The Gene Siskel Film Center is offering a special discount for Cine-File readers to the film MESSI AND MAUD, showing this week (Friday, March 23 at 8:15pm and Saturday, March 24 at 5:15pm) in the European Union Film Festival. Mention “Cine-File” in-person at the box-office for a $7.00 admission (regularly $11). Not valid for online ticket purchases.
Check out our review of the film below.
Robert Altman's CALIFORNIA SPLIT (American Revival)
Music Box Theatre – Saturday and Sunday, 11:30am
CALIFORNIA SPLIT is ostensibly a movie about two guys getting loaded on booze and gambling, moving from bender to bender, racetrack to casino. However, over the course of the film CALIFORNIA SPLIT reveals itself to be a tale of personal sadness coupled with the longing to be accepted and liked by another human, any human who will welcome them as they are. Altman's trademark cross-dialogue denseness, captured using multiple boom mics, achieves beautifully dizzying heights, as massive blocks of dialogue are rendered barely discernible. But whatever is made ambiguous by this audio jumble is given full clarity when the characters’ veneers drop off, leaving nothing but their emotional center. In one of the movie's most remarkable scenes two prostitutes, played by Ann Prentiss and Gwen Welles, sit in a bed together after one of them has had their sexual advances rebuffed by leading man George Segal. Her friend consoles her by stroking her hair and promising that she has a great client for her to entertain instead, softly promising another, better man who will treat her kindly. The dialogue is delivered very matter-of-factly, with not a lot of conviction behind it, but it foregrounds a dream of companionship, if even for a few hours, which is the soul of this underrated film. The aforementioned scene is a wonderful representation of the film as a whole, which on paper seems like just another buddy-heist-comedy. Altman, being a wonderful subverter of genre stereotypes, delivers less of a kooky comedy of errors, and more of a Cassavetes-influenced genre hybrid, very similar to another of its miraculous ilk, Elaine May's flat-out masterful MIKEY & NICKY. (1974, 108 min, 35mm) JD
Michael Haneke’s THE SEVENTH CONTINENT (Austrian Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) – Tuesday, 7pm
Note: Significant Spoilers!—Doc Films kicks off its Michael Haneke retrospective with the director’s first theatrical feature, which he made after years of directing stage plays and television films. It remains one of Haneke’s most powerful works, advancing a bleak view of modern society as inherently dehumanizing. Haneke conveys his worldview through short, fragmented scenes that show alienated behavior and mechanized labor as part of a continuum. In perhaps the film’s most characteristic shot (which recalls the work of Harun Farocki), a prolonged, static closeup shows hands scanning items at a supermarket check-out. One thinks during this moment of the countless hours that this unidentified person spends performing these routine motions and how it might effect him or her emotionally—is the check-out clerk as alienated from other people as the film’s protagonists, a disconnected upper-middle-class family that commits collective suicide? THE SEVENTH CONTINENT doesn’t provide a clear-cut reason for the family’s tragic decision—and this ambiguity connects it with such later Haneke puzzle-films as CODE UNKNOWN and CACHÉ—yet its characterization of modern Austria is so heavy and unsettling that the suicide comes to feel inevitable. It’s as though there’s something in the air driving people to despair, like an existential variation on the plague in George Romero’s THE CRAZIES. In this regard, THE SEVENTH CONTINENT plays like a horror film; as you watch it, you wait with nervous anticipation for the characters to buckle under societal forces and act out horribly. When they do, however, the results are saddening rather than frightening, as Haneke renders their behavior all too relatable and human. (1989, 109 min, 35mm) BS
EUROPEAN UNION FILM FESTIVAL at the Gene Siskel Film Center – Week Three
The Gene Siskel Film Center’s European Union Film Festival continues this week, and runs through April 5. We have some highlighted selections below, and the full schedule is on the Siskel’s website.
