Another great Telluride Film Festival has taken place and this piece from the NY Times speaks highly to the weekend of film here in Telluride, Colorado. Wish these folks were more real estate minded.....
Cinema Is Dead? Telluride Says Not Yet
TELLURIDE, Colo. — Can we please kill the talk about the death of movies?
Yes, it was a dreary summer. The box office was weak and the big Hollywood releases were weaker. Critics were grumpy. Audiences seemed indifferent. There was so much good television. And so the band struck up the funeral march, as it does every year, and the obituaries circulated on social media. Cinema is dead. (Again.)
The donning of sackcloth and ashes for this once-mighty art form is an annual ritual. But so is the Telluride Film Festival, which functions partly as a standing rebuke to such fatalism and gloom. The beauty of the mountain setting and this elegant former mining town’s distance from the stresses of New York, Los Angeles and Toronto have a way of dispelling pessimism. More consequentially, the festival here is a gathering of the faithful, consecrated to the old-time cinephile religion. The local school gym and a hockey rink on the edge of town are temporarily converted into what screening M.C.’s unironically refer to as cathedrals of cinema. Everyone is a believer.
Telluride began in the mid-70s largely as a place to show old, rare and restored films, a commitment that survives in a robust program of classics and curiosities presented by prominent guest directors. And it seduces audiences with the promise that the future of film — the art if not the photochemical medium — will be as glorious as the past. Maybe this is mythmaking or wishful thinking, but having spent a few days here in the dark I prefer to regard it as hardheaded realism. Whatever the state of the industry or the prevailing winds in the culture and the digital economy, the integrity and specificity of cinema is a fact. And its vital signs are strong.
Damien Chazelle’s “La La Land” is both an example of and an argument for the uniqueness of movies. A lavish and lovely musical romance, it is set in a Los Angeles populated by good-looking creative strivers. Two of these, a jazz pianist named Seb (Ryan Gosling) and a thesp (as the trades would say) named Mia (Emma Stone), meet cute in a gigantic traffic jam that doubles as a song-and-dance extravaganza. The next two hours follow the entwined, contrapuntal progress of their relationship and their careers, punctuated by more songs and ending in a swirl of piercing and complex emotion.
“La La Land” is simultaneously a self-conscious throwback and a forward-looking gamble. Mr. Chazelle, whose previous features were “Whiplash” and “Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench,” affectionately nods at the tradition of movie musicals, invoking the MGM Technicolor gems of the ’50s and Jacques Demy’s “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.” But even though his Los Angeles has a decidedly retro vibe, there is something more than nostalgia at work here. At 31, Mr. Chazelle doesn’t just want to summon the old magic. He also wants to modernize it.
The tantalizing question is whether, after the hosannas from critics here and at the Venice Film Festival, modern, millennial audiences will allow themselves to fall under the spell. My hunch is they will: The mixture of antiquarian precision and entrepreneurial self-confidence that drives “La La Land” will be embraced by a generation for whom preservation and invention often go together.
It will, in any case, reward literal moviegoers, those hardy souls willing to switch off the flat screen, silence the cellphone and sit quietly in a roomful of strangers. Cinema is an art form, but it is also a destination, a reason to get out of the house. From the viewer’s perspective, a movie is a nondomestic, nonserial experience, enclosed in time and space and, ideally, lingering in the mind after the lights go on and you stumble out into the world. Your perception is at least momentarily altered.
A film festival is a collection of such experiences, an archipelago of self-enclosed worlds. You could drift from “La La Land” to Denis Villeneuve’s “Arrival,” an eerie and emotional alien-visitation movie that similarly evokes and updates the grandeur and mystery of past science-fiction masterpieces. It shares some DNA with “2001” and “Solaris,” and stars Amy Adams as a linguist wrestling with grief and an imposing research assignment. Twelve madeleine-shaped black spaceships are hovering over Earth, and she must use her professional skills to figure out what their seven-legged inhabitants want.
“Arrival” is an elegant puzzle, an engrossing exercise in problem-solving — for the protagonist, the filmmaker and the viewer alike. Mr. Villeneuve, assisted by Bradford Young’s haunting cinematography and Johann Johannsson’s menacing, melancholy score, creates a heady, sensual atmosphere in which the boundaries between thinking and feeling are artfully blurred. Which may just be another way of repeating that it’s a movie, rather than a franchise installment or a piece of platform-agnostic digital entertainment.
Maybe that sounds overly defensive. It’s hard, watching four or five films a day amid crowds of fellow pilgrims, to believe that you’re participating in something marginal, obsolescent or beleaguered. There are too many revelations, large and small. There is the exquisite lyricism and deep feeling of “Moonlight,” Barry Jenkins’s astonishing second feature, about a young black man’s coming of age in three piercing chapters. The film cracks open stereotypes and wears its empathy and its artistry on its sleeve.
There is the prickly wit and delicious complication of “Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer,” Joseph Cedar’s ebullient Israeli-American comedy, with Richard Gere in the title role. There is the philosophical mischief of “Into the Inferno,” the latest documentary adventure from Werner Herzog, which follows him to the edges of volcanoes in search of cosmic meaning and human peculiarity.
And then there are treasures in transit from Sundance, Berlin and Cannes, arriving on vapor trails of enthusiasm. Among these are Cristian Mungiu’s “Graduation,” Kenneth Lonergan’s “Manchester by the Sea,” Mia Hansen-Love’s “Things to Come” and, above all, Maren Ade’s “Toni Erdmann.” Each one in its own way constitutes proof of life for movies. All of them, curiously, dwell at least partly on the complexities of parenthood.
“Manchester” is a lacerating, but also frequently funny, study of the long aftermath of grief, with Casey Affleck as a man damaged by past trauma trying to help his nephew (Lucas Hedges). “Graduation” is about a Romanian doctor’s ethical struggles as he tries to help his daughter find a better future by studying abroad. “Things to Come” is a quiet midlife drama in which a philosophy professor (Isabelle Huppert) navigates disruptions in her family and her inner life.
“Toni Erdmann,” though. If a single movie were enough to silence reports of the death of cinema, it would be this one, an almost-three-hour German comedy set mostly in Bucharest. It you think that sounds preposterous, you’re not wrong. I hesitate to offer further description, since any attempt to characterize this film in conventional terms — as a father-daughter story, a feminist satire of corporate behavior, a fable of global capitalism, an extended practical joke — would be woefully insufficient. It’s something new under the sun, a thrilling and discomfiting document of the present moment and also, like every movie that matters, a bulletin from the future.