Perhaps chalk it as much as the altitude illness, however I’m having bother imagining a extra whiplash-inducing double invoice than Sarah Polley’s “Women Talking” and Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s “Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths,” two of the primary motion pictures to display screen at this 12 months’s Telluride Film Festival. One lasts a taut 104 minutes; the opposite runs practically twice as lengthy. One has a collective focus, burrowing into the anguished deliberations of a number of ladies and ladies who’ve endured grievous sexual abuse; the opposite is a person’s solo creative journey, an expansive contemplation of his profession, his household and his personal appreciable ego. One makes a advantage of financial system; the opposite fortunately submits to extra. One, I feel, is fairly excellent; the opposite I might typically barely stand.
Of such livid contrasts and extremes, after all, is any worthwhile movie competition made. Telluride, now in its forty ninth 12 months, prides itself on the excellence of its rigorously curated program, however its organizers — led by the competition’s director, Julie Huntsinger — additionally know the worth of a wide-ranging choice, and of a dangerous title that may set off a heated argument or two. Not that you simply usually see individuals coming to verbal blows within the streets and makeshift screening rooms of this small Colorado city, the place attendees are famously (if maybe a bit dutifully) vulnerable to excessive spirits, grateful for the abundance of attention-grabbing motion pictures and lovely mountain surroundings. Everybody, for probably the most half, is blissful to be right here. Good style could not at all times reign, however civility typically does.
And typically, the film itself is the argument. “Women Talking,” the justly anticipated fourth function directed by the Canadian-born actor and filmmaker Polley (after “Away From Her,” “Take This Waltz” and “Stories We Tell”), takes the type of a feature-length debate. Tailored from Miriam Toews’ 2018 novel a couple of fictional Mennonite neighborhood, the film, which will probably be launched Dec. 2 by United Artists, unfolds nearly solely within the hayloft of a barn, the place a number of ladies and ladies have gathered to determine their fates, in addition to the fates of the opposite ladies and ladies of their remoted colony. They have to determine whether or not to hold on with life as regular, keep and do battle with a typical enemy, or set out on their very own, abandoning the one dwelling they’ve ever recognized.
The tragedy that units this livid conflict of wills in movement — a repeated, ritualized marketing campaign of sexual assault by the lads of their neighborhood — is rarely explicitly proven, although we see the aftermath in discreet, searing photographs of bruised legs and bloodied sheets. It’s sufficient. Polley has little interest in exploiting the male violence that has been inflicted on her characters, and he or she trusts her very good actors — they embrace Frances McDormand, Claire Foy, Jessie Buckley and Rooney Mara — to subtly embody the horrors of the previous as their characters grapple with the longer term. Nor does Polley lean completely on realism in a film that intentionally hovers between drama and parable, the materially concrete and the spiritually summary, and whose stark austerity typically provides option to bursts of salty wit and cathartic laughter.
And so, as sharply honed and concentrated as it’s, “Women Talking” has a exceptional formal and conceptual fluidity. The cinematographer, Luc Montpellier, employs a palette that’s muted to the purpose of monochrome; it’s a intentionally unlovely look — a mirrored image of an unpleasant world — that makes it all of the extra exceptional when moments of coloration and sweetness steal into the body. The setting is modern (there’s a reference to antibiotics and a quick scene with an vehicle), however this farming neighborhood, with its horses, wagons and agrarian garb, could possibly be located wherever and anytime. Not one of the ladies can learn or write, however they’ve the battle-hardened eloquence of seasoned verbal pugilists. (Ben Whishaw performs a delicate male schoolteacher entrusted to take the minutes of their assembly.) Their vigorous back-and-forth, with its emphasis on accountability, safety and liberation, has the resonance of a #MeToo debate; it additionally confronts a problem — forgiveness — that doesn’t at all times and even typically determine into these debates.
As the ladies (the wonderful Judith Ivey, Liv McNeil, Sheila McCarthy, Michelle McLeod and Kate Hallett spherical out the solid) grapple with their God-given crucial to forgive their attackers, “Women Talking” gathers extraordinary emotional power, and in addition one thing extra: real religious weight. Polley has made an offended, compassionate parable of Christian perception and feminine empowerment — two forces, typically regarded as irreconcilable, which can be proven right here to be intrinsically certain. She’s additionally made a film that, with its acutely delicate little one performances and its deft evocation of unspeakable trauma, appears undeniably knowledgeable by her personal exceptional however not untroubled historical past rising up in entrance of the digicam.
