Telluride Film Festival: Days Four and Five

Paul O’Rourke shares some film reviews and takeaways from the 50th Telluride Film Festival.

Baltimore

I must admit that before seeing this movie, the title led me to believe it would be about Baltimore, Maryland. When introducing their movie, directors Christine Molloy and Joe Lawlor set me—and a few others—straight. Their Baltimore is in County Cork, in southern-most Ireland, the location for an Irish Republican Army (IRA) safe house. That’s important. In Ireland during The Troubles, safety was not something taken for granted.

Baltimore is Rose Dugdale’s real life story. Born into a wealthy and aristocratic English family, Rose (Imogen Poots) rebels against a 1970s male-dominated society, and then, after seeing the atrocities surrounding “Bloody Sunday” in Derry, Northern Ireland on January 30, 1972, when fourteen Irish citizens were gunned down by British soldiers, she was radicalized and joined the IRA. Rose, with three “comrades,” devised a plan in 1974: steal nineteen pieces of valuable artwork—including a Rubens, a Goya, and a Vermeer—from an Irish estate and use it as leverage to free four IRA prisoners.

What transpires is an intense, near heart-stopping waiting game—the soundtrack expertly heightens the tension—as Rose recalls, in nightmares and in daytime ruminations both, the nasty business associated with the robbery and with her adopted militant life. Lawlor and Molloy show us that beneath Rose’s steely commitment to the revolutionary cause, there remains a tender and caring woman, evidenced by her obvious appreciation for the art as a symbol of the society she’d like to demolish. The irony is not lost on the audience.

Baltimore is a fine, well-directed film. Poots’ powerhouse performance should not be missed.

The Taste of Things

I expected to find Tran Anh Hung’s The Taste of Things in the initial festival program; I was disappointed when I didn’t. Friday’s TBA schedule boosted my spirits, informing me that this breakout hit at Cannes would indeed be part of TFF #50.

Written by Hung and adapted from the 1924 novel, “The Passionate Epicure,” The Taste of Things is about food; about excellent, carefully and passionately prepared cuisine. The film is a story about Dodin Bouffant (Benoit Magimel), a preeminent chef—the Napoleon of Cuisine, as he is called by his friends and associates—and his lover and cook for two decades, Eugenie (Oscar winner, Juliette Binoche).

There’s little suspense in the relationship between chef and cook, save for how long it will take Eugenie to say yes to Dodin’s several marriage proposals. But it seems that with each exquisitely prepared dish (note: it’s recommended you eat something before taking in this film) and as the menu of tantalizing recipes grows, so too, does their affection for one another. The chemistry between Eugenie and Dodin is beautifully depicted, as satisfying as a bowl of their signature chicken soup—it’s more like a stew comprised of every known vegetable—on a cold winter day.

Enhancing the mouth-watering sensory component of this wonderful film—we can feel the fork bounce on a plate, hear the crackle of the fish as it enters a hot pan; you can smell the veal roast as it exits the oven—Jonathan Ricquebourg’s camerawork is as delectable and delicate and enticing as the culinary presentations spread out on the couple’s rustically hewed and aged wooden kitchen counter.

You can see this film for its food. You can see this movie because it’s a wonderful love story, well-made. You can see The Taste of Things because this superb work of cinema is sure to garner some attention from the Academy. Heck, just see it! Your head and your heart and your stomach will be glad you did.

The Royal Hotel

Julia Garner seems to consistently find herself in uncomfortable, if not truly bad places. Whether intentionally as in Inventing Anna, (2022) or by way of bad associations as in Ozark (2017-2022) or unintentionally, as in The Assistant (TFF, 2019), it doesn’t really matter. With her uniquely innocent appearance, she just fits the part of the put-upon protagonist who finds herself between that proverbial rock and a hard place. Reunited with writer-director, Kitty Green, from The Assistant, Garner, as Hanna, in The Royal Hotel, is at it again.

Hanna and Liv (Jessica Henwick (Glass Onion, 2022) are in Australia on vacation and find themselves in a bit of a jam when Liv’s credit card is declined; Hanna apparently doesn’t have one. With little cash on hand, going to Bondi Beach, as planned, is out of the question. They (mostly Liv) think traveling to a small town in the Outback, where a travel agent has found them work at the local pub, situated as it is in the Royal Hotel, is preferable to going home to Canada. Two young and attractive women in the middle of nowhere, in a town populated mostly by single males who work in the nearby mines sounds like a recipe for a suspense-filled-thrill-a-minute-psychodrama. The Royal Hotel is exactly that.

