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Telluride XL Day Three: Back to the Past

Photo of Meredith Brody By Meredith Brody | Thompson on Hollywood September 1, 2013 at 2:42PM

I eat and run, as just up the street Buck Henry, in his guise as Guest Director Emeritus, is presenting Mike Hodges' 1974 "The Terminal Man," a prescient, mesmerizing thriller in which George Segal, a computer programmer, permits electrodes and computers to be surgically implanted in him in order to stop his violent seizures. But the procedure instead increases their frequency and Segal's destructive behavior. In his catalogue blurb, Henry cites "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," "Clockwork Orange," and "Fahrenheit 451."
'Slow Food Story'
'Slow Food Story'

Today was determinedly eclectic, the kind of cinephile's dream that you can only put together in a festival as inclusive as Telluride.  As I walked briskly toward the Sheridan Opera House to catch a tripartite program -- a screening of "Slow Food Story," a documentary about its founder, the charismatic Carlo Petrini, followed by the awarding of the inaugural FOOD, INC. Movement Award to Alice Waters, and a lively and emotional panel discussion among Alice, the film's director, Stefano Sardo, Michael Pollan, and Berlinale head Dieter Kosslick -- I run into Davia Nelson, one of the Kitchen Sisters, walking briskly in the opposite direction. "Not going to Alice's program?!," I ask, surprised. "No, I wish I could, but I'm doing the Q & A with Nicolas Philibert, who I love," she says.  Oof,  I really wanted to see "La Maison de la Radio," Philibert's documentary about Radio France, having twice spent a few delightful hours prowling its mysterious circular corridors and recording studios with my friend Michka Assayas, author of the indispensable three-volume "Dictionnaire du rock" and host for four years of a late-lamented radio show there.  But unless it turns up in the TBAs (to be announced) shows, I've missed my chance. For now, anyway.

The Slow Food show is sold out, with people hanging from the rafters.  Telluride co-director Tom Luddy says that this is a heartfelt occasion for him -- his real ultimate claim to fame is as a footnote to the American cultural revolution, as he named Chez Panisse, when he encouraged and helped his good friend Alice to start the restaurant. Waters is also very emotional -- she's been to the festival 37 times, and in the not-quite-a-decade I've been attending, I've seen her improve the festival's food (and water!  no plastic bottles!) out of all recognition. She says she's trying to feed people ideas along with food -- had she just gotten Clinton to eat a perfect peach -- but he was there in apple season, so she gave him a Gravenstein.  She gives praise to Michelle Obama for planting the White House garden, and mentions that it's the 19th year of the Edible Schoolyard.

Afterwards I make haste to see one of the two films in the Pordenone Presents program, from the famed Italian silent film festival, the rare Pudokvin "A Simple Case," with piano accompaniment by Gabriel Thibaudeau. For several days Paolo Cherchi Usai, Senior Curator of George Eastman House, has been warning me "not to seek narrative coherence" when I see it, to which I scoff, "I don't come to Telluride for narrative coherence!"  He calls it "messy and mad." But actually when it comes down to it, I kinda want more than I get from the Pudovkin, which has been preceded by a rare animated trailer for Dziga Vertov's "Kino-Pravda #11," and an introduction by Russian film scholar Kirill Razlagov, who only mildly annoys us by saying that there are three different versions extant of "A Simple Case," and that this is the best technically "but perhaps not the most interesting."  Hey!  I want to see the most interesting!

Kristin Scott-Thomas in 'Before the Winter Chill'
Kristin Scott-Thomas in 'Before the Winter Chill'

The print is beautiful but, yes, the narrative is fractured.  There are several friends who fight in the revolution and work on collective farms, there are a couple of girlfriends, there are beautifully composed shots of clouds and wheatfields and overhead shots of trams, which I love. And, oh, there is a cat, who indeed, as Cherchi Usai says, pauses before a soldier who orders him out of a room and stretches, disdainfully. (This the day after the Coen brothers tell us, as if we didn't already know, that the cat[s] they used in "Inside Llewyn Davis" were very hard to direct.) It doesn't help that this is the first movie (miraculously) that I take (cat)naps in -- the floods of coffee have kept me alert until now.  I'm happy that I saw it -- especially with the rousing Thibaudeau score, which helps it along -- but I don't think I have to see it again. At the end, when a group of young people sing the praises of their glorious collective farming future, I think "Good luck with that."

I stay in the same theater to see Kristin Scott Thomas, Daniel Auteuil, Richard Berry, and Leila Bekhti in "Before the Winter Chill," by Philippe Claudel, whose "I Loved You So Long," also starring Scott Thomas, I very much enjoyed at TFF 2008.  Claude Chabrol and "Fatal Attraction" are cited in the catalogue blurb.  The attractive actors do their best, but I'm not convinced. 

I try to make it into "The Invisible Woman," the film about Dickens and his mistress (Felicity Jones) that Ralph Fiennes directed and stars in.  No room at the inn: all 500 seats are filled, and I'm turned away.

So I have a bit of time before the screening of the divine Sacha Guitry's "Poison," programmed by Monique Montgomery, aka the wife of Tom Luddy. I hang out in front of the Pierre and chat with Philip Lopate, who loved Rithy Panh's "The Missing Picture"; the twin sisters Mara and Elena Fortes of the Ambulante Film Festival, which programs a week of new documentaries and plays them in 12 different cities in Mexico; David Thomson, who stuns me by saying not only that he loved "All is Lost" but also thinks it can win the Best Picture Oscar (I don't think David has ever handicapped the Oscars -- or even mentioned them -- to me before); and Mark Cousins, who loves "Under the Skin" so much -- he mentions "Orphee" in relation to it, helpfully adding "Cocteau's" ("Oh, is that JEAN Cocteau?!," I say, acidly) -- that he makes me question my own mixed response.  Its wacky imagery has certainly stayed with me. I hype "Fifi Howls from Asghar Happiness" to all and sundry.

This article is related to: Festivals, Telluride Film Festival, Telluride, 12 Years a Slave, Sony Pictures Classics

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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.