Sarah Polley's "Stories We Tell"
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.