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Notes from the Telluride Film Festival

Having the experience of volunteering at the Telluride Film Festival for five out of the past six years, I’m beginning to find myself in the unlikely role as amateur critic to friends.

Last year’s festival was considered one of the best ever in its 32 years of existence.

That was due to the 2005 premiere of such impressive films as Brokeback Mountain, Walk the Line, Capote and the Moon and the Son.



This year was nearly as great, by consensus of patrons and volunteers alike.

The weather was crisp and warm most of the time, with only a sprinkle of rain, and no snow.




The fantasy theater venues constructed and equipped with state of the art audio-visual just once a year, as always, made the movie going seem like time travel.

The movies were diverse, and nearly all of them very satisfying.

Most surprising to me was learning of the amazing talent of Penelope Cruz in the new movie by Pedro Almodovar, Volver.

Yes, Ms. Cruz can and does sing beautifully at a crucial moment in the story of three generations of women struggling with their relationships with men, set in and around Madrid.

But she also can create a character who dominates the screen like Sophia Loren.

The actresses are all brilliant, but Ms. Cruz shines with humor, emotion and sultry, but nonchalant, beauty. The Academy should take note. The art house venues will not be able to contain this film.

My nostalgia for all things O”Toole, as in Peter, was happily satisfied by Venus, set in London, where he is directed by Brit Roger Mitchell in an astounding tour de force.

Peter plays, surprise, an aging classical actor who refuses to give up on life.

He is confronted with a mindless 20-something female, naive and annoying, who he must teach the meaning of life.

All the while his libido will not relax.

Most wonderful to behold is the dynamic of his alluring student emerges into responsible adulthood, kicking and screaming.

Also unforgettable is the tender portrayal of his ex-wife by Vanessa Redgrave.

When will the Academy finally give O’Toole his long overdue Oscar?

Then, there is another Capote, Infamous, this time more gritty and very real – not the impersonation as Phillip S. Hoffman did last year, but personification of Truman’s essence in a powerful way, by an Englishman, Toby Jones.

This is the real deal – including a frank and unrestrained view of the homosexual electricity between Truman and the older of the Clutter Family killers, Perry Smith, here played by James Bond to be, Daniel Craig – a talent to be reckoned with.

Sandra Bullock, Sigourney Weaver and others keep the first half of the movie hilarious, portraying the salon society of 1950’s New York, all the more to contrast the terror and horror of wanton killing on a Kansas farm which follows.

Gwyneth Paltrow plays a torch singer with the intensity of a Lady who sings the blues.

This is much more than Capote, as good as it was, ever sought to be.

The Last King of Scotland, improbably titled, is the story of a Scot who, graduating from medical school, decides do his part to save the world by working in a rural clinic in Uganda, in 1970.

Arriving he finds corrupt President Milton Obote being deposed by Idi Amin, a generalissimo with a penchant for viewing himself as savior and father to a diverse tribal population, still being manipulated by former Brit colonizers.

An ominous serendipity puts Amin in the care of the young Scot, who is then swept up into the Amin government.

Directed by the talented documentary maker who created Into the Void, Kevin Macdonald, the movie sears the consciousness with touches of horror and humor, as Amin descends into a reign of murder, torture and infamy.

Forest Whitaker is startling and believable as the dictator, who escaped after nine years, to die in exile.

It is a bit startling to see Brad Pitt playing an older man out of control of his circumstances.

But the acting is superb in Babel from Mr. Pitt, his screen wife, Cate Blanchett, and many, many other apparently amateur actors on three continents.

A la Crash, this movie brings together a multitude of characters with no prior connections in a clash of culture, language, history, emotions and desires. The story is too complex to summarize, but the end result is a deeper perception of the symmetry and common struggles of human beings, what ever their environment, than is usually visible in real life, much less on screen.

Smaller, simpler movies also shown brightly. T

he Italian is a story of a nine year old Russian boy trapped in a post-Soviet orphanage and about to be whisked away, via adoption, by a wealthy Italian couple who are connected through an avaricious international adoption Madame, who must obtain her fee.

An amazing young Russian actor portrays the boy who abandons certain material salvation for the hazardous and unpredictable quest to find his mother.

Nicole Kidman is radiant as Diane Arbus, photographer of the absurd and abject, in Fur.

I am beginning to wonder if Ms. Kidman has a wild/weirdness quotient for her selection of scripts and movies. If so, this film sets a high bar, and she leaps it effortlessly.

The film presents a semi-fantasy, semi-biographical view of how Ms. Arbus gained the emotional and psychological strength to break out of her humdrum existence assisting her husband, a fashion photographer, to become an explorer and chronicler of other sides of humanity.

Again, an ensemble cast does a marvelous job portraying dysfunctional family relationships.

Deep Water is another pseudo-documentary, using much of the hand held home video footage taken by the main character himself: a story of and by Donald Crowhurst, one of nine yachtsmen who competed in the 1969 London Times contest to sail around the world, solo.

His ship returned to port alone, providing us a mind-bending and deeply disturbing look at human nature.

I was also very impressed with a French film, The Page Turner, which tells the story of how a talented young girl=s thwarted ambitions to fulfill her destiny to become a great piano player remain with her into adulthood, where their vindication becomes her obsession.

The intensity and talent of the actors playing musicians and the wonders of the music itself provide a rich background for a story that is ultimately very disturbing.

Finally, the wonder of Telluride’s festival is always a couple of older films. The best were Playtime by the Frenchman Jacques Tati, and Lonesome, the film that spurred the first Telluride Film Festival. Both films are nearly silent, but they provide hilarious as well as heartwarming views of humans of another time, in love and distress.

Other films that I could not fit into my movie-going that got high marks from other film goers and staff were: The Lives of Others, The Sentimental Bloke, Ghosts of Cite Soleil, The U.S. vs. John Lennon, and Indigenes.

It should be quite a competition for the Oscars again this year, not even considering all of the films released in the past eight months. Hopefully the Academy will do a better job this year.

Joe Bell is a local attorney with a special interest in independent films.

Together with several other Nevada County residents has worked as a volunteer at the Telluride Film Festival over the past six years.

The TFF always is held over Labor Day weekend and draws film makers and film enthusiasts from all over the world.


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