Edward Yang’s THE TERRORIZERS (Taiwanese Revival)
Filmfront (1740 W. 18th St.) — Saturday, 7pm
THE TERRORIZERS is a mystery of sorts but not in its plotting or screenplay. Pieces fall together through the film’s succession of images, from the cutting to the overlapping sound design, bleeding scenes together until they seems inseparable. Images and sounds, seemingly apart, become dependent on one another, as if the formal nature of the film is irremovable from its characters, who, in turn, come to understand their rooting to one another and explicitly to the story itself. Connection and disconnect loom large over Edward Yang’s third feature, signifying a greater need to search for where all these seemingly disparate threads join. The film is built out of several stories; in one, a wife tries desperately to write a novel while her husband seeks advancement at his low-end job as a lab technician. The wife tries to fight her writer’s block and dodge the complacency of her husband’s mindset, creating her story along with the film’s, spiraling the husband into a panic as he tries to hold on to that which has become fleeting. Another couple—a young photographer from a wealthy family awaiting a draft notice and his girlfriend—discovers their unhappiness early, the result of his obsession with a mysterious young woman he has taken pictures of. As time passes, the young photographer preserves moments through his lens, possibly in an attempt to stop his life’s forward progress. He seems especially enraptured by the photo of the young woman, first seen jumping from a balcony to escape police during a shootout in a strange apartment. This young woman finds her way into his life, and she also sets about grafting wealthy men around the city. Of the three interlocking stories, ebbing and flowing outside of and in one another, not one subplot gains full coherence with the audience until it’s all over. As a result, the film becomes challenging to the unsuspecting viewer, yet seductive and luminous in its ambiguity. Yang frames doorways and windows with shades of darkness and light, becoming intoxicating over the course of the film and allowing one to drift into the mystery like wind into an open room. THE TERRORIZERS even contains a shootout between police and gangsters at the start—slightly more clumsy and anticlimatic than say Michael Mann-blistering gunshot-concréte, but no less captivating or enthralling. The intricate but explosive cutting becomes the action, signaling Yang’s assured appreciation for the formal techniques laid down by the French New Wave, extending to the rich and bountiful Taiwanese New Wave. What is deeply significant about this awkward shootout at the start, though, is this is the one incident that appears to connect all the principal characters. However, as the gunshots and the camera clicks by the young photographer sound out, these sounds appear to upend the everyday rituals that begin the film, scattering the actions and lives of its characters, while slowly drawing them closer to one another unknowingly. Their lives and routines fray, but this disruption allows for their separate ends to find some suture. As elliptical and discordant the film may seem, what is woven together becomes an evocative tapestry of personal and public life in Taipei; between the realm of guilt-induced dreamscapes and the unease of a dawning reality. (1986, 109 min, 16mm) JD
Adam Sekuler's TOMORROW NEVER KNOWS (New Documentary)
The Nightingale (1084 N. Milwaukee Ave.) — Saturday, 8pm
Adam Sekuler’s TOMORROW NEVER KNOWS is one of the greatest films about death I’ve seen—it’s a triumph of empathy, a tour de force of emotion, and, perhaps even more monumentally, a prime example of cinema as ontological examination. The film follows Shar, a transgender person with early-onset Alzheimer’s, and her partner, Cynthia, as Shar endeavors to voluntarily stop eating and drinking (VSED) in order to leave this life on her own terms. Near the beginning of the film, as Shar and Cynthia review a contract verifying Shar’s decision to undertake this process, the person helping them with these documents points out that filming such a declaration can suffice as proof that it was pursued willingly. Thus Sekuler’s project becomes that proof, a document of resolve that exists as witness to parts of Shar’s life and her death. Even though Sekuler’s addressed in the film, his distance from the subjects is studied and respectful; it’s clear he’s become involved in their lives (as any filmmaker spending large amounts of time with their subjects is apt to do), but his camera is unobtrusive, neither gawking nor dispassionate. The framing and cinematography are particularly beautiful, infused with a glow that seems to emanate from those on screen. My favorite scenes are of Shar singing and of Shar and Cynthia sitting on a bench overlooking a beautiful view, discussing their relationship. One can feel the empathy behind the camera, the power of patient observation evident in each of these parts. Most striking, though, are the shots of Shar after she’s passed on, interspersed randomly in the film’s latter half. By cutting between scenes of Shar alive and dead, Sekuler reminds us not just of our own mortality, but of cinema’s ability to manifest both conditions. Even more impressive is the multitude of topics with which Sekuler is working, including considerations of Buddhist spirituality and gender identity, Shar’s personhood as brilliant and complex in death as it was in life. Sekuler in person. (2017, 93 min, Digital Projection) KS
Claude Chabrol’s LES BONNES FEMMES (French Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) — Monday, 7pm
Claude Chabrol’s fourth feature is arguably his first masterpiece and his greatest contribution to the French New Wave. It looks at four Parisian women (played by Bernadette Lafont, Clotilde Joano, Lucile Saint-Simon, and Chabrol’s muse of the 60s and 70s, Stéphane Audran) who work dead-end jobs at an appliance store and dream of something better. All seek human connection—either through sex, romance, or the performing arts—but none is able to find happiness; in fact, the women generally end up miserable. Chabrol co-wrote the film with Paul Gégauff (with whom he’d collaborate for years afterwards), and the script brilliantly picks apart the petit bourgeois values that bind the women to unhappiness without them realizing it. (Chabrol, of course, would attack the haute bourgeoisie in many of his later films, but his critique of the lower middle class is no less trenchant.) The film’s direction is equally impressive. Chabrol had previously made a name for himself as a critic by co-authoring, with Eric Rohmer, the first serious study of Alfred Hitchcock’s films, and LES BONNES FEMMES demonstrates how well he understood Hitchcock’s control over tone. The film hints at something unsettling beneath the women’s lives from early on, leading one to anticipate the dark conclusion well before it occurs. That’s not to say the ending isn’t devastating, but rather that it feels weirdly apropos, the culmination of an unspoken death wish that had always lain latent in the material. Over the years, many have accused the film of being misogynistic, much like many have accused the films of Rainer Werner Fassbinder (who counted LES BONNES FEMMES among his major influences) of being cruel. In both cases, the critics miss the deep sympathy that the filmmakers have for their characters—it’s society that punishes the protagonists, not the directors, who want to shine a spotlight on the cruelty that governs so many people’s lives. (1960, 100 min, 16mm) BS
Todd Haynes's VELVET GOLDMINE (American Revival)
Music Box Theatre - Friday and Saturday, Midnight
