We're guessing the faces of the folks behind the Starz Denver Film Festival fell as the temperatures dropped in advance of Wednesday's opening night at the Buell Theatre. They'd already taken a gamble by booking 5 to 7, a low key romance that's generated relatively little buzz to date, as the fest's kickoff flick -- and the brutal conditions made a late flurry of ticket-buying unlikely in the extreme. The result was an intimate launch -- even more intimate than expected.
The first hint that Opening Night wouldn't be a mob scene came with the discovery that the parking lot nearest the Buell, which is usually packed prior to such events, had spaces aplenty. Likewise, the plaza outside the venue was wide open as the handful of patrons scurried inside, past the area where filmmakers and other guests typically stroll a red carpet lined with journalists and camera operators.
Not this year, however. While the press table was still outside, manned by a staffer who looked as if she could double as an ice sculpture, a room on the second level of the theatre was transformed into a makeshift celebrity reception area.
This approach was clearly preferable to quizzing notables while out in the elements, when the cleverness of their comments would have undoubtedly been lessened due to an inability to move their tongue. But it prevented attendees from closely observing the fun, since the balconies were closed to the general public.
That's how light ticket sales were. During most years, the assorted sections of the Buell are crowded with movie lovers ranging from the social elite dripping with jewels to more typical film fans clad in Colorado casual. On this night, though, everyone was able to fit into the lower level generally reserved for muckety-mucks -- and there was plenty of room to spare. When I asked one usher if I could sit in an area relatively close to the front, she said that normally only those with a star on their laminates were allowed do so -- but given the circumstances, I could plant myself wherever I liked.
Festival director Britta Erickson, the evening's emcee, made frequent mention of the chill during her introductory remarks, which outlined a slew of upcoming events, including the Big Night presentation of The Imitation Game, a focus on the films of Brazil, the creation of a new award aimed at Colorado filmmakers and more. But Victor Levin, 5 to 7's writer-director, got off the best line prior to the main attraction, apologizing in advance for his film's "graphic depictions of nice weather."
Actually, one scene from the flick featured rain and umbrellas -- absolute requirements for an offering that aspired to mate the sensibilities of French films about romance with the American versions.
Continue for more about opening night at the 2014 Starz Denver Film Festival, including additional photos. The film marked the second starring actor Anton Yelchin to open the festival; Like Crazy, a beguiling indie, earned this honor in 2011.
This time around, Yelchin portrays Brian, an aspiring author who papers his writing room with rejection slips. But then, he happens upon Arielle, who, as played by Berenice Marlohe, is both smoking hot (literally so, since she's seldom without a cigarette) and cloaked in mystery (she uses her incredibly toothy smile to alternately express or shield her feelings). They meet intermittently over a series of weeks, but just as their relationship is on the cusp of physicality, she reveals that she's the mother of two children and married -- and while her husband (Lambert Wilson) is perfectly fine with her dalliance, seeing as how he's conducting one of his own with a young editor (Olivia Thirlby), Brian feels he can't ethically take part in such a pairing.
Of course, he folds shortly thereafter, embarking on an affair in which the only secrets left untold involve Brian's desire for something more permanent than hotel rendezvous between the title hours.
There's not a lot of suspense about where the story goes from there. Predictions made during the first frame prove stunningly accurate as the narrative unfolds. Still, 5 to 7 manages to remain aloft despite a plot that fails to stay ahead of the audience and a troublesome lack of chemistry between Yelchin and Marlohe, whose interplay bubbles along rather than heating up.
Throughout the lengthy opening act, Levin, a TV veteran associated with Mad About You (he's also worked as a producer on Mad Men), attempts to get his Truffaut on, zeroing in on Brian and Arielle to the exclusion of pretty much anyone else in Manhattan, where the movie's set, and shooting in long, languorous takes. But the dialogue betrays Levin's sitcom origins -- a drawback until he belatedly opens up the story by way of introducing Brian's parents, played by Glenn Close and Frank Langella. The bantering and bickering of these old pros is the highlight of the film, due in part to the way their scenes swim against the tide of Levin's art-house pretensions.
Of course, the good times can't last, and the tale's turn toward wistful melancholy presses all the expected buttons on its journey toward inevitability. But the reason it works on at least a modest level is because of its creator's sincerity. In a post-screening discussion with veteran film critic Robert Denerstein, Levin said that anyone who comes to Hollywood has to decide early on whether he wants to be a cynic or a non-cynic, and he opted for the latter, despite knowing that those in the other camp might make fun of him for being too "emotional."
Oh yeah: Prior to Levin's chat, Erickson gave a rising-star award to actress Jocelyn DeBoer, who plays an exceedingly minor role in the film. DeBoer's character doesn't even appear until the closing minutes and essentially serves as background for Brian and Arielle. Still, she earned her prize simply by showing up on a nasty evening when so many others stayed away.
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