TFF #49: Make No Bones About It, A Clear Mirror On Our Troubled World!!

Presented by the National Film Preserve, the Telluride Film Festival (TFF) just brought the curtain down on its 49th edition. And once again, the nearly 90 feature films, short films, and revival programs representing 25 countries, along with special artist Tributes, Conversations, Panels, Student Programs, and Festivities, pleased the crowd, back in full force from its Covid trimming.

For more from Telluride Inside.. and Out on this celebration of the art, not the business, of film go here.

Movie after movie at the 49th annual Telluride Film Festival hit that elusive sweet spot where compelling storytelling, confident filmmaking and escapist entertainment meld into something that resembles a chestnut-in-the-making.

Movie after movie held up a big, clear mirror to our tumultuous world, reminding us why those ribbons of dreams (thank you Orson Welles) mesmerize us as they do: to be reawakened to the to socio-cultural challenges like racism, misogyny/predatory behavior, crimes against The Other; to be reminded of our own foibles and flawed relationships, of our own driving desires, our own mortality. But ultimately, to be enthralled.

One very fine example is Sam Mendes “Empire of Light,” a celebration of cinema and human connection set in a seaside town across the pond in the early 1980s when the Iron Lady was in power and racism was running rampant through the streets.

Former Telluride Film Festival guest director Pico Iyer once defined home as “where the soul lives.” For the ersatz family in this luminous film – projectionists, ticket takers, box office attendants, theatre manager, a postmodern commedia dell arte – home is a dusty old Deco lady dubbed the Empire Cinema. There, the brilliant actress Olivia Coleman in a career-best performance (and surefire Best Actress nod) is Hilary Small, a deeply flawed mother hen. The predatory theatre manager Mr Ellis, is played to icky perfection by Colin Firth. When a new hire named Stephen – the smart, handsome Michael Ward – enters the tight circle, he churns up the still waters like a tossed stone.

In the script, which Mendes wrote himself, the devil is in the details. In one salient scene, for example, Small/Coleman’s teeth are stained with lipstick and the label on her gaudy gown hangs out for all the world to see.

Here is a spot-on, in-depth review by Peter Debruge of Variety.

Another TFF favorite and another shoe-in for Best Picture nomination (and more), was “Women Talking,” written and directed by TFF tributee, Sarah Polley. The plot is based on the riveting 2018 novel of the same name by Miriam Toews.

This astonishing work of “moral intelligence,” (NPR), a true story about the lives of people living in an obscure Mennonite sect in some prairie land location or Anywhere, is as horrifying as it is funny, with major resonance in the #MeToo movement of today. A well-rehearsed Hope is waiting in the wings.

The brilliant ensemble cast of “Women Talking” – there is no lead or they are all leads –includes Claire Foy, Rooney Mara, Jessie Buckley, Frances McDormand (also a producer), Ben Whishaw, Sheila McCarthy, Michelle McLeod, and Judith Ivey.

Here is one of many glowing reviews of the film by Clayton Davis of Variety:

And another by A.O. Scott of the New York Times, who described the film as “a special kind of political thriller.”

In the review, Scott underlines a Festival leitmotif: the struggle of women to control their own lives, their own bodies. He also talks about James Gray’s autobiographical “Armageddon Time”; Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s “Bardo”; De Clermont-Tonnerre remix of “Lady Chatterley’s Lover”; and “Tar,” starring another 2022 TFF tributee, Cate Blanchett, in one of her most demanding, commanding turns to date.

The charming, magnetic Bill Nighy, in yet another career-best performance, plays a do-nothing bureaucrat (is that redundant?) in “Living,” a film which answers the existential question, “What would you do if you had only six months to live?” The English-language remake of Akira Kurosawa’s “Ikiru” (1952) was adapted by Kazuo Ishiguro and tenderly directed by Oliver Hermanus. Aimee Lou Wood gives a winning support turn as Nighy’s/Mr. Williams’ young associate and the object of his (platonic) desire.

Here is a full review from The Guardian.

A small, tender, sometimes funny, sometimes heartbreaking film with a big impact, “The Broker” was director by”The Shoplifters” Hirokazu Kore-eda. The story follows five complex characters whose lives become entangled after a baby is left in a box at a church, a real thing in South Korea.

The Cinema Escapist put out a review.

Directed by Hlynur Palmason, the sensual “Godland” follows a young Lutheran priest from Denmark, sent to Iceland to build a new parish church. On route and in situ in the unforgiving condition of life in rural Iceland – his faith is challenged to the max by human nature and Mother Nature.

Directed by “Shoplifter’s” Kore-eda Hirokazu, “The Broker” competed for the Palme d’Or at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival, where it was screened in late May and won Ecumenical Jury Award and Best Actor Award for Song Kang-ho. The tender, delicate story

The Hollywood Reporter astute comments are here.

In Charlotte Well’s beautiful freshman project, ‘Aftersun,” starring Paul Mescal, Francesca Corio and Celia Rowlson-Hall, a mature Sophie reflects on the joy and downs of a trip she took with her sad dad 20 years ago. True to the way memory really works, gaps in the protagonist’s recollection are filled in with details, real and imagined.

“Aftersun” was produced by TFF regular and Oscar winner Barry Jenkins of “Moonlight” fame. (More on Jenkin’s film here.)

Variety’s review of “Aftersun” is here:

Documentaries:

In Telluride, it is not just about the full-length features. Documentaries are given equal prominence and reinforce the aforementioned themes of this year’s festival.

From Russia Without Love. In “Icarus: The Aftermath” director Bryan Fogel follows up on his 2017 Oscar-winner “Icarus.” The spine-chilling sequel follows Russia’s efforts to discredit – or murder – whistleblower Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov, a chemist and former head of Russia’s anti-doping agency RUSADA. After airing all of his dirty little secrets about his homeland’s Olympic lying in “Icarus,” Fogel had little choice but to help his friend Rodchenkov defect to the West and enter a witness protection program. Does he succeed?

Here is an insightful review from Indiewire.

In “Sr.,” Robert Downey Jr.’s most personal film to date, the “Iron Man” star and Hollywood rainmaker turned his camera on his complex relationship with his wacky and wild late, great father during the latter’s decline from Parkinson’s. Chris Smith held the baton.

“It’s kind of a redemption story that doesn’t have a happy ending, but it’s funny. And those are my favorite kind of stories,” said Downey Jr. at a Q&A following the TFF screening.

Variety sums up here.

Screen International, THR, Deadline, Variety, Indie Wire, The Playlist and others are singing in harmony about the celluloid magic of “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed,” hailing Oscar-winner, director Laura Poitras, for her documentary about the world-renowned photographer Naan Goldin and the activist hero’s campaign against the Sacklers and the scourge of Oxycontin.

Deadline weighs in.

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