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CHICAGO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
The Chicago International Film Festival opens on Wednesday and continues through October 27 at River East 21. We’ve got reviews below of three films that have their first scheduled screening on Thursday. Check our next two lists for additional coverage. More info and full schedule at www.chicagofilmfestival.com.
Leticia Jorge Romero’s ALELÍ (Uruguay/Argentina)
Thursday 10/17, 5:45pm and Saturday 10/19, Noon
“Dysfunctional family” is a lazy term that ought to be consigned to the rubbish heap. To a disinterested observer, every family exhibits bizarre behavior, but that doesn’t mean that it has broken down. The Mazzotti family that is at the center of Leticia Jorge Romero’s delightful comedy ALELÍ is a mass of bickering, insults, and hurt feelings, heightened by the death of its patriarch. Yet all are playing their assigned roles perfectly. Mother Alba (Cristina Morán) is fussy and critical with all of her children, but especially bossy eldest daughter Lilian (Mirella Pascual). Lilian is feuding with Ernesto (Néstor Guzzini), who takes care of all the money matters and tries to keep the peace. Silvana (Romina Peluffo), the youngest and likely an “accident,” is artistic and a bit of a mess who resents not being part of the acronym that forms the name of the family home, Alelí. As the Mazzottis try to work through the sale and eventual demolition of Alelí, the siblings each mourn their father and come together, in their crazy-making way, to affirm their childhood bonds. Incredibly funny and touching, ALELÍ is a terrific testament to the importance of family in our lives. (2019, 88 min) MF
Jan Ole Gerster’s LARA (Germany)
Thursday 10/17, 6:15pm, Friday 10/18, 8:30pm, and Monday 10/21, 3pm
Jealousy is at the heart of Jan Ole Gerster’s intense drama that chronicles one day in the life of its title character on her 60th birthday. Opening on Lara (Corinna Harfouch) preparing to leap to her death from her apartment window and literally being saved by the bell—two cops who need her to witness a search of her neighbor’s home—the film slowly introduces Lara’s backstory. Divorced and newly retired from a government job where she was loathed, Lara is having to come to terms with the success her son Viktor (Tom Schilling) is having as a concert pianist; he’s about to debut his original composition that very evening. Harfouch gives a tensely subtle performance as a mother who has tried to undermine her son’s success out of jealousy over her own failure to realize her musical ambitions. Lara isn’t likeable, but her behavior will seem familiar to anyone who has faced withering criticism and the soul-crushing lack of confidence it engenders. Contrasting the warmth of the characters in Lara’s orbit, Frank Griebe’s cool, constricting cinematography locks Lara into a world of her own making. (2019, 98 min) MF
Angela Schanelec’s I WAS AT HOME, BUT… (Germany)
Thursday 10/17, 8:15pm and Sunday 11/20, 4pm
The international distribution of Christian Petzold’s films in the 21st century, resulting in his critical coronation as contemporary German cinema’s preeminent auteur, has been a welcome development in the world of cinephilia. It is regrettable, however, that the films of Thomas Arslan and Angela Schanelec, Petzold's formidable colleagues in the movement known as the “Berlin School” (the first generation of graduates from the German Film and Television Academy to make their mark after the reunification of Germany), remain largely unknown outside of their native country. As critic Girish Shambu points out in a recent video essay, the Berlin School has been called a “counter cinema” for the way these filmmakers have reacted against the aesthetically and narratively unadventurous mainstream German movies of the ‘80s and ‘90s and have taken inspiration from the glory days of Fassbinder and the New German Cinema of the '70s instead. Schanelec is generally regarded as the most challenging of the Berlin School directors: her would-be 1998 breakthrough PLACES IN CITIES was panned as a “joyless snoozer” by Derek Elley in Variety who claimed Schanelec’s movies “throw out no emotional lifelines for the viewer.” I would argue, however, that, while devoid of obvious emotional signifiers and easy character identification techniques, Schanelec’s work, like that of her hero Robert Bresson, can be emotionally overwhelming if one is watching and listening correctly. I WAS AT HOME, BUT…, Schanelec’s latest, is an ideal introduction to her unique brand of cinema: a fragmentary, elliptical and non-linear tale of a young teen boy’s return to the home where he lives with his single mother and younger sister after having run away a week previously. Upon returning, the boy, Phillip, resumes rehearsing a grade school production of HAMLET in which he plays the title role, while also attempting to navigate life in a still grief-stricken home two years after the death of his father; one scene, where Philip and his sister Flo continually attempt to console their mother Astrid, who rebuffs them while cleaning a kitchen sink, is ingeniously staged by framing the characters from behind in a static long take that goes on for so long it eventually evokes a feeling of cosmic wonder. Astrid (the superb Maren Eggert), meanwhile, has a few misadventures of her own: one amusing subplot details her failed attempt to buy a bicycle from a man with a tracheotomy, and another sequence, gut-bustingly funny, sees her haranguing a Serbian filmmaker (Dane Komljen, playing himself) in the street after having walked out of his movie. Finally, a parallel story involving one of Phillip’s teachers (TRANSIT’s Franz Rogowski) debating whether to have a child with his own girlfriend may seem random initially but ends up poignantly underscoring Schanelec’s aim of painting a complex portrait of the joys and sorrows of parenthood. While her title may reference Ozu’s coming-of-age classic I WAS BORN, BUT… and a prologue and epilogue featuring a donkey obviously nod to Bresson’s AU HASARD BALTHAZAR, Schanelec ultimately generates a sense of majestic spirituality through an employment of image and sound that is entirely her own. This is nowhere better exemplified than in a remarkable, time-hopping sequence, scored to M. Ward’s muted cover of David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance,” that begins in a cemetery at night before flashing back to years earlier in a hospital room then flashing-forward again to the present in a museum. A masterpiece. (2019, 105 min) MGS
Narcisa Hirsch: Contact Zones (Experimental Revivals)
Conversations at the Edge at the Gene Siskel Film Center — Thursday, 6pm
