Telluride Film Fest: “At Telluride, the Movies Reawaken”

Telluride Film Fest: “At Telluride, the Movies Reawaken”

Not only is the Telluride Film Festival done and gone, so is the After the Telluride Film Fest, but the reviews keep rolling in. We think one from The Wall Street Journal online is particularly good.


The very first thing I saw at this year’s Telluride Film Festival was sheer bliss. “Lava,” a musical romance from Pixar Animation, was one of the shorts that traditionally precede almost every festival screening; the director was James Ford Murphy. The story, spanning millions of years in 7 minutes, starts with a lonely Hawaiian volcano who, crooning to ukulele accompaniment, yearns for “someone to lava.” The volcano’s poignant plight really spoke to me, touched me, made me laugh like a loon and lifted my spirits. After an especially dispiriting movie summer cluttered with dumb clunkers, I’d been yearning for films to lava and, once again, Telluride came through—not just with films, though there were plenty of fine ones, but with new reasons to lava the movie medium.

Two standouts in a remarkably diverse program, “Birdman” and “Leviathan,” could hardly be more different stylistically, let alone thematically. One is hip-surreal, the other grandly classical, yet both bespeak the movies’ ability to enthrall us as no other medium can.

“Birdman” stars Michael Keaton in a stunning, scary, one-of-a-kind performance as Riggan Thomson, a washed-up action hero trying to make a comeback on Broadway. I’m partial to movies I can’t quite keep up with, as long as they’re good. This one, propelled by a madly percussive, anxiety-provoking drum score, moves at the speed of its hero’s addled thought processes. Riggan ricochets between fantasy and reality, while coping as best he can with a stentorian inner voice that sometimes takes the form of an outer doppelgänger. The virtuoso director, Alejandro Gonzáles Iñárritu, and the peerless cinematographer, Emmanuel Lubezki, have created a swirling universe all their own, and populated it with a top-notch cast—most prominently Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts and Lindsay Duncan—at the top of their game.

Andrey Zvyagintsev’s masterly “Leviathan,” set against the primeval grandeur of Russia’s northwestern coast, takes place in the Putin present, though the moral decay and political corruption it depicts are timeless. The antagonists are Kolya, a good-hearted, hotheaded auto mechanic, and Vadim, the mayor of the little town that’s about to seize Kolya’s home. The seizure is illegal, but that doesn’t faze the odious Vadim, who sees Kolya and his prickly ilk as insects to crush. (The third major presence is Kolya’s friend from the army, a suave, overconfident Moscow lawyer. The fourth is vodka, which turns pervasive cynicism and despair into rage.) As visual art, “Leviathan” is majestic—the cinematographer was Mikhail Krichman—with the majesty enhanced by a pulsing Philip Glass score. As social and political observation, it’s a portrait of a once-great nation going down a rusty drain.

Great subjects don’t always fall into good hands, but “The Imitation Game” does right by the astonishing story of Alan Turing, the British mathematician and cryptanalyst who played a pivotal role in cracking Nazi Germany’s Enigma code during World War II. (Winston Churchill credited him with having made the biggest single contribution to the Allies’ victory.) In a handsome production that’s been skillfully directed by Morten Tyldum, Turing is played by Benedict Cumberbatch, whose performance was one of the highlights of the festival. It’s an urgent and stirring portrayal of an eccentric genius at work—what came to be called the Turing machine was a progenitor of the modern computer—and a soul in torment; Turing paid a terrible price for his homosexuality.

“Red Army” gets at serious stuff with a sidewise approach that’s hugely enjoyable. Gabe Polsky’s documentary focuses on Viacheslav “Slava” Fetisov, the ice-hockey legend who led the Soviet national team that the army ran during the Cold War. These days Mr. Fetisov is a worldly wise politician, as witty and endearing as he is smart. Yet his equanimity belies his harrowing journey from state-sponsored hero to victim of stupid tyranny by a KGB-sponsored coach and then, as the Soviet Union crumbled, a formidable force in this country’s National Hockey League. “Red Army” charts Soviet decline, but it’s equally a celebration of a man who always tried to play the game he loved with winning grace and imagination…

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