It’s impossible to see everything over the short four-day Labor Day weekend. Especially so if you’re trying to write in the meantime. I envy those who don’t. The patrons purchase their badges and enjoy whatever films they can fit into their schedule. This year those passes sold out quicker than ever. I expect the same thing will happen next year as the festival becomes a less best-kept secret. Telluride itself hasn’t changed much. The town is still the town. The festival has changed insofar as so many hot tickets play there long before they play anywhere else. So it would be pretty great to buy a ticket, find lodging (very very expensive lodging) and see these movies before anyone else has the chance.

I’m usually there for one reason only — to seek out the films that might break into the Oscar race. Well, that’s the pretend reason I go. The other big reason is just to go there. I wish I could Laura Linney into a permanent residence there and maybe someday I will. Either way, I missed a few key films that should be mentioned.

  1. Son of Saul – this is a film people should be paying attention to because it could be considered for more than just Best Foreign Language. It’s possible that the director, Lazlo Nemes, could be nominated, along with maybe screenplay and/or cinematography. I have still not seen Son of Saul but I kept hearing great things about it up in Telluride.
  2. 45 Years – this film is one that could factor into all of the major categories. It stars Charlotte Rampling who finds out a secret about her husband of 45 years. I tried to see it but I could never find the right slot.  It is being predicted by Anne Thompson at Indiewire, who was one many people bringing it up in conversations about the best films they saw there.
  3. Evgeny Afineevsky’s Winter on Fire, which chronicles the formation of a new civil rights movement in the Ukraine. It’s one of those right place at the right time kind of documentaries that capture a once-in-a-lifetime event. It, too, should be considered as a strong contender for the documentary Oscar.
  4. Tyrus – a documentary about the artist Tyrus Wong, directed by Pamela Tom. Here is the Kickstarter that helped get the film made. A friend of mine said it made her cry and she could not stop raving about it.
  5. Laurie Anderson’s The Heart of a Dog – as a big fan of Laurie Anderson I’m pretty sure I missed one of the best opportunities in my lifetime to see her speak and watch her film. The film is supposedly a moving portrait of love and loss.  I’m sorry I missed it. I also missed Hitchcock/Truffaut, which I wanted so much to see.



I had the best night’s sleep of my adult life at a Travel Lodge in Williams, Arizona, which is on East Route 66, exactly half-way from Telluride to Los Angeles. Or so said my good friend Glenn Zoller whose family has a place in Telluride. He told me this while we were watching the Salinger documentary. I’d been to Williams before, Chris Willman is always going on and on about it. It is one of those nearly extinct towns that used to dot Route 66 before they built the interstate.

I left the town of Telluride in the late afternoon, not knowing which route I’d chosen using my iPhone’s navigation. It was rumored to only take 5 hours to get to Williams, which had to mean only 5 hours further to Los Angeles. I almost drove through the night because I miss my teenager that much. But a nice bed for the night was the wiser idea. On my way to Williams I was able to listen to the entirety of Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men. Since it’s in my top five favorite movies of all time I figured it was high time to read the book.

Much of what’s great in the movie is taken directly from the book, all of the good lines especially, “It’ll do ’til the mess gets here.” But one great line was left out: “of all of the things you don’t look like is a bunch of good luck walking around.” Just before he’s killed Lewelyn Moss tells a 15 year-old girl that all we have is the day we just lived through:

I know you dont but let me try it one more time. You think when you wake up in the mornin yesterday dont count. But yesterday is all that does count. What else is there? Your life is made out of the days it’s made out of. Nothin else. You might think you could run away and change your name and I dont know what all. Start over. And then one mornin you wake up and look at the ceilin and guess who’s layin there?

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Who hasn’t been captivated at one time or another by J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, one of the greatest American novels ever written. Probably we shouldn’t need to know much about the genius behind the book because, as the genius himself admits, the work should speak for itself. And indeed, Catcher in the Rye has spoken to many for decades, in ways good and bad. Is it Salinger’s fault that so many crazies identify with Holden Caufield’s shunning of the adult world? Or was he merely tapping into the modern American psyche post WWII? Do young, smart, white men feel isolated by what the world has become and do they find an ally in Holden?