The past decade has not been kind to Todd Haynes. His last three major projects represent a steady, precipitous decline for a director whose work once was one of the most excitingly iconoclastic and theoretically informed in the country. The stillborn Sirk mimicry of FAR FROM HEAVEN, the empty, desperate casting games of I'M NOT THERE, the glacial tedium of MILDRED PIERCE, his HBO miniseries...his retreat into the safe and plasticine is a disappointment, but mustn't be allowed to diminish the fecund achievement of that first decade, years in which he brought forth his suppressed Karen Carpenter biopic, a haunting meditation on the works of Jean Genet, and [SAFE], an infectious and quietly harrowing film of uncompromising brilliance. VELVET GOLDMINE is a transitional work, sandwiched between the intensity and coldness of his earlier works and the complacency of the later: a truly decadent work in all the best senses of the word. Loosely based on the lives of David Bowie, Lou Reed, and Iggy Pop, and gleefully stealing the structure of CITIZEN KANE, Haynes's film attempts nothing less than a reinvention of the musical as a micro-historical fantasia. Christian Bale's reminiscing journalist investigates the career, stardom, and afterlife of Brian Slade, compellingly played by Jonathan Rhys-Meyers. A loose Bowie-stand-in, Slade is disturbingly charismatic, indiscriminately carnal, and brilliant. He crosses paths with, mentors, and then brutally battles Curt Wild, played by Ewan McGregor. An uncontrollable maniac, furious and self-destructive, Wild unleashes within Slade an explosion of sexual and sonic experimentation that brings about glam rock. Haynes rips the frame to shreds, burns the celluloid, cross-casts new covers of minor 1970s hits, and turns the memoiristic call-and-response of the Welles film into a postmodern refusal of master narratives. History, Stephen Dedalus famously muttered, was a nightmare from which he was trying to awake. VELVET GOLDMINE presents history as a nightmare from which no one awakens, a pulsating, thumping fever-dream of debauchery and incomprehensibility, one that never grows clear, only more distant, and from which emerge not wakeful eyes in the daylight but the monstrous, Reaganite undead. (1998, 124 min, 35mm) KB
EUROPEAN UNION FILM FESTIVAL
Gene Siskel Film Center – Final Week
Nicole Palo’s EMMA PEETERS (Belgium)
Friday, 2pm and Tuesday, 6pm
Monia Chokri (best known for her work for Xavier Dolan) gives a winning performance as the title character of this Belgian-Canadian co-production, which might have been irritatingly cute without her. Emma is a Belgian actress who’s lived in Paris for over a decade; save for playing the lead in a TV commercial, she’s never landed a role that people have actually seen. That’s not the only thing impacting Emma’s sense of self-worth: she’s terminally single, stuck at a lousy day job, and her flaky parents inadvertently put her down whenever they call. About to turn 35—the age at which cute actresses can no longer find work, she believes—Emma decides there’s nothing left for her on this earth, and she starts making preparations for suicide. Writer-director Nicole Palo plays this as the stuff of light comedy, passing off Emma’s naïveté and self-involvement as sympathetic and presenting most of the supporting characters as lovable idiots. If it seems like the set up for a bouncy rom-com, that’s because it is: when Emma visits a funeral parlor to buy her coffin, the quirky undertaker who runs the place falls hard for her. He starts following her around, offering to help her commit suicide and joining her on escapades so she can enjoy her last days. Palo doesn’t provide much reason for these two to get together, but Chokri and Fabrice Adde (who plays the undertaker) generate a pleasant chemistry anyway. What emerges is an agreeable light entertainment on a seemingly dark subject. (2018, 87 min, Digital Projection) BS
Veit Helmer’s THE BRA (Germany/Azerbaijan)
Friday, 2pm and Saturday, 3pm
In THE BRA, a train driver (Predag Manojlovic) makes the same trek through a rural Azerbaijani town everyday. On a typical day, his engine invariably happens to snag an article of clothing from a clothesline when people are unable to pull their garments out of the way in time, but the driver always makes it his duty to return the garb at the end of the day. On the day of his retirement, the final piece his train snatches is a lacy blue bra, one that he remembers from a previous day’s trip when he unintentionally witnessed an unknown woman donning as his engine rode by her apartment. Like a modern-day Prince Charming looking for his Cinderella, the driver sets out door-to-door to find the bra’s owner and goes to increasingly zany lengths to fulfill his personal sense of duty and obligation. THE BRA is most noteworthy, besides its eccentric premise, for being a film without dialogue. A comedy to its core, this aspect makes each situation more ridiculous than the last for the driver as the only way to convey his efforts is through pure expression, often leading to his personal disappointment when its not the rightful owner. Despite the opportunity for the tone to be rather boorish, THE BRA is quite wholesome and treats its premise with absolute whimsy. (2018, 90 min, DCP Digital) KC
Freancesco Falaschi’s AS NEEDED (Italy)
Friday, 4pm and Thursday, 6pm
Cooking’s power to unite people from different walks of life comes to the forefront in AS NEEDED. Arturo (Vincio Marchioni) is a chef who’s just been released from jail after an incident stemming from his anger issues. As a condition of his early release, he must perform community service by teaching culinary arts to students with Aspergers. Chief among these students is Guido (Luigi Fedele), whose ability to remember every ingredient and knowledge of flavor surprise Arturo. When Guido signs up for a cooking competition in Tuscany, Arturo reluctantly joins him as a mentor only to find out the head judge is his former restaurant partner, a celebrity chef whom Arturo holds responsible for his imprisonment. The nucleus of AS NEEDED is Arturo and Guido’s relationship. Each man finds something in the other that fulfills a personal need, for Arturo the ability to confront his past and Guido, the chance to truly display his talents. A heartwarming tale of redemption and unlikely friendship, AS NEEDED is a lighthearted comedy that offers a little bit of something for everyone. (2018, 94 min, DCP Digital) KC
Abigail Mallia's LIMESTONE COWBOY (Malta)
Friday, 4pm and Thursday, 8:15pm
The Mediterranean island of Malta captures my imagination, a crossroads between Sicily and Tunisia with an ancient stew of Western and Arabic cultural influences. We get just a taste of that in Abigail Mallia's jaunty, heartfelt, somewhat dizzying drama LIMESTONE COWBOY. Malta, we are told, is a land of a "staunch Catholic past and fanatic political loyalties" where, in every divisive election, "a colorful character emerges...representing himself." This time, it's Karist (Portelli Paul), a 60-something cobbler. Perennially rejected by the Labour Party as a kook, he decides to stick it to them by running himself, as the Limestone Cowboy. He runs a ludicrous populist campaign that, surreally, features Trump-style U.S. jingoism. His rallies are big anti-EU parties, where his followers chant "U.S.A.! U.S.A.!" and wave American flags. His campaign manager Tommy (Paul Cilia) is a real character himself, a Lebanese hustler with a heart of gold. Meanwhile, Karist's explosive son Johnny (Davide Tucci), deeply embarrassed, plots to have his father committed. Karist is really just a big kid. Ever since a childhood trauma involving his dad and a fireworks factory, he's spent his life trying to become the hero in a Western story his father told him, with repercussions for his own son and grandson. The film explores this intergenerational relationship with some psychological resonance and tenderness, and some vagueness. The main reason this is worth a look, though, is that it transports us to Malta. The old city of Velletta is a vision in limestone. In fact, every time a scene was set in a pool hall or an apartment, I wanted to say, c'mon, get outside. Tommy is an amateur magician, and the resolution of the movie depends on Mallia herself performing some narrative elision and slight-of-hand. What the film lacks in plausibility, though, it makes up for in heart. Mallia grew up in Malta, and as we go from the churches to the cemeteries, her film conveys the personal feel of a local showing us the scenes of happy childhood memories, of a vibrant life by the sea. (2017, 97 min, DCP Digital) SP
Adina Pintilie’s TOUCH ME NOT (Romania)
Saturday, 7:45pm and Wednesday, 6pm
As David Thompson describes in his recent book Sleeping With Strangers, since its inception, cinema has codified sexuality and dictated our desires, almost always in service of a heteronormative male (and certainly able-bodied) gaze. Adina Pintilie’s TOUCH ME NOT, which explores questions of embodiment and sexuality, is a liberating rejoinder to such suffocating, one-dimensional norms. The film trains its lens on three subjects—Tómas (Icelandic actor Tómas Lemarquis of X-MEN and BLADE RUNNER 2049 fame, maybe or maybe not playing himself), a man with alopecia universalis; Laura, a woman who wrestles with her haphephobia, or fear of being touched; and Christian, a man with spinal muscular atrophy who defiantly resists the disability label—each of whom reflects on corporeality and intimacy, both physical and otherwise. TOUCH ME NOT is a fluid fiction-documentary hybrid, and frequently breaks the forth wall by revealing the camera setup and featuring interviews by Pintilie via interrotron. The effect is such that it’s unclear if the scenarios we’re witnessing are genuine, fictitious, or some combination of the two. If Pintilie’s aim is to provide a platform for differently abled or intimacy-challenged people, calling into question the veracity of their stories feels potentially misguided. The film also employs a clinical, antiseptic mise-en-scène, characterized by the whitewalls and glass windows of hospital where many of the scenes take place, that would seem to undermine the thesis that its subjects are not defined by their otherness. Nonetheless, there’s inherent worth in displaying bodies and forms of intimacy that aren’t traditionally seen on screen, and Pintilie is sensitive never to cross the line from representation into exploitation. (2018, 125 mins, DCP Digital) HS