Marleen Jonkman’s MESSI AND MAUD (Netherlands)
Friday, 8:15pm and Saturday, 5:15pm
As in the work of John Cassavetes and Maurice Pialat, the characters of MESSI AND MAUD careen wildly between emotional extremes while the filmmaking remains consistently naturalistic. This tension between form and content provokes an array of responses, from sympathy to objective curiosity, and it keeps one fascinated even when the story becomes implausible. The film takes place in Chile, where middle-aged Dutch couple Maud and Frank are taking a vacation. Friction develops between the couple over the course of the trip, with each partner stewing over longstanding disappointments and resentments. Things come to a head when Maud has a miscarriage and falls into a depression. She decides on a whim that she must change her life, and so she leaves Frank and takes off hitchhiking. On her travels, she encounters an eight-year-old boy, Messi, who’s being abused by his truck-driver father. She takes pity on the boy, steals him away from the father, and the two hit the road together. Rifka Lodeizen gives a commanding performance as Maud, imbuing the character with a recognizable humanity that remains steady in spite of her erratic behavior. MESSI AND MAUD raises a provocative question: Is it possible to lose sense of yourself after spending decades establishing who you are? Maud’s journey isn’t one of self-discovery, but rather self-abnegation, with Messi enabling her to lose herself in a fantasy of motherhood. Her evolution is alternately exhilarating and scary, since you’re never sure what she’ll do next. (2017, 92 min, DCP Digital) BS
Ilian Djevelekov’s OMNIPRESENT (Bulgaria)
Saturday, 5:30pm and Wednesday, 7:45pm
Emil, a handsome, middle-aged writer and ad agency exec, is the charming rogue anti-hero of this unsettling Bulgarian comedy/drama about the perils of electronic surveillance. When antiques start to go missing from his bedridden father’s house, Emil installs a hidden camera to help catch the thief. He soon gets hooked on the thrill of being able to see into the private life of his parents, and plants a series of “little eyes” all around his home, writing studio, and office to record and secretly control the actions and desires of his psychoanalyst wife (who sees patients in their home), teenage son, and insubordinate employees. Although it’s only a matter of time until Emil’s rear-windowing will turn against him, OMNIPRESENT gleefully exploits the pleasures of spying on others and convincingly shows us why Emil’s fantasy is both so perverse and so irresistible. The film fluidly switches between different types of surveillance media, implicating forces from the neighborhood watch outside Emil’s house to the social media platforms on his cell phone. In one scene, Emil switches from watching the stealth footage he has recorded of a beautiful woman in his office to scrolling through her Facebook history. The interrelation between these two types of social boundary crossings is clever and shrewd. In preparation to become the host nation for the EU Presidency (from January to June 2018), Bulgaria significantly increased its (already pervasive) CCTV Surveillance infrastructures, especially in Sofia. Most public spaces, traffic intersections, and pedestrian crossings in Bulgaria are now monitored by a massive system of over 3,000 cameras, programmed to recognize and track faces and license plates. Many of the startling sequences from OMNIPRESENT are not just the shots taken by Emil’s self-rigged devices, but also the CCTV cameras that include him in their view. Likewise, the Orwellian banks of cameras that we glimpse on his laptop undeniably resemble state-sanctioned security-video systems. If OMNIPRESENT takes as its central lesson that those who set traps deserve to get caught, other EU nations may be wise to take note in planning their own surveillance policies. (2017, 120 min, Digital Projection) TTJ
Alain Gomis' FÉLICITÉ (New Senegalese/French)
Alliance Française (54 W. Chicago Ave.) – Saturday, 3pm
Alain Gomis' FÉLICITÉ, an immersive, celebratory work of magical realism, won the Silver Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival; it's also the first ever submission by Senegal for the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. It can be a harrowing film, but it's also a joyous and vibrant one. With great dignity, Véro Tshanda Beya Mputu portrays Félicité, a magnetic singer in a juke joint in Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo. She's a proud, independent woman, "too tough for her own good," some say. When her son Samo (Gaetan Claudia) suffers a motorcycle accident, the doctor implies he'll lose his leg if they don't operate immediately. He also tells her they won't operate until she first coughs up a hefty pre-payment. (As Stuart Klawans has pointed out, this is a version of the system Republicans would like to see obtain in the U.S.) The first hour sticks to the classical hero's-journey structure, with suspense generated by a time-sensitive goal, as she races about trying to scrape up the cash. The sensory whirlwind of Kinshasa is captured by the tremendous French cinematographer Céline Bozon. She shoots from the shoulder, getting