Today was determinedly eclectic, the kind of cinephile’s dream that you can only put together in a festival as inclusive as Telluride. As I walked briskly toward the Sheridan Opera House to catch a tripartite program — a screening of “Slow Food Story,” a documentary about its founder, the charismatic Carlo Petrini, followed by the awarding of the inaugural FOOD, INC. Movement Award to Alice Waters, and a lively and emotional panel discussion among Alice, the film’s director, Stefano Sardo, Michael Pollan, and Berlinale head Dieter Kosslick — I run into Davia Nelson, one of the Kitchen Sisters, walking briskly in the opposite direction. “Not going to Alice’s program?!,” I ask, surprised. “No, I wish I could, but I’m doing the Q & A with Nicolas Philibert, who I love,” she says. Oof, I really wanted to see “La Maison de la Radio,” Philibert’s documentary about Radio France, having twice spent a few delightful hours prowling its mysterious circular corridors and recording studios with my friend Michka Assayas, author of the indispensable three-volume “Dictionnaire du rock” and host for four years of a late-lamented radio show there. But unless it turns up in the TBAs (to be announced) shows, I’ve missed my chance. For now, anyway.
The Slow Food show is sold out, with people hanging from the rafters. Telluride co-director Tom Luddy says that this is a heartfelt occasion for him — his real ultimate claim to fame is as a footnote to the American cultural revolution, as he named Chez Panisse, when he encouraged and helped his good friend Alice to start the restaurant. Waters is also very emotional — she’s been to the festival 37 times, and in the not-quite-a-decade I’ve been attending, I’ve seen her improve the festival’s food (and water! no plastic bottles!) out of all recognition. She says she’s trying to feed people ideas along with food — had she just gotten Clinton to eat a perfect peach — but he was there in apple season, so she gave him a Gravenstein. She gives praise to Michelle Obama for planting the White House garden, and mentions that it’s the 19th year of the Edible Schoolyard.
Afterwards I make haste to see one of the two films in the Pordenone Presents program, from the famed Italian silent film festival, the rare Pudokvin “A Simple Case,” with piano accompaniment by Gabriel Thibaudeau. For several days Paolo Cherchi Usai, Senior Curator of George Eastman House, has been warning me “not to seek narrative coherence” when I see it, to which I scoff, “I don’t come to Telluride for narrative coherence!” He calls it “messy and mad.” But actually when it comes down to it, I kinda want more than I get from the Pudovkin, which has been preceded by a rare animated trailer for Dziga Vertov’s “Kino-Pravda #11,” and an introduction by Russian film scholar Kirill Razlagov, who only mildly annoys us by saying that there are three different versions extant of “A Simple Case,” and that this is the best technically “but perhaps not the most interesting.” Hey! I want to see the most interesting!
The print is beautiful but, yes, the narrative is fractured. There are several friends who fight in the revolution and work on collective farms, there are a couple of girlfriends, there are beautifully composed shots of clouds and wheatfields and overhead shots of trams, which I love. And, oh, there is a cat, who indeed, as Cherchi Usai says, pauses before a soldier who orders him out of a room and stretches, disdainfully. (This the day after the Coen brothers tell us, as if we didn’t already know, that the cat[s] they used in “Inside Llewyn Davis” were very hard to direct.) It doesn’t help that this is the first movie (miraculously) that I take (cat)naps in — the floods of coffee have kept me alert until now. I’m happy that I saw it — especially with the rousing Thibaudeau score, which helps it along — but I don’t think I have to see it again. At the end, when a group of young people sing the praises of their glorious collective farming future, I think “Good luck with that.”
I stay in the same theater to see Kristin Scott Thomas, Daniel Auteuil, Richard Berry, and Leila Bekhti in “Before the Winter Chill,” by Philippe Claudel, whose “I Loved You So Long,” also starring Scott Thomas, I very much enjoyed at TFF 2008. Claude Chabrol and “Fatal Attraction” are cited in the catalogue blurb. The attractive actors do their best, but I’m not convinced.
I try to make it into “The Invisible Woman,” the film about Dickens and his mistress (Felicity Jones) that Ralph Fiennes directed and stars in. No room at the inn: all 500 seats are filled, and I’m turned away.