It starts with a record player, drenched in a red light and close to the point of claustrophobia. It repeats the phrase “come out”—slowly at first, then faster and faster until it evolves into a distorted, deafening hum. While it may be one of Narcisa Hirsch’s more avant-garde films, COME OUT (c. 1974) exemplifies the mesmerizing and subversive nature of her work over the last half century. Throughout her prolific career, the German-born, Argentinean-living experimental filmmaker has played with themes of performance, womanhood, home, and the corporeal form—largely using Super 8mm and 16mm film. In PERFORMANCE MUÑECOS: LONDON-BUENOS AIRES-NEW YORK, Hirsch passes out 500 plastic babies to strangers in congested crossways around the world. While the 1972 film was completely silent, the 2019 version includes a casual conversation with curator Federico Windhausen about the performance. In TALLER (WORKSHOP) (c. 1975), Hirsch stations a camera in front of a wall in her home. She describes what it looks like—photos of her children, a window, a butterfly sculpture—and chats with filmmaker Leopoldo Maler until the sun sets and the room is enveloped in darkness, thus ending the film. Hirsch makes it effortless to sit in the silence and the dark corners of her work. LA NOCHE BENGALÍ (1980), for example, is completely silent. A man and a woman lie together on the ground, the frame skewed 90 degrees as if to simulate them floating, or otherwise otherworldly. The woman stands up and leaves to walk further and further away as the man grovels on the floor, that separation is then masterfully juxtaposed with an intimate closeness. Hirsch’s works serve as fundamental texts of experimental film—both questioning and utilizing the ideas of the female gaze, sex, and power. Also showing: DIARIOS PATAGÓNICOS (c. 1972), WERNER NEKES (1980), and AMA-ZONA (1983/2001). Followed by a conversation with Narcisa Hirsch via Skype and program curator Federico Windhausen in person. (1972–2019, 73 min, COME OUT in 35mm; all others Digital Projection) CC
Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet’s TOO EARLY, TOO LATE (French/Egyptian/German Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center - Friday, 3:45pm and Tuesday, 6pm
Inspired by a letter from Friedrich Engels to future socialist German theoretician Karl Kautsky, along with Mahmoud Hussein’s then-recently-published Class Conflict in Egypt, filmmakers Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet set off to Egypt during the months following the Camp David Accords, which sought to signal peace between Arab and Israeli nations but instead resulted in the assassination of Egypt’s president, and also arguably created the continuing discord and violence between many of the countries in the Middle East today. Straub and Huillet however, create a diptych of air, wind, and the ghosts of revolution waiting to burst forth in modern Egypt, with the film’s first section shot in modern day France, where the film journeys off in search of locations mentioned in Engel’s letters to Kautsky (purportedly very hard to locate, so much so that Huillet had to draw an extremely detailed itinerary for the crew). The filmmakers sought landscapes of the French countryside that Straub described as having a “science fiction, deserted-planet aspect,” landscapes that carried the seeds and blood of revolution in 1789, that remain devoid of human figures in the frame, despite many living in farmhouses nearby. This section in France features Huillet narrating Engels’ text over the images, while the Egyptian section features the voices of two Middle Eastern men reading from Hussein’s book. The jump between the two sections is astounding, given the lack of human bodies populating the frame in the first segment, juxtaposed with the wealth of bodies in the second. Ideas and texts aside (of which their importance is incredibly vital) the real wonder of the movie stems from its constructing a pastoral and ethically situated series of images that recall Griffith, Sjostrom, or specifically in one scene, the Lumière brothers’ WORKERS LEAVING THE FACTORY. The stillness and otherworldly hypnosis of the silent era looms large in TOO EARLY, TOO LATE, allowing the filmmakers to return the sounds of nature back to cinema, lost (or maybe never really found) with the creation of a sound cinema that for decades relied on canned sounds to capture wind, birds, and other natural phenomena; or as Bresson once put it, “the sound film invented silence.” Cinema needed the creation of the Nagra and small sync-sound cameras brought forth with the New Wave to return the eternal presence of nature to the movies. Even then, it took nearly two decades for such intoxicatingly natural sound designs to emerge in this manner. Straub and Huillet create a film that is unlike any other before, laying the template for many modernist filmmakers to follow. Hypnotic and complex, it is nothing short of breathless if you let its sounds and images overwhelm you. Critic and artist Fred Camper lectures at the Tuesday screening. (1981, 100 min, DCP Digital) JD
Patricio Guzmán's NOSTALGIA FOR THE LIGHT (Contemporary Documentary)
Block Cinema (Northwestern University) — Thursday, 7pm (Free Admission)
More than the other physical sciences, astronomy is recognizable (through the gauze of its multiple and infantile popularizations) as a manifestation of a universal human practice: the desire for, and construction of, origin myths. Reduced to incomprehensible theoretical abstraction by astrophysicists (and to hopelessly broad generalizations by fashionable cosmologists), its humble observational arm persists wherever artificial light and cloud cover remain absent. The apotheosis of such an environment—the barren Atacama desert of Chile—is the site of NOSTALGIA FOR THE LIGHT, a patient, Weschlerian documentary which trains itself on the resonances between the modest local astronomers and on an unrelated, nearby crowdsourced human anthropology: the searches of dozens of frail women for the remains of their relatives and loved ones—the victims of Pinochet's mid-70s concentration camps, buried in and around the region's former nitrate mines. By the laws of special relativity, the astronomers' observation of distant objects is also an observation of long-past events; by the laws of entropy and ideological repression, the women's intermittently successful searches for los desaparecidos provide evidence for long-unpunished crimes. Nevertheless, the viewer will note that it is the male science that is (weakly) funded by the Northern research apparatus. Finding infuriation and contemplation where Werner Herzog's CAVE OF FORGOTTEN DREAMS found humor and hubris, this international winner of the European Film Awards' Best Documentary prize is also, of course, rather local: the free-market policies which succeeded the concentration camps were part of an infamously grand experiment by several University of Chicago Economics graduate students—the CIA-financed "Chicago Boys" (Sergio de Castro, Pablo Baraona, and others). But it is clear that Guzmán—like many of his fellow Chileans—instead worships across the quad, at the court of Edwin P. Hubble (S.B. '10, Ph.D. '17). (2010, 90 min, 35mm) MC