Moonika Siimets’ THE LITTLE COMRADE (Estonia)
Sunday, 5:15pm and Tuesday, 8pm
The confusion, wonder, and helplessness of being six years old have rarely been mixed so expertly with larger social issues than they are in Moonika Siimets’ brilliant adaptation of the autobiographical novels of Leelo Tungal, a beloved author of children’s literature in her native Estonia. The story takes place in the early 1950s, when Stalin’s iron fist is really starting to choke the country. Leelo (Helena Maria Reisner) and her parents, Feliks (Tambet Tuisk) and Helmes (Eva Klemets), are booted out of their spacious apartment and forced to set up housekeeping in a small ruin of a house. The authorities accuse Helmes, a teacher, of anti-revolutionary instruction and nationalist sentiment, and arrest her. The rest of the film focuses on Leelo’s everyday life and slow loss of innocence, and Feliks’ attempts to keep from joining his wife in a Siberian labor camp. This poignant, lyrical film shows the relative powerlessness of both children, who must believe and rely on adults for their well-being, and adults who are compelled to follow strictly enforced rules or suffer dire consequences. Reisner is a natural in front of the camera, communicating Leelo’s naïve wish to join the Soviet youth club and her feelings of betrayal when she learns that her parents lied to her about her ability to bring her mother home by being good. The heartbreaking scene between Reisner and Tuisk in which he apologizes for not being able to free Helmes and the precautions he must instruct his daughter to take are part of what gives this film depth and emotional power. Beautifully shot and skillfully directed and acted, THE LITTLE COMRADE is a deeply rewarding experience. (2018, 100 min, Digital Projection) MF
CHICAGO LATINO FILM FESTIVAL
AMC River East 21 – Through April 11
Benjamín Naishtat’s ROJO (Argentina)
Friday, 6:45pm and Sunday, 8:30pm
Benjamín Naishtat’s ROJO sinks its teeth into you fast, with an extended pre-credit sequence that swiftly escalates from the intriguing to the entrancing to the alarming. While waiting for his wife at a crowded restaurant in an unnamed Argentinean province, Claudio (Dario Grandinetti), a respectable lawyer, is accosted by an agitated younger man demanding a table. Though he surrenders his seat, Claudio calmly launches into a belittling diatribe that brings the restaurant to an embarrassed whisper, sending the stranger into a fit of anti-fascist hysteria. This creeping sense of psychological imbalance, heightened by Naishtat’s evocative use of split-diopter shots, pervades the rest of this 1970s-era political parable, which follows Claudio as he seeks to cover up the fatal consequences of this altercation during the tumultuous period leading up to the ouster of Isabel Perón in 1976. A solid handle on modern Argentinean history will certainly illuminate some of ROJO’s more overtly allegorical elements, which coalesce in a stunningly cynical finale that is probably a lot less ambiguous than it might seem to American viewers. But anyone well-versed in the paranoid style of 1970s cinema—from the conspiracy thrillers of Alan J. Pakula to the ripped-from-the-headlines dramas of Costa-Gavras and Francesco Rosi—will have no trouble orienting themselves when it comes to Naishtat’s deliberate technique. Between its attention-grabbing compositions, which translate Claudio’s suffocating guilt and suspicion through audacious plays of focus and framing, and its immaculate art direction, one might be tempted to dismiss ROJO as a pure throwback. But there’s something distinctly contemporary to the film’s heteroclite narrative design, which periodically swerves away from Claudio’s perspective to track those of his daughter, wife, and the eccentric celebrity detective hired to discover the truth of the stranger’s disappearance. Between Lucrecia Martel, Pablo Trapero, Damián Szifron, and Mariano Llinas, recent Argentinean cinema confronts the forking paths of kinship, power, and complicity that bind individuals, families, and communities with bold narrative strategies that often demand exceptionally engaged viewers. With ROJO, Naishtat ingeniously casts these distinctly Argentinean concerns in the form of a self-aware genre experiment whose eccentric twists and turns lead inevitably back to the larger national context. It’s a film rich in both dramatic and historical irony: sometimes the tides of history turn enough to wash away the consequences of the very sins we try to hide. (2018, 109 min, Digital Projection) MM
Carlos Fernández de Vigo’s MEMOIRS OF A MAN IN PAJAMAS (Spain)
Friday, 8:45pm and Sunday, 3pm
Animated in a hand-drawn aesthetic resembling Archie cartoons, MEMOIRS OF A MAN IN PAJAMAS is a briskly entertaining romp that feels like one of its eponymous character’s daily funnies. But don’t let the animation fool you into thinking this is kiddy fare: after a bouncy opening credits depicting the protagonist’s primary life challenge—not being allowed to stay at home all day in his pajamas—the film proper begins at a party with an all-bros conversation about sex. Improbably, but fittingly for this fantastical tale, the conversation is overheard by a newspaper editor, who promptly approaches Paco, the leader of that conversation, in a bathroom where malfunctioning light sensors and innuendo combine for an amusing set piece. The editor wants Paco to translate his “sex-capades” into a comic strip for the paper; Paco, literally caught with his pants down, takes up the offer and becomes a cartoonist of some renown. After falling for “Birdie,” a Veronica Lodge lookalike who shares his passion for great thinkers (Minkowski and Hemingway, natch), he attains it all: the ability to work at home in his pajamas and a girl on the side. But when Birdie decides to move in with him, Paco finds that stable domestic life is no match for his colorful bachelor stories, and his success begins to decline. Despite its copious, stereotypical “dude” talk—if it wasn’t clear, this is a tale told from a very straight, very male perspective—it’s difficult to take the phallocentric gender politics of MEMOIRS OF A MAN IN PAJAMAS too seriously. While self-aware pokes at its own sexism mostly register as routine sops to those inclined to criticize, the film is nevertheless drawn, literally, as the fantasy of a vain man, one whom we’re not always sure if we should like. Moreover, the crudeness doesn’t feel inapt for a film that emulates the tenor of a risqué daily. It may not be to all tastes, but there’s enough silly, bawdy humor here to satisfy those willing to look past certain outdated ideas. Preceded by Joe Houlberg’s 2018 Ecuadoran short film A (16 min). (2018, 74 min, Digital Projection) JL
Federico Veiroj’s BELMONTE (Uruguay)
Saturday, 8pm and Monday, 8:15pm
With ACNE (2008), A USEFUL LIFE (2010), and THE APOSTATE (2015), Federico Veiroj established himself as one of the most original comic filmmakers in the world, combining a wry and crystalline literary sensibility reminiscent of Nabokov, a subtle visual style reminiscent of Manoel de Oliveira, and a sly absurdism all his own. At first glance BELMONTE, his fourth feature, seems like a letdown from the previous three in that it doesn’t try to be funny, but that disappointment quickly ebbs as Veiroj delivers one brilliant insight after another in his idiosyncratic fashion. The title character is a middle-aged painter in Montevideo who’s at a crossroads in his life. He enjoys a certain degree of commercial success, comfortable relationships with his ex-wife and 11-year-old daughter, and the sexual attraction of various women. Yet something is gnawing at Javier Belmonte, a dissatisfaction he can’t put his finger on. He’s finding himself too absorbed in his work, resisting the advances of beautiful women, and out of tune with his daughter when she comes to stay with him. What’s the root of his malaise? Could it be that his happily remarried ex-wife is about to have another child? Or is it that he’s hit a wall in his artistic progression? Maybe it’s just male menopause? Veiroj entertains all of these possibilities over the course of the short, perceptive film, which finds original things to say on the familiar subjects of painting, divorce, sex, and male stoicism. Much of the film’s power derives from Veiroj’s inspired mise-en-scene, an unpredictable combination of Oliveira-style medium shots and sensual close-ups. Also noteworthy is the way Veiroj inserts subjective, even hallucinatory, shots into an otherwise objective aesthetic. (A late scene, in which Belmonte imagines two women he’s rejected are watching him seduce a third woman, is just one stand-out.) Belmonte is a complex figure seemingly cursed to be alone, but there’s nothing heavy or brooding about the film, which finds no shortage of joy in the art-making process or parenthood. (2018, 75 min, Digital Projection) BS
