By Leah Greenblatt
September 01, 2019 at 10:26 AM EDT
Wilson Webb/Netflix

His epic 210-minute crime drama The Irishman isn’t premiering at Telluride (it bows Sept 27 at the New York Film Festival), but it was a very Martin Scorsese Saturday at the annual event.

The director returned to TFF for the first time in 41 years, this time strictly as a fan — first to talk about his late friend, the French New Wave pioneer Agnes Varda, at a screening of Varda by Agnes, and then to introduce Adam Driver, the star of his 2016 film Silence, in a tribute that preceded the premiere of Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story. (More on that later.)

Scorsese had all kinds of stories for both — Varda showing up to the premiere of The Wolf of Wall Street in a scarf made of real $100 bills; Driver starving on location for Silence (he lost 52 pounds for the role of a Jesuit priest in 17th-century Japan) while the rest of the crew went crazy on the local food scene. His anecdotes went on long enough to push the next screenings into overtime, but absolutely nobody seemed to mind.

Most festival-goers were already hours in by then anyway; the morning kicked off at 9 a.m. with a showing of Ford vs. Ferrari, the ‘60s racing biopic by James Mangold (Walk the Line) starring Matt Damon and Christian Bale as Carrol Shelby and Ken Miles, the pair who famously brought America its first (and only) victories in the legendary 24-hour French car race Le Mans.

It’s a very le manly movie: a big, horse-powered crowd-pleaser that hits pretty much all its laugh lines and emotional beats bang-on. And it’s fun, too, to see a lean, brown Christian Bale — about a thousand miles away from his swollen-tick Dick Cheney in Vice — getting to act in something close to his own British accent for the first time in a while.

Next up was Pedro Almodovar’s Pain and Glory, a sort of melancholy late-career autofiction that reunites two of his favorite muses, Antonio Banderas and Penelope Cruz, in a story about a successful but emotionally struggling film director (Banderas) in Madrid looking back on his life in his childhood village with his mother (Cruz).

It’s a quiet, wistful wisp of a movie, but Banderas — who wandered through the parking lot of the Palm after — is so watchable in every scene, whether he’s putting shoes on or waiting for the doorbell to ring and let in the lover he hasn’t seen in over thirty years. (The full cast of Marriage Story, who took up a row at the center of the theater, seemed to agree.)

Varda by Agnes is completely great, too — a joyful examination of an artist’s life by the famously colorful and endlessly inspired filmmaker, who died in Paris at 90 this past March. (Varda doesn’t open till Nov. 22 in limited release, but you can still watch her fantastic Oscar-winning 2017 documentary Faces Places on Netflix).

You don’t get a tribute, of course, without at least one film in the festival, and Adam Driver’s excuse was Marriage Story, a sad, funny, heart-wrecking divorce drama with beautifully calibrated performances by both him and Scarlett Johansson (and a very entertaining, very Renata turn by Laura Dern as the Brentwood-barracuda attorney who takes Johansson’s case). Most people walking out looked like they were reeling from more than the town’s famous altitude; it might be a good idea to build in a few hours for emotional recovery after you see the movie, which comes to Netflix on Dec. 6.

It would have been nice to crawl straight into bed from there to self-soothe with sad snacks and cat TikToks, but getting back to about half the hotels in Telluride from the main theaters means riding the gondolas that go up and down the mountain, and sometimes during rush hour (like after the last screenings of the night), up to eight strangers get piled in together from the group and singles lines.

Tonight’s ride home included a local taxi driver, a vacationing couple from Phoenix on the way to their new condo, and Renee Zellweger, who wanted to know what movies everybody liked best so far. There were a lot of votes for Marriage Story, a big no from the cabbie on Adam Sandler in Uncut Gems (“nobody needs to use that many f-words”), and a big yes for Adam Driver in everything (he also has the CIA torture-memo drama The Report here). But everyone agreed they want to see Waves, Trey Edward Shult’s buzz-catching domestic drama about a black family in Florida.

Then Zellweger sweetly congratulated the couple on the condo, and it was off for one last walk through the alpine dark, a few hours of sleep, and a look at Sunday’s schedule to see how many more chances there are to see Waves. Until tomorrow!

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