right in the middle of the action reporter-style, all the while rendering available light into beautiful, expressive images (she has spoken movingly of what Raoul Coutard meant to her). The second hour grows surreal, a storehouse of mysterious, even mystic, imagery. She's lost in the forest, searching in the starry night, and she meets an okapi (a little forest giraffe). These images evoke many things, including Novalis' Hymns to the Night, some lines of which Félicité intones, and themes of falling and rebirth—motifs of myth, or even the blues—of being lost and having to one's own way. (Samo seems to be in a kind of limbo; in fact, he only utters one word in the entire film—but it's an important one, and he says it over and over.) FÉLICITÉ is the fourth feature by Gomis, a French-Senegalese writer/director. In interviews, he's spoken about the various hybrids, or dialectics, his movie explores: urban and traditional, fiction and reality (the bar is a real Kinshasa joint; the actors interact with actual regulars), and perhaps most importantly in terms of culture and identify, Africa and Europe. Consider the music (and FÉLICITÉ is a great, life-affirming music film). Her backup band is portrayed by the Kasai Allstars. Well-known on the Kinshasa scene and even internationally, they're rural musicians who moved to the city and plugged in, playing a raucous, electrified, modern/traditional music for dancing. (Sound familiar, students of the blues?) However, we also get gorgeous, non-narrative, blue-tinted interludes of orchestral and choral music by the Estonian composer Arvo Pärt, performed by the Kinshasa Symphonic Orchestra, who may be of modest means but who play absolutely beautifully. Meanwhile, Félicité gets involved with Tabu (Papi Mpaka), a hapless, fundamentally decent would-be repairman who enjoys getting falling-down drunk at the club where she sings, during which episodes he becomes quite expansive, and usually ends up getting himself pummeled. He is a funny, lovable character, and his relationship with Félicité develops into something good in her life: he makes her laugh, and he loves her. All his chest-thumping has a self-satirical air: he doesn't take himself seriously enough to be patriarchal. (His efforts to fix her refrigerator become a running joke.) Yes, Gomis offers a withering social critique, and Félicité struggles mightily. Yet as the movie goes on, he sounds other notes as well, notes of acceptance and of finding joy in the actually-existing world. I will leave it to others to determine if this is a betrayal of political engagement (essentially, it's the serenity prayer), but to me it looks like wisdom. I won't soon forget the experience of empathizing with a person like Félicité, whose experiences could hardly be more different than my own, and of feeling our inner lives resonate. Gomis seems to be arguing that this is what movies are for, and I couldn't agree more. (2017, 124 min, Video Projection) SP
Greta Gerwig's LADY BIRD (New American)
Northbrook Public Library (1201 Cedar Lane, Northbrook) – Wednesday, 1 and 7pm (Free Admission)
"You stole my life!" Greta Gerwig wails at the climax of MISTRESS AMERICA, the terrific neo-screwball comedy that Gerwig wrote with Noah Baumbach. The object of her scorn is Lola Kirke, the Columbia University undergrad who pilfered Gerwig's neuroses to spice up a short story. I came out of LADY BIRD, Gerwig's solo directorial debut, and expressed much the same sentiment. It's not just that the story is set in Sacramento, the town where I grew up, or that its central character, Christine "Lady Bird" McPherson (Saoirse Ronan), yearns to escape high school in the Operation Iraqi Freedom winter of 2003, a year before I graduated. Every single detail in this movie is right: the unnamed supermarket where Lady Bird's brother works is a dead-on replica of the tan-and-artichoke-green Raley's grocery chain in the early Bush years, before the chain was forced to gentrify and update its color scheme; the ruby red Sacramento News & Review boxes dot the sidewalk cafes, where scruffy hipsters read Howard Zinn and make exotic-for-Sactown references to Maurice Pialat; a non-religious family of Unitarian Universalists send their daughter to a Catholic school because they reflexively refuse to subject her to that purportedly gang-infested, one-time flagship Sacramento High School. (Actually, in 2002-2003, Sac High was subject to a hostile take-over from one-time NBA star, charter school entrepreneur, future mayor Kevin Johnson—but the family's very obliviousness to this debate rings true, too.) But LADY BIRD's achievement goes beyond its exacting production design and precise recall of seemingly trivial details. The rituals of Lady Bird and her mother (Laurie Metcalf)—a shopping spree at Thrift Town, a disingenuous tour of model homes—track so closely to the aspirational lower-middle-class activities that I know but which rarely wind up on screen. There's a strip mall-sized gulf between the articulate and affectionate depiction of this social strata in LADY BIRD (and Kogonada's COLUMBUS) and the gawking condescension that undergirds the misogynistic screeds of Alexander Payne. LADY BIRD is particularly smart