António Ferreira’s THE DEAD QUEEN (Portugal/Brazil)
Saturday, 8:45pm and Tuesday, 8:15pm
Reminiscent of Tom Tykwer and the Wachowskis’ film version of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, this adaptation of a novel by Rosa Lobato Faria alternates between stories set in the past, the present, and the future; it also features the same actors in each of the stories. Three of the four narratives concern a romance between characters named Pedro and Inês, while the fourth centers on another man named Pedro, who tells the other stories to himself while languishing in a mental institution. The three romances follow the same trajectory: In each setting Pedro is betrothed to another woman but falls madly in love with Inês. The lovers enjoy happiness for a brief period of time, but other people wrench the lovers apart, and the story ends in tragedy. The futuristic narrative may be the most interesting, in part because it speaks to contemporary fears of civilization’s demise. It imagines a post-apocalyptic world in which people have fled the cities and set up small agrarian communities in rural areas, essentially returning to pre-modern conditions. The community where Pedro and Inês fall in love is governed by the elderly, who arrange couples with the sole purpose of having them produce children. This situation isn’t too different from that of the 14th-century narrative, in which Pedro is a newly appointed king who’s expected by his father to carry on the royal line with a woman from a noble family. Each of the stories dramatizes how passion can upend the wishes of authority figures, yet the film doesn’t conjure up an especially romantic mood. António Ferreira’s direction is somewhat turgid, and the leads (Joana de Verona and Diogo Amaral) don’t generate much chemistry in any of the settings. Still, the movie ought to appeal to fans of complicated narratives; its ambition, however unrealized, is commendable. (2018, 120 min, Digital Projection) BS
Alejandro Fadel’s MURDER ME, MONSTER (Argentina)
Wednesday, 8pm and Friday, April 5, 9:15pm
Something of a mix between David Lynch and straightforward monster movies, writer-director Alejandro Fadel’s MURDER ME, MONSTER is impressively weird, though lacking in some respects. A virtually unknown actor named Víctor López, with an unforgettable face and voice that seem inseparable from the other, stars as a police officer investigating a series of mysterious murders that involve women being gruesomely decapitated, all while having an affair with the local eccentric’s wife. Its gore, like its overall visual aesthetic, best described as bleak and shot in widescreen, allowing for the picturesque rural landscape to engulf its inhabitants, is as artful as it is disturbing, seemingly designed to both shock and awe. The plot, teeming with supernatural embellishments, leaves something to be desired—it could have either been tightened or expanded to satisfactory effect—but what it lacks is made up for with stylish oddities that beguile the senses. Especially intriguing is Cruz’s dancing, awkward yet entrancing, and lovingly admired by his paramour. It’s details like these that are most Lynchian, imbuing a standard arty horror film with a peculiarity that ultimately differentiates it from others of its ilk. (2018, 109 min, Digital Projection) KS
Gloria Carrión Fonseca’s HEIRESS OF THE WIND (Nicaragua)
Wednesday, 8:30pm and Thursday, April 11, 8:45pm
Gloria Carrión Fonseca’s first feature-length documentary HEIRESS OF THE WIND functions as both a testament to a historical event and an exploration of that event’s impact on the individual. Its subjects are Fonseca’s parents, Carlos and Ivette, Nicaraguan revolutionaries whose participation in the Sandinista National Liberation Front was all-consuming at a crucial point in the director’s life. Fonseca details how her parents met and fell in love (the story of which seems straight out of a movie—think secret identities, brutal imprisonment, and a chance meeting in a crowded square after both thought the other dead) and their respective involvement in the revolution. She artfully interweaves manipulated archival footage, interviews with her parents, and ephemera from her family’s past to contextualize the events of their relationship and the revolution. Then, Fonseca lovingly confronts her parents with the pain caused her by their preoccupation with the cause, both speaking openly about their heedlessness. She manages to avoid sentimentality and mawkishness—the exchanges feel natural, borne of genuine intent, even if inherently influenced by or even performed for the camera’s presence. Fonseca’s family’s past is uniquely cinematic, though the film’s enchantment isn’t dependent on that fact. It succeeds on her merits as a filmmaker and a storyteller, the two modes working in concert to absorbing effect. The film also serves as a concise overview of the Nicaraguan Revolution; it even addresses the Contras, anti-communist counterrevolutionaries supported in part by the United States who fought against the Sandinistas. Understanding that her perspective is just that—a viewpoint, influenced by various factors, including her parents, from which she views the issue at hand—Fonseca interviews several former Contras, revealing circumstances and emotional responses similar to those of her own family. The film is an impressive feat, offering broad contemplation via an intimacy respective to the familial unit. (2017, 88 min, Digital Projection) KS
Rosa von Praunheim's CITY OF LOST SOULS (German Revival)
Block Cinema (Northwestern University) – Thursday, 7:30pm (Free Admission)
German director Rosa von Praunheim is certainly not an unknown filmmaker, but much of his work is nearly impossible to see in the U.S.; only a small handful of his more than 150 features and documentaries are currently available on home video or streaming platforms. A shame, given his importance as a pioneer of queer cinema and as an early figure of New German Cinema. Praunheim began directing in the late 1960s, along with compatriot gay German directors Werner Schroeter and Rainer Werner Fassbinder, though he would be less associated with the New German Cinema movement than as a central and influential maker of queer cinema. In contrast to Schroeter's formal play and Fassbinder's lacerating character studies, Praunheim would quickly adopt an unapologetically camp aesthetic, that mixed comedy, bad taste, and exaggerated stereotypes with pointed political and cultural critiques, sometimes controversially aimed at his own gay community, and with a keen appreciation of history. His 1983 film CITY OF LOST SOULS exemplifies the various strains in his work. It, like many of his films, is concerned with individuals on the fringes of society. Here, we have an ensemble work about American émigrés living in Germany who collectively represent a wide range of queer, trans, and drag identities, starring performers who are playing variants of themselves (most prominently punk singer Jayne County). The film follows their intersecting lives (all either work at Angie Stardust's hamburger stand or live at her pension), as they contend with relationship issues, work problems, accidents, religious epiphanies, rivalries, in-fighting, and a broader society that views them as permanent outsiders. Think R.W. Fassbinder meets Robert Altman meets John Waters. And add some musical numbers. It's a delirious and wonderfully uncouth film that pokes its finger in a lot of eyes, isn't afraid to reveal warts, and tries hard to have a good time, damn the naysayers. What keeps it from being too sharp or cynical, though, is Praunheim's obvious care for these individuals (both the characters and the performers, as they're basically one-in-the-same). There's an underlying tenderness, beneath the crass and exaggerated surface. (1983, 91 min, DCP Digital) PF
Screening as part of the Los Angeles-based queer film series Dirty Look’s anniversary tour, with founder/programmer Bradford Nordeen in person. See next week’s list for additional programs at Block and the Music Box.
