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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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).
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”.
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.
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
“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.