Djibril Diop Mambéty’s HYENAS (Senegalese Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center – Friday, 7:45pm and Thursday, 6pm
Djibril Diop Mambéty’s first feature, TOUKI BOUKI (1973), is one of the most important African films, a work that single-handedly brought an avant-garde sensibility to the cinema of Senegal and to that of the continent as a whole. (It’s also exuberant and laugh-out-loud funny—there’s nothing highfalutin’ about Mambéty’s experimentalism.) His second, HYENAS, is less groundbreaking in terms of imagery and decoupage, but it’s hardly a minor work. A fierce satire of Africa’s colonial history, HYENAS advances a deceptively subdued aesthetic that allows the caustic themes to resonate loudly. It tells the story of a poverty-stricken village in the middle of the desert that receives a visit from a woman who grew up there but left years ago to seek her fortune. She’s filthy rich now; indeed she seems to have nothing in common with the young woman the townspeople once knew. She’s also poised to lavish her wealth on the needy community. . . so long as the inhabitants agree to murder the shopkeeper who impregnated her and left her in the lurch when she was a teenager. Mambéty adapted the story from the 1956 play The Visit by the Swiss playwright Friedrich Dürrenmatt, yet he tailors it so perfectly to the concerns of modern Africa that I wouldn’t have been surprised if I’d learned after watching it that the writer-director conceived of it himself. In Mambéty’s clear-cut (yet still cutting) allegory, the rich woman represents foreign business interests and the village stands in for the African countries that aim to benefit from them; the relationship demands that both parties end up with blood on their hands if they’re to strike a deal. Mambéty’s willingness to make both sides look bad may be the film’s most courageous aspect. Rather than vilify solely the capitalist/colonialist, HYENAS also critiques the colonial subjects who go along with them and end up internalizing their exploiters’ warped morality. This moral vision brings to mind Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s explanation for his satire MOTHER KUSTERS GOES TO HEAVEN: “I fire in all directions.” (1992, 107 min, DCP Digital) BS
Yvonne Welbon’s SISTERS IN CINEMA (Documentary Revival)
Block Cinema (Northwestern University) — Wednesday, 7pm (Free Admission)
At the risk of distracting your fellow cinemagoers with the sounds of hurried scribbles, I’d urge you to take notes during this screening of Yvonne Welbon’s SISTERS IN CINEMA (2003), a documentary filled to the brim with information that’s crucial to those seeking to expand their knowledge of cinema made by people other than white men. In her documentary, Welbon, a Chicago-based filmmaker with graduate degrees from both the School of the Art Institute and Northwestern University, explores the history and current state of cinema as it involves black women, from the silent era (when the likes of Zora Neale Hurston and Tressie Souders made contributions to the medium) up to the early 2000s when the film was made. It’s didacticism in its most effective form, clearly conveying information with a verve that magnifies the significance of its subject matter. As the narrator, Welbon is a compelling guide, injecting the information, stimulating in and of itself, with a gusto that makes you feel as if you’re discussing the topic with a smart and personable friend. She takes a two-fold approach, illuminating both the success of black women working within and outside the industry and the failure of the industry to include them in it. Represented are numerous black women working in Hollywood and independent film, primarily as directors but also as writers and producers; the interviews with figures such as Julie Dash, Maya Angelou, Euzhan Palcy, Kasi Lemmons, and several other black women filmmakers are refreshingly frank within the talking-head framework, the women not holding back as they discuss their trials and tribulations, as well as their respective creative processes and successes in the face of such adversity. Much like Welbon, the interviewees are candid and even humorous, eschewing the self-seriousness often present in such documentaries. At the same time, theirs is a singular struggle, which comes through in how the labels “first” and “only” were applied to them at a time when hundreds of white men were making films. Especially rewarding are the clips from their films, which may entice viewers to check them out; I know I’ve added quite a few to my To-Watch list. Helpful in that regard is the pre-credits African American Women Features Timeline. Cinephiles-at-large might recognize some familiar names in the credits, specifically Charles Burnett and Laura Poitras, while local cinephiles are sure to notice credits for Jacqueline Stewart, Floyd Webb, the Gene Siskel Film Center, and the Black Harvest Film Festival (the latter two feature in it). Welbon will appear in person to discuss the film and her work, including her Sisters in Cinema project, mentioned in the film—at first just an online resource, Welbon aspires to turn it into a real-life media center in the South Shore, where she’s from. (2003, 62 min, Digital Projection) KS
Raúl Ruiz’s LA MALETA (THE SUITCASE) (Chilean Revival)
Block Cinema (Northwestern University) – Friday, 7pm (Free Admission)
It seems somehow fitting that Chilean filmmaker Raúl Ruiz’s career began with a series of false starts—two short films (including this one, his first) and a feature that were left unfinished at the time of their productions. LA MALETA was shot in 1963 from a screenplay (based on a Ruiz play) intended for another director, who backed out and instead gave Ruiz several rolls of film telling him to make it himself. The limited supply of film stock forced Ruiz to refashion the film as a short. It was shot, and then abandoned, with the footage getting mislabeled and “lost” at the University of Chile until rediscovered in 2007. Ruiz edited the material and had music and guttural sounds added in lieu of narration or dialogue. The completed film (20 min) was finally released in 2008. The absurdist, obtuse story of a man who packs a large suitcase, struggles with it through the city from one apartment to another, opens it to reveal another man inside, and finally switches places with the man, curling up in the case, lays the groundwork for many of the themes and narrative concerns that would mark Ruiz’s prolific career. Doubled characters; an enigmatic narrative; an open ending; strange, quasi-surrealist moments and details; a story that seems both dark and vaguely sinister and also absurd and comical; a central mystery; and more. Apart from the narrative and thematic aspects, the film demonstrates that Ruiz had a firm sense of filmic style even in this director-by-happenstance debut. Shadows, oblique camera angles, and careful framing all give the film an unsettling quality that adds to the Kafkaesque story. It’s not a masterpiece but, especially considering its production circumstances, it’s an auspicious first film, even if it was one 45 years in the making. LA MALETA is screening as part of Dreams of Suitcases and a Blue Lobster (1933-98, 70 min total, Digital Projection), a program in the touring Latin American experimental film series Ism, Ism, Ism, which is presented locally by Block Cinema with screenings there and at several Chicago-area microcinemas over the next two months (see the listing for Dark Matter at Filmfront in More Screenings below for a second Ism show this week). Also showing as part of the program are Horacio Coppola's 1933 Argentinean film TRAUM (SUEÑO) (2 min), Luís Ernesto Arocha's 1966 Columbian film LAS VENTANAS DE SALCEDO (6 min), Álvaro Cepeda Zamudio and Gabriel García Márquez's 1954 Columbian film THE BLUE LOBSTER (29 min), and Mariana Botey's 1998 Mexican film EL DEDAL DE ROSAS (13 min). Ism co-curator Jesse Lerner in person. PF
