Telluride Invites Film Lovers Into the Fold

Photo: The king and I. Colin Firth and director Tom Hooper presented 'The King's Speech' at Telluride, which features Firth as King George VI and Geoffrey Rush as a speech therapist.
Max Siegel/Photo
The king and I. Colin Firth and director Tom Hooper presented 'The King's Speech' at Telluride, which features Firth as King George VI and Geoffrey Rush as a speech therapist.

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ou enter the Telluride Film Festival knowing that you're taking a leap of faith. The town is perched nearly two miles up in the mountains, in an isolated part of Colorado. The Festival lineup isn't announced until the night before. Yet over the past 37 years, Telluride has matured into one of the world's best film festivals. It owes much of this success to its contradictory qualities: Its lineup is consistently great, yet mysterious; it's staged in a small town with makeshift theaters, yet many of the year's best films premier there; it's a large-scale event that's also low-key.

A number of the world's best filmmakers visit Telluride, open up and talk to festival-goers. I ran into Werner Herzog, who told me that he hated 3-D, even though he was working on "Caves of Forgotten Dreams," a 3-D film of his own, throughout the weekend. Moments like this make you feel like a member of the film-loving tribe.

The Festival also provides an excellent preview of important films to come, which is especially heartening after what has so far been a lackluster year in cinema. If Telluride is any indication, many of the year's upcoming films are linked by a common theme: A troubled person's isolation.

The premise of "The King's Speech" may at first glance seem minor. Colin Firth plays King George VI, who, with the help of a speech therapist (Geoffrey Rush), gradually overcomes his stammer. And yet "The King's Speech" is the best film that screened at Telluride.

Director Tom Hooper stages awkward situations that are by turns hilarious and deeply moving. Firth and Rush play flawed, egotistical people, but the performances are so honest that you can't help but see a bit of yourself in both the king and the plebe.

Telluride moviegoers also had a chance to preview Darren Aronofsky's "Black Swan." When Aronofsky introduced the film, he warned: "If you don't want to have nightmares and get fucked up, leave now." As both a horror film and a psychological drama, "Black Swan" provides an adrenaline rush - but it's not particularly original.

The classic 1948 ballet film "The Red Shoes," which "Black Swan" borrows from, proved one thing: Art is ecstasy, but it's also a living hell. Natalie Portman plays a ballerina who undergoes a terrifying transformation while preparing for a show about an innocent White Swan that turns into a - guess what - Black Swan. It's hardly subtle, but "Black Swan" is a thrilling experience that establishes Aronofsky as one of our most visually audacious filmmakers.

Followers of Danny Boyle know that he doesn't hold anything back. And so it is with "127 Hours," his harrowing take on real-life adventurer Aron Ralston's ordeal. While hiking in a desert, Ralston fell into a crevice and got his arm caught under a boulder. After several days, Ralston escaped by cutting off his arm at the elbow.

A filmmaker could have approached the material sparingly, but Boyle has a flashier style that makes "127 Hours" surprisingly life-affirming. Using hallucinatory images and flashbacks, all products of a deteriorating mental state, Boyle and actor James Franco paint Ralston as both a fun guy and a fool; after all, he didn't tell anybody where he was going. A warning to the faint of heart: The amputation is shown in such gruesome detail that one person fainted during each screening.

And finally, there's Errol Morris' "Tabloid," which is one of the best documentaries to come out in the last decade. It follows the bizarre story of a former Miss Wyoming, Joyce McKinney, who kidnapped her Mormon fiancee of three days after he had departed on his mission. Morris doesn't cheapen "Tabloid" by disrespecting his subject; he said that he ended up loving McKinney. And viewers inexplicably end up loving her too, for all her silly antics. An unexpected revelation, but then that's what makes festivals like Telluride so exciting.

Max Siegel is the lead film critic. Contact him at [email protected]

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