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Movies Or Scenery? In Telluride It's Hard To Know What To Keep Your Eye On

Pamela Gentile
Courtesy of the Telluride Film Festival

Even after 42 years, people who come to The Telluride Film Festival over and over can’t separate the films and the event from the place. Filmmakers introduce their work by raving about the beauty of this setting; festival-goers on the street marvel over the box canyon before they wax ecstatic about a film they’ve just seen.

You can’t avoid it, since it is part of the exquisite dreaminess of the Telluride Film Festival.

Telluride is a small festival, just three and a half days. But there’s so much film that you might see entirely different movies from someone else.

I started with Carol, the new film by Todd Haynes. It’s a love story between two women, set in the early 1950s, just as Dwight Eisenhower was becoming president. Carol (Cate Blanchett) is maybe 40, and Therese (Rooney Mara), around 20. Carol is rich and privileged, slightly married with a daughter. She expects good service; she wears elegant clothes and bright red lipstick. She’s aggressive; her eye catches Therese working at a department store counter, and Carol contrives a meeting on the spot.

Credit Wilson Webb / courtesy of The Weinstein Company
courtesy of The Weinstein Company
Rooney Mara (left) and Cate Blanchett star in 'Carol.'

Todd Haynes has become a subtle filmmaker. Obviously, Carol is about a lesbian affair, but it’s also about the times, social class and all kinds of human relationships, made visible in beautiful, complex colors with the great cinematographer Ed Lachman.

It’s remarkable that every film I saw in Telluride this year is distinguished in one way or another, but what sticks in the mind and makes me giggle in the middle of the night is a legendary Laurel and Hardy silent short from 1928. The second reel of The Battle of the Century has been lost for years, but rumored to have the greatest pie fight ever filmed. That second reel has now been found by the delightful French film restorer and presenter Serge Bromberg.

The movie is funnier than the rumors. Laurel and Hardy are in front of a bakery when a typically absurd insult sets things off. A pie is thrown, then another and another. Pies in the face aren’t automatically funny, but the timing is impeccable – sometimes hurried, sometimes delayed. You never know quite when the pie will be thrown – or when it will land. The pies fly into a range of characters, and each one brings a different laugh. Obviously a cop gets hit; less obviously a patient in a dentist’s chair. The topper comes as a pie somehow gets to a woman’s bottom. She doesn’t know it’s a pie, just that there’s something uncomfortable back there and she must maintain her dignity.

Credit courtesy of Kino Lorber
courtesy of Kino Lorber
Director Jafar Panahi behind the wheel of his cab in 'Taxi.'

My 42nd Telluride Film Festival ended with Taxi, a film smuggled out of Iran because it’s directed by the gifted Jaffar Panahi, who’s been banned from filmmaking by Iran’s government. The movie takes place inside a taxi which Panahi himself drives. Some passengers recognize him; others do not. A range of odd situations arises, often convoluted in the way that Iranian films picture conflicts with no possible resolution.

Panahi picks up his maybe 10-year-old niece at her school. With a gorgeous twinkle in her eye, she scolds Uncle Jaffar for being late. He says he wants to talk to her about something. She says that if he wants to talk with so elegant a lady as herself, he must first buy her a banana split. She tells him about a school assignment to make a “screenable” film – and the teacher’s instructions for such a film capture the essence of Iranian movie censorship. Panahi ends the film on a harsh note, but the good-humor and pleasure of the film survive the thuggery of the government.

There were other good films at Telluride this year. Ixcanul, from Guatemala; an astonishing avant-gardish documentary about Afghanistan called Adam Curtis: Bitter Lake. And much more…

If you look in the right places, the movies are alive and courageous and full of humanity.

Howie Movshovitz came to Colorado in 1966 as a VISTA Volunteer and never wanted to leave. After three years in VISTA, he went to graduate school at CU-Boulder and got a PhD in English, focusing on the literature of the Middle Ages. In the middle of that process, though (and he still loves that literature) he got sidetracked into movies, made three shorts, started writing film criticism and wound up teaching film at the University of Colorado-Denver. He continues to teach in UCD’s College of Arts & Media.
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