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Telluride Brody Diary 3: Polley’s Stunning ‘Stories We Tell,’ ‘Joan of Arc,’ ‘Frances Ha’ & More

Telluride Brody Diary 3: Polley's Stunning 'Stories We Tell,' 'Joan of Arc,' 'Frances Ha' & More

Almost too rich a Telluride day – it’s after 2 a.m., I’m back in my room, slightly tipsy from a couple of iced glasses of one of Alice Waters’ favorite wines, the Bandol Tempier rosé, mind vibrating like a temple gong from the five programs I managed to fit in today.

The day started with a 9 a.m. screening of “The Gatekeepers,” interviews with six former directors of the Shin Bet (“If the Mossad is the equivalent of the C.I.A., the Shin Bet is the F.B.I.,” we hear, but an F.B.I. with unbelievable powers), responsible for internal Israeli security. A tenet of their position was that they were not to talk about the operations they carried out, but director Dior Moreh told us, in the too-short Q-and-A afterwards, simply that the time had come. I also felt that these men wanted to get their feelings on the record (as Robert McNamara did in “The Fog of War,” TFF 2003), that their tenure had turned them both pessimistic and leftist. It’s a masterful interview film on the level of the best from Errol Morris, Charles Ferguson, and Alex Gibney.  Having just spent ten days at the SF Jewish Film Festival, “The Gatekeepers” fit right in to my rather hopeless mindset.

Afterwards, en route to Paolo Cherchi Usai’s screening of “The Marvelous Life of Joan of Arc,” I ran into Xavier Giannoli, the director of “Superstar,” starring Kad Merad as an ordinary man who wakes up to discover he’s famous for no reason.  I’d seen it at a pre-Telluride screening in order to write about it for the program book and interview him for the “Telluride Watch.” Giannoli was chatting with fellow Frenchman Serge Bromberg of Lobster Films.  I would very much like to see Giannoli’s previous films, especially his 2006 “Quand j’etais chanteur,” starring Gerard Depardieu, Cecile de France, and Mathieu Almaric. I just checked it on amazon.fr; it’s going for 8.44 euros, but the shipping will probably double that. I’m not quite tipsy enough to click through, although my motto is “I’ve never drunk-dialed, but I have drunk-ordered!”

I couldn’t quite get into “The Marvelous Life of Joan of Arc,” whose 1929 release date doomed it to relative obscurity despite it initial success in France, its country of origin, and Europe, because it bumped up against Carl Theodore Dreyer’s tortured, stylized “La passion de Jeanne d’Arc,” starring the extraordinary Falconetti, made in 1928.  Marco de Gastyne’s version is naturalistic and, as Paolo pointed out, boasts a cast of thousands, Cecil B. DeMille-style.  I blame myself, a bit: I did become groggy towards the end of the first hour, a first so far this year.  But before I started the nodding-head syndrome, I did find de Gastyne’s cornfed Joan a bit of a drip: she chastised one of her soldiers for taking the Lord’s name in vain, and I restrained myself from whispering to my seatmate, Jonathan Marlow, that “She could always have a swear box, like Loretta Young,” when Joan said that the next time he swore he’d have to pay here the equivalent of what it cost for her priest to say three masses. We’d earlier amused ourselves by trying to think of all the various Joans we’d seen over the years: in addition to Falconetti, I thought of Jean Seberg, Ingrid Bergman, Sandrine Bonnaire, and whoever had played her in Robert Bresson’s film.  IMDb tells me that was Florence Delay, and adds Milla Jovovich and Leelee Sobieski, neither of whose version I’ve seen, to the list.

I left at intermission, because I was groggy and in order to get a good place in line for Sarah Polley’s “Stories We Tell,” playing at one of the smaller venues (less than 200 seats), and already boasting a long line.  My place in the line happened to be next to the great Shirley Henderson, in Telluride with Michael Winterbottom’s latest, “Everybody,” which I knew had been shot over five years, I thought in solid two-week increments, but she told me no, sometimes he just fit in two days here or there. I had begun the conversation by saying, honestly, that her name in the credits was enough to make me go see a movie, and then covered myself with glory by introducing her to the Criterion Collection’s Kim Henderson as Emily Henderson.  

