Credit: Don Brubaker

Warning: Any appearance of reportorial objectivity in the following is purely accidental. When it comes to Cate Blanchett, duly paid tribute to at the Arlington Theatre last night in SBIFF’s annual “Outstanding Performance” slot, there’s no question in my mind that she richly deserves the Best Actress Oscar for her stunning role in the year’s greatest film, Tár. As troubled, brilliant, and power-maddened conductor Lydia Tár, Blanchett turned in her best performance yet, in an already illustrious body of work.

End of fanboy love note.

Doing the interviewer honors, Hollywood Reporter’s Scott Feinberg did a fine and comprehensive job of spanning the breadth and plumbing the personal perspectives of the ever-charming Blanchett. Early in the interview, she interjected, with a laugh, “This is a deep dive. Do you want me to lay down?”

If not always a household name/box office boffo brand of star, this admitted eclectic has fashioned a diverse career, playing such icons as Queen Elizabeth I — twice — Bob Dylan, Katherine Hepburn, the Blanche DuBois–esque lead of Blue Jasmine, and much more. Throughout the evening, she stressed her deep passion for working on stage, her original dramatic stomping grounds. Working on Tár, she said, “had that performance component to it, so it was a kind of homecoming for me.”

Fans gathered in front of the Arlington Theatre on Friday night to welcome Cate Blanchett. | Credit: Don Brubaker

Tár, created specifically for Blanchett by writer-director Todd Field, was an “utterly once-in-a-lifetime experience,” she asserted. “Sometimes a role hits you when you’re open to the subterranean elements of your craft.” Regarding interpretations and controversies around the film’s women-centered #MeToo qualities and plot twists and ambiguities, she insisted, “There’s no right or wrong way of thinking about it.”

Despite the understandable flood of accolades coming her way, from the awards circuit and respect from critics and colleagues (including her major fan Meryl Streep), Blanchett brings a certain humility and work-focused mentality in check. “I don’t think a lot about legacy,” she said. “It’s a way of sidestepping your life.”

And here was another tribute spotlight, her third time at SBIFF, including an understandably effusive tribute by award presenter Field: “Cate is an activist, a humanitarian, a working mother, and the best-dressed woman in the world…. How lucky we are to live in the time when Cate Blanchett graces our stages and screens, and walks the Earth for our common good.” Wow. On more than on count.

Trailers Matter

This year’s official SBIFF trailer — which will have run hundreds of times by festival’s end — has a refreshingly subtle and literally artistic spin, with none of the customary, music-pumped glitz attached. The trailer features prized Santa Barbara–based painter Patricia Chidlaw’s epic view of the Arlington tower, this year’s festival poster image, in long, loving, longing duration. 

At some screenings, Chidlaw’s own words are heard, referring to her interest in contrast in her work as a realist painter, and she expressed her admiration for old movie palaces as “portals to times past.” At other screenings, the trailer goes minimal, sonically, stripping away the narration and sporting only ambient street sounds, with the final tolling of church bells. It’s a dreamy thing, reminiscent of a recent festival trailer featuring painter Hank Pitcher. Thumbs up.

Further Reports from Doc-dom

Because the world is not always a pretty place, the nature of contemporary truth-seeking documentaries can go to dark places in the line of duty. But there is hope and life affirmation aplenty in the new doc Butterfly in the Sky — essentially a film about TV about reading. Directors Bradford Thomason and Brett Whitcomb go digging into the history of the popular and cross-generational influencer PBS show Reading Rainbow, digging into the inspired history and cross-generational influence of the PBS series, launched in the early ’80s for 26 years, with the express purpose of drawing TV-benumbed children into the world of books.

With the groundbreaking Reading Rainbow, the advocacy for reading came in the form of entertaining — and decidedly slow-brew pacing by today’s hyperactive entertainment standards. The concept involved a mix of anchoring and charismatic host LeVar Burton (a rare “non-threatening” Black male presence, especially for the time — dubbed “the Black Mr. Rogers”), actual children “reviewers” (some of whom are caught up with in “where are they now” fashion in the film) and surprisingly well-produced and well-traveled segments from around the world. Butterfly in the Sky admirably conveys the tale of a remarkable experiment gone “viral” before the v-word was commonplace.

Child’s Plays

Belgian actress Virginie Efira is the magnetic core of writer-director Rebecca Zlotowski’s appealing, well-behaved drama Other People’s Children, which deals with ticking maternal instinct in ways both joyful and melancholic. Our empathetic protagonist finds herself in a true but problematic romance with a divorced man with a 4-year-old daughter. She handily wins the affections of said “other people’s children” — her lover’s daughter and the students in her high school class. Warm gusts of emotional truth are imbued in the film, and any French film that opens with Thelonious Monk’s “Ruby My Dear” and ends with Jobim’s “Waters of March” understands the power of atmospheric nuance. Which it does.

When it comes to the matter of captivating toddler performances on this year’s festival program, there may be no greater screen presence than wee virtuoso Alma Farago in the fascinating and effectively rough-edged Manuela. Directed by Argentinian Clara Cullen, in an auspicious and artistic debut, the story delves into the life of an immigrant woman (Bárbara Lombardo) in Los Angeles, landing a position as a nanny for a busy and distracted business woman. Manuela deals with the built-in alienation and foibles of an L.A. nanny’s life as she builds a strong bond with her young charge, meanwhile missing her own child — an occupational hazard. It’s a filmic film, with a naturalistic shooting style and a sense of improvisation, not purely for art’s sake, but for the sake of making the surrogate mother/child relationship feel all the more real.

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