The new doc, called simply Salinger, had its premiere at Telluride this morning. Director Shane Salerno had been working on the film for ten years. Keeping close wraps on the information contained in the film (based on the book by David Shields and Salreno was of utmost importance but all of that rolled out today. So fresh was much of this news to the audience that Joyce Maynard (here for Jason Reitman’s Labor Day, upon which her novel is based), who attended the screening, had mascara smeared under her eyes from tears she shed. Later, after the screening and in the lobby, Maynard said that over the past twenty years not a day has gone by that she hasn’t thought of Salinger.

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Because my travel arrangements last year had me driving ten hours from Denver to Telluride I’d decided this summer I would simply make the drive directly from Los Angeles. There wasn’t anything remarkable about the trip except that I listened to two books — Dan Savage’s latest, and The Devil in White City, recommended by a few friends. Both of them helped pass the time, along with the ever changing American landscape that, in two days, took me across California, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado. California doesn’t offer much once you leave the coast, or the Sierras. It’s a relief to finally exit the overcrowded state into less populated areas. I was seeing parts of these states that I’ve never seen before and that is the only thing I remember.

That, and New Mexico’s green foundation, with sharply defined buttes that seem to be placed there purely for aesthetic purposes. Which came first, the beauty or our ability to recognize it? Clouds hovered over them like angels encased in billowy cotton. New Mexico was visually worthy of Georgia O’Keefe’s devotion to it on that afternoon, her interpretation of the landscape and the landscape itself were matched.

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This afternoon I will drive from Los Angeles to Telluride making a few stops along the way. Telluride film festival is set to announce their lineup on Wednesday, the day before the festival begins. It is officially the start of Oscar season, a race that is then shaped and reshaped by the Venice films fest, Toronto and New York. By the time those festivals all end, Best Picture should be in sight, unless we’re looking at a unique year.

For at least the past decade, the Best Picture winner has usually been spotted much earlier than it used to be, back before the Oscar race was picked and scavenged to its bones. It used to be that a film could be released in December and still manage to win Best Picture. Now it always seems like the more ambitious projects are given over to too much speculation and the reliable stand-bys win. In reality-TV they call this “flying under the radar.”
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The sun decided to come out as the Telluride Film Fest was coming to a close. “Monday’s not a real day,” Jeff Wells told me via Twitter. But I had no choice. Monday was a real day to me because I wanted to see whatever movies I could see in the time I had left. The great thing about the last day of the film fest is that the crowds have dwindled to a more tolerable level. After three days of moving my rental car from spot to spot I was able to find a great space on the last day. The problem was that somewhere along the line I’d gotten someone’s cold. I’d planned on seeing at least three movies but I ended up only seeing two.

I dragged myself out of bed to go see Frances Ha, one of the most buzzed movies of the fest. I was grumbling that I didn’t want to go see another “precious” movie, especially that early. Noah Baumbach and the impossibly cute Greta Gerwig were there to present it but they’d decided to cancel the Q&A. I bought some tea at the snack bar to help cure my ailing cold. Every theater here has an assortment of things to purchase, all over priced but the money goes to the fest so why not pay $4 for a teabag and a cup?

After the movie, as we scrambled out of our seats and bee-lined it for the bathroom I could hear some twenty-somethings enlivened by Frances Ha — it spoke to them. It WAS them, they were saying. The conversation eventually turned to HBO’s Girls. They liked that show too. The long line to pee stretched out long past the door and into the main lobby. But it was moving quickly and thank god because one way or the other it was going to get ugly.

The only thing I hadn’t done yet was go to my favorite bookstore, Between the Covers. When I got there, Ken Burns and his daughter Sarah were signing copies of her book, The Central Park Five (which ended up selling out). As I passed them Noah Baumbach passed and shook Ken Burns’ hand. I noticed he didn’t shake Sarah’s. Someday he will. I hadn’t realized the Burns’ would be signing today at Between the Cover but it isn’t unusual to see celebrities in Telluride. They are everywhere, all of the time.

