Sunday, October 28, 2007

Telluride Film Festival 2007: Chapter 4

Sometimes Mick Jagger Is Wrong

Monday was easily the cleanest day for my program. A slew of circles and Xs paraded about the films on the list for Sat & Sun due to turn downs and timing problems. But Monday has but 1 X as I had previously seen my initial choice for the morning. The rest of the day’s schedule turned out perfectly. Everything I still wanted to see was playing had gotten carried over and none of them were playing opposite each other. So at the relatively reasonable time of 9:15 I was at my first film of the morning with R & V.


Persepolis is based on an autobio-graphic novel written by Marjane Satrapi. It details her life growing up in an upper-class Iranian family and having her world shattered by the revolution in 1979. Being an outspoken girl she bristles under the laws of the Islamic regime and her parents send her to Europe to save her. Culture shock ensues and she grows up pretty quick. She returns to Iran but as the old saying goes, “you can never go home again.” The country has gotten even more conservative and she has grown more distant from her parents. She attends university but again bristles over the endemic masochism and close calls with the law. She once again leaves her country and family to return to Europe older and wiser. The story itself is very intriguing. The modern cosmopolitan family depicted in the pre revolutionary era was startlingly familiar, like a tale of the Kennedy clan. The animation is stark, simple and not really complimentary to the story which bursts with life, but this is definitely a must see for this life that has been lived.

Next up is food, good food. I stopped by the gondola to pick up a pass to my next film up at the Chuck Jones and headed to the town park for the Labor Day picnic. Part of the pass fee included this Monday lunch with Omaha Steaks, Haag & Daas sundae stations, and other assorted “sustenance.” Jana, Ian and I took over a piece of grass in the sun and ate and chatted for a bit before I had to run off early to take the gondola ride to see The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. I met up with Ralph and Vanessa again in the theater and we settled into what was for me the best film of the festival.

The gripping story of M. Bauby, the former editor of ELLE France who suffered a stroke at a high point in his life paralyzing most of his body, the film is shot mostly in first person but after the first few minutes you never really notice it. Janusz Kaminski lenses this visually stunning film in the first non-Spielberg film I’ve seen from him since Jerry Maguire. The first person shots float beautifully and bring you into the world Bauby must be experiencing. While convalescing he learns to communicate by blinking his remaining good eye while the nurse cycles through the alphabet to the letter he wished to use. Bauby then write a memoir this way and that is what the script for this film is based on. He also does not glorify himself in anyway. Through flashbacks we learn that he was not the nicest person before the stroke and he doesn’t change even after at one point he allows his ex-wife to interpret a phone call from his lover that caused the end of their marriage. This is a very powerful film and I can’t believe anyone will turn in a better performance this year than Mathieu Amalric as Bauby – though I doubt the academy will award him a trophy.

Next, I finally was able to check out Margot at the Wedding, the third film from writer/director Noah Baumbach, a film that is decidedly less charming than his first 2 efforts. The film about a New York writer returning to her childhood home for the wedding of her estranged sister is laden with big actors. Nicole Kidman plays Margot the writer, Jennifer Jason Leigh is her sister who is engaged to Jack Black. Black is the surprising highlight of this film as his performance goes well beyond what we’re used to seeing from him. Kidman and Leigh however are uninteresting and at times unwatchable in their morose tone and passive aggressive attitude. Baumbach’s head is firmly up his ass on this one as the film oozes self importance and produces nothing of insight or, as was the case in his previous films, charm. He needs to stop writing about wealthy writers and their family problems and take on something new.