in the way Gerwig expresses gradations of class through competing neighborhoods, accessories, and body language. Compare the belabored set piece about buying a cell phone in Richard Linklater's recent LAST FLAG FLYING, also set in 2003, with the subtle way that a phone pulled out during class stands in for pages of expository dialogue in LADY BIRD. One movie's throwaway comic relief is another's freighted shorthand. Sacramento is front and center in LADY BIRD's logline and I haven't read a single review that fails to describe Ronan as a Sacramento teenager. LADY BIRD was photographed primarily in Los Angeles, with a few days of exteriors shot in Sacramento. That hasn't stopped Sacramentans from claiming every piece of LADY BIRD that hasn't been nailed down. Thrift Town sent out an e-blast promoting the cameo from its El Camino location while Lonely Planet compiled a location guide highlighting the convenience store that Ronan visits in one short scene or the blue house where her first boyfriend lives. The Tower Theatre, which appears on screen for a second or two in a montage towards the end, has been playing LADY BIRD for twelve weeks straight and grossed over $500,000 with the picture, a new house record. But while LADY BIRD is achingly precise in its overall social geography (of course the selfish rich classmate lives in Granite Bay!), there's one detail that's been left deliberately hazy: Everyone I know from my mother to my ex-girlfriend to high school classmates with whom I haven't spoken in over a decade has an opinion about where exactly Lady Bird's house "on the wrong side of the tracks" might be found. In Gerwig's earlier FRANCES HA, her twentysomething Manhattan transplant spends a Christmas at her parents' house in Sacramento at 214 Camellia Ave—an address that doesn't quite exist, but suggests the cozy East Sac bungalow belt that many assume to be the de facto neighborhood of LADY BIRD. In 2003, anything in the city proper would've been considered déclassé, coming as it did right before the debt-financed building boom that finally reversed decades of exodus to suburban Citrus Heights and Fair Oaks. Love and attention are one and the same. It's rare to find a movie that can be subjected to this kind of loving scrutiny, but does any of it matter unless you hail from NorCal? Sure, hella. Even if you can't tell the Tower Bridge from the H Street Bridge, LADY BIRD still feels intensely rooted, evoking a rich sense of personal geography that's at once deeply specific and effortlessly universal. It's an effort to conjure the past with every piece in place, but the mystery at the center remaining exquisitely preserved. LADY BIRD is first and foremost a memory play, though Gerwig obscures that form by eschewing traditional markers like voice-over narration and present-day bookends. We sense the presence of an older, wiser Lady Bird through what's left out and what lingers just beyond our comprehension. Lady Bird appears in almost every scene, but there are a handful of moments outside her direct experience—a quietly humiliating job interview for her father, Tracy Letts, or the tender scene of her drama teacher Stephen McKinley seeking treatment for an unspoken malady—that acknowledge the emotional wholeness but ultimately inaccessibility of other people. Our parents are people, our teachers are people, and we're people, too. Someday. (2017, 93 min, DCP Digital) KAW
MORE SCREENINGS AND EVENTS
Chicago Filmmakers (5720 N. Ridge Ave.) screens Deb Ellis and Denis Mueller’s 2017 documentary PEACE HAS NO BORDERS (66 min, Digital Projection) on Saturday at 8pm, with Mueller in person.
The Conversations at the Edge series at the Gene Siskel Film Center screens Thorsten Trimpop’s 2016 Japanese experimental documentary FURUSATO (90 min, DCP Digital) on Thursday at 6pm, with Trimpop in person.
The Chicago Film Society (at the Music Box Theatre) screens Paul Bartel’s 1985 film LUST IN THE DUST (84 min, 35mm) on Monday at 7pm. Preceded by a newly restored print of Bartel’s 1966 short film THE SECRET CINEMA (30 min, 35mm Archival Print).
Lithium (1932 S. Halsted St., Suite 200) hosts Moving_Image_00:03, a one-day festival of local short films, on Friday at 6:30pm.
Asian Pop-Up Cinema presents Tseng Ying-ting’s 2017 Taiwanese film THE LAST VERSE (101 min, Digital Projection) on Wednesday at 7pm at AMC River East 21, with director Tseng Ying-ting and actor Fu Meng-Po in person.
Local filmmaker Kyle Henry’s 2017 film ROGERS PARK (87 min, Digital Projection) screens on Thursday at 7pm at the New 400 Theaters (6746 N. Sheridan Rd.), with Henry and select cast/crew in person.
Cinema 53 presents Afro/French Short Films on Thursday at 7pm at the Harper Theater (5238 S. Harper Ave.). Screening are: Alice Diop’s TOWARDS TENDERNESS [Vers la tendresse] (2015, 39 min), and Mati Diop’s ATLANTIQUES (2009, 16 min) and A THOUSAND SUNS [Mille Soleils] (2014, 45 min). Digital Projection. Free admission.
Black Cinema House (at the Dorchester Art + Housing Collaborative, 1456 E 70th St.) presents BCH Mixtape: Vol. 3 on Friday at 7pm. Included are Rhonda Nunn’s I REMEMBER (2017, 14 min, Video Projection) and Angela Dugan’s JERMAINE (2015, 21 min, Video Projection). Free admission.