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Not much is known about the Argo mission in the late ’70s to free American hostages in Iran. And what little was known up till now gave credit to Canada for their release. In fact, it’s referred to in pop-history vernacular as the Canadian Caper. If you grew up in Canada you would have felt enormous national pride that day and if you were American, you never would have known that the CIA and Hollywood had come together to create a team of invisible heroes. You also wouldn’t know that although President Carter was in charge at the time, he could never have taken credit for any involvement. Instead, he was shamed out of office for not having released the other American hostages in Iran. Had it been revealed that a fake film crew sneaked in and freed Americans being held hostage the sensational news would have likely turned Carter’s whole image around.

Someone had to tell this story. Turns out Ben Affleck is the man for the job.

Affleck’s Argo comes at a time when we could all use an injection of American pride. Pummeled by a bad economy and torn by an extremist, partisan election, things are not looking good lately. The Republicans promise us that they can undo the bad economy because Congress will magically start working again if their guy can sit in the Oval Office. They’re the real American Americans, after all. The Democrats are trying to keep the faith, to convince us to give them one more at bat to turn things around from an economy pillaged by the Wall Street collapse, sapped by extravagant tax breaks, and ravaged by 10 years of war. But Argo takes place in the vacuum of history and Affleck says he worked hard with screenwriter Chris Terrio to make sure it wasn’t partisan. There are no long preachy speeches about the glory of US-exported democracy. There are no evil Republicans to mock as reckless incompetents. It’s simply an expertly written, flawlessly directed, brilliantly acted thriller. You could leave it right there and it would succeed on those merits. Or you could go a little deeper to talk about how few smart, meaty stories like this are even made anymore. Wonder why not, and marvel that this one was.

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The rain continued its moody descent upon Telluride village, ebbing and flowing at its own discretion. The festival can’t stop for the rain, nor can we whine about having no sunshine because that would be unseemly. Telluride looks the way it does because of the rain. Nonetheless, it made for a somewhat less celebratory mood. My morning started out with a trip up the gondola for an early screening of No, written and directed by Pablo Larraín about the election to unseat Chilean Augusto Pinochet in or around 1989.

You never know what kinds of conversations you’ll be having on the ride up the gondola, depending on what combination of people you end up with. I met a couple this time, on their first trip to Telluride but already so much more organized about it all than I have ever been. They knew what time was the best time to get into the long lines. They knew where the best wi-fi was and how to tether their computers to their blackberries, if the wi-fi didn’t work. They’d been going to Sundance for years but it became “too much of a zoo.” Since there had been so much buzz around Telluride in the last few years they figured they’d give this a try. I wondered what it would be like to just come here for the sheer fun of it, for the love of cinema, to hang out with someone who really liked doing film festival stuff for fun.

The large number of senior citizens who attend this festival is a hopeful harbinger of what might lie ahead for some of us. When kids aren’t at home, when there’s no more 40-hour work weeks, there are film festivals in beautiful cities all over the country. It’s a thing to do, anyway. “How are you doing,” the coffee barista at Between the Covers asked one of the elderly customers. “I wonder if I’ll remember anything later,” she said.

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Time slips away faster than you think, especially when all you want to do is sleep and watch the sky change. A 9am screening means getting up and out as early as you can, especially when you’re going to The Nugget, the teeny tiny theater on the main drag in Telluride. If you don’t get there early you will not get a seat. If you want to get coffee at the Steaming Bean next door that’s an even longer wait.

The fresh coffee inside the theater was as good as any I’ve ever had so I just waited and got it there. I spotted Kris Tapley from In Contention and Joe Morgenstern from the Wall Street Journal — I’d been tipped off by Tapley who is smart about picking which movies to see and when. If you ever attend a fest with Tapley, it’s not a bad idea to just follow him around if you can get him to tell you where he’s going. He was one of the first of our “Oscar blogger” community to come to Telluride and since then it’s morphed a bit into a pre-Oscar stop. This year, though, it feels less like a mini-Toronto and more like what it’s intended to be: smallish films attended by a faithful community of devotees.

