Based on a true story–Films at the 45th Telluride Film Festival

43 films screened over 4 days for the 45th Telluride Film Festival. 10 of those 43 were excellent documentaries, but another 12 were films based on true stories. The most Hollywood of these, First Man is the star-spangled story of Neil Armstrong starring Ryan Reynolds and directed by the talented Damien Chazelle (La La Land). It was very well-received. Trail by Fire, directed by Ed Zwick  and driven by amazing performances by Laura Dern and Jack O’Connell, was absolutely riveting. I’m so glad I saw it before it starts being dismissively described as the anti-death-penalty film. It deserves a wide audience.

Alfonso Cuaron wrote, directed and shot most of his autobiographical film, Roma. Eric Kohn of Indiewire described it as “writing his personal story with a camera”, which seems quite apt. It’s a lovely black & white period piece revealing an upper-middle class family’s daily struggles through the eyes of their caring maid. Each scene is populated with so many details of their lives — we get to visit a turbulent time in Mexico City and in this young woman’s life. There’s so much drama and tension that the 2 1/2 hours flies by. I’m thankful that it’s a Netflix film and I’ll be able to watch it again.

Standing in the rain for an hour sharing an umbrella with a stranger was worth it to see The Old Man and the Gun (David Lowery). It was a treat to see Robert Redford and Sissy Spacek in person. They have delightful chemistry in this sweet film about a bank robber and escape artist who can’t retire from the thrill of the chase. Redford stated that this is indeed his last acting role, though he’ll still produce and maybe direct. That gave the film a lovely sentimental feel as there are photos of a younger Redford used to illustrate his character’s past. Casey Affleck is particularly good as the detective trying to catch the bank robbers who develops a rapport with the gentleman criminal.

If you’re a fan of Yorgos Lanthimos, you’ll to get a kick out of The Favourite. Queen Anne rules the 18th Century English Court but it’s her consort who’s making the real decisions. Played with petulance, emotional neediness and disdain, Olivia Colman is a powerful and fickle Queen. Vying for a place in her bed and in her court are the penniless lady, Abigail (Emma Stone), a cousin to the powerful Lady Marlborough (Rachel Weisz). Great roles for three powerful performers and I enjoyed the wicked banter and court intrigue. There are many extended close-ups of Olivia Colman’s face and it’s amazing to watch the emotional storms sinking her sanity. I could’ve done without the showy camera flourishes as it took me out of the story but the costumes (Sandy Powell) are sumptuous.

My final film of the festival was Boy Erased. This family drama is based on Garrard Conley‘s memoir brought to the screen by another multi-hyphenate talent, Joel Edgerton. He directs the screenplay he wrote; he also has a starring role as the director of a religious gay conversion center.  Lucas Hedges, portraying another damaged young man (Manchester by the Sea, Ladybird, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) gives another emotionally revealing performance. When he’s forcibly outed at college after a traumatic incident, his Baptist preacher father (a solid Russell Crowe) convinces his mother (Nicole Kidman) to admit him to the conversion center. The loving relationship between mother and son is sorely tested when she learns what’s happening as staff try to sublimate the sexual urges of the clients. It’s an emotional journey with another great Nicole Kidman performance as she reconciles her love for her son with her love and duty as a Baptist wife. I’m looking forward to seeing The Miseducation of Cameron Post for the female viewpoint (directed by Desiree Akhavan) on conversion therapy set in an earlier time but still dealing with this shameful practice.

More Telluride reviews coming soon…

“Playing House” with her store-bought family

Aside

Susan Heintz in Paris

 

“…for Women, the path to fulfillment is not through one thing, it’s through all things; Education, Career, Home, Family, Accomplishment, Enlightenment. If any one of those things is left out, it’s often perceived that there’s something wrong with your life. We are somehow never enough, just as we are. Even if we do have a finger in each of those pies, there is never enough time to do any of them to our satisfaction. We are constantly set up by our expectations to feel as though we are missing something.

I thought it was high time to call this nonsense out publicly, because this notion of insufficiency is not just about me, nor exclusively about Women in regards to Marriage. It’s about anyone whose life doesn’t look the way it “should.” Rarely does anyone’s life turn out the way it was expected, and if by some miracle it does, what they expected isn’t what they thought it was. I’m simply trying to get people to open up their minds, and quit clinging to outdated assumptions of what a successful life looks like. I want people to lighten up on each other, and themselves, and embrace their lives for who it’s made them, with or without the Mrs., PhD. or Esq. attached to your name.”

When Suzanne Heintz was told by her mother, “Suzy, there’s nobody perfect out there. You just need to PICK somebody, if you’re going to settle down.” She snapped back, “Mom! It’s not like I can go out and BUY a family! I can’t just MAKE it happen!” But then, she did!

Suzanne went out and purchased the perfect Family… of Mannequins. This inspiration led to an entire series of staged family moments with her “Store-Bought Family”.  From a Photography class project in 2000, to an annual Christmas card sent to family and friends, Suzanne’s photos began to be shared and enjoyed by more and more people.  She discovered that even the process of taking the photographs in public spaces became a way to connect with people.  It was enjoyable making people laugh but perhaps more importantly; starting a conversation about social conventions.  It was difficult to transport the mannequins and props to locations but the work felt important.  As Suzanne says, “work has to be difficult to be a genuine success”.

Last June, she went to Paris.  And she brought her Perfect Family.  The idea was to shot some photos in Paris and film the process.  When she returned from her trip, Suzanne’s editor love the footage so much and he told her that the footage was crying out to be a film!  In less than a year, Playing House was completed.

Suzanne poses with her husband, Chauncey

Suzanne poses with her husband, Chauncey

The short film premiered at the Women + Film Voices Film Festival in Denver on March 21, 2014 and was greeted with much laughter and cheers.

Suzanne's "husband" Chauncey

Suzanne’s “husband” Chauncey

A producer from another film in the festival, Karen Whitehead, is now interested in taking Playing House out on the film festival circuit.  Suzanne is looking for a gallery to host a show of her large-format photographs and her work continues to inspire people from around the world through her postings on her Facebook page and the great press she is receiving.  How pleased she must be, to see that she has struck a cord with people from all over the world.  It seems she’s not the only one who’s tired of the pressure to find the Perfect Family!

http://www.suzanneheintz.com/

 

Rating: 4 out of 5 glasses of French Champagne
Bechdel Rating: passes with flying colors