I wasn’t initially enthusiastic about visiting the Telluride Film Festival. Concerns about work and other problems made it difficult to settle down about flying to a secluded canyon town, seven hours southwest of Denver, to watch movies for three days that only included one “sneak” (which turned out to be Argo). I couldn’t understand why hundreds of people from around the world would put up with 45 minutes of air-pocket turbulence in a tiny plane for this festival. But then I arrived.
Telluride doesn’t feel like Sundance or Toronto. There aren’t any flashing cameras, red carpets or lavish parties; just flocks of rich white people in North Face clothing enjoying themselves. It’s also beautiful and serene every time you walk out of a theater and gaze at the arching peaks a mile or so away. That said, I saw ten movies, and came out really bananas for only five.
I had a wonderful time with Noah Baumbach‘s Frances Ha and Ziad Douieri‘s The Attack, but for completely different reasons. I didn’t know anything about Douieri, and a critic we spoke to confided that he sensed in Frances Ha a slightly possessive boyfriend element, as Baumbach and star Greta Gerwig are a couple. But that didn’t materialize, and Gerwig’s lead performance felt like the most genuine I was ever going to see from her — it was perfect.
Frances Ha has a floating Brooklyn mumblecore pace and vibe, and is about a 27-year old dancer (Gerwig) who is lost when her best friend Sophie (Mickey Sumner, daughter of Sting and Trudie Styler), falls in with a rich boyfriend.
You can’t help but compare to HBO Girls, but it’s not that at all. It’s not about gross, uncomfortable-to-watch-sex; Baumbach already accomplished that with Greenberg. The writing is sublime, really tight and filled with pockets of hilarious improvised dialogue. The whole house was giggling and adoring Gerwig despite dealing with a 20-minute delay wen the film began without the center dialogue track.
The Attack, on the other hand, hits you in the gut and opens you up to perhaps the most heartbreaking story you could imagine, which is tied to the fundamental dynamic behind the Israeli-Palestinian struggle. Perhaps most affecting about the film was Douieri’s pre-film speech about how he almost lost confidence in himself during fundraising and pre-production. Knowing this and following this story of an Arab-born Tel Aviv surgeon trying to find out why his wife became a suicide bomber made this film, for me, a real triumph.
Dror Moreh‘s The Gatekeepers: A riveting documentary about Israel’s anti-terrorism organization, Shin Bet, told by former directors of the program over the last 40-odd years. It’s amazing the kind of access Moreh got with this documentary as it really sheds light on how even the biggest war hawks in Israel’s government feel how assassinations are ultimately pointless and/or self-defeating
Pablo Larrain‘s No: A great true story about how an influential advertising campaign led to the ouster of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in 1988. But Larrain’s decision to use a 1983-era video camera (or a simulation of same) to convey the atmosphere or the times and to blend with 1988 ads and newscasts was, I think, risky. It got in the way. While No provides a compelling story, it would be seen by many as an even greater film if it had been shot with top equipment.
Ben Affleck‘s Argo: This was a really tight Hollywood thriller with a kick-ass cast that blended nicely with the Arab-esque theme of this year’s festival. As everyone else points out, the film really takes you home during the final 20 minutes. Affleck is getting better as a director.