The Central Park Five might end up being among the best films I’ll see here. Sarah Burns began studying the horrifying case of five black teens who were caught in Central Park the night a jogger was raped, bludgeoned and left for dead. After being kept up all night, with no food, no water and no lawyer, the teens started lying to get out of there. They confessed to a crime they never did because the cops and the DA promised them that’s what they had to do to get out of jail. It had become such a high profile case that they had to catch the perps, no matter if it meant coercing young men, aged 14 even, to falsify a confession. Without checking any of the hard evidence in the case first, the boys were charged, tried and found guilty. All the while, the press fanned the flames, the public was alarmed and angry, politicians used the case to urge for the Death Penalty (super-genius Donald Trump is quoted). The parents of the boys knew the truth but no one would listen to them.

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When you commit to the Telluride Film Festival you do so not knowing what films will play here. That’s sort of like marrying someone without sleeping with them first. You commit and that is all. This is my second year covering the fest, and the thing that pulls me back here isn’t really the films at all. There is some kind of magic in the place that can’t really be upstaged; no matter how magnetic the stars are on the ground they can’t equal the stars in the black-clear sky. Even when it rains, as it’s been doing on and off for a couple of days, Telluride’s beauty is all.

That said, I almost gave up this time after having missed the only flight out of LA to Durango on Thursday morning. (This year’s lineup was announced that afternoon). A whole day later of waiting to get on standby convinced me that if I wanted to get to Telluride, I’d have to buy a whole other plane ticket because the one I had wasn’t going to get me there. I took a loss on one ticket, purchased another one after the airline assured me they’d sent my bag to Denver. I trusted them. I flew to Denver but I was told that my bag had actually been sent to Durango. So not only was I going to have to drive six hours to Durango (they couldn’t send my bag to Telluride until late the next day) but then two more hours to Telluride.

I did it, though. I did it because I knew sooner or later I was going to be here. Yeah, I had to read the tweetgasms on the first who saw Argo, and then miss the outdoor screening of Hyde Park on Hudson. I was rushing in the faint hope that I could still squeeze out something from that first night. A word of advice: if you are going to drive six hours through the entire state of Colorado and you’re in a rush? You’re doing it wrong.

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Some trailers don’t need accompanying synopsis or explanation. This isn’t one of those. Joshua Oppenheimer’s documentary about Indonesian Death Squads will screen in Toronto as well, and the TIFF site is where I found the best observations about the bizarre proceedings.

“I have not come across a documentary as powerful, surreal, and frightening in a decade,” wrote Werner Herzog after seeing an early preview of The Act of Killing, and both he and Errol Morris were impressed enough to sign on as executive producers. A chilling and revelatory exploration of the sometimes perilously thin line between film violence and real-life violence, the film investigates a murderous, oft-forgotten chapter of history in a way that is startlingly original and bound to stir debate: enlisting a group of former killers to re-enact their lives (and deaths) in the style of the film noirs, musicals and westerns that they love.

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Telluride 2012 feat

  • THE ACT OF KILLING (d. Joshua Oppenheimer, Denmark, 2012)
  • AMOUR (d. Michael Haneke, Austria, 2012)
  • AT ANY PRICE (d. Ramin Bahrani, U.S., 2012)
  • THE ATTACK (d. Ziad Doueiri, Lebanon-France, 2012)
  • BARBARA (d. Christian Petzold, Germany, 2012)
  • THE CENTRAL PARK FIVE (d. Ken Burns, Sarah Burns, David McMahon, U.S., 2012)
  • EVERYDAY (d. Michael Winterbottom, U.K., 2012)
  • FRANCES HA (d. Noah Baumbach, U.S., 2012)
  • THE GATEKEEPERS (d. Dror Moreh, Israel, 2012)
  • GINGER AND ROSA (d. Sally Potter, England, 2012)
  • THE HUNT (d. Thomas Vinterberg, Denmark, 2012)
  • HYDE PARK ON HUDSON (d. Roger Michell, U.S., 2012)
  • THE ICEMAN (d. Ariel Vromen, U.S., 2012)
  • LOVE, MARILYN (d. Liz Garbus, U.S., 2012)
  • MIDNIGHT’S CHILDREN (d. Deepa Mehta, Canada-Sri Lanka, 2012)
  • NO (Pablo Larraín, Chile, 2012)
  • PARADISE: LOVE (d. Ulrich Seidl, Austria, 2012)
  • PIAZZA FONTANA (d. Marco Tullio Giordana, Italy, 2012)
  • A ROYAL AFFAIR (d. Nikolaj Arcel, Denmark, 2012)
  • RUST & BONE (d. Jacques Audiard, France, 2012)
  • THE SAPPHIRES (d. Wayne Blair, Australia, 2012)
  • STORIES WE TELL (d. Sarah Polley, Canada, 2012)
  • SUPERSTAR (d. Xavier Giannoli, France, 2012)
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Inspired by a true story, THE SAPPHIRES follows four vivacious, young and talented Australian Aboriginal girls from a remote mission as they learn about love, friendship and war when their all girl group The Sapphires entertains the U.S. troops in Vietnam in 1968. Cynthia (Tapsell), Gail (Mailman), Julie (Mauboy) and Kay (Sebbens) are discovered by Dave (O’Dowd), a good-humored talent scout with a kind heart, very little rhythm but a great knowledge of soul music. As their manager, Dave books the sisters their first true gig giving them their first taste of stardom, and travels them to Vietnam to sing for the American troops.

