Telluride 45: “Cold War”

“Cold War” is a masterwork from director Pawel Pawlikowski (“Ida’) who co-wrote the screenplay. Pawlikowski was chosen Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival. The film follows a tempestuous relationship between a musician and singer in post-WW2 Europe.

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Tomasz Kot (center) in “Cold War”

In 1949 Poland, Wiktor (Tomasz Kot) , a piano player, works for the government in searching for folk-singers. Throughout the film, Pawlikowski composes striking black & white images in a square format that give “Cold War” the look of a period film. He creates a memorable scene from the folk costumes. Wiktor is drawn to Zula (Joanna Kulig), a singer.

Kot and Zula give forceful performances and have an intense chemistry together as their characters become attracted to each other.

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Government interference leads the couple to Paris and beyond and their relationship becomes increasingly volatile. Their wide-ranging story is enthralling with some riveting visuals. Kulig’s dance sequence in Paris to “Rock Around the Clock” is mesmerizing.

After the film screened at the Telluride Film Festival, Pawel Pawlikowski said that “Cold War” was dedicated to his parents. Their relationship lasted 40 years and was described by Pawlikowski as “complicated, hectic” and passing through “other countries, other partners”. The characters Wiktor and Zula have the names of his parents.

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Pawel Pawlikowski at Telluride

He called music the “glue in the story”, a love story passing through music history. He said that music, including jazz tunes, has a continual presence in the film.

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Telluride 45: “Shoplifters”

“Shoplifters” from Japanese director/writer Hirokazu Kore-eda stood out at the Telluride Film Festival. This film received the Palme d’Or, the top prize at Cannes. As with his earlier works like “Like Father, Like Son” (2013) and “Our Little Sister” (2015), in “Shoplifters”, Kore-eda examines a family unit with deep emotional sensitivity.

A father Osamu (Lily Franky) uses his son Shota (Jyo Kairi) as a shoplifter for their impoverished family unit. Returning home after a store theft, they see a forlorn young girl Juri (Miyu Sasaki) alone and hungry and they decide to take her home to give her food.

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Lily Franky and Jyo Kairi in “Shoplifters”

After noticing that the girl is bruised, she is “adopted” into the family that includes wife (Sakura Ando), older sister (Mayu Matsuoka) and grandmother (Kirin Kiki). The group lives off of the old woman’s pension.

The film vividly creates the crowded, cluttered living quarters of the family. There is an affectionate rapport between the members of the group. All of the actors give sensitive, nuanced performances. Kore-eda’s films contain some of the most impressively natural performances from children.

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Sakura Ando, Mayu MatSuoka, Lily Franky in “Shoplifters”

Young Juri is instructed into shoplifting and joins Shota in petty thievery. Osamu says that shoplifting is the only activity he can teach the children.

As the actual connections between the family group members are gradually revealed, “Shoplifters” becomes extremely moving and remains an intriguing consideration on what makes up a family.

Telluride 45: “Roma” and Tribute to Alfonso Cuarón

One of the 3 Tributes at the Telluride was to Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón, who received the Oscar for Best Director for “Gravity” (2013). Cuarón’s latest film “Roma” which recently was chosen Best Film of the Year by both the NY and LA Film Critics was screened. The film is showing on Netflix.

Cuarón said he grew to “understanding the technical aspect” of filmmaking, and with this “familiarity” knew what to ask. He described himself as “broke” before his first film “Sólo con Tu Pareja” (1991) was shown at Toronto. This showing led to a film development project with Sydney Pollack that was cancelled. Cuarón then directed “The Little Princess” (1995) in Hollywood which received 2 Oscar nominations.

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Alfonso Cuarón at Telluride

He described his next film, a modern-day “Great Expectations” (1998) as “What I should not do”. He added, “I forgot I was a writer”. He did not participate in the screenplay. He said “I lost 3 years … (of) creative life… very sad.” Cuarón’s next film “Y Tu Mamá También” (2001), which he co-wrote was a Mexican road film and an international success, leading to “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” (2004) and “Children of Men” (2006).

For “Gravity”, Cuarón said “All credit goes to Sandra (Bullock) and George (Clooney)”. He said that the stunts and needed movement of the actors were “gruesome and very difficult”. He said he was “used to improvise” and “had to find the flow” for “Gravity” to “made it easy” for the actors posed “in the weirdest position” for a film set in outer space.

For “Roma”, based on his life growing up and cared for by an indigenous maid. He wanted to film “where events took place”, using “furniture from home and relatives” for the film to look as real as possible. He said that the maid “loved me” and was taken for granted.

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Yalitza Aparicio (left) in “Roma”

For the first time, he considered the complexities of her situation during a time “ridden by class”. He added she “raised me” adding “more present, some think than my biological mother”.

Cuarón said in making the film, the last thing he wanted to do was consider the sexual life of his mother.

“Roma” is masterfully directed with vivid black and white images. The cinematography is by Cuarón. The title comes from the area of Mexico City where the central family lives.