I followed this with a film I liked even less – 2007’s Palm D’or winner 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days. The film is set in the late 80’s in Romania just before the end of communist rule. A young co-ed goes with her friend to get a back room abortion but she wasn’t aware of what the cost was. Not sure what the jury at Cannes was thinking but this couldn’t have been the best film at the festival. The build-up to the actual operation is extremely tense – and it takes only the first 30 minutes of the film. It is followed by nothing at all. There is a 20 minute scene at a dinner table where the subject was Easter eggs. They talked about Easter eggs for 20 minutes! I find nothing interesting about this mundanity and similarities to Day Night, Day Night were also excruciating. It’s a whole lot of footage with out any plot or motive – but shot in a very Cannes winning way. Oh and there’s a completely unnecessary shock scene right in the middle that makes the film even less valuable.

Finally it was time for the last film of the festival, and finally I was able to check out Into the Wild (I’ve only mentioned it 10 times or so without ever seeing it). I said Diving Bell was the best film of the festival, but this one was my favorite. Based on the non-fiction book of the same name this is the story of one Christopher McCandless who abandons his upper-class suburban life assumes the name Alexander Supertramp and hitchhikes his way across the USA in search of experience and communion with nature. Finally making his way to the foothills of a mountain range in Alaska and spends several months living off the land with nothing but a sack of rice and a shotgun. Alex is played by Emile Hirsch in his finest role to date. Hirsh creates a brash, confident, mischievous, affable yet troubled young man who carries the film on his back and makes it look effortless. Dangerous Lives of Alter Boys costar Jenna Malone plays his sister, William Hurt his father and Marcia Gay Harden his mother. Vince Vaughn, Catherine Keener, Kristen Stewart and Hal Hollbrook round out the cast as people Alex meets and touches on his travels. I haven’t seen a film this alive in a while and it is extremely infectious. Nightline recently did a story on people who have seen the film or read the book and despite the cautionary tone they feel the need to make the same pilgrimage north to an abandoned 1920’s era public transport bus that was Alex’s home for the summer of 1993, so many in fact that the park service is thinking of moving that bus. Alex boils over with hobo ideology and anger over the facts of his parents’ marriage and his father’s former life. These details are fleshed out in the many narrative devices in the film including latter writing by Alex, diary entries from his sister and voice over from Alex himself. But I never found these exposition points burdensome in fact they are essential to the telling of this story in which Alex keeps his motivations from everyone he meets. One gets the sense though that his family issues are only part of it and that the need for adolescent and post-adolescent males to find themselves in this perfectly regimented society and break with norms to find out what else it out there is also a huge factor. The stunning climax of the film left many speechless and other with watery eyes and it was also the perfect way to end the festival for me.

I have since read the book and while also very good it is a whole different animal than the film. It tries to detail the life and history of McCandless and his family to provide motive and understand the person and it also tries to place him in a lineage of outdoor eccentrics who have over the years shunned society to live off the land and test themselves against something greater. I would say to watch the film first and absorb the emotional punch of it before getting into the details of the book – but definitely pick up the book as well because it answers many questions you may have after watching the film.


So finally after a weekend cooped inside the makeshift (boutiquely so) theaters of Telluride and Mountain Village and a day where I was finally able to see everything I wanted, we all gathered for the first time since Friday morning’s breakfast to have a drink and talk about everything. I said that I was planning on waking up early the next morning to take some pictures of the beautiful landscape before setting off on the 3 hr drive north to Grand Junction (McCandless actually spent some time here I found out in the book) for my noon flight but then said I knew that would never happen and I would be rushing because I’d wake up late. So I left at 8:45 just in time to get stuck in 45 minutes of traffic just getting down Telluride’s main access road as they were expanding it. I flew back over the rolling Rockies noting Ralph Lauren’s “Double RL” ranch and found that the Pontiac G6 is governed at 106. I did however make it with 15 minutes to spare – luckily the plane was late…good ol’ US Air. And now the recap is done. I will do a graded highlight post though.

Thank You to Jana for the invitation and the hospitality and the directions on how to do the festival right. And thanks to Ian, Ralph & Vanessa for being there as well...couldn't have done it without ya (well I could've but it wouldn't have been as much fun or cheap wink)

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