Thursday, September 10, 2009

My Precious Feelings on the 36th Telluride Film Festival

Although I am not the winner of this year's edition of the Be the First to Spot Ken Burns game, I do, however, witness many 4-year-olds around town with the same bowl-cut hair style, which scores me a few points in the end.

The next morning, I happily spot Mr. Burns being nagged by his wife in broad daylight and provide him momentary respite from her by insisting I get my picture snapped with him (that's me on the left).

The minute the festival schedule is announced, rumors being to swirl like Lysol® Power Toilet Bowl Cleaner as it washes away pesky lime and rust. Due to a surprise announcement that Up in the Air will be screening, everyone is on the lookout for George Clooney to make an appearance. It certainly explains why I keep getting stopped in the street by strangers assuming I am him. Curse my masculine square jaw and rugged good looks!

The festival begins on a high note for me thanks to Henri-George Clouzot's Inferno, an engrossing recounting of the unfinished masterwork-which-could-have-been by the director of The Wages of Fear and Diabolique. Some of the visuals are so strong, you want to take them home in your pants pocket to take out and look at later when you're alone.

I walk out midway during the first screening of the three-part Red Riding: 1974, which is too formulaic for my tastes. A few hours later, I endure a screening of The Miscreants of Taliwood--a potentially fascinating documentary on the local film production of Pakistan as it wrestles with local Islamic fundamentalism, but the story is overwhelmed by the self-absorbed director who inserts his hammer-over-the-head moral judgements into nearly every frame.

Despite critics who find his vision far too bleak, I personally delight in the films of Michael Heneke (Cache, Funny Games) and his deeply morbid take on the world, especially in his new flick The White Ribbon (a perfect date movie if you're trying to woo a Goth). He sometimes tries a little too hard to be The Bad Boy of Cinema ("I hope you have a disturbing viewing experience", he proclaimed before the screening I caught), but he'd be the type of person to which I'd gravitate at a party, especially as he gloomily points out the violent malicious nature of humanity to the shocked and horrified guests.

One of the delights of a great festival is when the selected films share similar thematic concerns. Such was the case of two very different films, A Prophet and Coco Before Chanel:

A Prophet: The protagonist is trapped in an oppressive prison system with no means of escape.
Coco Before Chanel: Lowly employees are trapped working for the oppressive Coco Chanel without any means of escape.

A Prophet: The lead character must resort to violence and murder to climb his way to the top of the prison hierarchy.
Coco Before Chanel: Coco must resort to violence and murder to climb her way to the top of the fashion hierarchy.

A Prophet: The protagonist conceals a razor blade in his mouth in order to slit the throat of an opponent.
Coco Before Chanel: Ditto.

It is announced that a special appearance will be made by Helen Mirren, who is in attendance with her new costume drama The Last Station. It certainly explains why I keep getting stopped in the street by strangers assuming I am her. Curse my matronly demeanor and bosomy man-boobs!

I hereby apologize to everyone sitting near me during It Came From Kuchar, the side-splitting new documentary about the Kuchar twins, George and Mike. The campy clips from their lewd filmography had me convulsing with booming laughter during the entire 90 minutes.

Early on, I decide to skip the special screening of the new Todd Solondz film Life During Wartime. If I wanted to experience tiresome smart-ass writing whose only intent is to make the viewing public uncomfortable, I'd just read my own fucking blog [*rimshot*].

I have a newfound respect for filmmaker Alexander Payne, whose films (About Schmidt, Sideways) have always slightly annoyed me. All of his picks as Guest Director of the festival were worth catching, from the weepy 1937 drama Make Way For Tomorrow to the Spanish black comedy El Verdugo to the darkly ironic Samurai epic Daisan no Kagemusha. His presentation of the splendid Italian romantic comedy Le Ragazze di Piazza di Spagna, which featured a very young Marcello Mastroianni in one of his earliest roles, was made even more special for me because I was sitting a mere two rows away from his frequent co-star Anouk Aimée. Being able to look over at her as Mastroianni appeared on the screen had me in cinematic heaven.

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