Rob Grant’s HARPOON (New Canadian)
Facets Cinémathèque — Sunday at 8pm
Three friends with secrets, the open sea, scattered ashes, and a harpoon. What could possibly go wrong? Caught in the rumor of an affair, the affluent and privileged Richard (Christopher Gray) takes his long-term girlfriend Sasha (Emily Tyra) and his best friend Jonah (Munro Chambers) on his yacht to set things straight. But it quickly becomes clear that there are more truths to be uncovered, and when the engine fails and the food and supplies run out, the sounds of the sea can make any sane man lose their marbles. Adapted from Edgar Allan Poe’s The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, Rob Grant’s most recent feature is both a survival story and festering relationship drama. The heart of HARPOON, though, lies in its dark humor. The film is self-reflective and openly disjointed, contrasting its tense moments with a slapstick editing style and a smarmy, omnipresent narrator. HARPOON effortlessly pokes fun at the performance of masculinity through violence—which can be both toxic in its application and comical in its construction—while hunkering down on the idea that testosterone and isolation is an intrinsically maddening combination. HARPOON uses maritime lore and parables to parallel the trio’s descent into madness, which is often matched by the film’s increasingly dark tone as things go farther south. As you watch just how far these characters will push themselves, you may start to lose yourself along the way and give in to the comforting, lucid hands of the sea. It’s unconventional, intense, and might be the most fun you’ll have watching a horror film this year. (2019, 82 min, Video Projection) CC
Nadine Labaki’s CARAMEL (Lebanese Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) - Monday, 7pm (Free Admission)
The acclaim the 2018 Lebanese film CAPERNAUM received—highest-grossing Arabic and Middle Eastern film of all time, Oscar-nominated as Best Foreign Language Film, winner of the Jury Prize at Cannes, etc. etc.—thrust its director, Nadine Labaki, into the limelight and has prompted repertory houses to reassess her body of work. As she did with CAPERNAUM, Labaki chose Beirut as the setting for CARAMEL, her debut as a feature film director. A slew of first-time actors and Labaki herself star in this examination of the lives of women of all ages trying to support themselves and find happiness. The specifics of the roadblocks each of the women face are both particular to Lebanese culture and fairly universal, though the measures one woman takes to comply with expectations of her may seem excessive to Western eyes. Labaki’s character, Layale, who works in the Si Belle beauty salon using caramelized sugar like bikini wax to remove unwanted hair from her clients, provides the symbolism of taking the sweet with the painful in her unhappy affair with a married man. The other stories—aging actress competing with young beauties, duty before fulfillment for an older woman in charge of her mentally ill sister, lesbian attraction acknowledged, but hidden—are familiar, but all of the performances are involving and the urgent social commentary that eventually emerged from Labaki’s work can be seen from the first. (2007, 95 min, 35mm) MF
Louis Malle’s ELEVATOR TO THE GALLOWS (French Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center - Saturday, 1pm
Considered one of the very first films of the French New Wave, Louis Malle’s directorial debut ELEVATOR TO THE GALLOWS follows two lovers, Florence (Jeanne Moreau) and Julien (Maurice Ronet), who plan to kill her wealthy husband Simon and take his money. Their meticulously plotted perfect murder goes awry when Julien becomes trapped in an elevator after being forced to reenter the building to retrieve evidence he stupidly left behind after shooting Simon and staging the crime to look like a suicide. When Julien fails to meet at their rendezvous, Florence gloomily wanders the Parisian streets at night searching for her beau at every place she can think of. Meanwhile, a subplot involving a young couple stealing Julien’s car while he’s trapped feels a spiritual precursor to the protagonists of Jean-Luc Godard’s BREATHLESS. Malle’s film is so successful thanks in part to the spectacular talents involved. Miles Davis’ wholly improvised jazz score adds a melancholic tone while also sprinkling in both franticness and serenity. Cinematographer Henri Decaë, who had recently worked on another French noir, Jean-Pierre Melville’s BOB LE FLAMBEUR, manipulates superb tracking shots with thoughtful, interesting lighting to enhance the film’s overall mood, including some remarkable sequences of Florence navigating the streets. Intended as an homage of sorts to Robert Bresson, with whom Malle had worked on A MAN ESCAPED, with a touch of thriller thrown in, ELEVATOR TO THE GALLOWS is a perfect storm of a film where all fronts involved combine to create something most impressive. (1958, 91 min, DCP Digital) KC
Andrei Tarkovsky’s ANDREI RUBLEV (Soviet Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) - Sunday, 6:30pm