Laurie Simmons’ MY ART (Contemporary American)
Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago — Sunday, 2pm (Free with museum admission)
Art photographer/videographer Laurie Simmons is known for creating mash-ups of objects that interrogate the superficial and more lasting wants that have come to characterize success in America, as well as engaging in costume play that contrasts private life with public persona. As the star of MY ART, she plays Ellie, an artist much like herself whose career seems to have stalled while artists in her circle of friends (Blair Brown and her daughter, Lena Dunham) are in high demand. She packs up some equipment and her disabled dog, Bing, and heads to a small town in upstate New York to housesit for the summer and work. Standoffish and self-isolating at first, she eventually yields to the attentions of Frank (Robert Clohessy), an actor now working as a gardener who wants to help her in her work. She enlists him; his assistant (Josh Safdie), also a “resting” actor; and a retired attorney (John Rothman) to act in her filmed recreations of scenes from famous movies of the past—THE MISFITS, A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, JULES AND JIM, among others. Simmons isn’t a great actor, but she’s fabulous at finding the iconic moments in the films she chooses when the characters make a connection, for example, the scene in which Kim Novak bewitches James Stewart in BELL, BOOK, AND CANDLE or the spark Gary Cooper feels when he sees Marlene Dietrich in a tuxedo in MOROCCO. MY ART has a leisurely DIY feel and a strong sense of community that reminded me of the films of Stephen Cone, and it quietly illustrates the joy of connection through the act of making art. (2016, 86 min, Unconfirmed Format) MF
The film is showing in conjunction with a major retrospective of Simmons’ work running through May 5 at MCA Chicago.
Fritz Lang's THE BIG HEAT (American Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) — Tuesday, 7pm
One of the most iconic of Fritz Lang's films and one of the most brutal American films of its time, with Lee Marvin playing his most memorable villain before Liberty Valance. In its sadism, THE BIG HEAT sets the stage for Don Siegel's late-50s work (THE LINE-UP, BABY FACE NELSON); its equally chilly dolly shots anticipate Preminger's films of the 1960s. The story itself is below par for Lang: The upstanding cop (Glenn Ford) breaking up a crime ring must have been old hat by 1953. But Lang's investigative, levelheaded approach makes it resonate with the force of allegory. For Lang, criminality was often the expression of mankind at its worst and organized crime was the institutionalization of bad faith. Marvin's gangster may be irredeemable, but Lang finds counterpoint in the character of his mistress, Debby Marsh. Debby is the prospect of villainy (Lang's filmmaking was too atheistic to suggest the word evil), a spoiled moll who comes to help the police. Lang may be underrated as a director of women: His three films with Joan Bennett remain exceptional in their three-dimensional in their exploration of the actress's intelligence, confidence and vulnerability, and he achieves similar feats with Gloria Grahame here. Notwithstanding her performance in IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, this may be Grahame's most iconic performance. Regardless, it's the beating heart of an often-despairing film. (1953, 89 min, 35mm) BS
CLAIRE DENIS X 2
Doc Films (University of Chicago) — (35 SHOTS) Tuesday, 9:30pm and (TROUBLE) Monday, 9:30pm
Claire Denis' 35 SHOTS OF RUM (International Revival)
Claire Denis is the greatest director of our time. Every new film of hers provides sufficient evidence to prove that statement. 35 SHOTS OF RUM is set, like her earlier NENETTE & BONI, in a small world, one that consists largely of a handsome, quiet train operator approaching 50 (Alex Descas, who gets better with every gray hair) and his beautiful college student daughter (Mati Diop). Crossing over their borders are three intruders: a neighbor (Gregoire Colin, almost as familiar a face in Denis' films as Descas) threatening to move away while playing out a sort of romance with the daughter; the train operator's on-and-off girlfriend (Nicole Dogue), a cab driver that he tries to keep at arm's length; and Rene (pensive Julieth Mars Toussaint), the train operator's melancholic ex-colleague. There are a few locations: two apartments in Paris, two bars, a balcony, a car, a classroom, a locker room, a train, an apartment in Hamburg. What Denis is able to make out of these elements isn't a lesson in economy, but a story of how the most mundane things (a For Sale sign, a blue door, two rice cookers, a cerulean table top, an iPod's white headphones, a bar's asparagus-colored walls, The Commodores' post-Lionel Richie hit "Nightshift") and gestures (half-hearted dancing, a kiss on the cheek, a lean, a glance) acquire meaning in our lives, and how, through that shared meaning, we come to understand one another. Denis' previous non-documentary feature, THE INTRUDER, was arguably the most revolutionary film since Tati's PLAYTIME. It rediscovered of the world by divorcing itself from consciousness. It wasn't concerned with who was experiencing what or why, or the traditional delineations of character and time. 35 SHOTS OF RUM rediscovers both character and time by showing us things that seem to lie outside both. (2008, 100 min, 35mm) IV
Claire Denis’ TROUBLE EVERY DAY (French Revival)
TROUBLE EVERY DAY was Claire Denis’ most contentious film before BASTARDS; not surprisingly it was her goriest film to date, trading in dark, eroticized violence that can be a deal-breaker for many viewers. Vincent Gallo stars as an American doctor who travels to Paris with his innocent young wife. He says they’re on a honeymoon, but really he wants to research the rare condition with which he’s afflicted—it makes him want to drink human blood. Gallo encounters a doctor (Denis regular Alex Descas) whose wife (Beatrice Dalle) is afflicted with the same condition; Denis goes on to parallel Gallo’s story with Dalle’s, showing how terrible things might get for the American doctor. The violence is shockingly graphic, yet the narrative is characteristically vague. Is TROUBLE EVERY DAY an AIDS allegory? A Cronenbergian fable about how little we understand our own bodies? Or just a reflection of whatever nightmares Denis was having at the time? As usual for the director, Denis makes you feel vivid sensations before you understand what the film means. The associative editing, the moody cityscapes, and the evocative Tindersticks score combine to create a memorable sensory assault. (2001, 101 min, 35mm) BS
Satyajit Ray's PATHER PANCHALI (Indian Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) - Wednesday, 7 and 9:30pm
In 1993 Satyajit Ray requested that several of the original negatives of his films be shipped to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Los Angeles for storage in their vaults. En route they stopped at Henderson Laboratories in London where a tragic nitrate fire burnt and warped, if not destroyed, nearly all the negatives, including the acclaimed Apu Trilogy (not to mention treasured Ealing Studio Comedies). Fortunately the Academy decided to proceed with shipment and the negatives continued on to LA where they would remain untouched for nearly 20 years. After a protracted negotiation for the rights to the Apu Trilogy and multiple unsuccessful efforts to locate usable material for digitization the Criterion Collection unearthed these negatives and in conjunction with the L'Immagine Ritrovata and the Academy Archive began an extensive restoration effort in 2013. It is ironic that such a complicated undertaking including a successful rehydration, a combination of fine-grain masters and dupe negatives, the successful removal of glue and wax (used for storage in India and burned in the fire) and almost a thousand hours of meticulous hand labor, would be performed for films of such clear-eyed simplicity. Among these three the most direct and lucid (and the one whose negative was most badly damaged) is PATHER PANCHALI the inaugural chapter in a rural Bengali bildungsroman centered on the inquisitive and sprightly Apu Roy. Influenced by a conversation with Jean Renoir (in India shooting THE RIVER) and a viewing of Vittorio De Sica's BICYCLE THIEVES in London, Ray's film transplants a neorealist style onto Bibhuti Bhushan's novel. While not inaccurate, the complete placement of Ray's film within the neorealist canon threatens to undermine his truly revolutionary banishment of traditional dramatic structure. While both Ray and De Sica find interest in small, innocuous events, choosing to reveal their characters through gestures and attitudes and thereby dispensing with preconceived notions of plot and character, Ray takes it a step further. The impetus in BICYCLE THIEVES is to find the bicycle; the impetus in PATHER PANCHALI is simply to live. Time, as it is felt in Ray's film, expands and contracts not with breaks but rather a gummy elasticity that reveals both the sufferings caused by the ceaseless march of time and the perpetual chance for rebirth and renewal. Ray's characters, trapped by their economic conditions, brutally compound this effect. In the beginning of her review of L'AVVENTURA Pauline Kael wrote, "It had begun to look as though only those with a fresh eye--working in poverty and inexperience...discovering the medium for themselves--could do anything new and important (like the Apu Trilogy)" It still kind of does. (1955, 125 min, 35mm) CGB
