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Day 1: Telluride Gets An Education

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This is the first in a series of reports from the Telluride Film Festival. The event customarily held over the Labor Day weekend returned for its 36th season September 4-7. Coverage will include a quick look at a film screened the previous night; highlights of some of the group discussions and celebrity appearances; and word on the streets (or the tweets) about who or what might be creating the most showbiz buzz.

Friday’s sneak review: An Education (Sony Pictures Classics), which is scheduled to open in New York and Los Angeles on October 9, 2009. The British movie by a Danish moviemaker was the winner of the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival in February.

Running time: 95 minutes.

What’s it all about? It’s 1961 in Twickenham, England, and 16-year-old straight-A student Jenny dreams of living in Paris but seems content with playing the cello, smoking cigarettes, learning to speak French and listening to Juliette Greco, while pleasing her parents by earnestly preparing to go to the next level at Oxford University. Until she meets the (older) man of her dreams … she thinks. A Ravel concert followed by a fancy dinner turns out to be “the best night of my life,” she tells her mother, who later also admits, “Life’s a little brighter with him around.” Faced with making choices, that’s when Jenny really learns all about the hard facts of life.

Director: Lone Scherfig (Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself, Italian for Beginners), who was on hand with new “It Girl” Carey Mulligan (Public Enemies, Pride & Prejudice, Doctor Who) on Friday night to introduce the first showing of the film, a free screening under a full moon at Elks Park. Scherfig, who was born in Denmark, asked viewers to “enter the time machine with us” and hoped “the film does this wonderful setting justice.”

Leading roles: Peter Sarsgaard (David); Carey Mulligan (Jenny). Mulligan, 24, who is participating in at least one afternoon seminar and a Sunday morning conversation with film critic Leonard Maltin while in Telluride, just hoped the opening night crowd “laughed in the right places.” Tabbed a “Rising Star” in Entertainment Weekly’s Fall Movie Preview, she is on her way to becoming a household name but was introduced in Telluride as “Casey, I mean, Carey Mulligan.”

Also appearing: Alfred Molina (Jack); Cara Seymour (Majorie); Olivia Williams (Miss Stubbs); Emma Thompson (Headmistress); Rosamund Pike (Helen).

Telluride take
• The Oscar talk for Mulligan may be a bit premature, although this film could do for her career what last year’s Happy-Go-Lucky did for Sally Hawkins, who went on to receive a Golden Globe award and also makes a brief appearance in An Education. Mulligan, who has drawn a wide range of comparisons (from Katie Holmes to Audrey Hepburn), does manage to handle playing a mature-for-her-age schoolgirl much better than Sarsgaard pulls off a British accent as Jenny’s thirtysomething “manfriend.”
• The supporting cast is stellar, led by Molina and Seymour as Jenny’s seemingly strict parents before falling for the charming David, who admits he attended the “university of life but didn’t get a good grade there.” Then there’s the striking Pike, who as Helen might play the dumbest sophisticated blonde ever, and is graced with the funniest lines in the film. After Jenny receives a “B” in a foreign language course, she is reassured by the older (but definitely not wiser) Helen, who says,“Fifty years from now, nobody will be speaking Latin. Not even Latin people.”
• Of course, the writing is as whip-smart as Jenny, with Nick Hornby (High Fidelity, About A Boy) adapting the screenplay from an eight-page memoir by Lynn Barber.
• The swinging Sixties soundtrack includes numbers by Count Basie, Brenda Lee and (surprise) Mel Torme.

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