A strong contender for the greatest Soviet film, Andrei Tarkovsky’s second feature (completed in 1966 but not shown publicly until 1969 and not released in its native country until 1971) is immersive and overwhelming, steeping viewers in a stunningly detailed recreation of the medieval world and offering profound meditations on the nature of human suffering, the social value of art and religion, and the possibility of achieving transcendence in earthly affairs. It’s also one of the most formally accomplished of all movies, featuring some of the densest mise-en-scene you’ll ever see and unfolding in meticulously choreographed long takes that suggest a ghostlike presence moving through the world. “At once humble and cosmic, Tarkovsky called RUBLEV ‘a film of the earth,’” J. Hoberman noted in his essay for the Criterion Collection. “Shot in widescreen and sharply defined black and white, the movie is supremely tactile—the four elements appearing as mist, mud, guttering candles, and snow. A 360-degree pan around a primitive stable conveys the wonder of existence. Such long, sinuous takes are like expressionist brush strokes; the result is a kind of narrative impasto.” The film charts the adult life of a 15th-century monk and painter who developed his talent as an artist around the same time as the Tartars were invading Russia. Tarkovsky presents the glories of Rublev’s creative process and the horrors that surrounded him, dramatizing the eternal struggle between the best and worst impulses of humankind. Interwoven throughout this struggle are visions that register like spiritual epiphanies, from the allegorical opening sequence (which imagines another artist who manages to fly above the world, only to destroy himself in the process) to the audacious re-imagining of the Crucifixion in a Russian snowscape to the reverential close-ups of Rublev’s paintings that conclude the film. (1966, 205 min, 35mm) BS
Mitchell Leisen's REMEMBER THE NIGHT (American Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) - Wednesday, 7 and 9:30pm
Lee Leander has just experienced a terrible epiphany. She now realizes that her mother is still a cold, unforgiving woman who's not about to make amends just because it's the holidays. And then Lee realizes something worse: she now has nowhere to spend Christmas. As she steps off the porch, away from the dark, tomb-like house, she looks over at John, utterly helpless. With deliberate casualness, he asks her if she'd like to stay with him and his family over Christmas. Her eyes tear up, she collapses into his arms, and says only, "Gee!" What happens next is proof positive that Leisen and writer Preston Sturges were geniuses: there is an abrupt dissolve to a painting of John's cross-eyed grandfather. Coming immediately after such a tender, vulnerable scene, the wacky painting is like a splash of cold water on your face; the threat of heavy-handed sentimentality is wonderfully waved away. Comedy as tool; and, more interestingly, comedy as sobriety. In its careful pacing (it's barely an hour and a half!) and layering of moods, REMEMBER THE NIGHT is surely one of the all-time great Christmas movies. (1940, 94 min, 35mm) RC
Martin Scorsese's GOODFELLAS (American Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) - Thursday, 7pm
This widely favored bildungsroman, which often seems to clasp the key to understanding (second-generation, male) America in an unattainable 1.85:1 crucible, remains a worthy artifact of interrogation in these cold days before, for example, the semi-inevitable Oscar crowning of the comparatively meaningless domestic allegory TRUE GRIT. While that latter film's ahistorical confrontation between isolated orphans and arbitrarily evil cowboy bandits might satisfy a sophisticated sixth-grader's definition of justice, GOODFELLAS rewrites the much-maligned "gang" (and its most infamous, yet imaginary superstructure: "The Mafia") into something understandable or even deeply familiar. For Sicilian immigrants were unknown peasants in an alien world. And as it turns out, reciprocal networks of both the threat and implementation of violence can become sustainable--even thriving--subcultures in the absence of feudal tyranny; the requisite decline of state-sponsored physical coercion slowly became a reality in 19th-century Sicily and it was certainly a reality on the streets of Depression-era East New York. The film is a mid-20th-century cross-section of this phenomenon: a charting of the coming to power of one man in this mafioso style (a style that might seem offensive to those who believe that social order is a product of police men). Ray Liotta's Henry Hill holds our hand, seducing us at every stage of (juvenile) development: at first by those things that "fall off of trucks," and then by the preposterous excesses of social capital (after a mythical one-take palm-greasing journey through the back door of the Copacabana, confiding to his girlfriend that he's "in construction"). At maturity, the insatiate id and the hyperrational ego (Joe Pesci and Robert DeNiro) erupt in violent chaos: unable to negotiate with an increasingly juridically-minded state apparatus, our unreliable narrator must race to dispatch his extended family to the gallows. Scorsese's crucial narrative achievement is the meticulous setting of each sequence to diegetically-appropriate pop music as if it were an arranged marriage, and vividly portrays Hill's climactic coke/ziti-fueled breakdown as the ultimate Stones/Nilsson megamix. (1990, 146 min, 35mm) MC
Pedro Almodovar’s ALL ABOUT MY MOTHER (Spanish Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) – Monday, 9:30pm
In ALL ABOUT MY MOTHER, Pedro Almodovar uses widescreen in a manner similar to Cukor and other such early masters of color-and-‘Scope melodrama as Douglas Sirk and Vincente Minnelli, using widescreen to show off the lushness of his production design and augment the presence of his actors. MOTHER was the movie that cemented Almodovar’s international reputation as a modern master, and for obvious reasons. The mix of comedy and melodrama feels natural and confident (not provocative or intentionally jarring, as it was in the director’s early films), and it offers numerous life lessons that make you feel good. Like the melodramas of Sirk, Cukor, and Minnelli, it’s also an actors’ showcase, featuring at least a dozen roles that allow the actors inhabiting them to shine. Not for nothing did Almodovar dedicate the film to three major actresses (Bette Davis, Gena Rowlands, and Romy Schneider); MOTHER celebrates not just actresses, but assertive, highly present women in general. (1999, 101 min, 35mm) BS
ABBAS KIAROSTAMI X 3
Abbas Kiarostami’s ABC AFRICA (Iranian Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center - Friday, 6pm and Monday, 8pm
Abbas Kiarostami’s films are defined by a complicated simplicity—their style, themes, and emotions often seem elementary, as if anyone working within the same milieu and with the same tools might also be able to produce them; however, what he imbues in his films through them is decidedly uncommon and unmistakably the work of a genius. This is certainly the case with his 2001 film ABC AFRICA, made with his assistant Seifollah Samadian during a ten-day trip to Uganda at the behest of the United Nations’ International Fund for Agricultural Development, to consider the endeavors of the Uganda Women's Effort to Save Orphans (UWESO). Shot on what was intended as a scouting trip—Kiarostami having not yet accepted the invitation to make a film about the group—ABC AFRICA became the haphazard handheld documentary it is after Kiarostami and Samadian returned to Iran, examined the footage, and decided there was enough to comprise a feature. Kiarostami and Samadian shot it using MiniDV Camcorders—Kiarostami's first time using digital cameras for one of his films—and in it, you often see one filmmaker