Sunday, November 24, 2013

Brandon on Telluride: Chapter 1, the first five films (re-post from

This was originally posted on, 9/14/2013.

I was fortunate to attend the Telluride Film Festival Student Symposium this year, seeing fifteen films and meeting with filmmakers including Werner Herzog, Asghar Farhadi, Errol Morris and running into others on the streets, like Alexander Payne, Jason Reitman Michael Fassbender and Steve McQueen. This "Chapter" has five feature film reviews, and there will be two more installments with five film reviews each as well. The next installment will have my take on the new Jason Reitman, Errol Morris and Alexander Payne.
Gravity, by Alfonso Cuarón, starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney

Cuarón has created a thrilling film that literally had me shaking for much of its 91 minutes. It opens with a seemingly routine space mission at a satellite. The calmness of this lightly humorous scene is disrupted by an onslaught of dangerous debris that rips through their ship. Only Stone (Bullock) and Kowalsky (Clooney) live, and their story of survival begins.

Gravity has many annoying Hollywood moments that could take you out of the film, like overdone sentimentality, eye-roll worthy overuses of Clooney’s charm, and obvious one-liners. If you can get past that, you’ll be riveted by the films thrills, shaken by the deep sense of fear created by spatial loneliness, and moved by a damaged person finding strength.

Events unfold in ways that are often thrilling, rather than meditative. I generally prefer the latter, but I had a damn good time. Even given those Hollywood story moments, I felt for Bullock’s character in the end. The last shot of her is tremendous, and one of my favorites all year.

Grade: A

The Past, by Asghar Farhadi starring Berenice Bejo and Tahar Rahim

Asghar Farhadi (A Separation) stuns me. His films deftly prod deeper and deeper by peeling away the onion-like layers of the situation he establishes. As a filmmaker, Farhadi has a quietly powerful presence with complexity of thought, depth of feeling, compassionate patience, and profound understanding.

Like A Separation, The Past meanders around the aspects of a central conflict. The film moves from character to character, exploring each person’s unique perspective, and in this case pain, to establish complete understanding. Each portrait is fully realized. Several times I couldn’t hold back tears, as Farhadi slowly pulled back the curtain. Like one rarely does at the cinema, I felt the full depth of characters’ emotions. I felt the character Lucie so strongly inside that I couldn’t stop thinking about her. I couldn't stop caring about her.

The tragedy of The Past, as well as A Separation, is not that we’re all different. It’s that all human beings are essentially the same, and our inability to see this often causes tremendous pain, whether that be in minor quibbles or death.

The Past touched me deeply, and I will never forget it.

Grade: A

Tracks, by John Curran starring Mia Wasikowska

The subject matter of Tracks intrigued me greatly, however the execution left me detached and disappointed. It details the story of an outsider, unsatisfied with the safety of her place in Australian society. I believe that this feeling is something natural within her, however it may also be accentuated by the ways in which society failed her. She lost her mother to suicide, had her beloved dog put down, and her father was relatively absent in her life.

Curran takes us through Davidson’s (Wasikowska) journey at a pace that’s weirdly a crawl, sprint, crawl, sprint combination. We will slowly move through an aspect of her life or journey, and then suddenly skip ahead five weeks missing seemingly important struggles. I never really felt like I got into Davidson’s head, and understood her experience. The film was so preoccupied with telling us that she needed to let people into her life, that it never made me feel the truth of that statement. The film has beautiful shots of Australia and some lovely metaphors, but save it for an on demand viewing because much of it falls flat.

Grade: B-/B

Before the Winter Chill, by Philippe Claudel starring Daniel Auteuil and Kristin Scott Thomas

The new film from Claudel (I’ve Loved You So Long) made a quiet splash at Telluride, and with good reason. It’s yet another look at French bourgeoisie, and it doesn’t have much new to add to the conversation. Claudel stated that the film explores a middle-aged couple that lives in the same house but not together. More so, it centers on the relationship between the husband, and a mysterious woman whose identity as a provocateur in husband Paul’s life, as well as a person of color, is the main intrigue of the film.

Despite some memorable shots, and exciting plot developments, the film bored me especially because of its pristine cinematography. Despite being a film of some quality, Before the Winter Chill is the kind of movie that drowns at a festival like Telluride because the other works are so far superior. I’d like to re-watch the film in a more humble context, so maybe I can derive more from it.

Grade: B-/B

Sadourni’s Butterflies, by Dario Nardi starring Cristian Medtrano and Antonella Costa

Sadourni’s Butterflies is quite a strange ride. For better or worse, the experience of watching the film was similar to my experiences at the Boston Symphony Orchestra. I’m engaged and concentrated for the first 30-40 min, and then the liveliness of the art sends my mind racing to other places. In both cases, I find it a failure of my concentration, not the work itself. It is the quality of each work that inspires me to think so vividly and energetically.

The absurdity of Sadourni’s Butterflies delighted me, especially after seeing so many heavy, realistic films. It’s hard to describe why, because it comes from a visceral place. Nardi’s images are carefully constructed out of the silent era, and they carried me through the often-confusing story.

Grade: B

Subconscious Password by Chis Landreth

Yes, that IS a cartoon image of William S. Burroughs above...Subconscious Password was a hilarious and engaging short film that preceded Sadourni’s Butterflies. It details the events within a man’s subconscious as he tries to remember an acquaintance’s name at a bar. The situation is delightfully familiar, and Landreth brings new life to the idea of how our subconscious works. In this case, it involves a game show with Ayn Rand, John Lennon and other fun guests like Burroughs.

Grade: B+

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