A few of that early historical past was referenced in a particular competition tribute that Polley obtained earlier than “Women Talking’s” first screening Friday night time. However the focus was totally on her later work as a director, particularly “Stories We Tell,” the luxurious documentary function she introduced right here in 2013. She isn’t the one Telluride veteran who’s been invited again this 12 months. The acclaimed Belgian brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, beforehand right here with “L’Enfant” (2005), “The Kid With a Bike” (2011) and “Two Days, One Night” (2014), have returned with their newest Cannes prize-winner, “Tori and Lokita.” One of many competition’s extra hotly awaited titles is the Venice Film Festival-premiered, Cate Blanchett-starring drama “Tár,” the primary function in 16 years from Todd Area, who was beforehand right here in 2006 with “Little Children.” Because it occurs, that was additionally the 12 months that Iñárritu got here to Telluride with “Babel”; he’s been again a number of occasions since, with “Biutiful” (2010), “Birdman” (2014) and now the elephantine epic tragicomedy that’s “Bardo.”
“Bardo” is a film of a number of firsts. It marks Iñárritu’s first return to Mexican filmmaking since his much-admired 2001 debut, “Amores Perros,” and in addition his first time working with the gifted cinematographer Darius Khondji. It’s his first image conceived alongside the traces of a semi-autobiographical fantasia, with apparent nods to the cracked self-portraiture of Federico Fellini’s “8 1/2” and Bob Fosse’s “All That Jazz,” plus a wealth of wandering-in-the-desert imagery that evokes Terrence Malick’s personal childhood epic, “The Tree of Life.” And it’s his first film, and perhaps anybody’s first film, to start with the spectacle of a new child child declaring the world “too f—ed up” and being promptly stuffed again into his mom’s womb.
And at last, it marks Iñárritu’s first time working with Netflix, whose status for bankrolling wild ardour initiatives absolutely accounts for the way this practically three-hour auteur indulgence got here to exist in such sprawling, untrammeled kind. I’m probably not criticizing; I’m describing. Iñárritu, who received back-to-back directing Oscars for “Birdman” and “The Revenant,” could don’t have anything left to show the place the film trade is anxious, however he’s hardly unaware of his status in some circles as an conceited showman, a filmmaker who flings the digicam round with empty, pummeling virtuosity. He’s trolling these critics greater than just a little with “Bardo,” at the same time as he gestures at trolling, or at the very least analyzing, himself.
Iñárritu’s fictionalized alter ego is a journalist turned documentary filmmaker named Silverio (an excellent Daniel Giménez Cacho, “Zama”) who finds himself again in Mexico years after having moved away to Los Angeles. “Bardo” tells the story of a long-overdue homecoming, and because it slips surreally from one episode to the subsequent, borne aloft by Khondji’s superbly orchestrated lengthy takes, the specters of the previous maintain intruding. A few of these ghosts — a bloody scene from the Mexican-American Conflict, a confrontation with the Sixteenth-century conquistador Hernán Cortés atop a pile of corpses that jogged my memory of Vasily Vereschagin’s portray “The Apotheosis of War” — are drawn from distant historical past. However others converse extra on to Silverio’s (and Iñárritu’s) expertise as an artist whose work has earned no scarcity of recognition, plus accusations of being a privileged, hypocritical sellout.
Is Silverio responsible of exploiting the undocumented immigrants who appeared in certainly one of his documentaries? (And does this query additionally hang-out Iñárritu after his 2017 virtual-reality piece “Carne y Arena,” which simulated the harrowing expertise of a Mexico-U.S. migrant crossing?) Does Silverio, as a person who’s left behind one homeland for one more, should really feel any kinship with those that’ve endured an incalculably tougher, extra arduous journey? These aren’t uninteresting questions, however Iñárritu, slightly than answering them or leaving them provocatively unanswered (both one can be superb), does what he appears to do with most of his tales and concepts these days: He flings them round, roughs them up and rearranges them into an imposing, lastly unbearable monument to his personal awesomeness.
The ensuing cinematic dreamscape feels suitably oneiric (a phrase that pops up within the film itself), if additionally greater than just a little onanistic. “Bardo,” which can open in theaters Nov. 18 earlier than arriving on Netflix on Dec. 16, could be very removed from a masterpiece, however nobody would deny that it’s Iñárritu’s mastur-piece. He has constructed it, however past Telluride, will anybody come?