Watching Movies in the Mountains and Enjoying the ‘ride: the 2011 Telluride Film Festival

My arrival by car to the high altitude, low attitude Telluride Film Festival is understandably, even fittingly, late, given the fest’s relative proximity to the expansive, vermillion grandeur of Monument Valley, otherwise known as John Ford country. Loiter there, however, and you’re liable to miss the festival’s opening night rollout of Werner Herzog’s latest doc Into The Abyss or the Dardenne brothers’ Cannes honoree The Kid With a Bike, which proved to be the weekend’s hardest ticket, by virtue of popularity or having been slotted into the town’s notoriously intimate venues. One kiosk board went so far to anoint it “the new 400 Blows”.

'Pina'

On Main Street I witnessed a risible exchange – one not even the cine-literate Telluride is exempt from – in which a young man effusively intended to praise Herzog, only to mistakenly address Jean-Pierre Dardenne, who was calmly nonplussed. Telluride invites such confusion, playing the popular and the obscure, pitting a George Clooney tribute adjacent the magisterially bleak The Turin Horse (begging the question: how would you like to spend the next two and a half hours of your life?). Like its guest director Caetano Veloso – a totally welcome appointment in my opinion – the festival is decidedly august while resistant to claims that it isn’t edgy anymore. It’s fruitless to take sides or imply an Auteur-versus-Hollywood polarity, considering that the festival has historically been witness to much of the former’s transformation into the latter. But it does make sense to set an agenda that eschews the soon-to-be-released for the never-to-be-seen again, even if the modest Chilean Bonsai, with its punk Proustian attitude, never seems exactly antithetical to Alexander Payne’s project of familial folly (The Descendants).

It may be somewhat ironic that I’m competing with Colorado housewives for seats at the Dardennes’ film – where, oh where I wonder are these people when the film goes into theatrical release?! – but bless the Belgians’ expanding audience nonetheless. So I’m fated to watch Wim Wender’s Pina, in 3-damn-D no less, and fearing what may become of Café Muller’s sense of subversion in the hands of someone who’s lost his own anxiety at the prospect of a penalty kick. Some clever framing devices immerse us in Bausch’s production while affording some context from her resident dancers, and the 3-D elasticizes dance’s spatial dynamic, welcome or not, but there is little insight into the genesis of Bausch’s feverishly abstract, melancholic, and playfully choreographed theatre. An instructive aspect is cleaved open by the dance/film division: of how dance is powerfully suggestive and preempts the necessity of so much (film) acting, and how dancers are so often susceptible to bad acting. Bausch devotees may wonder just what this Wenders guy is contributing to a legendary artist’s aesthetic legacy, beyond exposure. Wenders fans, those of you who stuck it out into the ‘90s, may be chagrined by too many leaps into the unknown that aren’t padded with proper context (even if Bausch’s own elusive style would eventually solidify into an homage of itself).

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