Work—and even time off—at the Royal Hotel is a series of less-than-friendly encounters with the locals. Even Bill (Hugo Wallace, The Matrix, 1999), the hotel’s owner, is less than hospitable and more often drunk than not. When Bill and wife Carol (Ursula Yovich), perhaps the only person at the hotel who can keep order, take off to tend to Bill’s sudden medical issues and leave Liv and Hanna in charge of the pub, the resulting mayhem is predictable, but nonetheless terrifying. In the end, Hanna and Liv, have made up their minds on how best to check out of The Royal Hotel.

Daddio

A woman (Dakota Johnson) gets into a cab at JFK and the driver (Sean Penn) takes her home, to Midtown Manhattan. The ninety-minute ride (there are a few traffic delays—it is New York) and what transpires conversationally—and emotionally—between these two seemingly mismatched individuals is what Daddio is all about. If you doubt a two-person, full-length feature film about a cab ride would hold your attention, please think again. Or, perhaps, recall Louis Malle’s glorious My Dinner with Andre (TFF, 1981).

Considering writer Christy Hall is joined in her directorial debut by cinematographer Phedon Papamichael (Nebraska, TFF 2013) and production designer Kristi Zea (The Departed, 2006), we understand right from the start we are in good hands; you’ve gotta be good to make the interior of a Yellow Cab look and feel good for an hour and a half.

Penn, as Clark—he’d prefer Vinny or Mike he says—and Johnson, who needs no name apparently, are, after they get rolling from the airport, engaged in a little game of conversational tag, in which the two tell stories about themselves. Points are awarded for tales that move the emotional barometer for the one listening. The storytelling and the listening—the connection between Penn and Johnson—intensifies as the revelations get more deeply personal as the cab makes its way to the city.

We’re almost sorry when the two pull up in front of Johnson’s Midtown apartment building, not wanting the ride to end, but we’re more than a little curious as to how the two will leave one another. During the penultimate scene, when Penn reaches out to shake Johnson’s hand as the two prepare to part, I feel a lump in my throat, my breath catches. Please see this great film with two probable Oscar contenders and find out why.

Photo by Gerry Borgeson

WRAPPING TFF #50

Some final thoughts on this year’s celebration of film

As expected, and as it should be, Bill and Stella and Tom and James Card were everywhere present in spirit and celebrated in the conversations in the queues and the venues at TFF #50. And the 5-day program? It, too, exceeded expectations, especially when considering the strike and the distinct absence of many personalities associated with the films screened. But as Ken Burns said, “It’s not about the stars; it’s about cinema.” The world premieres, first-time North American screenings, the documentaries, and the entire program provided more than ample excitement among the always appreciative, sold-out crowd of film lovers. The ShowCorps teams that total 800 or so devoted and talented film lovers, once again transformed Telluride, with Brigadoon-esque efficiency, into a fabulous film festival. I met “Cookie Boy” for the first time. Festival Director Julie Huntsinger, the festival’s Advisors, Curators, Board of Directors, and Contributors, in their inimitable collaboration, made TFF #50 as memorable as it was fulfilling, reinforcing, once again, that the Telluride Film Festival is for people who love films.

Bill Pence famously said, “You’ll never be able to see all of the films you want to see at the festival, and the ones you don’t see will be really good.” Or something along those lines. He was, of course, correct. There is no such thing as a bad movie at Telluride. What I missed from my initial list, films like Anatomy of a Fall, La Chimera, Fallen Leaves, Wildcat, El Conde, The Zone of Interest, Nyad, The Promised Land, American Symphony, Finally Dawn, and Cassandro, I hope to see sometime soon. But the films I did see, all sixteen of them, were very good, some great.

STRONG PERFORMANCES at TFF #50 (just from the films I saw; in alphabetical order)

Best Actors: Colman Domingo (Rustin), Paul Giamatti (The Holdovers), Sean Penn (Daddio), and Koji Yakusho (Perfect Days)

Best Actresses: Julia Garner (The Royal Hotel), Dakota Johnson (Daddio), Imogen Poots (Baltimore), and Emma Stone (Poor Things).

Best Directors: Christy Hall (Daddio), Yorgos Lanthimos (Poor Things), Alexander Payne (The Holdovers), and Wim Wenders (Perfect Days) Honorable Mention: Tod Browning (The Unknown)

Best Pictures: Daddio, The Holdovers, Perfect Days, and The Taste of Things