Orson Welles' THE TRIAL (International Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center - Tuesday, 6pm
Casting a glib and voluble Anthony Perkins in the role of Josef K., a man compelled to court by a nebulous governmental authority who is ignorant of any crime, provides for a decidedly strange and personal adaptation of Kafka's unfinished story. At times a confounding film, Orson Welles' loose adaptation offers an unsettling and haunting expression of the modern experience. By putting K--and by extension the audience--into byzantine governmental systems, nightmarish and anonymous spaces, and contact with people sometimes better described as moving bodies, Welles "confronts the corruptions and self-deceptions of the contemporary world." Iconic images abound through Welles' aesthetic mastery, using sets and later (when the money ran out) abandoned locales in Paris, Zagreb, and Rome; the scale of an office floor the size of an airplane hangar is astonishing. Welles himself--also appearing as K's lawyer--is monumental in scale as well, looming over the picture in all his anxiety and discontent. Film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum lectures. (1962, 118 min, DCP Digital) BW
Frank Capra's LOST HORIZON (American Revival)
Northbrook Public Library (1201 Cedar Lane, Northbrook) - Wednesday, 1 and 7pm (Free Admission)
The novelist Graham Greene, at one time a great admirer of Frank Capra's work, declared in his review of this film that "[n]othing reveals men's characters more than their Utopias." The Utopia in question is Shangri-La, the setting of LOST HORIZON, which is based on the eponymous novel by James Hilton. (Hilton's novel is the origin of ‘Shangri-La,’ the idea of which has since been appropriated for various other mediums.) The film is primarily about a British diplomat, Robert Conway, who's kidnapped along with his brother and three others after escaping a war-torn city in China. Their plane is hijacked and then subsequently crashed into the Himalayan mountains, from which the group is rescued by the mysterious inhabitants of the aforementioned paradise. As Greene continues in his review, "[t]his Utopia closely resembles a film star's luxurious estate in Beverly Hills; flirtatious pursuits through grape arbors, splashings and divings in blossomy pools under improbable waterfalls, and rich and enormous meals." The film's detractors largely criticized it for focusing more on concept rather than characterization; though famed character actors Thomas Mitchell and Edward Everett Horton contributed their talents to the otherwise lackluster ensemble, not even they can escape the strict characterizations assigned to each performer. Thus it's not the plot that's interesting about the film, but rather what it represents in the context of Capra's life and career. Career-wise, LOST HORIZON was one of his greatest debacles, "a colossal act of hubris, a self-inflicted wound that caused lasting damage to Capra's career," as Joseph McBride states in his book, Frank Capra: The Catastrophe of Success. The usually austere director went significantly over budget, and it took years for the film to earn back its total cost, which was already more than Columbia had ever spent on a single production. The original cut was nearly six hours, later edited down to a little over three, and then edited several more times over the years to cuts of various lengths. (The version showing this week is 132 minutes—it’s the version Capra was most comfortable with before it was cut again by Columbia president Harry Cohn that same year and then in 1942 when the film was reissued as LOST HORIZON OF SHANGRI-LA. The film's restoration took thirteen years, but it still isn't complete; while the film's soundtrack was recovered in its entirety, only 125 minutes of film could be assembled from various sources. Publicity photos and still frames were inserted where footage was missing.) Within the context of Capra's biography, it's interesting precisely for Greene's assessment of how Shangri-La is depicted. A lifelong Republican, Capra's championing of the everyman was more complicated than general analyses of his films would lead anyone to believe. Having grown up in poverty after emigrating from Sicily in the early 1900s, his attitude towards the upper classes was one of both antipathy and envy. The philosophical ideas espoused in LOST HORIZON don't specifically target the aristocracy as Capra does in some of his more populist films, but it does advance somewhat socialist ideals of pacifism and equality. However, as both Greene and McBride point out, the depiction of the main residence in Shangri-La hints more so at a benign colonialism in which some are more superior than others, but only in the most anodyne way. Just as one might see Capra's tried-and-true tropes in Conway's fatigued idealism, one can see the true Capra in his Utopia. (1937, 132 min, Digital Projection) KS
Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise’s WEST SIDE STORY (American Revival)
The United States is a young country with an old history. Rising to the highest heights of power in the blink of an eye through rapid expansion across a broad land rich in natural resources, achieving unity far before the much more ancient Europe even made a start at it, and now prematurely gray as it struggles to adapt to a global economy and a shattered self-image, the American story has been a tough one to tell. Perhaps with the exception of the Great American Novel, Huckleberry Finn, no work of art has broken through as a wide-ranging reflection not only of who we want to be, but also of who we really are. So it may be a bold declaration to make, but if I had to pick the one work that has been and will continue to be the greatest telling of the Great American Story, it would be WEST SIDE STORY. Riding on the timeless popularity of tragic love as rendered by William Shakespeare in Romeo & Juliet while delivering that play’s crucial message about the costs of hate, WEST SIDE STORY poses a direct challenge to the complacent belief in the American Dream and the elusive principle for which it stands, “liberty and justice for all,” through the most American narrative of all—immigration. Director Harold Robbins (Robert Wise was brought in when Robbins was fired), composer Leonard Bernstein, book writer Arthur Laurents, and lyricist Stephen Sondheim—all members of despised and persecuted groups in American society—crafted a coming-of-age tale for America itself and those who would lose themselves in its myth through its focus on adolescents struggling to mature and find a place for themselves in the world. The creative team centered the rivalry among the children of poor European immigrants precariously established in New York City and those from the American territory of Puerto Rico who moved to the mainland during the 1950s. As Sondheim’s lyrics to “America” ironically suggest (“Nobody knows in America/Puerto Rico’s in America”), the members of the Sharks might have an earlier claim to being American than do the teens who make up the Jets. This conflict already distinguishes WEST SIDE STORY from