Telluride 43: “La La Land”

“La La Land,” which was very well-received at the Telluride Film Festival, has recently received some Best Film awards. Director Damien Chazelle (“Whiplash”) continues his unique use of music with a contemporary film musical. He also wrote the screenplay. Chazelle’s film shows the influence of classic MGM musicals like “The Band Wagon”. It also has the bright colors of “The Umbrella of Cherbourg” and the emotional conflicts of a musician as in “New York, New York”.

The film begins with a terrific and energetic large scale musical number set during a Los Angeles freeway morning traffic jam. “La La Land” centers on Mia, a would-be actress (a charismatic Emma Stone) and Sebastian, an uncompromising jazz pianist, (Ryan Gosling). As in other movies, after some hostile introductions, an attraction develops between the two.

"La La Land"

“La La Land”

Stone and Gosling who have worked together before have a strong on-screen chemistry and bring deep feeling to their characterizations. Stone is a better singer than Gosling. Mia keeps hoping for her big break while Sebastian struggles to continue to play the kind of music he loves, a jazz he’s told is dying. John Legend plays a musician friend of Sebastian.

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone in "La La Land"

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone in “La La Land”

Chazelle is far more inventive in the elaborate song and dance scenes than with the with the predictable and often derivative screenplay that follows a lot of film conventions like the struggling heroine who shares an unbelievably large and colorful apartment with her room-mates, big enough for an spirited musical number that leads up to a lively party scene.

The clever and varied songs were composed by Justin Hurwitz with lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. Chazelle is effective in staging the charming and more intimate musical numbers between Stone and Gosling, including a magical sequence set in the Griffith Observatory planetarium that reflects the characters’ soaring emotions.

Emma Stone at Telluride     (c) Ed Scheid

Emma Stone at Telluride (c) Ed Scheid

The film ends with a clever, extremely well-edited sequence, finishing the film on a note of poignancy.

Damien Chazelle and Emma Stone participated in an outdoor panel at Telluride. Chazelle discussed using storyboard in planning the complicated musical numbers.

Damien Chazelle at Telluride    (c) Ed Scheid

Damien Chazelle at Telluride (c) Ed Scheid


=

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.