ODD OBSESSION FUNDRAISER
Our friends at Odd Obsession Movies are doing a fundraiser to help ensure their continued presence in the Chicago film scene! Chip in what you can! OO is a vital resource, and a DIY, grassroots, volunteer-driven place filled with movie-obsessives. In fact, Cine-File in many ways owes its beginnings to OO, as several of the founders of C-F volunteered there or were frequent patrons. Keep small, local, independent business alive! Keep independent cinema alive! Donate now.
Robert Bresson's AU HASARD BALTHAZAR (French Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center - Friday and Tuesday, 6pm
AU HASARD BALTHAZAR has long been encircled by a cacophonous mystique of hyperbolic Godard proclamations (he famously married into the montage) and unenlightened uses of the word "transcendental." It is now, for better or for worse, solely a masterpiece for secular melancholic cineastes and an exercise in futility for the pious Netflix user. Even the Schubert Sonata in A Major, bringing tears to single men at Facets, can be played by a child. That said, what a masterpiece! Cinema's most thorough estrangement of humanity, at the hand of our most enigmatic auteur: from Bresson's editing room, total war on the filmic conventions of emotional identification. Love in the air?? Always cut to an uncomprehending donkey. Point-of-view cutting between said donkey and a caged tiger—why not? The erstwhile aspiring psychologists of film studies deserve to be flummoxed. See also: the most alienated dance floor brawl of all time. Despite all this, a certain sympathy is generated between the film and its victims (the audience), so long as the latter is prepared to progressively teach the former its vulnerability. Like Hollis Frampton’s ZORNS LEMMA, the deliberately supine viewer is rewarded with a recognizable universe viewed obliquely, dispassionately, and at a temporal distance—the mysterious theological recitations of childhood; the wintry march of old age; and the long, relentless oppression of 'civilized' society in between, made entirely of humble gesture and symbol. Critic and artist Fred Camper lectures at the Tuesday screening. (1966, 95 min, 35mm) MC
Nina Menkes’ QUEEN OF DIAMONDS (American Revival)
Chicago Film Society (at Northeastern Illinois University, The Auditorium, Building E, 3701 W. Bryn Mawr Ave.) – Wednesday, 7:30pm
Where to start with Nina Menkes’ QUEEN OF DIAMONDS? Where to start with Nina Menkes? Both the filmmaker and the film—her third feature after THE GREAT SADNESS OF ZOHARA (1983) and MAGDALENA VIRAGA (1985); her fourth overall when including her first film, a short called A SOFT WARRIOR (1981)—disavow strict categorization, despite their apparent kinship with other filmmakers, specifically Chantal Akerman, whose work Menkes’ is often likened to and of whom Menkes is an ardent admirer. There’s no denying that Menkes’ tactics are similar: Both filmmakers deal in long, static shots and political subtext communicated through details related to their personal lives (Akerman through her mother and her family’s history; Menkes through casting her sister, Tinka, as the lead in five of her films, including this one). Yet, as is fitting for the echelon of personal filmmaking in which they're working, their films, though superficially comparable, are as distinct and individualistic as the makers themselves. Something that occurred to me while watching QUEEN OF DIAMONDS is how much it seems like a book of photographs, either published by an artist or existing solely for personal use; Menkes’ filmmaking process begins with an image-gathering process that further solidified this impression, as well as that of her work being inexorably singular. As she told Film Comment in a recent interview: “What I have always done, over a period of time—and it can be many months, or a year or more—is write down images on 3x5 cards, either things that I actually see in real life or interior images that appear to my mind’s eye…I write down those images that have strong energy and demand my attention. So after I have a pile of these cards, I just have a feeling that I have enough at some point, an intuitive sense of closure. Then I start reading all the cards and seeing what narrative thread exists, and I start stringing the images together as a script.” The plot of QUEEN OF DIAMONDS aptly reflects the indiscriminate artfulness of this method. Tinka Menkes plays Firdaus, a Las Vegas blackjack dealer whose repetitive on-the-job tasks comprise much of the film (note the 17-minute sequence consisting entirely of Firdaus dealing blackjack in the unintelligible din of the casino). When she isn’t at work, she’s shown either caring for a sickly older man, spending time with a friend, vaguely pondering her missing husband’s whereabouts, or arguing with her abusive neighbor, though not much else can be gleaned from these interludes, nor are they as benign as they seem when written out as such. Throughout, Menkes’ camera is largely fixed, framing whatever action is taking place in subtly composed—but often striking—medium shots that recall an observational perspective, which allows one to better ascertain the political and