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Telluride Wrap: Larry Gross on Jenkins’ Savages, Haynes’ I’m Not There, Penn’s Into the Wild

Telluride Wrap: Larry Gross on Jenkins' Savages, Haynes' I'm Not There, Penn's Into the Wild

Well, I wasn’t in Telluride this year. I was sidelined with my feet up recovering from a fractured metatarsal (that’s what I get for hiking along a bike path in broad daylight), so here’s brainy NYU grad and screenwriter Larry Gross (Geronimo), who writes even better than he talks. I agree with him on Tamara Jenkins’ Savages. It’s so well written, directed and acted (by Philip Seymour Hoffman, Laura Linney and Philip Bosco) that the Academy and adult audiences at large will inevitably respond well. Fox Searchlight will push hard for Oscars.

As usual at Telluride there are a million varieties and shades of opinion. The big shocker was how huge was the response to the Austrian Holocaust-themed film, The Counterfeiters. The response to 4-3-2 [pictured right], and Secret Sunshine was more predictable given that a) they were already ratified at Cannes and b) they were kind of indisputably inarguably good. The American film that showed as a TBA that is going to sail comfortably into favorable reactions from every demographic is Savages. Almost everyone finds something to like in this film, and Tamara Jenkins’ directorial control is indisputable.

I’ve written in Film Comment on Todd Haynes’ I’m Not There. It’s a staggeringly original film. Literally, not like anything you’ve seen before–though Superstar, Velvet Goldmine, and even some aspects of Safe can be seen as warm-ups for what’s accomplished here. Haynes mimics, comments on, and mixes 60’s cinematic and cultural styles in a dazzlingly intricate way–the film’s as much a dialogue with Godard’s 60’s masterpieces as Dylan’s. Haynes deconstructs the bio-pic just as in Safe he deconstructed the t.v. disease of the week genre, and I’m not using deconstruction loosely or metaphorically. All familiar linear narrative time is fractured from the outset, any conventional anecdotal “secrets” about Dylan’s life is ruthlessly kept off the agenda. Haynes is obsessed with the multiple incarnations of the Dylan “image”, which in turn becomes the story of the infinite number of ways an American artist must fight off and outrun capture by, reductive political appropriation as well as commercial vulgarization.

What’s so unique about I’m Not There is that it is able to celebrate the work without sentimentally idealizing the person of Dylan. It finds a way, very much consistent with Dylan’s language and theatricality, to show the work as a battleground on which so many conflicting psychological, cultural and political cross-currents are expressed. I don’t think any American film, (with the possible exception of Lester’s Petulia, which Haynes at one point explicitly recreates an image from) has come close to “getting” the 60’s right, to quite the degree that this one does.

The potential Brokeback Mountain of this year in my opinion is Sean Penn’s Into the Wild–I think it’s truly a great film–but I can equally imagine it being mishandled or on the other hand, properly positioned and really reaching a big mainstream audience–I don’t think in retrospect it’s easy to grasp how NOT INEVITABLE Brokeback’s success was–the problem here isn’t deviance–but the hero IS idiosyncratic and not like the rest of us, in very conspicuous ways. I personally think Penn and Emile Hirsch’s work and Catherine Keener and Hal Holbrook and Vince Vaughn are all FABULOUS, but the movie goes out there on narrative and emotional limbs that are just different from what the audience is used to.

That said, the film’s extravagantly emotional. So the chance of crossing over is there. It risks real authentic classic tragic feeling–the Greek types, we’re talking pity and terror stuff here. What I kept thinking was how strong was the presence of Penn’s feelings as a parent, in this depiction of a gifted capable kid, inexorably cutting himself off from the protections, authentic and inauthentic that families offer. And unlike the classic road films of the 60’s and 70’s it partly is inspired by (Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces) the hero’s special existential grace doesn’t require that all the ordinary people he comes into contact be seen or felt to be feeble, weak or weird. There is so much respect and love expressed for the people the Hirsch character interacts with, touches, is touched by but ultimately leaves behind!

The split between his genuine capability for being with people and his need to keep moving, is authentically heartbreaking. The character is so specific, so beyond conventional “explanation” (dysfunctional parents are present but clearly not the “reason” for this guy being who he is) that the film ends up taking you to a very special almost exalted place. The pain is mixed up with exhilaration and yet the exhilaration doesn’t let you evade the pain. The last time I can recall being possessed emotionally in this way by a classically traditional American narrative film was The Deer Hunter.

I also very much liked Brian De Palma’s Redacted and Margot at the

Wedding–a LOT–so this was quite an amazing Telluride for American films.

[Originally appeared on Variety.com]

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