documenting the other using his camera to shoot footage, typically of children dancing around or otherwise hamming it up for their guests. At the heart of the film are said children, orphaned as a result of either civil war or the AIDS crisis, and the people, both local and foreign, attempting to help them. It’s partly informative (voiceover narration relays the goals of the people and organizations trying to solve the problem of the country’s 1.5 million orphaned children), and partly freewheeling, the filmmakers’ cameras reveling in the children’s joy, which persists through even the most daunting hardships. A brief interlude in which Kiarostami and Samadian continue to film in total darkness back at their hotel, having a conversation about gigantic mosquitoes attracted to an outside light source, is oddly lyrical; the lilting inflection of this segment permeates the film’s more straightforward parts with an accordant timbre. I’ve read that the film was initially met with some criticism, owing to its depiction of the children as being joyful in spite of adversity and to Kiarostami’s position as a relatively privileged outsider in a place ravaged by atrocity. It fits, however, with much of the work from the early and middle parts of his career; the focus on children recalls many of his earlier films, and the lightheartedness of spirit in the face of misfortune harkens back to the latter two films from the Koker Trilogy, centered on the devastating 1990 Manjil-Rudbar earthquake in which an estimated 35,000-50,000 people died. And as in the majority of his films, Kiarostami’s customary self-reflexivity keeps this from seeming as if he’s pandering to the subjects, instead using that very motif to examine the problematic elements. There’s no denying it’s a minor effort, but even Kiarostami’s most minor efforts are still masterful, and ABC AFRICA is no exception. (2001, 88 min, DCP Digital) KS
Abbas Kiarostami’s 10 ON TEN (Iranian Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center – Saturday, 5pm
Abbas Kiarostami’s 10 ON TEN is a didactic digital self-portrait-of-sorts shot in the style of his films TASTE OF CHERRY and TEN, with Kiarostami sitting in the front seat of his car speaking to the viewer and reflecting on his artistic methods, techniques, and philosophies. It's telling how esteemed Kiarostami is as a filmmaker that this Region 2 DVD extra that uses some editing software's stock countdown leader as segment interstitials was well regarded enough to merit a theatrical release. Perhaps it's not as cinematically complex as analogous self-reflexive musing-movies by Jean-Luc Godard (SCENARIO DU FILM "PASSION") and Orson Welles (FILMING OTHELLO), but its bouncing dv-cam direct address on the winding Iranian back-roads is apt for Kiarostami's style. The video is split into ten chapters, each covering an essential element of his filmmaking practice, with plenty of thematic digression, both visually and instructionally. Some might find it a little awkward that Kiarostami's words are dubbed instead of subtitled in 10 ON TEN, but happily that means his visuals are uninterrupted and, of course, nothing can obscure his humor and intelligence. (2004, 88 min, DCP Digital) JBM
Abbas Kiarostami's TEN (Iranian Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center – Saturday, 3pm and Wednesday, 8pm
Leave it to Abbas Kiarostami to make one of the decade's most contentious movies simply by fixing two cameras to the dashboard of a car, but TEN triggered numerous debates about authorship in digital cinema. Kiarostami chose to direct the film "like a football coach" rehearsing the actors for weeks, then remaining off-site while they performed the scenes themselves. The resulting film has an unaffected, almost voyeuristic aspect: The highly formal structure--ten encounters between a single mother and the people she drives around Tehran, each introduced with a number--only adds to the effect of seeing unstructured conversation. What the film may lack in pictorial beauty it gains in documentary revelation, as the women speak with a candor virtually unseen in Iranian cinema. (Naturally, it was banned in Iran.) TEN is deliberate in its lack of resolution, making it a frustrating experience for some viewers. But Kiarostami's attempt to create a new aesthetic out of recent technology (and to find an analogue for contemporary alienation with such formal transparency) makes this an integral work of recent years. (2002, 94 min, DCP Digital) BS
Jacques Demy's DONKEY SKIN (French Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) - Tuesday, 7pm
Note: SPOILERS! -- While the bold aesthetic and soaring Michele Legrand scores of THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG and THE YOUNG GIRLS OF ROCHEFORT hardly register as subtle, Jacques Demy grounded these contemporary fairy tales in the trappings of day-to-day existence. The films examine the practical tragedy and romance of auto mechanics, teachers, and sailors; to quote Jonathan Rosenbaum, they're "songs in the key of everyday life." With DONKEY SKIN though Demy ratchets up the whimsy and charges headlong into expressive esoterica. The difference between DONKEY SKIN and its predecessors is the difference between Lisa Frank and Lilly Pulitzer: Both are colorful, but it's hard ignore the unicorn. The "American Cinema" designation was a term of endearment bestowed on those working in unfashionable genres whose efforts possessed deeper virtues. In a post-May '68 environment where more overt political statements were in vogue, the image of Jean Marais lounging on a giant fuzzy cat must have qualified as terribly passé and DONKEY SKIN's critical legacy reflects this somewhat. To qualify it as a minor work though seems a great disservice, as anyone who's seen the film knows there's nothing slight about it. It's required viewing for anyone remotely interested in understanding Demy, but even for those with simpler aims DONKEY SKIN is a willfully bizarre lark that rises above any "so bad it's good" pigeonholing. Demy adapts Charles Perrault's classic French fairy tale, "Peau d'Âne," and in one of many nods to Jean Cocteau casts Marais as his king. The king lives an idyllic existence; with his wife (Catherine Deneuve), their daughter, an army of racially dubious blue minions, and a magical donkey that defecates treasure, he has it all. Things quickly turn south though when the queen becomes ill, and with her dying wish requests that he only remarry a woman whose beauty exceeds her own. The king is nothing if not a pragmatist and resolves to marry his daughter (also Deneuve, who displays impressive range transitioning from brunette to blonde.) The princess, understandably taken aback, enlists her fairy godmother (Delphine Seyrig) to bail her out. The two make increasingly unreasonable requests of the king that ultimately result in the death of the king's prized donkey and the delivery of its pelt to a sleeping Deneuve, à la John Marley in THE GODFATHER. At this point the princess, clad in her donkey skin, makes a hasty getaway and sets out to find her prince charming. The film's cumulative eccentricities and fairy tale logic come to a head in a wonderfully absurd finale where, in a big middle finger to the presumed milieu, characters arrive to wrap things up via helicopter. It's a fitting take-it-or-leave-it ending though to the most eccentric work of Demy's career. (1970, 91 min, DCP Digital) JS