feminist subtext. “[My films] are deeply informed by the experience of being marginal, as a woman: an outsider on multiple levels, not the least in how I experience the elements of time and space cinematically,” she said in the above interview, a response to how many have likened the new season of Twin Peaks to her work. “In contrast to Lynch, the dream zones I enter as a filmmaker are all inevitably politically charged with my perspective of a life lived in resistance to patriarchal norms on pretty much every level: emotionally, spiritually, and cinematically.” This comes through both in the imposed placement of the spectator through its abstract formalism and in the name of the main character, Firdaus, which is the name of the woman profiled in Egyptian author Nawal El Saadawi’s seminal book Woman at Point Zero, about a sex worker accused of killing her pimp but who’s unrepentant for her crime. (Menkes lists both El Saadawi and Richard Misrach as inspiration in the credits; the latter’s use of color, concerted framing, and political subtext within a dedicated aesthetic comprise a clear influence. Scenes on beaches and a static shot of Firdaus watching a tree burning in the distance welcome this connection.) The formal detachment—the static shots, like photographs, unmoving as Firdaus/Firdaus are unmoved; the ambiguous editing; the thrumming sound design—further serves to convey Menkes’ transgressive associations. Tinka’s performance, as in the other films she and Nina made together, is as important as any of the formal elements. Their films are not just personal, but familial, representing a sort of collaborative auteurism. The crucialness of this screening (from a newly restored 35mm print) is reinforced by Menkes herself, who remarked, “QUEEN OF DIAMONDS… especially… need[s] pristine conditions to be fully appreciated. [I]n order to experience the details of the image and Tinka’s essential, subtle performance, it’s important to have the restored version.” After seeing this, it’s not a question of where to start with Nina Menkes, but where to end; her small but poignant body of work is ripe for reexamination. Preceded by Daina Krumins’ 1982 experimental short BABOBILICONS (16 min, 16mm). (1991, 77 min, 35mm restored archival print) KS
David Lynch’s THE ELEPHANT MAN (American Revival)
Block Cinema (Northwestern University) — Thursday, 7pm (Free Admission)
An admirer of David Lynch’s ERASERHEAD, Mel Brooks lobbied to get Lynch hired as director for this historical drama about Joseph Merrick, a profoundly disfigured young man who became a minor celebrity in Victorian-era London after he was taken under the care of the physician Frederick Treves. Brooks also fought executives to let Lynch shoot the film in black-and-white and incorporate some experimental dream sequences reminiscent of his underground classic. The producer’s victories are worth mentioning not only because they speak to Brooks’ magnanimity, but also because they helped shape THE ELEPHANT MAN into the gorgeous work that it is. A quick scan of IMDB’s trivia page for the film reveals that it’s highly inaccurate with regards to Merrick’s life: he was never abused by the proprietor of the freak show where Treves discovered him, nor did the proprietor ever abduct him from the hospital where he came to live. Yet Lynch’s film is still a deeply moving fairy tale on the themes of friendship and compassion, imagining how caring individuals can elevate a person long held in low esteem by others and himself. The scenes of Merrick tearfully accepting the kindness of his benefactors are among the most forthrightly emotional in Lynch’s filmography; as realized by John Hurt (and an extraordinary team of makeup artists), the character is perhaps the most beautifully vulnerable Lynch would consider prior to Alvin Straight in THE STRAIGHT STORY. The film’s aesthetic adds greatly to its emotional impact—the sooty and shadowy black-and-white imagery, the dreamlike dissolves, and the haunting sound design (co-created by Lynch and as dense in industrial noises as the soundtrack of ERASERHEAD) evoke a decaying world where kindness seems an especially rare commodity. You feel almost as grateful as Merrick when you sense its presence. The screening will be introduced by Academy Award-winning sound designer Gary Rydstrom. (1980, 124 min, 35mm archival print) BS
ABBAS KIAROSTAMI X 3
Abbas Kiarostami's THE WIND WILL CARRY US (Iranian Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center – Saturday, 3pm and Wednesday, 7:45pm
