Thursday, May 15, 2008

Day 1

Friends: As usual, the first day of the festival offered nothing but market fare (films that have paid to be here, rather than receiving invitations) other than the gala Opening Night Film--formal attire required. Among the 60 or so films I had to choose from, about a quarter of what would be on tap in the days to follow, was the lone bicycling-themed film of the festival, "Field of Stars," a Spanish film that had been the Opening Night film of Chicago's Latino Film Festival. Among several strands of its story was that of a teenager who is being groomed to be racer. The film takes place in the Pyrenees. Its promotional material featured a couple of evocative photos of the young man out training. This film could be the highlight of the festival for me.

It would be my third film of the day at two o'clock in the 73-seat Palais I screening room. My first two films were also sports related, the Thai feature "Dream Team" about the country's annual national tug-of-war competition for kindergartners and the U.S. "Deep Winter," a Warren Miller-type ski genre film with a bit of a story. It wasn't long into either of these films that I was eager for them to be done with. Neither had little appeal beyond their niche markets--children and ski fanatics. At least "Deep Winter" had some spectacular Alaskan scenery and Michael Madsen playing a helicopter pilot. It may be the only film of the festival whose credits I will see. Normally I'm in a rush to get to the next screening. Today I wasn't and since the film had several Telluride mentions and even a quick shot of its main street, I was curious to see if I knew anyone who had worked on the film. I hadn't.

I snuck in half an hour of an exceptional Indian film, "Frozen," in an adjoining theater before slipping out for my bicycling fix, only to receive the tragic news that the print had failed to arrive from Chicago. But the news wasn't all bad as the film's representative said they expected a print for the film's other screening in five days and as a consolation he was passing out its DVD, almost better than seeing it. And it allowed me to return to "Frozen" and its stunning black and white cinematography in the high Himalayas with breathtaking shot after shot of birds and frozen ice on barbed wire and indigenous faces that had me going "wow".

It was one of three of my day's selections that featured dramatic alpine terrain. Besides the skiing film there was "Climber's High" from Japan, one of several movies here about plane crashes. This one focused on a newspaper's coverage of the worst airline crash in history that left 520 dead. It was overly ambitious, two hours and 15 minutes, trying to be a psychological study of the lead newsman and his torments as an aging climber and being the bastard child of a GI, as well as dwelling on the trauma of the event and the paper's coverage of it.

"The Caller", starring Frank Langella and Elliot Gould, suffered the same shortcoming. Langella is a corporate CEO with a conscience. He files a report to the detriment of his company that is his death warrant, literally, and he knows it. But for some reason he is given several days to live before he is assassinated. Both he and Gould are a pleasure to watch, but the story greatly begged credibility, especially the Langella flashbacks trying to explain his character. One of the highlights of the movie was Langella getting a pedicab ride in Manhattan.

While the formal-attired masses were watching "Blindness" starring Julian Moore and Mark Ruffalo by Fernardo Meirelles, the Brazilian director of "City of God" in the Palais, I was in the packed 142-seat Arcades Theater watching "The Warlords" an epic with a cast of thousands from Hong Kong that had recently swept the Hong Kong Oscars winning best picture, actor, director, cinematography, make-up. It was two hours of swords and arrows and cannon balls piercing bodies. Mel Gibson would have loved it.

I finally met up with Charles and Milos from Facets outside the theater on Rue Antibes, just a block from the waterfront. Milos was steamed over how awful the Opening Night film was but was very enthusiastic about "Waltz With Bashir" an Israeli animated feature in Competition that he had just seen at a press screening. He said it was much better than "Persopolis." The director of "Persopolis" is one of the nine members of the Competition jury. She must have been most welcome by jury president Sean Penn, as she asked to light up a cigarette for medicinal purposes at the day's earlier jury press conference. Once she lit up, Penn immediately lit up, as did one of the other women jurors. All the photos of Penn in the program and the various publications on the festival show him with a mustache, something he has given up. We were joined by a couple of Swiss women who Charles and I invariably sit with at the Palais Competition screenings. One had seen the Madonna directed "Filth and Wisdom" at Berlin. It was playing tomorrow in a 35-seat theater. I feared it could be mobbed. The woman said it was dreadful and to be avoided at all costs.

There was lots of news to catch up on, including that Werner Herzog will be doing a remake of Abel Ferrera's "Bad Lieutenant" from 1992 with Nicholas Cage replacing Harvey Keitel. Shooting is to commence in July, which could keep Herzog from Telluride. "Screen" magazine had an interesting story on how last year's Palm d'Or winner, "Four Months, Three Weeks and Two Days" had fared at the box office. It took in seven-and-a-half million dollars world-wide, one-third of that in France. It only made 250,000 dollars in Romania, as the country has only 35 theaters despite a population of 22 million. It grossed 1.1 million in the U.S.

Later, George

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