François Ozon’s FRANTZ (Contemporary French/German)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) - Saturday, 4pm
Like Steven Soderbergh, François Ozon is a cinematic chameleon, exploring multiple styles and genres over the course of his career. Unlike Soderbergh, Ozon has a consistent theme that unites his disparate work: he’s fascinated by the human impulse for perversion, the curious instinct that leads people to explore taboos. The taboos that Ozon’s characters confront (and often break) tend to be sexual in nature, and when they aren’t, you can easily detect a sexual subtext in the films. In FRANTZ, Ozon’s sublime reworking of Ernst Lubitsch’s 1932 melodrama BROKEN LULLABY (aka THE MAN I KILLED), that subtext is further beneath the surface than usual; the passion it addresses is essentially metaphysical. The film concerns a young German woman’s friendship with—and growing desire for—the mysterious Frenchman who murdered her fiancé on the battlefield during World War I. Their relationship may be chaste, but that doesn’t keep Ozon from emphasizing its perversity. Before Adrien, the Frenchman, reveals that he is Anna’s fiancé’s killer, he pretends to be a long-lost friend whom the fiancé, Frantz, met while studying in Paris. He introduces himself to Anna and to Frantz’s parents under this ruse, and they respond by incorporating him into their lives as though he were the reincarnation of their dead loved one. That the principal characters are acting out of grief doesn’t make their arrangement any less strange, and, as in Ozon’s previous feature, THE NEW GIRLFRIEND, the way the characters normalize their desires comes to seem no less perverse than the desires themselves. Yet the writer-director never condescends to these people; rather, the film is gentle and delicate, shot mainly in gossamer black-and-white widescreen and in compositions that grant a certain spatial integrity to each character. Ozon respects the emotional sincerity of classic Hollywood melodrama without slavishly imitating it. (To return to the Soderbergh comparison, this is not Ozon’s THE GOOD GERMAN.) The acting styles feel contemporary even when the mores depicted onscreen do not. Further, the brief flashes of color that occur whenever Frantz is evoked in others’ hearts may feel sometimes like a gimmick, but at least it isn’t an ironic, postmodern one. Ozon wants to understand these characters and their period on their own terms, despite using entirely personal means to arrive at that understanding. (2016, 113 min, DCP Digital) BS
Steven Spielberg's RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (American Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) - Friday, 7pm
A monument in the Cold War's conservative cinema of reassurance, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK is today undeniably a fairy tale about the origin of the atomic bomb. While in reality, nuclear weapons were the intentional outcome of a race between America and Germany's large-scale militarization of the physical sciences, here they are represented not as a technological invention of bureaucratic rationalism but as an archaeological re-discovery, of the Old Testament's famously powerful Ark of the Covenant. Mild-mannered, crushworthy, U of C-educated anthropology professor Jones—teaching at a time when one was morally obligated to kill as many Nazis as possible in the course of one's fieldwork—teams up with his former advisor's daughter (now a hard-drinking expat Nepalese barmaid) to engage in battles of dubious detective-work and elaborately staged, violent fisticuffs with rival archaeologist Belloq, a variety of expendable German soldiers, and the seemingly re-indentured residents of Egypt. At stake is the primary fetish object of the Books of Joshua and Samuel, certainly the closest material embodiment of God in the Bible; however, like GHOSTBUSTERS—which also treated the Abrahamic religions as a mere historical elaboration on occult Mesopotamian ritual—RAIDERS romanticizes the agnostic and empirical logic of its hard-nosed protagonist, who eventually realizes that the only way to escape The Lord's wrath is to close one's eyes to His power. This reassurance returns conclusively in the coda, which seems to say: oh, the wrath of God, we'll never use that again; we're just filing it away with the fruits of America's other positivist projects in some Library of Babel-sized warehouse. (1981, 115 min, DCP Digital) MC
Timothy Greenfield-Sanders’ TONI MORRISON: THE PIECES I AM (New Documentary)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) - Saturday, 7pm and Sunday, 4pm
Toni Morrison is a great writer, full stop. She could almost be considered the creator of a genre of fiction, one that surveys with blazing originality and honesty the lives of African-American girls and women. Therefore, predictably, attempts to marginalize her, ignore her, change her, and ban her have dogged her from the moment her first novel, The Bluest Eye, debuted in 1970. Being the highly intelligent, imaginative, and socially committed person that she is, Morrison has triumphed over her detractors, eventually winning the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1993. Now we are able to share a bit in her journey through Timothy Greenfield-Sanders’ documentary TONI MORRISON: THE PIECES I AM, a film that focuses probingly, and almost exclusively, on her working life and accomplishments. We are edified about how Morrison used the early morning hours to turn out her stellar debut novel with two young sons to raise and provide for, and how now the world always looks better to her at dawn. We learn how, as an editor for Random House, she was able to bring other African-American voices into the world. We see her fun-loving side and her clear-eyed compassion. The documentary is packed with talking-head admirers, but really, Morrison can tell her own story perfectly well without them, as she has for 50 years. TONI MORRISON: THE PIECES I AM is a competent portrait of a life well lived. The Saturday screening is followed by a discussion. (2019, 120 min, DCP Digital) MF
MORE SCREENINGS AND EVENTS
The Various Artists independent Film Festival takes place at the New 400 Theater (6746 N. Sheridan) on Saturday (10am-10pm) and Sunday (Noon-6pm). More info at https://vaiff.com.
The Chicago Festival of Bosnian-Herzegovinian Film takes place Friday and Saturday at Northwestern University (Ryan Family Auditorium, 2145 Sheridan Rd.). Free admission. More info and full schedule at https://chicagobhfilm.org.