What always stands out to me when I watch THE WIND WILL CARRY US, a film that meditates on death, life, time, gender, and labor, is the framing. The framing of characters and place in a Kiarostami film is always deliberate and communicates many layers of meaning, some in concert, and some in conflict with each other. The film begins with a classic Kiarostami-style wide shot of a car driving down a winding rural dirt road. The unseen characters inside debate ambiguous directions to a remote village in the rolling hills. Landscape, both designed and undesigned, immediately takes shape as a force and character in the film, as it does throughout Kiarostami's works. We get to know the protagonist, Behzad—clearly a stand-in for Kiarostami—as he is forced into a holding pattern. He and his crew (who remain unseen through the entire film, one of many interesting omissions that contrast deeply with Behzad's visual fixations) are allegedly "engineers" working in "telecommunications," but they seem to be waiting for an elderly woman who is "old as Methuselah," according to the village doctor, to pass away. It becomes clear that they are a crew looking to document the death of the woman (who also remains unseen), either as journalists or commissioned filmmakers, in order to film the ancient scarification ritual that accompanies mourning rites in the Kurdish village. Because the old woman refuses to die, Behzad spends each day in a pattern of waiting and observing the many gendered labors that keep the tight-knit village alive. We follow Behzad—as he probes the young boy who has been assigned as his concierge—up and down winding ladders, stairs, ledges, and unofficial paths that must be used to navigate the seemingly haphazard but elegantly interwoven houses nestled into the valley. The boy is one of the few characters in the film we see in extreme close-up, and I imagine the reason for this framing is that Kiarostami could not resist showing us in detail the amateur actor's charming vulnerability and nervousness as he recites his lines. His anxiety and timidity in reading his lines dovetails the anxiety his character feels about two rigorous weeks of exams that Behzad keeps rudely and selfishly interrupting with requests. Many characters, though, are never shown in close-up and instead in very wide shots that embed them in their domestic spaces. (I often feel frustration as a viewer in these moments because I so desperately want to zoom in on the characters, but never get the satisfaction.) One of the most troubling and ambiguous scenes in the film takes place as Behzad tries with increasing fervor to obtain milk for himself and his crew, frustrated that there are cows and goats everywhere but milk is not immediately obtainable. His request is fulfilled in the only artificially-lit scene in the film, as a young woman leads him into a cellar where she milks a cow with her back turned to the camera. This scene always troubles me—it seems to highlight Kiarostami's own anxiety about otherness, intrusion, and gendered power at play in his filmmaking practice. Behzad remains a very ambiguous character throughout, and he questions his own moral character, both to himself and even to the young boy, Farzad, at one point. THE WIND WILL CARRY US poses more questions than it answers and omits so much from the frame, even as it presents a bountiful portrait of a rich, closely-knit community far removed from intrusive modernity. The balance it strikes between emptiness and fullness, comic levity and somber rumination, work and waiting, very often through Kiarostami's incredibly unique mise-en-scene and playful editing, truly reveals a masterpiece. It also reveals a film that must be watched on a big screen: you won't want to miss a single detail. (1999, 119 min, DCP Digital) AE
Abbas Kiarostami's TASTE OF CHERRY (Iranian Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center – Friday, 8pm ad Monday, 6pm
This is one of the great big-screen experiences, comparable in its effect to L'ECLISSE or 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. Like those films, Abbas Kiarostami's Palme d'Or winner confronts some of the essential questions of existence; while Kiarostami's approach may be more modest than Antonioni's or Kubrick's, the poetic simplicity of TASTE OF CHERRY assumes a monumental quality when projected. The plot is structured like a fable: A calm middle-aged man of apparently good economic standing drives around the outskirts of Tehran. Over the course of a day, he gives a ride to three separate hitchhikers; after engaging each in conversation, he asks if the stranger will assist him in committing suicide. That the succession of hitchhikers (young, older, oldest) suggests the course of the life cycle is the only schematic aspect of the film. Each encounter contains enough digressions to illuminate the magic unpredictability of life itself—not only in the conversation, but also in the formal playfulness of Kiarostami's direction. The film is rife with the two shots that, paradoxically, form Kiarostami's artistic signature: the screen-commanding close-up of a face in conversation, eerily separated in space from the person he's talking to; and the cosmic long-shot of a single car driving quixotically across a landscape. Here, both images evoke feelings of isolation that are inextricable from human consciousness, yet the overall tone of the film is light, even bemused. The final sequence, one of the finest games conjured by a movie, sparked countless philosophical bull-sessions when TASTE OF CHERRY was first released, and it remains plenty mind-blowing today. (1997, 95 min, DCP Digital) BS
Also this week: Abbas Kiarostami’s 1979 Iranian film CASE #1, CASE #2 (48 min, DCP Digital) is on Saturday at 5:15pm, preceded by his short films SOLUTION (1978, 12 min) and TOOTHACHE (1980, 27 min).
