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Telluride Film Festival Report – Final Recap, TweeViews and Observations

Christopher Schiller wraps up his film reviews from Telluride Film Festival with a look at The Report, Parasite, Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Two Popes, and Marriage Story.

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The Telluride Film Festival has disappeared into the ether like Brigadoon for another year. We’ll wrap up the report of what I saw while gasping for the mountain air (I did have to run between a couple of the venues not to miss the start times of the next show, not an easy thing to do at 8,000 feet.) And I’ll share a few observations and thoughts about what unintended themes might have crept through the selections. Of course the observations of one person will be flavored by my unique perspective and limited exposure to what was available or what second and third hand whispers I was privy to. Others may have differing opinions – who am I kidding, we all have differing opinions. That’s what makes the next few months so fun!

The rest of the Telluride TweeViews

To keep all the TweeView reports in one place for completeness, here are the expanded TweeViews for the rest of the films I saw this extended weekend.

The Climb

The extended discussion of this film expanded into a full review of its own that you can find here.

The Report

You would think that a film based on a contentious government report would come off dry and dragging. Far from it in this case. Adam Driver is able to sustain an intensity of purpose when either diving into research or battling with the character’s internal moral struggles. The supporting cast is stellar and solid in league to pull off the near impossible, making a bunch of words on a page palpably exciting. But when you think about it, that’s what movie making is all about, isn’t it?


I am serious in my belief that Bong Joon-ho’s film will be in serious contention as Best Picture. He has an ability that rivals the likes of Guillermo del Toro in mix of genre tropes and realistic, quirky character portrayals. This was easily my favorite film in a festival filled with great fare. I hope the biases against non-English language films can be overcome so that this work gets the broad audience appreciation it deserves.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire

This film has so much going for it. The performances of all the women are exemplary. The production feels palpably real, you truly feel the emotional angst. The production quality, sparse, realistic and authentic adds to the feeling and emotion of the fate each character faces. I hope this film finds a wide audience, especially in the male story dominated film landscape of today. It is an example that many stories can be told, and told well, given the gifted hands of creators like these.

The Two Popes

This film will get a lot of press because of the two leads, Jonathan Pryce and Anthony Hopkins who do their usually stellar fare of portrayals. But the crux of this film revolves around the director Fernando Meirelles unabashed love of Pope Francis and the film either flies or is restricted by that, depending on your viewpoint. A truly fair biopic needs to acknowledge the light and the dark to really represent a truth on screen. I felt this film spent too much time in the light, and I felt it shallow because of that.

Marriage Story

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The fact that there are two trailers released for this film is telling. I’m not sure Noah Baumbach ever settled on the story he wished to tell. His script is stellar writing, and my allusion to future actors using scenes for audition pieces is a guaranteed lock. But although the dialog is stellar and some scenes are well articulated, I’m not sure the characters are truly developed enough. Who they are doesn’t feel more than a moment in time. Their development over time is stymied, stunted. There is no real growth on either side. It’s like the beautiful words coming through the scenes aren’t being listened to. I wish I could like this film as much as it will be celebrated.

And with that, my TweeViews of the films of Telluride come to an end.

Festival Themes and Observations

Having spoken to Telluride festival directors Tom Luddy and Julie Huntsinger many times before, I know that there is no overt plan or theme intended in the selection of films for each year’s fest. They pick the best movies by quality alone. Still, either through global gestalt or blind chance, sometimes observable themes bubble to the surface however unintended. Taking a step back, here are some themes that started to materialize as I reviewed the films I saw.

There were several films that revolved around the strong theme of women alone and finding their way within the societal environment they find themselves in. This ran through films like The Assistant, Judy, and Portrait of a Lady on Fire. Though the time periods were wildly different, there is a palpable common theme running through them.

Another theme running through several other selections at this fest could be termed working class men solving big problems. This was evident in films such as Ford v Ferrari, Motherless Brooklyn, The Climb and even The Two Popes. I’m sure there were other observable themes but these stood out the strongest to me.

Then there were other observations, these more of the quirky nature of the uniqueness and charm of Telluride. Under the heading of only in Telluride would it be that both Bill Gates and Martin Scorsese were in attendance but Bill is the one with a film showing here. And the very odd and quite Telluride-esque moment on the last day of the fest while standing in the Patron line at the Palm we experienced, in the bright sunshine, mostly blue sky day, a tiny, single, dark cloud directly above that proceeded to rain just on us. I wish to offer my personal apologies to the ticket buyer line witch that was likely expressing the frustration of not getting into so many sold out film showings.

On a more serious and personal note, though most festivals are run as close to the vest with regard to behind the scenes organizational goings on, occasionally effects of changes and conflicts bubble through to an observant attendee’s notice. And since I have been attending Telluride Film Fest for over 20 years now, I am attuned to the edges where these evidences may surface.

This year, I gleaned that there have been alterations in how the back end of the fest is organized and noticed that ripples were evidencing changes afoot. Some of these changes haven’t been as smooth as I’m sure the fest would have liked. I hold out hope that when the dust settles these alterations will result in progress towards the better for all. But knowing that all change is risk, I worry for the things I have enjoyed in the past still being as good as my memories of how they once were. We can only hope and put faith in the fact that those in control have delivered so well so far over the years.

The industry now turns its attention to the next festivals on the docket and the awards campaigns gather momentum from the boosts they get from the buzz building around the films of note. If this year follows the path of past experience the memories and resonance of Telluride will sound notes clearly for months to come. It all depends...

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