Telluride 2017 Diary 3: 'A Fantastic Woman,' 'Loving Vincent'


“Very few dicks come to Telluride,” said festival co-director Julie Huntsinger during the traditional day one press orientation, in reference to something First They Killed My Father director Angelina Jolie had said to her. Jolie, who is obviously no stranger to paparazzi and fan hounding, was grateful that she was able to walk down the street on Colorado Avenue with her children without getting hassled.

If there ever was a perfect sentence to sum up the Telluride experience, it would be Huntsinger's. Telluride Film Festival is a surreal, low-key, friendly gathering of cinephiles, filmmakers and artists. You can find yourself in the same hot dog line with Werner Herzog, chat with Ken Burns in a gondola ride, attend a picnic with the likes of Natalie Portman and Alexander Payne, hang out outside a theater with Guillermo del Toro for an extended Q&A session on the street, watch a movie with Emma Stone and Barry Jenkins and rub shoulders with Christian Bale and Greta Gerwig at laid back receptions. Everyone hangs out. Everyone’s happy to be here and watch movies together. Everyone welcomes everyone else. “The spirit of Telluride,” a phrase film historian Leonard Maltin verbalized during his intro of yesterday night’s open air Elks Park screening of Loving Vincent (from co-directors Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman), is a real, thoroughly shared bond. As I put on my puffer coat and squeezed myself at the last minute in an open spot on the steps of Elks Park before Loving Vincent started under the stars and a full moon, all the while worrying about blocking someone’s view or invading someone’s blanket, I caught the eye of one of my screening neighbors. “I hope I’m not disturbing you,” I said. “No, no of course not. Come on in. The more the merrier,” he said to me and my husband. Then two people on the lower steps looked up and wondered whether we had enough room to stretch our legs. Apologetically, I assured them that we did. “Oh we’ll just move a little bit so you can have more room,” one of them said regardless. Thinking about the aggression, impatience and hostility I sometimes experience in other film festivals, I thought to myself, “Julie Huntsinger was right. Dicks don’t come to Telluride.”

There are many narratives that apply to this year’s film festival. First and foremost, female directors were in abundance: Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird, Chloé Zhao’s The Rider, Angelina Jolie’s First They Killed My Father and Agnes Varda’s Faces Places, just to name a few. Timely topics around immigration (Alexander Payne’s Downsizing, Aki Kaurismäki’s The Other Side of Hope, Ai Weiwie’s Human Flow), LGBTQ rights (Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris’ Battle of the Sexes and Sebastián Lelio’s A Fantastic Woman) and the environment (Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk’s An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power and Christopher Quinn’s Natalie Portman-produced Eating Animals) were represented from various vantage points. And sure, between The Shape of Water, Darkest Hour, Battle of the Sexes, Lady Bird, Faces Places, The Rider, Wonderstruck and First They Killed My Father, many Oscar contenders either launched their festival runs or found new blood in the Rockies. Right now, we’re at that sweet spot: Oscar season is wide open and the future looks promising, positive and exciting. The knives aren’t out yet. So let’s enjoy these few weeks of Zen before it all begins, shall we?

Among the films I caught on the festival’s final day was Gloria director Sebastián Lelio’s A Fantastic Woman, a sober, unhurried film about a transgender woman’s everyday struggles against hatred and hostility. We follow Marina (Daniela Vega), a waitress/classical singer in a loving relationship with Orlando (Francisco Reyes), who left his wife and kids to be with her. But when he suddenly dies, Marina finds herself at odds with Orlando’s prejudiced family, who refuses to let Marina attend Orlando's funeral service and kicks her out of their shared apartment. With all cards stacked against her (the police and other government bodies don’t make anything easy for her, either), Marina finds temporary refuge in a mysterious key she discovers in Orlando’s car. Lelio unfolds A Fantastic Woman both as a grief-stricken character study and a mystery, as Marina obsessively tries to find the box Orlando's key onlocks. Intriguing Baroque tracks and a complementarily sly score by Matthew Herbert aid the atmosphere.

Despite some of its bold, controversial choices, I found Kantemir Balagov’s Tesnota undercooked. But the aforementioned open air screening of Loving Vincent proved to be the most fitting farewell to Telluride as well as one of the most ambitious films from its lineup. Loving Vincent is an animation that plays a lot like Citizen Kane: Vincent Van Gogh’s friend, Postman Roulin (Chris O'Dowd), and Roulin’s son, Armand (Douglas Booth), task themselves with delivering the artist’s final letter a year after his death. The journey puts them in contact with various people in Van Gogh’s life who help shed light on the final days of the mystifying master. The filmmakers worked with 125 artists for nine years to create the 65,000 paintings that make up this jaw-droppingly beautiful film. 

Until next year, Telluride. Thanks for everything.