So I have a bit of time before the screening of the divine Sacha Guitry’s “Poison,” programmed by Monique Montgomery, aka the wife of Tom Luddy. I hang out in front of the Pierre and chat with Philip Lopate, who loved Rithy Panh’s “The Missing Picture”; the twin sisters Mara and Elena Fortes of the Ambulante Film Festival, which programs a week of new documentaries and plays them in 12 different cities in Mexico; David Thomson, who stuns me by saying not only that he loved “All is Lost” but also thinks it can win the Best Picture Oscar (I don’t think David has ever handicapped the Oscars — or even mentioned them — to me before); and Mark Cousins, who loves “Under the Skin” so much — he mentions “Orphee” in relation to it, helpfully adding “Cocteau’s” (“Oh, is that JEAN Cocteau?!,” I say, acidly) — that he makes me question my own mixed response. Its wacky imagery has certainly stayed with me. I hype “Fifi Howls from Asghar Happiness” to all and sundry.
Monique gives a lively and amusing intro to “Poison,” saying that “Guitry learned the rules only to break them — my kind of guy!” His introduction of all the actors and craftsmen who worked on the film is delightful. As is the movie, wherein Michel Simon (hard to forget that yesterday in “Natan” I learned that he was perhaps the world’s largest collector of pornography) plots the murder of his wife with the unwitting help of one of France’s most successful criminal lawyers, who he consults before the fact. I do love Sacha Guitry.
Afterwards I rush off to Le Marmottan, one of Telluride’s best restaurants, where I’ve been invited to dine with the directors and stars of the slate of Sony Classics’ films in Telluride. It will actually be the first real sit-down meal I’ve had in Telluride with the inaugural brunch now a distant memory. A lovely young publicist quizzes me as to which of their movies I’ve seen, to figure out where to seat me. No, I haven’t seen “The Past,” though I’ve seen Asghar Farhadi’s other films and spent time with him at Telluride and Toronto; no, I haven’t seen “The Lunchbox,” though I fully intend to, either here or in Toronto (Its director, Ritesh Batra, is just rushing off to intro the film, between his first course of fish tacos and his second course); no, I haven’t seen “The Invisible Woman,” although I tried to, this afternoon. Her eyes glaze over. I can tell that my day of Slow Food, Pudovkin, Claudel, and Guitry cuts no ice here. I tease that I’m surprised that they scheduled the dinner up against the film that Michael Barker programmed himself, the obscure-to-me spaghetti western “Death Rides a Horse,” with Lee Van Cleef and John Philip Law, playing right now in the Open Air Cinema — I’m too old to sit on the chilly lawn for two hours.
But I’m the right age to sip a glass of excellent Barolo, just a few hours after watching Carlo Petrini form the Friends of Barolo, with a nice plate of foie gras, cruelly outlawed in my sappy home state of California, followed by a lovely rare chunk of King salmon set on a bed of fragile corn stew.
I eat and run, as just up the street Buck Henry, in his guise as Guest Director Emeritus, is presenting Mike Hodges’ 1974 “The Terminal Man,” a prescient, mesmerizing thriller in which George Segal, a computer programmer, permits electrodes and computers to be surgically implanted in him in order to stop his violent seizures. But the procedure instead increases their frequency and Segal’s destructive behavior. In his catalogue blurb, Henry cites “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” “Clockwork Orange,” and “Fahrenheit 451.” In his intro to the film, he mentions some of Mike Hodges’ other films, including the to-me-thoroughly-enjoyable “Flash Gordon” (“one word,” Buck says, “Ornella Muti”), and “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead,” which Buck says “features two wonderful things, Malcolm McDowell and male-on-male anal rape.” He neglects to mention one of my favorites, “Croupier,” so I helpfully shout it out.
“The Terminal Man” features a Jeanne-Dielman-esque brain operation that feels like it’s performed in real time, and a fascinating, quirky cast: in addition to Segal, Joan Hackett, Jill Clayburgh, Richard Dysart, Donald Moffat, James Sikking, and Michael C. Gwynne. The audience eats it up, especially my seatmate Mark Cousins, who now feels fully equipped to perform neurosurgery.
In my attempt to be a real party girl, I accompany Mark and Buck around the corner to the Fox Searchlight party at the New Sheridan historic bar. The sneak preview of Steve McQueen’s “12 Years a Slave,” shown in style with Brad Pitt, Michael Fassbender, and Chiwetel Ejiofor in attendance, started a couple of hours ago. I chat with Gary Meyer, Todd McCarthy, Ruby Rich, and Telluride virgin Baz Bamigboye of The Daily Mail, knock back a Diet Coke — oh yes, I go nuts. Caffeine after midnight! What a life.