Shakespeare’s blood feud of two aristocratic families as a pointedly American concern. The film features a magnetic cast of dancers and actors, with George Chakiris and Rita Moreno as standouts. Natalie Wood was put in the unfortunate position of being an Anglo playing a Latina and disliking costar Richard Beymer, the man she was supposed to be passionately in love with, but her professionalism (if not her dismal Puerto Rican accent) carry the day. All of the singing was dubbed, with veteran singing double Marni Nixon taking on Maria’s songs and Jimmy Bryant taking on Beymer’s. This is understandable considering the difficulties of Bernstein’s operatic score and does not, in my opinion, detract from the overall effect. The otherwise soundstage-bound film opens up in the “Prologue,” which was shot on location in New York, thus creating a mise en scène of the contested turf that lingers in the audience’s mind as the rest of the film progresses. Robbins, comfortable with stage choreography, manages to combine the best of both worlds throughout the film. His work in the opening “Prologue” illustrates the Jets’ exuberant dominance of their turf. Robbins moves them wordlessly from playground, to street, to basketball court in a combination of random, everyday movements by individual Jets that build to a coordinated dance. Jets leader Riff (Russ Tamblyn) whoops happily as some children run past on the street and leaps joyfully with his gang, only to run immediately into Sharks leader Bernardo (Chakiris). Bernardo handles their taunts, only to strike an obviously symbolic red stripe on a wall with his fist. Small gestures again build, this time menacingly, and the “Prologue” ends in an all-out brawl. Camera cuts, overhead shots, close-ups of smug and resentful looks form a dance of their own, one the dancers assault by running directly at the camera lens, forcing it to cut away. Robbins may have been a novice filmmaker, but his dancer’s understanding of space and how a frame can open and choke it is second only to Gene Kelly’s. Many music scholars have commented on Bernstein’s use of tritones—playing a key note followed by a note three whole tones away from the key note—which is an important method of introducing dissonance in Western harmony. During the Middle Ages, tritones were considered diabolus in musica (“devil in music”) for being hard to sing in tune. While many people consider “Maria” one of the most beautiful songs in the score, it is sobering to realize that its first two notes form a tritone; considering that Maria’s admonishment to Tony to stop the rumble ends in the deaths of her brother, Tony’s best friend, and Tony himself, she certainly does seem to have done the devil’s work, however unwittingly. Again and again, the songs and characters of WEST SIDE STORY communicate the need to belong. Maria and Tony, caught in the ethnic divide, find their sense of place in each other, which they affirm in the moving “Somewhere,” a place that is destroyed when Tony is gunned down by Maria’s formerly gentle suitor Chino (Jose De Vega). And a very interesting character nicknamed Anybodys (Susan Oakes) exemplifies a different kind of exclusion; dressing and acting like a boy, she rejects society’s assigned role for her and is, in turn, rejected by the Jets. But she refuses to go away or give up on being a part of the action. At a time of great social foment, WEST SIDE STORY offered a narrative to help Americans find a new, more worthwhile image for a more mature and realizable Great American Story. (1961, 153 min, DCP Digital Projection) MF
Christian Petzold’s TRANSIT (New German/French)
Music Box Theatre - Check venue website for showtimes
An antifascist German’s desperate flight from Paris to Marseilles as the Nazis start to overrun France becomes a metaphysical journey in which his very identity is subsumed to the needs of the wife (Paula Beer) of a writer who, unbeknownst to her, committed suicide when she abandoned him in Paris. The man (Franz Rogowski) assumes her husband’s identity and lets go of self-interest to secure her transit documents to escape Marseilles, where other refugees are waiting fruitlessly to be delivered from evil. There is much in TRANSIT that will remind viewers of CASABLANCA (1942), thus continuing director Christian Petzold’s riffs on cinematic history—Herk Harvey’s CARNIVAL OF SOULS (1962) and Georges Franju’s EYES WITHOUT A FACE (1960) are clear inspirations for his YELLA (2007) and PHOENIX (2014), respectively. However, Petzold’s source material is Anna Seghers’ Transit, a renowned 1944 novel based on her own experience as a German exile trapped in Marseilles in 1940–41. His recurring themes of the permeability of identity, betrayal, the complex nature of love, and the ghosts that haunt humanity are married to a sympathetic examination of the current refugee crisis in Europe by setting his film in the present and populating it with Arab refugees. By straddling the present and the past, he effectively renders history and our willful amnesia accomplices to atrocity. (2018, 101 min, DCP Digital) MF
Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman’s LOVING VINCENT (New Polish/British Animation)
Music Box Theatre - Sunday, 11AM
Here's another chance to see the "world’s first hand-painted feature-length film" on the big screen. A breakthrough work, Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman’s LOVING VINCENT is comprised of 65,000 gorgeous oil paintings, on canvas, executed by a team of over 125 classically trained painters, working from live-action reference footage and Van Gogh's own paintings. A pulsing, exhilarating experience, I imagine it will only continue to find new audiences: I'm one of them. What the filmmakers have managed to do is get Van Gogh's experience of life, of nature, on screen, in all its richness and lust. Connoisseurs will love the details: you can hear that horse famously in the center-background of Cafe Terrace at Night clip-clopping towards you, under the starry, starry night. It's a pretty staggering technical accomplishment—you can enjoy it just for the texture of those big, thick, swirling impasto brushstrokes. But what's really remarkable is how they were able to craft a story with an emotional impact that does justice to this life, and to a body of work in which so many continue to take solace. The story takes us from Arles in the south of France, via Montmartre, to Auvers-sur-Oise in the north, where Van Gogh died in 1891. It's a year later, and we join Armand Roulin (Douglas Booth), the son of Postman Joseph Roulin (Chris O'Dowd), on his quest to deliver the last letter written by lonely, ill Van Gogh (Robert Gulaczyk) to his brother Theo (Cezary Lukaszewicz). Each character is a famous Van Gogh portrait come to life. There's Dr. Gachet (Jerome Flynn); his daughter Marguerite (Saoirse Ronan), at her piano or in her garden; innkeeper Adeline Ravoux (Eleanor Tomlinson). Sometimes, as with the Boatman (Aidan Turner), they've imagined a character based on "just a really tiny character at the shore of the river in a painting," as Kobiela put it. Miraculously, these all ring true as real, dimensional humans. Playing detective, Armand questions them about what really happened on the days leading up to Van Gogh's death: suicide, murder, or accident? Color—throbbing, shimmering, clashing—is for the present; black and white, evoking the greys of Van Gogh's early Nuenen style, is for memories. To describe the film's structure, critics have evoked CITIZEN KANE or RASHOMON. The surreal visual experience they've compared to WAKING LIFE—there's a similar feeling of life as a waking dream, which reminded me of AKIRA KUROSAWA'S DREAMS, with our Marty Scorsese as Van Gogh. ("The sun! It compels me to paint!") I was even reminded of JFK, what with Dr. Mazery's musings on what we might call the "Rene Secretan theory." Everyone Armand talks to has a different theory about "why," a different perspective on who and what we saw before. I think what he comes to understand is that he's looking in the wrong place. The truth is in the beauty, and the life force, of what Van Gogh left behind, a love this film celebrates in every frame. Cracking entertainment, too. A modern classic. (2017, 94 min, DCP Digital) SP
Followed at 12:45pm by Miki Wecel's 2019 Polish documentary LOVING VINCENT: THE IMPOSSIBLE DREAM (60 min, DCP Digital).
