This is my favorite film from Telluride this year. It’s an Iranian film but it is not allegorical or even suitable for children like many Iranian films are forced to be. It begins with a couple pleading their respective cases before a judge. She is asking for a divorce because they have been granted exit visas, a chance to take their young daughter to the west. The visas expire in a few months but the father doesn’t want to leave as his own father has succumbed to Alzheimer’s disease and needs constant care. The divorce isn’t granted but the wife moves out. Since she was the one providing care for the Alzheimer’s stricken father there is a problem to solve. People do their best to solve the problem within the extreme pressures applied by the repressive society. The result will be for the legal system to decide. This view into the Iranian legal system is an unexpected treat from this film. The key difference in their system is that there are no lawyers. Plaintiffs and defendants argue their cases passionately in front of the judge. The acting is flawless throughout and your heart will go with each of characters in this film. This movie won awards for acting and best film at the Berlin Film Festival.
There is only one scene in the film that I would think of as politically sensitive in Iran. It goes by very quickly but in the opening scene when the couple is pleading their case for divorce the wife makes the point that she wants to take advantage of the exit visas so that their daughter doesn’t have to grow up ‘under these conditions’. The judge asks her ‘What conditions?’, she looks away.
The Island President
In 2008 Mohamed Nasheed became the first democratically elected president of the Island nation of the Maldives. There is more to the story. The force of this man as a politician and the fact that he granted full access to the documentary crew with no say over the edits or final product would be enough to make this documentary worth watching. The story makes it a must see.
The previous president of Maldives, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom who had held power for 30 years, reportedly instituted a program of terror, torture and detention to control his political enemies almost from day one of his presidency. Among those detained, Mohamed Nasheed. The international community was able to force Gayoom to hold a free and open election as a condition of receiving aid after a Tsunami severely damaged the island community. When Nasheed became president, he reached international prominence trying to protect his island nation from a slower but longer lasting wave, the expected rise of the oceans due to global warming. “It won’t do any good to have a democracy if we don’t have a country”.
Nasheed is widely credited with salvaging the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference in 2009 and the movie does a great job of showing this. We also see a brief glimpse of a beaming Hillary Clinton after she and Barack O’bama successfully intervened in what was to be a private meeting of the developing countries of Brazil, Russia, India and China, a group that was responsible for blocking progress at the summit. According to the German citizen sitting next to me during the screening this intervention by the US was unprecedented and pivotal and underreported in the US. At the time of the summit, the fact that an agreement was reached at all was considered a huge step forward. The agreement had no enforcement mechanism however and recent news has shown that countries have not slowed their CO2 contributions.
Still, the reason to see this movie is to be reminded what an honest, forceful politician looks like. The first ever footage shot from a helicopter (as opposed to an unsteady small airplane) of these beautiful islands is also reason enough to see this film.
During the Q&A director Jon Shenk told about some of the footage that had to be left on the cutting room floor. After travelling to the Copenhagen Climate Summit President Nasheed realized that he had forgotten to pack his tuxedo, needed for a formal party he was slated to attend. The documentary crew followed him as he called finance ministers (or somebody) to get authorization for the purchase of a new one, found a shop that could tailor a tux that same day, journey back to the hotel room and then on the phone discovers that the party was not formal. Let’s hear it for DVD extras.
British conceptual artist and filmmaker Steve McQueen was at the 2008 Telluride festival with his first film Hunger
starring Michael Fassbender as IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands. During the Q&A he shared the audience’s amazement at the depth and dedication of the performance but he also remarked that in real life his young star was more interested in parties and young ladies than spiritual matters as might have been indicated by the performance. He had a sly smile though when he said something like ‘we’re trying to him bring him around though’. I have no idea if that was the inspiration for this latest collaboration between the two. It sort of seems like it though. In this film Fassbender plays a sex addict coming to terms with his addiction. There’s not much more to say about the story. The film is similar to Hunger
in that the artistic sensibilities of Steve McQueen drive every shot. Each one is like a long, composed photograph. Michael Mann (Miami Vice, Collateral, Heat
) is a similar US director but there is slightly less polish, more grittiness in the McQueen films so far. If released in the US this film would certainly receive an NC-17 rating.
Carey Mulligan once again delivers an amazing performance, so much so that I didn’t recognize her even though I was reminding myself that she was in the film as it started.
This is another amazing story of Jews escaping Nazi persecution. This time by hiding in the sewers of the Polish city of Lvov. They receive vital help from a con-man/scavenger living above ground. The film shows how antisemitism was rampant though of course it was the Germans who really ran with it. This movie has such high production value and such a compelling story it is easy to recommend. I wonder how far it will go however. The Counterfeiters and even the The Lives of Others have not gotten the audience they deserve.
It amazes me how these incredible films seem to come out of nowhere. The acting, direction, photography and editing are all so tight in this film, Hollywood could take a lesson. The film guide for this year’s festival credits ‘Master Director’ Agnieszka Holland. Her most recent experience is a TV director for Treme
. Previously she had also directed episodes of The Wire
and in the 1990’s she collaborated with Krzysztof Kieslowski on the writing of his famous Three Colors
trilogy. Ok, maybe that explains it.
Since you are reading this review on hometheaterhifi.com I can also recommend In Darkness as an excellent test of your system’s black levels when it comes out on disk.The Way Home
This was the only film I saw at this year’s festival that I can’t recommend. The festival directors touted it as a rare example of independent (non-Bollywood) Indian cinema. It may be but if so, it shows that there’s a reason for said rarity. The production values on this film are below any modern student film. Acting is stiff and unbelievable which is a good match for the story I suppose. The premise is that a dying Indian woman (she seems to be dying from two small cuts on her face) has a 5 yr old child that she is entrusting to the doctor attending her. The child was conceived during a single encounter with a famous Pakistani terrorist leader. The doctor decides that he must return the child to this man to give them both the best chance at a good life. The filmmakers are obviously trying to make some sort of statement about how India and Pakistan should attempt to get along. This just seems to give them an excuse for unrealistic dialogue. The one redeeming thing I can think of – the film is a travelogue of the Himalayan mountains.
This film was the favorite of many attending the festival this year. As is usual at Telluride most of the movies have a dark theme (but usually an uplifting twist on the story if you’re paying attention). This one is just pure (eye and brain) candy. Filmed in black and white and 99% silent (ie, music but no dialogue) The Artist shows us the transition from silent to talking films from the point of view of (fictional) silent film star George Valentin who finds himself left behind by the Hollywood system that just the day before couldn’t live without him. John Goodman is the most recognizable star in this and he is the perfect cigar-chomping movie mogul.
I found the movie dragging on a bit at times but perhaps they were being true to the silent films which inspired this film. In any case, it didn’t seem to be a factor for anyone else so I still heartily recommend this movie for when you’re ready for something lighter.