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Telluride XL Day 2: ‘Ida,’ ‘Labor Day,’ Coens Music Tribute, ‘Natan’

Telluride XL Day 2: 'Ida,' 'Labor Day,' Coens Music Tribute, 'Natan'

Here’s my recap of a long and rather unbelievably rich festival day at Telluride.

9:15 AM: Maurice Pialat’s “L’enfance nu” (“Naked Childhood”) and a short by Pialat, “Love Exists,” critic Phillip Lopate’s choice as Guest Director. A large part of me yearns to be in the huge comfortable Palm theater next door, where Alexander Payne’s “Nebraska” is screening, with a Q & A afterwards. But it turns out that “Love Exists,” Pialat’s take on the boredom of late-50s life in the suburbs of Paris, is a small masterpiece: exquisitely shot in black, white, and silver-grey, cleverly cut, wittily narrated.  It immediately becomes the best thing I’ve seen so far at Telluride.  And “L’enfance nu” is also a small masterpiece; people are weeping all over the theater.  Afterwards I am happy to be able to introduce Phillip to the man who was seated next to me, who came to the program by default when he was shut out of “Nebraska” and loved both the movies and Phillip’s introduction. He says he’ll have lots of chances to see “Nebraska,” but these happy accidents are what makes Telluride, Telluride.

I get ecstatic reactions from pals exiting “Nebraska,” which is in black and white.  Payne’s joke answer to why he shot it that way: “The studio made me do it.”  Bruce Dern gets a round of applause when he exits the theater en route to his waiting van.

Noon:  Two quirky oddities programmed by Le Maitre, Pierre Rissient: a short, “Muscle Beach,” dirtied by Irving Lerner and Joseph Strick, but chosen by Pierre because the musical accompaniment are songs composed by Edwin Robinson with lyrics by Edwin Rolfe, a poet whose life and work interests him; and a TV episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, “A Piece of the Action,” written by the prolific American expatriate writer Alfred Hayes, screenwriter of some Italian neo-realist films as well as others, and author of many books, among them two novels that have just been re-issued by the publishing arm of the New York Review of Books. I’ve seen both of these — “Muscle Beach” years ago in Los Angeles, and the Hitchcock on TV — but I’m happy to see them again.  The Hitchcock (well, he wasn’t present during the filming — it was directed by Bernard Girard and produced by the amazing Norman Lloyd, still compos mentis in his 90s) looks great on the big screen, coincidentally stars a young, gorgeous, and very good Robert Redford, the underrated Gig Young, and a stalwart supporting cast of character actors.  Young Sammy Pressman buys Mr. Lopate a hot dog, in homage to the dinners at the Hotel du Cap in Cannes that his father Ed treated Phillip to in the gilded past.

2 p.m.: Ida,” a film in Polish by Pawel Pawlikowski, whose earlier films were all in English (“Last Resort,” “My Summer of Love,” “The Woman in the Fifth”). I adore the film, a deceptively simple period piece, set in 1961, about an orphan about to take the veil as a Catholic nun when she meets her aunt and learns that she is Jewish.  The wild aunt and the pious niece (played by a beautiful young girl Pawlikowski discovered in a cafe) go on a road trip to discover how her parents died. Again shot in beautiful black-and-white. I cry at the end. 

4:30 p.m.documentary “Natan,” about a Romanian Jew who became one of the most influential movie producers in Paris in the 30s (after a murky arrest, much earlier, for possibly distributing “immoral” films), before being arrested for fraud and sent by the Germans to Auschwitz, where he died.  But first another oddity, which I watch with open-mouthed amazement: a twenty-minute mutual love-fest between two sacred monsters, John Berger and Tilda Swinton, who share a birthday — November 5, Guy Fawkes day, and military fathers, and have now filmed themselves chatting away while Berger draws Swinton, Swinton reads Berger’s poetry to him, and Swinton makes an apple crumble.  “Stars!  They’re just like US!,” I mutter to myself.  I revere them both — I have a shelf-full of Berger’s books, I think Swinton is an amazing actress, but this little number does neither of them any favors. I had thought to stay in the same theater to see guest director Don DeLillo deconstruct the Zapruder film, but on only 3 1/2 hours of sleep, I’m feeling groggy and I rush out again.

6:30 p.m. tribute to the music in the Coen Brothers films, where an attractive group of four young men called the Americans from Los Angeles, in the all-American uniform of white t-shirts and blue jeans, play a retro set — guitar, cello, violin, drums, harmonica, jug, washboard — that wakes me up, as I hoped it would. Then we see a snappy, exhilarating half-hour of clips from “The Big Lebowski,” “O Brother, Where Art Thou?,” “The Ladykillers,” and the new “Inside Llewyn Davis,” which I have yet to see.  Then T-Bone Burnett and Joel and Ethan Coen (“all Telluride virgins,” the reason I was dubious that they’d be here this year!) get their silver medallions handed to them by Barry Sonnenfeld, who says he worked with them on their “early, funnier movies.”  Todd McCarthy then leads the onstage discussion, with Joel and Ethan typically modest and charming (“Can you guys remember the first time you collaborated on something creative?”  “I’m not sure we have,” before mentioning the ten-minute Super 8 versions of “The Naked Prey” and “Advise and Consent” they’d gin up as children the day after seeing the movies), and T-Bone erudite about musical choices.

9 p.m.: “Labor Day,” charmingly introduced by its director, Jason Reitman, who, it turns out, stepped in at the last minute and replaced Leonard Maltin as the leader of the Q & A with Alexander Payne (“my cinematic hero”) after “Nebraska,” twelve hours ago in this same venue. I am a fan of Reitman’s, not just his movies but the staged readings of screenplays he directs in Los Angeles and Toronto — I’m looking forward to seeing his staging of  “Boogie Nights” there next week — but, although I cannot fault the acting or any of the technical work in “Labor Day” (“all tech credits pro,” as “Variety” would have it), its plot seems straight out of a cheesy romance novel: what do women want?  A guy who can clean out rain gutters, change tires, teach a boy to throw a baseball, and, oh yes, cook chili, biscuits, and peach pie.  Even a guy who has just escaped from prison. Kinda Warner Bros. in the 40s (though definitely not the one with Ida Lupino and Robert Ryan).  

11:45 p.m: “Fifi Howls from Happiness.” I am cheered to see now-Angelenos Tim Appelo and Tori Ellison in the short line. We sit together, and we are all also cheered that we love the movie, a quirky documentary by the young, beautiful Iranian filmmaker Mitra Farhani, made in concert with the Iranian artist Bahman Mohasses, long-exiled and living in a Roman hotel. At first I don’t respond to his paintings or combative persona — but then I find myself liking his sculptures, then his collages, and then the man himself.  Amazingly Farhani finds him two young artists, residents in Dubai, who commission a new work, giving the seriously ill Mohasses new friends and a new goal.  Another spoiler alert: again amazingly, Farhani is present at the artist’s final moments — and beyond.  I find myself as moved by the sight of the blank canvas he didn’t get to anoint as I was at the end of another great film about a painter, Bertrand Tavernier’s “Sunday in the Country.”  As Tim, Tori, and I walk away from the theater, we chatter away about the film we’ve just seen, and then others — “The Leopard,” which Mohasses watches with Farhani and the two artist-collectors, and then the many movies we still hope to catch here in Telluride.  

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