MORE SCREENINGS AND EVENTS
The Film Studies Center (at the Logan Center for the Arts, 915 E. 60th St., University of Chicago) presents a lecture by Racquel Gates (College of Staten Island, CUNY) entitled Double Negative: Race, Popular Culture, and the Politics of “Quality” on Thursday at 4pm. Free admission.
The Conversations at the Edge series (at the Gene Siskel Film Center) presents Shards from the Mirror of History (2010-18, approx. 60 min, Digital Projection) on Thursday at 6pm, with curator Nicky Ni in person. Screening are works by Tao Hui, Hao Jingban, Yang Luzi, Yao Qingmei, Li Ran, Liu Yefu, Zhou Yan, and Jiū Society.
Also at The Nightingale (1084 N. Milwaukee Ave.) this week: Pain Is Just a Program, But So Is Photoshop, a program of work by experimental artist Jacob Ciocci, is on Monday at 8pm, with Ciocci in person.
Also at Block Cinema (Northwestern University) this week: Isaac Julien's 1989 (excellent) experimental documentary LOOKING FOR LANGSTON (45 min, Digital Projection) and his 1993 short THE ATTENDANT (8 min, 35mm) screen on Wednesday at 7pm. Free admission.
Chicago Filmmakers (5720 N. Ridge Ave.) presents Women of the Now Anniversary Screening (2018, approx. 60 min, Digital Projection) on Saturday at 7pm. The program of work from the Chicago-based female-centric independent production company includes work directed and produced by Laura Day Akuabba Agbo, Jill Sandmire, Shannon Metelko and Mandy Work Wetzel, Jovan Landry, and K Flow. Select makers and Women of the Now members in person.
Also at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago this week: a program of web-based series from Open TV on Thursday at 6pm. Free admission.
The Midwest Independent Film Festival (at the Landmark’s Century Centre Cinema) screens Chris Roberti’s 2019 film SAME BOAT (83 min, Digital Projection) on Tuesday at 7:30pm, with Roberti in person. Preceded by a 6pm reception and a 6:30pm producers panel.
The Davis Theater hosts the first Teach Abroad Film Festival on Thursday at 7:30pm. The event, presented by the International TEFL Academy, features twelve shorts directed by filmmakers teaching English internationally. More info at www.internationalteflacademy.com.
The Instituto Cervantes (31 W. Ohio St.) screens Gerardo Herrero's 2011 Spanish/Lithuanian film FROZEN SILENCE (114 min, DVD Projection) on Tuesday at 7pm. Free admission.
Also presented by the Park Ridge Classic Film Series this week: Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's 1944 UK film A CANTERBURY TALE (124 min, Digital Projection; Free Admission) on Thursday at 7pm at the Park Ridge Public Library (20 S. Prospect Ave., Park Ridge).
Also at Doc Films (University of Chicago) this week: Zhang Yimou’s 1991 Chinese film RAISE THE RED LANTERN (125 min, 35mm) is on Thursday at 7pm; and Rob Reiner’s 1984 mockumentary THIS IS SPINAL TAP (82 min, DCP Digital) is on Thursday at 9:30pm.
Also at the Music Box Theatre this week: Harmony Korine's 2019 film THE BEACH BUM (95 min, DCP Digital) opens; Justin Drobinski and Sean Gallagher's 2018 documentary DECONSTRUCTING THE BEATLES: 1963 YEAH! YEAH! YEAH! (76 min, DCP Digital) is on Saturday at 11:30am and Wednesday at 7pm; and Jason Lei Howden's 2015 New Zealand film DEATHGASM (90 min, DCP Digital) is on Saturday at Midnight.
Facets Cinémathèque plays A. T. White's 2018 UK/US film STARFISH (101 min, Video Projection; director White in person at the 7 and 9pm Friday and 5, 7, and 9pm Saturday shows) and Billy Corben's 2018 documentary SCREWBALL (105 min, Video Projection) for week-long runs.
Comfort Film at Comfort Station Logan Square (2579 N. Milwaukee Ave.) screens Jordan Downey's 2018 film THE HEAD HUNTER (72 min, Digital Projection) and Michelle Iannantuono's 2018 film LIVESCREAM (70 min, Digital Projection) on Wednesday at 7pm. Presented in conjunction with the Windy City Horrorama Film Festival; co-presented by Chicago Cinema Society.
ONGOING FILM/VIDEO INSTALLATIONS
Isaac Julien’s 2007 video installation THE LEOPARD (WESTERN UNION: SMALL BOATS) is on view at the Block Museum (Northwestern University) through April 14.
Currently on view at the Art Institute of Chicago: Naeem Mohaiemen’s 2017 three-channel video installation TWO MEETINGS AND A FUNERAL (88 min) is on view through March 31 in the Stone Gallery; and Martine Syms' SHE MAD: LAUGHING GAS (2018, 7 min, four-channel digital video installation with sound, wall painting, laser-cut acrylic, artist’s clothes).
CINE-LIST: March 29 - April 4, 2019
MANAGING EDITOR // Patrick Friel
ASSOCIATE EDITORS // Ben Sachs, Kathleen Sachs, Kyle A. Westphal
CONTRIBUTORS // Camden G. Bauchner, Kian Bergstrom, Kyle Cubr, John Dickson, Marilyn Ferdinand, Jonathan Leithold-Patt, Michael Metzger, Scott Pfeiffer, Harrison Sherrod, Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, Brian Welesko