I was on my way from the Sheridan bar after-party for Cary Fukanaga‘s Beasts of No Nation (which kicks the shit out of you but is a work of undeniable visual poetry of war and carnage — a 21st Century successor to Apocalypse Now) and had just passed Alpine Street when I ran into a 20something woman who seemed a bit unnerved. Even a bit scared. If a woman strikes up a conversation with a total stranger on a really dark street, you can assume she’s been motivated by something.
“Have you seen any bears?” she asked me. “Uhhm, no, I haven’t,” I smirked. “Seriously, I’ve been coming to this festival for five years and I’ve never even heard of bears in town.” But she was serious.
She: “I’m telling you I just saw two bears walking down this street…really, no joke.” Me: “Really?” She: “Actually walking on the sidewalk.” Me: “You’re kidding! Really? How big were they?” She: “One was bigger and the other was smaller. Probably a mama bear and a baby bear on a scavenge hunt.”
We discussed ways of scaring them off or at least, you know, avoiding getting attacked. Make a lot of noise, she said. I said I’d heard you’re supposed to be cool and stand your ground and not run. I don’t think bears are very aggressive unless a mama bear thinks you might hurt her cub, I added. But what does a city slicker know?
Laszlo Nemes‘ Son of Saul (Sony Pictures Classics, 12.18) has been praised over under sideways down since it premiered at last May’s Cannes Film Festival. I found it devastating along with nearly every other critic of note. “No day at the beach but one of the most searing and penetrating Holocaust films I’ve ever seen,” I wrote on 5.14.15, “and that’s obviously saying something.” Yes, a Holocaust film — one of the most well-worn genres of the last three or four decades — but one with an urgent sense of interiors and intimacy. Saul will almost certainly be among the five nominees for the 2015 Best Foreign Language Feature Oscar, and I’d be more than a little surprised if it doesn’t win. It’s that kind of stand-out and a definite must-see.
Son of Saul director & co-writer Laszlo Nemes at Telluride’s Sheridan Hotel — Sunday, 9.6, 12:40 pm.
So I asked yesterday if I could speak with Nemes around lunch today. We sat down in a rear parlor at the Sheridan Hotel. Here’s the mp3. Born in Hungary, raised in Paris and an occasional childhood visitor to the U.S., the 38 year-old Nemes speaks excellent English. He seems fairly brilliant in a fair-minded, relatively easygoing way. He smiles easily. His eyes don’t look away much and they don’t seem to lie.
Shot entirely in close-ups (and occasional medium close-ups), Son of Saul is a Hungarian-made, soul-drilling, boxy-framed art film about an all-but-mute fellow (Geza Rohrig) with a haunted, obliterated expression. This titular-named survivor — a walking dead man, a kind of ghost — toils in an Auschwitz Birkenau concentration camp as a Sonderkommando — i.e., prisoners who assisted the Germans in exterminating their fellow inmates in order to buy themselves time. The film is basically about Saul risking his life — foolishly, illogically — in order to properly bury a young boy who’s been exterminated, a boy he doesn’t know but whom he repeatedly claims in his son.
Why? Because Saul wants to fulfill a small act of honor before he dies — he wants to show reverence and respect for the boy, for his people, for life itself before the end.
Looking east on Telluride’s Colorado Avenue — Sunday, 3:30 pm.
Son of Saul director & co-writer Laszlo Nemes following our 20-minute sitdown earlier today inside the Sheridan Hotel.
The Steve Jobs gang (screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, director Danny Boyle, costars Seth Rogen and Kate Winslet) chatting with Hollywood Reporter critic Todd McCarthy early this afternoon at the outdoor Abel Gance theatre. If I was running this festival, I would have these chats shot on video and posted within hours on the Telluride Film Festival website.
Yesterday morning was a writing frenzy followed by three films over a ten-hour period — Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson‘s Anomolisa at 1 pm, Tom McCarthy‘s Spotlight at 4:15 pm and Danny Boyle and Aaron Sorkin‘s Steve Jobs at 8 pm (starting a half-hour late). Each involved a longish line-wait. Then a steady downpour arrived with the darkness. And then I attended a smallish, elegant Steve Jobs after-party a little after 10 pm. Around 11 pm I hit the Sheridan bar for about ten minutes, and then a combination of elements (spirit, energy, stamina) began to sag and collapse and I decided to march back to the pad. Now I’m up again at 5:30 am.
This is the gig and the burden, and sometimes you just have to shake it off and man up and come up with terse, shorter-that-Twitter responses. Spotlight = total pleasure-principle moviegoing within the realm of a go-getter journalism saga. Steve Jobs = a brilliant, bold-as-brass, somewhat arid tour de force that’s written like a play but is expertly goosed and pumped by bravura directing and editing and stellar performances, first and foremost Michael Fassbender‘s Steve Jobs but also Kate Winslet‘s Joanna Hoffman. Anomalisa = another humanistic downhead visit to Charlie Kaufmanland — an amusing, occasionally touching stop-motion piece about a pudgebod asshole visiting a No Exit hotel in Cincinatti and slowly dispensing his depression-fueled mustard-gas vibes to one and all.
I was so happy and delighted with Spotlight that 20 minutes after it began I was telling myself I want to see it again. Obviously I was debating whether I should even toy with this idea as it would interfere with the professional necessity of seeing other festival attractions like Room, Beasts of No Nation, 45 Years, Marguerite, Time To Choose, etc. But I was getting such a gripping, step-by-step, mother’s milk high from Spotlight that I really wanted to double up on it. This is what a pleasurable experience does to you. It makes you a little nuts.
This is the best pure-journalism flick since All The President’s Men, and it doesn’t have any emotional relationship sideplots or car chases or bogeymen stalking journalists in dark, rain-slicked alleys…nothing to supplement or distract from the story at hand. Spotlight is completely familiar and by-the-book — it’s certainly no ambitious game-changer like Steve Jobs — and yet it’s immensely smart and engagingly complex and quite satisfying. It runs 128 minutes, and I was feeling so engaged and fulfilled that I would have been totally okay with a three-hour running time. It’ll definitely be a hit with Joe Popcorn, critics, Academy and guild members — nothing but smooth sailing. Yes, I understood that it wasn’t delivering anything bold or brash in terms of approach or execution, and I didn’t care and neither will you.
Spotlight is a fact-based procedural (set in ’01 and early ’02) about a team of Boston Globe journalists going after a Boston archdiocese and a political network of Catholic-kowtowing flunkies who were either ignoring or protecting child-molesting priests. It’s directed in such a clean and unobtrusive manner and acted in a not-too-forced, just-right fashion by everyone top-to-bottom (Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, Brian d’Arcy, John Slatery, Gene Amoroso, Jamey Sheridan, Stanley Tucci, Billy Crudup…a knI ckout cast) that right after it ended I tweeted as follows: “It sounds distasteful to say this given the root subject matter, but Tom McCarthy‘s Spotlight is pure pleasure…totally gripping stuff.”