The last days of Telluride were about seeing movies but they were also about connecting with people.  Some of them were movie stars.  Some of them were film critics, some were publicists, and some film bloggers.

On one morning I had the occasion to meet and talk to the great Glenn Close, staring in Albert Nobbs. A few of us were given a small window to interview her after the film screened the night before.  She was there to do a q&a about the film.  Close, now in her 50s 60s, is still a strikingly beautiful woman.   Scott Feinberg, Kris Tapley, Anne Thompson, Jeff Wells and I were all sitting around up at the Chuck Jones theater shooting the shit about the Oscars.  I bet Feinberg a cool $20 that Viola Davis was going to win in the Best Actress category, despite it being really Close’s year.  The reason for this is that I think Davis wins in any category she’s put in but I think they’ll put her in lead. If she isn’t put in that category, Close will take it.  The Oscars are always hard to predict, especially when you try to do it as early as September.

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I don’t need no lasso
I don’t need no ball and chain
I don’t need anything with you
Such a shame, shame, shame
Shame, shame, shame
Shame is the shadow of love
–PJ Harvey

Steve McQueen’s unflinching look at sexual addiction and what drives it is the subject of this startlingly moving film, which had its premier in Venice but played here in Telluride yesterday.  The film stars Michael Fassbender as a successful but isolated businessman who relies on porn, prostitutes and masturbation in place of real intimacy. He can’t get close to anyone but he can have pseudo closeness.  It’s not all that far from Thomas Haden Church in Sideways, “you don’t understand my plight.”  But in Sideways it was never really examined so closely.  In Shame, the character is running from past emotional damage; he’s doing whatever it takes to rub out whatever that was, driving him deeper into his addiction.

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“A phrase began to beat in my ears with a sort of heady excitement: ‘There are only the pursued, the pursuing, the busy, and the tired.'”
– F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby, Ch. 4

It was hard not to think of Fitzgerald’s Gatsby as we made our way in the shuttle up the winding dirt road to a party thrown for patrons and VIPS – their reward for their generous donations and coverage was hob-nobbing with the various celebrities who were in Telluride to promote their films.  The shuttle picked people up down on Main Street, in front of the Sheridan hotel, all of them crammed in tightly, cell phones at the ready so as to avoid conversation.  But if conversation did start it was usually the same kind of thing: How long is the ride? Is this where the brunch was last year? Is George Clooney going to be there?

The shuttle stopped at the top of a mountain that itself wasn’t even the highest mountain but still boasted the kind of view you only have if you’re if you’re a winner in life.  You’ve at last won the game, either by getting something coming to you, or you worked hard for it and this is what you have to show the world that you’ve won the damned game.

We wandered down the dusty road where there were white tents with round tables underneath them.  The staff busily prepared the all local and organic menu, the mimosas, the coffee, and of course, the one thing you simply can’t do without in Telluride: water.  There were a few names there already and we were began rubber-necking.  Ken Burns, Werner Herzog, Wim Wenders, Alexander Payne were the early birds, each of them talking to anyone who happened to approach.

