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From Toronto To The Telluride Film Festival, Here's Howie's Top Picks

Howie Movshovitz

Going from the Telluride Film Festival to the Toronto Film Festival is like a sea change. Telluride is green and surrounded by mountain views that take your breath away. Toronto is traffic and cement, publicists, multiplex theaters, and all the other apparatus for buying and selling movies. In Telluride, you may have the chance to talk to a filmmaker informally on the street, or waiting for a movie to start. In Toronto, interviews are scheduled. They take place in bland conference spaces or expensive yet sterile hotel rooms. Awful places.

But sometimes that doesn’t matter. Conversation with Iranian director AsgharFarhadi, the maker of A Separation and About Elly, would be an honor anywhere. He’s soft-spoken and thoughtful; his eyes dark and full of care; his conversation as complex as his new film The Salesman.

Farhadi sets his story around a production of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. Yes, he said, Iranians know Miller’s plays, as well as O’Neill and Tennessee Williams. The movie’s two lead players are married; then something happens and in parallel with Willy Loman’s collapse, the marriage begins to fray. Just as the theater set is fragile, the couple’s home shows cracks in a wall. You feel the fragility of human life, in both body and soul, and the struggle to know what’s true. The Salesman comes to the U.S. in December.

Like The Salesman, The Unknown Girl by Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne was not in Telluride. Dardenne films, like Two Days One Night or The Kid with a Bike, take place in the Belgian city of Seraing, among people who struggle to get by in a changing economic and social world. A young African woman is found dead by the river. For complicated reasons, a young white Belgian woman, a physician, feels responsible and wants to find out the dead girl’s name – so that at least she will not have died anonymously. The young doctor works constantly, serving the poor of Seraing, treating cuts, attending to ear infections and sore throats, helping old men and women up and down the stairs of her tiny, unadorned clinic. No heroic cures here, just a young doctor with no friends, no moments of softness or affection in her life. Like the dead girl.

After the Storm is the new movie from Japanese director HirozakuKore-eda. He films family stories, like the legendary YasujiroOzu and MikioNaruse. 

Credit Film Movement
A scene from After The Storm.

But Kore-eda is rougher and blunter than those post-World War II filmmakers. There’s a grandmother with a sharp tongue, and an apartment full of packed drawers with family records and papers that the grandmother magically finds when she needs them. Her adult son is too tall for the cramped apartment – he can’t fit in that place, or any other place either. He’s divorced and doing badly as a distant father. His ex-wife is sick of his evasions. And a big storm is coming. You hope it will realign this family with its parts all-out of place.

Moonlight, much talked about at Telluride and Toronto, is the work of the young African-American director Barry Jenkins. Jenkins grew up in abysmal circumstances, just like his characters. There are plenty of ghetto-misery films around, but Moonlight takes directions you might not expect. The film comes in three parts – with the main character as a kid, a middle-schooler and a young adult. Chiron is a shy, skinny boy and the only person in sight who doesn’t suspect that he’s gay. In high school, he meets Juan for one brief embrace before a terrible betrayal, and they meet again year later when Chiron is tough, bulked up and wearing fearsome grilles on his teeth.

The beauty of the movie – and it is beautiful– lies in the look of the boy’s uncertainty which persists throughout the movie. And then, near the end of the picture, comes a shot that is as tender as any image I know in all of the movies.

Enough said. It’s a good year coming.

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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