Dennis Hopper’s EASY RIDER (American Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) – Monday, 7pm
Iconography shorthands how a culture knows and defines itself. Although it may seem strange now, the Stars and Stripes were once primarily a symbol of the left, worn by hippies, peaceniks, and others of a progressive bent as a banner of freedom. In that spirit, Wyatt, aka, Captain America, displayed the flag on his motorcycle helmet, his jacket, and the gas tank of his tricked-out California chopper and stepped into the iconography of the 1960s in EASY RIDER. Aside from the hard-nipple image of Farrah Fawcett in the 1970s, I don’t think any poster was as ubiquitous during my formative years as Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper riding side by side through the desert on their motorcycle journey across America. Now that we are 50 years beyond the film’s release, it may be easier to separate EASY RIDER the movie from its status as an emblem of ’60s idealism quashed by an unforgiving, conservative backlash. In fact, the film never deserved that emblematic status in the first place. Its beginning—a cocaine score and sale by Wyatt (Fonda) and Billy (Hopper) to a connection played by Phil Spector—foreshadows the ending that Wyatt senses when he tells Billy “we blew it” as they head toward their final destination. In between, the beauty and freedom of the open road and the pair’s encounters along the way give audiences a more rounded picture of the culture and counterculture of the time than previous “hippie” films, including the Roger Corman-produced THE TRIP (1967), starring Fonda and Hopper, and written by Jack Nicholson, who would have his breakout role as alcoholic ACLU attorney George Hansen in EASY RIDER. Hopper leaned toward the American gothic in choosing the Louisiana townspeople he wanted to represent the tormenters of the long-haired bikers, and he depicts a rural commune in a fairly ridiculous light. But there aren’t a lot of laughs in the film, and the harrowing LSD trip in a New Orleans cemetery has Fonda pouring his heart out to the statue of a woman, telling the true story of his own mother’s suicide. EASY RIDER, made in the chaos of a drug-filled shoot that seems fitting for the post-assassination era, is a road movie that runs out of horizon. Fortunately, the stunning, inventive, and risky cinematography of László Kovács (he reported getting gunpowder on his hands filming a rifle that discharges right at the camera) and the newly invented montage soundtrack composed of such classics as Steppenwolf’s “Born to Be Wild,” The Band’s “The Weight,” and “It’s Alright Ma,” from Bob Dylan, make this time capsule of a movie a ride worth taking. (1969, 95 min, 35mm) MF
Andrei Tarkovsky's IVAN'S CHILDHOOD (Soviet Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) - Sunday, 7pm
One of the boldest, most indelible directorial debuts in the history of cinema, Andrei Tarkovsky's IVAN'S CHILDHOOD centers on a young orphan who attempts to avenge his parents' deaths by performing reconnaissance operations for the Soviet army during WWII. Despite being ordered to return to the rear and attend military school, Ivan manages to hang around headquarters and volunteer for a deadly mission behind enemy lines. Ivan's behavior oscillates between being that of a callow child and a battle-hardened boy soldier with more valor and grit than most of his older comrades, and although we see him playact a knife fight, this is no game. As a result of the Khrushchev Thaw, IVAN'S CHILDHOOD is one in a series of late 50s Soviet films that eschews a typical propagandistic gung-ho outlook and deglamorizes the war by focusing on existential suffering. Though Mosfilm originally intended the film to be directed by Edward Gaikovich Abalyan, Tarkovsky makes it his own by imbuing it with fragments of his personal wartime experience. Indeed, the metaphysical forces prominently featured in his later work are already in play here. Similar to THE MIRROR, the film blurs the line between reality, memory, and the dream world. Tarkovsky incorporates a mélange of stylistic techniques that may or may not reflect the varying layers of reality, including negative images, documentary footage, dizzying point of view shots, and canted camera angles reminiscent of German Expressionist filmmaking. A third of the way through the film, Ivan encounters a distraught, shell-shocked old man whose house is largely in ruins; however, the man proceeds to hang a picture on what's left of a brick wall. With this image, Tarkovsky is suggesting that war obscures one's perception to the point that they are unable to delineate between the boundaries of reality and illusion. Perhaps Ingmar Bergman said it best: "My discovery of Tarkovsky's first film was like a miracle. Suddenly, I found myself standing at the door of a room the keys of which had, until then, never been given to me." (1962, 95 min, 35mm) HS