The (In)Justice for All Film Festival continues through October 12 at multiple venues. More info and full schedule at www.injusticeforallff.com.
Facets Cinémathèque and the Chicago Latino Film Festival present Latinx Cinema in the Era of Trump, a masterclass with filmmakers Gregory Nava and Barbara Martinez Jitner and moderated by CLFF founder and director Pepe Vargas, on Monday at 7pm at Facets.
The Film Studies Center (at the Logan Center for the Arts, 915 E. 60th St., University of Chicago) presents a lecture by University of Minnesota professor Alice Lovejoy titled “The ‘Modern Child’ and the Moving Image: Studying Children and Cinema During the Cold War” on Thursday at 5pm. Free admission.
Filmfront (1740 W. 18th St.), in conjunction with Block Cinema, presents Ism, Ism, Ism: Dark Matter on Saturday at 7pm, with Ism co-curator Jesse Lerner in person. The program includes: Grupo Los Vagos' 1980 El Salvadoran film ZONA INTERTIDAL [INTERTIDAL ZONE] (14 min), Paz Encina's 2016 Paraguayan film SORROWS (7 min), Bruno Varela's 2016 Mexican film DARK MATTER (8 min), Bea Santiago Muñoz's 2014 Puerto Rican film POST-MILITARY CINEMA (11 min), Zigmunt Cedinsky's 2006 Venezuelan film THE UNFINISHED WAR (I'M VERY HAPPY) (8 min), and Camilo Restrepo's 2015 Columbian/French film IMPRESSIONS OF A WAR (26 min). Free admission.
Chicago Filmmakers (5720 N. Ridge Ave.) screens Melissa and Jimmy Boratyn's 2018 film GINGER (97 min, Digital Projection) on Saturday at 7pm.
Co-Prosperity Sphere (3219-21 S. Morgan St.) screens Alfred L. Werker’s 1952 film WALK EAST ON BEACON (98 min, Video Projection) on Wednesday at 8pm. Showing as part of Hothouse’s “On Whose Shoulders” series.
Rebuild Foundation at the Stony Island Arts Bank (6760 S. Stony Island Ave.) screens an episode from Bill Jersey’s 2002 documentary series THE RISE AND FALL OF JIM CROW (56 min, Digital Projection) on Saturday at 4pm, along with a work-in-progress version of Middle Passage Productions’ documentary RED SUMMER/WINTER BLUES. Showing as part of Hothouse’s “On Whose Shoulders” series. Free admission.
Comfort Film at Comfort Station Logan Square (2579 N. Milwaukee Ave.) hosts Mental Filmness, a two-day festival of mental health-focused films, on Saturday (4-10pm) and Sunday (3-10pm); and screens Sharron Miller’s 1978 film ALIEN ZONE [aka HOUSE OF THE DEAD] (80 min, Digital Projection) on Wednesday at 8pm. Free admission.
The Instituto Cervantes (31 W. Ohio St.) screens Nely Reguera’s 2016 Spanish film MARÍA (AND EVERYBODY ELSE) (96 min, DVD Projection) on Wednesday at 7pm. Free admission.
The Beverly Arts Center screens Tim Burton’s 1993 animated film THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS (76 min, Digital Projection) on Wednesday at 7:30pm.
Also at the Gene Siskel Film Center this week: Alison Reid’s 2018 documentary THE WOMAN WHO LOVES GIRAFFES (83 min, DCP Digital) plays for a week, with Reid and subject Anne Innis Dagg in person at the Saturday and Sunday screenings and Amy Roberts, Senior Curator of Mammals, Chicago Zoological Society/Brookfield Zoo, in person at the Saturday and Wednesday screenings; Stanley Nelson’s 2019 documentary MILES DAVIS: BIRTH OF THE COOL (114 min, DCP Digital) continues a two-week run; and Fritz Lang’s 1959 German film pair THE TIGER OF ESCHNAPUR (102 min, DCP Digital) and THE INDIAN TOMB (101 min, DCP Digital) play three times (TIGER is on Friday at 2pm, Sunday at 3pm, and Monday at 6pm; TOMB is on Friday at 4pm, Sunday at 5pm, and Wednesday at 6pm).
Also at Doc Films (University of Chicago) this week: Daniel Scheinert’s 2019 film THE DEATH OF DICK LONG (100 min, DCP Digital) is on Friday at 9:30pm; Elio Petri’s 1965 Italian film THE 10TH VICTIM (92 min, 35mm) is on Sunday at 1:30pm; and Robert Young’s 1972 film VAMPIRE CIRCUS (84 min, Digital Projection) is on Thursday at 9:30pm.
At the Music Box Theatre this week: Todd Phillips’ 2019 film JOKER (122 min, 70mm) and Takashi Miike’s 2019 Japanese film FIRST LOVE (108 min, DCP Digital) both continue; Sam Raimi’s 1981 film THE EVIL DEAD (85 min, DCP Digital) is on Friday and Saturday at Midnight; and Vince Gilligan’s 2019 film EL CAMINO: A BREAKING BAD MOVIE (122 min, DCP Digital) is on Friday-Sunday (all screenings are sold out except for the 11am Saturday show).
Also at Facets Cinémathèque this week: Celia Rico Clavellino’s 2018 Spanish film JOURNEY TO A MOTHER’S ROOM (90 min, Video Projection) has a week-long run.
The Chicago Cultural Center screens selections from WTTW’s 2019 documentary series STAGE PLAYERS (Unconfirmed Running Time, Video Projection) on Saturday at 2pm. Followed by a discussion. Free admission.
CINE-LIST: October 11 - October 17, 2019
MANAGING EDITOR // Patrick Friel
ASSOCIATE EDITORS // Ben Sachs, Kathleen Sachs, Kyle A. Westphal
CONTRIBUTORS // Michael Castelle, Rob Christopher, Cody Corrall, Kyle Cubr, John Dickson, Marilyn Ferdinand, JB Mabe, Michael Glover Smith, Jamie Stroble