UPDATE: Comfort Film at Comfort Station Logan Square (2579 N. Milwaukee Ave.) has had to change their screening this week. Instead “Documentary Shorts of Cuba's TV Serrana” they will be screening Cuban Documentaries from Faraway Places (2004-09, 62 min total, Digital Projection) on Wednesday at 8pm. Co-presented by Americas Media Initiatives, with AMI director Alexandra Halkin in person. Free admission.
Filmfront (1740 W. 18th St.) screens Ousmene Sembene’s 1968 Senegalese film MANDABI (90 min, Digital Projection) on Sunday at 7pm.
The Park Ridge Classic Film Series (at the Park Ridge Public Library, 20 S Prospect Ave, Park Ridge) screens Alexander Mackendrick's 1951 British film THE MAN IN THE WHITE SUIT (85 min, Digital Projection) on Thursday at 7pm. Free admission. http://parkridgeclassicfilm.com.
Also at Doc Films (University of Chicago) this week: Denis Villeneuve’s 2009 French Canadian film POLYTECHNIQUE (77 min, DCP Digital) is on Monday at 7pm; Elia Kazan’s 1945 film A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN (129 min, DCP Digital) is on Wednesday at 7 and 9:30pm; Sofia Coppola’s 2003 film LOST IN TRANSLATION (102 min, 35mm) is on Thursday at 7pm; and John Frankenheimer’s 1966 film SECONDS (106 min, DCP Digital) is on Thursday at 9:15pm.
Also at the Music Box Theatre this week: Thomas Riedelsheimer’s 2017 UK documentary LEANING INTO THE WIND (93 min, DCP Digital) and Rachel Israel’s 2018 film KEEP THE CHANGE (94 min, DCP Digital) both open; Daryl Hannah’s 2018 film PARADOX (74 min, DCP Digital) is on Saturday at 6pm; Sebastián Lelio’s 2017 Chilean film A FANTASTIC WOMAN (104 min, DCP Digital) is on Saturday and Sunday at 11:20am only; Tommy Wiseau’s 2003 film THE ROOM (99 min, 35mm) is on Friday at Midnight; Jim Sharman’s 1975 film THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW (100 min, 35mm) is on Saturday at Midnight; and Steven Spielberg’s 2018 film READY PLAYER ONE (140 min, 70mm) has two Thursday screenings (7 and 10:15pm) before its official opening on Friday.
At Facets Cinémathèque this week: Amanda Sthers’ 2017 French film MADAME (90 min, Video Projection) plays for a week-long run; Karim Moussaoui’s 2017 Algerian film UNTIL THE BIRDS RETURN (113 min, Video Projection) is on Saturday at 6pm, with Moussaoui in person. Free admission, but required RSVP on Facets’ website [though the RSVPs seem to be Sold Out]; and Basil Dearden’s 1961 UK film VICTIM (90 min, Video Projection) is on Monday at 6:30pm, with a talk by Northwestern University film professor Nick Davis. Showing as part of Facets’ “Teach-In” series. Free admission for VICTIM.
Also at Alliance Française (54 W. Chicago Ave.) this week: Francis Legault’s 2016 French Canadian documentary THE FLAVOR OF THE COUNTRY (102 min, Video Projection) screens on Saturday at 11am.
The Chicago Cultural Center screens Peter Bratt’s 2017 documentary DOLORES (95 min, Video Projection) on Saturday at 2pm, followed by a panel discussion; and presents OTV - Open Television on Wednesday at 6pm. The program will feature a selection of new pilot episodes and series that will be showing on the online platform Open TV. Free admission.
ONGOING FILM/VIDEO INSTALLATIONS
The Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago has artist Paul Pfeiffer’s two-channel video installation Three Figures in a Room (2016, 48 min looped) on view through May 20.
The Art Institute of Chicago (Stone Gallery) has on view a show of two large-scale installation works by French artist Philippe Parreno. One of these, With a Rhythmic Instinction to Be Able to Travel beyond Existing Forces of Life (2014) includes a moving-image component.
Also currently on view at the Art Institute of Chicago: Frances Stark’s 2010 video installation NOTHING IS ENOUGH (14 min loop) in Gallery 295C; and Nam June Paik’s 1986 video sculpture FAMILY OF ROBOT: BABY in Gallery 288.
CINE-LIST: March 23 - March 29, 2018
MANAGING EDITOR // Patrick Friel
ASSOCIATE EDITORS // Ben Sachs, Kathleen Sachs, K.A. Westphal
CONTRIBUTORS // John Dickson, Scott Pfeiffer, Tien-Tien Jong
ILLUSTRATIONS // Alexandra Ensign