Mario Bava’s BLACK SUNDAY (Italian Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) - Thursday, 9:30pm
Mario Bava’s official directorial debut showcases his previous talents as a cinematographer and special effects artist. BLACK SUNDAY starts in 1630 with the execution for sorcery of Asa Vajda, a witch (played by Barbara Steele), and her lover by her brother. Just prior to her death (a particularly brutal for a 1960 film), she places a curse on her brother and all of his descendants. Two hundred later, the aforementioned curse reenters the story when two traveling doctors mistakenly disturb the witch’s tomb and happen to meet Katia Vajda (also Barbara Steele). Bava’s film is a gorgeously photographed gothic horror full of witch and vampire mischief. His usage of camera trickery and practical effects allow for visceral depictions of violence and the macabre. The film’s most memorable feature is its elaborate set design. With much of the story transpiring inside of a sprawling castle, a graveyard, and crypt, the necessity to create set pieces that are typical of gothic horror yet unique with each variation is strong. Bava does this expertly; they create a pervasive atmosphere of foreboding dread that ultimately heightens the film’s central themes of fear. Barbara Steele’s dual performance showcases her considerable talent, as she becomes both victim and instigator of fright. Her presence commands the camera in every scene. BLACK SUNDAY signaled Bava as a singular artist, one who would become a great influence for generations of filmmakers who followed. (1960, 87 min, DCP Digital) KC
Jan Švankmajer's ALICE (Czech Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) - Tuesday, 7pm
Looking back on his first feature film, ALICE, over twenty years later, the great Czech animator Jan Švankmajer said, "So far all adaptations of Alice, including the latest by Tim Burton, present it as a fairytale, but Carroll wrote it as a dream. And between a dream and a fairytale there is a fundamental difference. While a fairytale has an educational aspect—it works with the moral of the lifted forefinger (good overcomes evil), dream, as an expression of our unconscious, uncompromisingly pursues the realization of our most secret wishes without considering rational and moral inhibitions, because it is driven by the principle of pleasure. My Alice is a realized dream." Inspired by rather than adapted from Lewis Carroll's classic of English literature, ALICE very loosely follows Carroll's plot or any plot at all. In her fantastic dream, the precocious Alice (Kristyna Kohoutova) narrates her adventures with living and dead animals, dolls, puppets, cutouts, and objects constructed from bric-a-brac, all of which Švankmajer brings to life through stop-motion. As Alice delves deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole of space and time, she realizes that this otherworld tries to stop her. In order to enter new openings that spontaneously appear, she eats cakes and mushrooms or drinks ink, transforming from a child into a doll and back again in various shapes and sizes. Švankmajer imbues his ever-changing Alice and Wonderland's objects, refashioned from those found in her bedroom, with the full weight of the surreal. The once ordinary and often old or discarded objects become unfamiliar and menacing in Alice's dreamscape; she acts out against the newly animate things and they also come after her. Recalling the project of the philosopher and enthusiast of Surrealism, Walter Benjamin, Švankmajer's ALICE is a work of art that reconstructs an extraordinary world out of all the rubble from his past. (1988, 85 min, 16mm) CW
Mitchell Leisen’s EASY LIVING (American Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) - Wednesday, 7 and 9:30pm