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The idea to drive into Albuquerque and make the nearly six hour drive to Telluride turned out to be a good one by my travel mate, Jeff Wells of  At first it seemed like the way to go was to wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am it and fly in just for the film fest.  But to know a place, to fall in love with a place, it is sometimes necessary, advisable even, to take a different route than everyone else might take.  The work is the work, but the place is the place. And when it comes to Telluride, Colorado, and all of the magnificent landscape that surrounds it, a broader view is the way to go.  I will admit fully, though, that as a “Telluride virgin” perhaps I don’t know what I’m talking about.  I’ll take that chance.

New Mexico was covered with a swatch of moisture-soaked clouds threatening to rain and every now and then letting some raindrops go – in bursts sometimes.  Every once in a while there’d be an ominous flash of lightning splitting the flat horizon line, darkening as we headed toward Durango.  We would make it to our hotel by 11pm, a full hour earlier than expected, careful to avoid the many cop cars which were pulling people over right and left, looking an awful lot like immigrant purging but one brings one’s liberal agenda with them everywhere.

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Five days ago in Venice Black Swan roused audiences to their feet for a 5-minute standing ovation. A surprise screening in Telluride last night has inspired the same excitement stateside.

Eric D. Snider, Cinematical

Black Swan is a wholly engrossing, almost unbearably tense drama about a fairly mundane thing: backstage anxiety in the performing arts. Countless movies have addressed the same subject, but I feel safe in saying none have addressed it in quite this way. Aronofsky, working from a screenplay by Mark Heyman and Andres Heinz, shows a knack for combining genres in a most unsettling fashion. Here you’ll find psychological thrills, body horror, sexual awakening, symbolic self-discovery, hallucinatory trickery, and the terrifying calf muscles of ballet dancers, all in one movie.

At the center of this psychological nightmare is Natalie Portman, giving the best performance of her career… She’s in nearly every frame of the movie, often dancing, often in close-up, conveying a huge range of intense and complicated emotions. No matter how suspenseful, strange, or astonishing things get, we’re right there with her, feeling every bit of Nina’s fear, confusion, excitement, and eventual liberation.

Peter Sciretta, SlashFilm

Black Swan is a brilliant mind fuck. It is one of the boldest films I’ve seen produced by a Hollywood studio in years.

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Not formal reviews on the Times movie page yet — of course, those will wait for the movies to be released — but A.O. Scott has a lot of praise for two of today’s Telluride standouts on this artsblog which give us a clear idea of his enthusiasm. He says 127 Hours made an “unannounced sneak appearance,” a festival tradition, and recaps the harrowing circumstances recreated by James Franco as hiker Aron Ralston:

You may remember the story: trapped in a narrow crevice in a deep canyon, Mr. Ralston escaped by cutting off part of his right arm, which was pinned against a rock.

His experience is disconcerting enough just to think about, and to see it recreated, in Mr. Boyle’s characteristically fast-moving, immersive style, is jarring, thrilling and weirdly funny. At a question-and-answer session after the first screening on Saturday afternoon, Mr. Boyle — director of “Trainspotting,” “28 Days Later” and of course “Slumdog Millionaire,” which snuck into Telluride two years ago — described himself as a thoroughly “urban” type with no great love for or interest in nature. And the jangly, jumpy energy he brings to a story of silence, solitude and confinement gives the film an irreverent kick that deepens and sharpens its emotional and spiritual insights.

Scott compares The Way Back to earlier Peter Weir films that have shown “a reverence for the beauties and terrors of nature,” like Picnic at Hanging Rock, “in which the topography of his native country assumes a haunting, even demonic presence.”

Compared to Mr. Boyle’s, Mr. Weir’s style is stately, almost classical, and the astonishing story he has to tell in the new movie — about a group of men who escaped from a Soviet Labor camp in 1941 and walked from Siberia to India — has an old-fashioned gravity and grandeur. There are fine performances from Ed Harris, Sioarse Ronan and Jim Sturgess as Januzs, the Polish prisoner who leads the trek toward freedom, and breathtaking images of tundra, desert forest and grassland.

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