Polley’s film, I thought, was simply stunning, both in content and execution. It’s the biggest happy surprise I’ve had so far in Telluride.  I was disappointed that there was no Q-and-A afterwards; Polley had given the briefest of introductions, mostly praising Telluride, saying she’d never had such an extraordinary experience at a festival before, especially meeting interesting people with interesting stories, whether from the world of film or not. I heard a rumour that she was contractually prevented from talking about the film until it opened, which seemed curious. UPDATE: Here’s Polley’s explanation of why she wants the film to unfold and reveal its secrets the way it does.

Afterwards I stood around with a number of powerfully moved people, including The Hollywood Reporter’s Tim Appelo and Lisa Kennedy of the Denver Post, relating family secrets to each other.
With the kind permission of Steve Ujlaki, dean of the Loyola Marymount University School of Film and Television, I was able to join his table for dinner at Rustico at 6, down a lovely plate of veal with mushrooms, and still make Serge Bromberg’s 7:15 “Retour du Flamme,” an eclectic program of film rarities which Bromberg accompanies with snappy French-accented patter and piano-playing, supplemented by Donald Sosin while Bromberg narrated Melies’ hand-tinted “Kingdom of Fairies,” which is the film you see him shooting in Scorsese’s “Hugo Cabret.”

Afterwards I stuck around for the 10 p.m. showing of “Frances Ha,” briefly introduced by Noah Baumbach, co-screenwriter Greta Gerwig, and Mickey Sumner, according to the catalogue, although she looked nothing like the character she played in the movie – prettier and blonder. IMDB tells me she’s the daughter of Sting and Trudy Styler. I’m a fan of most of Baumbach’s previous work, it’s dependably literary and has a nice New York sensibility, but this one, alas, felt determinedly quirky and a trifle twee to me.  Frances’ leap from self-destructiveness to self-actualization seemed to have skipped several beats somewhere inbetween. I couldn’t help but think of Lena Dunham’s “Girls,” because of the similar locations, ages, fecklessness, relentlessly casual hooking-up, perplexing quick marriage, and the coincidental casting of Adam Driver, playing an artist in both instances. (I will point out that I saw “Frances Ha” in the company of three women of wildly varying ages, and they all liked it quite a bit more than I did – one of them loved it.)

It took me a while to find Alice Waters’ rented house, tucked away at the top of a steep street, but inside I find great wine, charcuterie, cheese, bread, chocolate, and refugees from the festival’s starriest party, to which I hadn’t been invited. Mark Cousins, who had changed his original plan for the day when I told him I was going to see “The Marvelous Life of Joan of Arc,” said he liked it more than the Dreyer, which shocked me to the core. He said that a woman had stopped him in the street and asked him what was under his kilt, and when he told her “Nothing,” shocked him by asking if she could see. I said “You ought to have told her to buy a ticket to your film.” 

I told Alexander Payne I was sad that they hadn’t scheduled an additional screening of the 1965 Italia film “I Knew Her Well” that he’d introduced night before last, which already seems so long ago, and he told me that Criterion had picked it up (but I don’t want to wait!  And I want to see it on the big screen!). And maybe he was pulling my leg, but he said something about it being scheduled at some cinematheque in his home state of Nebraska, where he lives part-time.

Tom Luddy arrived in a dazzling Russian constructivist cashmere sweater, which his wife, stylist Monique Montgomery, had found at the Alameda Flea Market.  He was thrilled that Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida had so enjoyed their first visit to Telluride that they’d become lifers, already looking forward to subsequent visits, as, it seemed, was guest director Geoff Dyer. His only disappointment in a jam-packed weekend, he told me as we walked down the hill together, was that he didn’t understand why his two screenings of Tarkovsky’s “Stalker” weren’t SRO. I said that both were up against over a dozen other alluring possibilities, and that many people wanted to see big hot new movies, as opposed to an over-thirty-year old 2-hour-and-40-minute epic by a director dead for over a quarter of a century.

I left Dyer at the door of his hotel. I’d be seeing him in less than eight hours, anyway, at a screening he’d programmed of an obscure British film (I’d never heard of it, anyway) called “Unrelated,” a first feature by Joanna Hogg. Time to get some sleep so I wouldn’t fall prey again to the dreaded nodding-head-syndrome.

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