have no scenes together in “The Homesman.”

Like Jones’ previous directorial effort, “The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada” (2005), “The Homesman” depicts a Western journey, but though well-acted, lacks the freshness of the earlier film.

Mary Bee Cuddy (Swank) lives alone and independently in Nebraska. The film begins as Mary Bee prepares a meal for a neighboring landowner, with disappointing results, as she’s considered “too bossy and plain.” Swank gives another impressive dramatic performance, showing her character’s calm and forceful determination which is unable to hide her disappointment.

The plot has the unusual starting point of a trip to take three young women (Grace Gummer, Miranda Otto, Sonja Richter), severely traumatized by life in the remote West, back East to a church where they can receive care. The 3 actresses are very compelling. Gummer is Meryl Streep’s daughter.

While none of the local men will agree to take the women East, Mary Bee who considers herself “as good as any man” volunteers. Early on, she spies the grizzled George Briggs (Tommy Lee Jones) sitting on his horse, with his head in a noose, punishment for claim jumping.

Hilary Swank and  Tommy Lee Jones in "The Homesman"

Hilary Swank and Tommy Lee Jones in “The Homesman”

Mary Bee rescues him, as he agrees to join her on her quest to help the damaged women. Jones gives a colorful performance. Initially his character looks like comedy relief, but he is formidable in the trail and a dangerous opponent.

The film contains striking scenes of the desolate Western landscape as Mary Bee and Briggs continue on, with the constant threat of any of the young women trying to run away. As director, Jones maintains a lively pace.

The different characterizations of Swank and Jones play well off of each other and enliven the somewhat conventional Western plot. Though the setup is uncommon, during their travels Mary Bee and Briggs encounter familiar Western characters like Indians and greedy businessmen. The sexism of the era depicted is overlaid on the film, particularly in a key scene.