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“Roma”


Cuarón gives his film an immersive view of life in Mexico City in the early 1970s. The film has a strong use of details like a too-large car regularly scraping the walls of the garage where the floor has pieces of dog excrement.

Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), the maid lives with her employer family, taking care of the children with whom she has a warm relationship. She participates in family activities like watching TV together. After the marriage between the parents break up, the father moves away and the mother (Marina de Tavira) depends even more on Cleo.

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Marina de Tavira and Yalitza Aparicio at Telluride

The film has many visually striking sequences. A memorable scene includes a panoramic shot of a crowded city street when the family goes to a movie. Later, while Cleo is shopping, a large-scale protest turns violent.

“Roma” becomes an absorbing autobiographical view of Cuarón’s extended family and Cleo’s devotion.

Telluride 45: Orson Welles’ “The Other Side of the Wind” and its Restoration

A major event at Telluride was a restoration of Orson Welles’ “The Other Side of the Wind”, 48 years after filming. Welles shot the film between 1970-1975, and ran out of financing before a final edit could be completed before Welles died in 1985. Director Peter Bogdanovich (“The Last Picture Show”) who appears in the film was among those speaking after the film about working with Welles and the restoration.

“The Other Side of the Wind” is an extremely intriguing cinematic view of Welles’ impressions of the changing Hollywood of the 1970s and his own role in it. John Huston is charismatic, marvelous as Jake Hannaford an aging director making a film with several delays. Huston gives his character a macho swagger and an often sarcastic wit.  

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Welles satirizes the youth-oriented films of the era, having Hannaford’s film described as a “dirty picture” with “naked ladies”. Hannaford is called an “old guy trying to get with it”. Hannaford leaves the studio with his entourage for a 70th birthday party given by an actress (Lilli Palmer). Hannaford’s associates include actors from earlier Welles films like a hard-edged Mercedes McCambridge (“Touch of Evil”) and Paul Stewart (“Citizen Kane”). Film students accompany Hannaford, shooting him through different viewfinders.

Reflecting their real-life relationship Peter Bogdanovich plays a former journalist who interviewed the director who has now become a director himself, hot at the boxoffice.  

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John Huston, Orson Welles, Peter Bogdanovich

Welles adds humor to the party scenes as guests pontificate and over-analyze about moviemaking. Young directors of the era like Dennis Hopper, Claude Chabrol, Henry Jaglom and Paul Mazursky appear as guests spotted at the party scenes.

Welles remained a master of framing for the camera, with distinctive use of angles, lights and shadows. Keeping current for the time, one scene has psychedelic colors.

Party guests attempt to view Hannaford’s latest film with a series of interruptions. In the film a woman (Oja Kodar) is pursued by a man. Both end up naked. Kodar, who was Welles’ companion at the time is listed as co-screenwriter with Welles. Hannaford is described as “making it up as it goes along.”

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Oja Kodar in “The Other Side of the Wind”

“The Other Side of the Wind” is now showing on Netflix.

After the film, Peter Bogdanovich described it as a “sad movie, …the end of everything. He added that Welles ”made a lot of sad movies” and that “artistry” was “his antidote”. He felt “sad Orson’s not here,… like nobody else”.

Joe McBride who acted in the film said ’48 years have gone by”. He described “Other Side” as a ”dense, rich film” and that Welles could “pack so much into every film”. McBride spoke of the fragmentation of Welles’ filmmaking. He said when Welles was asked when people involved with the film would meet Lilli Palmer who was portraying the party host, he replied that all of her scenes had been shot in Paris.

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Orson Welles, Peter Bogdanovich, Oja Kodar, cinematographer Gary Graver during the making of “The Other Side of the Wind (2018)

John Huston’s lead performance was described by Bogdanovich as “demonic, extraordinary, very contemporary”. McBride said Huston’s character was an attack on the macho Hemingway cult.

Bogdanovich said that in 1961, he was asked to organize a retrospective of Welles at the Museum of Modern Art. Seven years later, he got a call from Welles who told him “You have written the truest words about me in English”. Bogdanovich took over a large part in “The Other Side of the Wind” when comedian/impressionist Rich Little, cast in the role, displeased Welles.

McBride said the “18 hour work days” were “so much fun…full of laughter”. Bogdanovich said Welles was “wonderful with actors, not the crew”, saying “if they must eat, not linger.” Welles enjoyed Fritos, joking “you don’t gain weight if nobody sees you eating”.

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Peter Bogdanovich at Telluride

Frank Marshall, now a major film producer (Indiana Jones films) was a production accountant on “The Other Side of the Wind”, said Welles fired him “every other day”.  He added that Welles told funny stories and would burst into song.

Bogdanovich aid that seeing the last scenes of the film reminded him of the Shakespearean line “our revels now are ended”, adding “it’s as touching”.

After a screening of a short film called “A Final Cut for Orson: 40 years in the Making”, a discussion included Frank Marshall. The restoration procedure was described as a “treasure hunt”, using Orson’s notes. Welles shot on different types of film. Everything was scanned with new technology. This complete type of restoration could not have been done 10 years ago. 

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”.

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.

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.