The entire screwball subgenre could be encapsulated by two comedic set pieces from Mitchell Leisen’s EASY LIVING: first, a food fight set at an automat (a type of low-brow restaurant once called “the Maxim's of the disenfranchised" by Neil Simon); and second, a flirtatious slip-and-slide in a luxury bathtub the size of a kiddie pool, with embellishments to rival even the most ostentatious sculpture garden. These scenes embody the explorations of class and sex (or the conspicuous lack of it) that comprise the most effective screwball comedies—this certainly being one of them—complete with jocose humor and straight-up slapstick to sweeten the deal. Jean Arthur stars as Mary Smith, a beautiful, young, down-on-her-luck woman who has a fur coat fall in her lap whilst on the top level of a bus. Seeking its owner, she meets J.B. Ball (Edward Arnold), a bullish banker (the Bull of Broad Street, to be exact) who had thrown the coat, belonging to his spend-happy wife, from the roof of their penthouse apartment. Mary accepts the coat and a hat—and a lesson about interest—though what seems like merely a fortuitous meeting turns into something more. As with any screwball film, detailing its labyrinthine plot is an exercise in joyful futility, but it should go without saying that Mary meets a guy, in this case J.B.’s son, John (Ray Milland), who’d left the nest to seek financial independence by working at the aforementioned automat. Also in the mix is a French hotelier who attempts to evade foreclosure by housing Mary, J.B.’s supposed mistress, in his luxury hotel, where she and John then attempt to figure out the aforementioned bathtub. Preston Sturges wrote this Depression-era Cinderella story, somewhat early in a career that would become synonymous with screwball; the dialogue is appropriately daft and sometimes heedful, as when a disgruntled chef tells J.B., “Go and fry yourself in lard, you dirty capitalist!” Jean Arthur’s is my favorite performance of the bunch—is there an actress whose literal voice better exemplifies the screwball tone? She and Arnold provide the foundation out of which the other actors’ performances grow, the supporting characters—and even lead Milland—benefitting from their dedication to respective extremes. That said, Leisen’s direction is what really sets the film apart, specifically his commitment to the more cosmetic aspects of the mise-en-scene; I can’t imagine any other director putting the same level of focus on a tour of a luxury hotel room, Leisen having started out in the art and costume departments before moving into the director’s chair. It’s reported that he personally oversaw Arthur’s hair and wardrobe, and that her lavish furs and jewelry were genuine, elements that seem incidental but lend an air of elegance to the inanity. (All this may go against the genre’s inherent subversiveness with regards to depictions of class, but gosh, it sure is pretty.) It’s also reported that this attention made the notoriously nervous Arthur more comfortable on set, likely contributing to her exceptional performance. All told, winsome absurdity and unexpected sophistication, informed by Leisen's attention to detail, make this a screwball gem rather than a diamond in the rough. (1937, 89 min, 35mm) KS
Youssef Chahine's CAIRO STATION (Egyptian Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) - Monday, 7pm (Free Admission)
Above all, Youssef Chahine loved the movies. As an idea, as a history, as a vernacular language, as a way to see, feel and describe the world. And to shape it. He understood that there was no right or wrong way to make a movie, just a series of choices, and the choices he made were completely free from the limiting traditions of "consistency"--tone, genre, "style." This is the freedom that makes CAIRO STATION, made half a century ago, so astounding. And it will continue to be astounding half a century, a century from now, even when the society it depicts is a distant memory. Chahine himself plays a homely vendor at the titular train station who obsesses over an indifferent beauty. (1958, 77 min, Unconfirmed Format) IV
Robert Siodmak’s THE KILLERS (American Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center - Friday, 2pm, Sunday, 3pm, and Thursday, 6pm
THE KILLERS is the movie that made Burt Lancaster a star and cemented Robert Siodmak’s reputation as one of the great noir directors. But as significant as their contributions are, the film’s power really hinges on its screenplay, which is one of the cleverest in the entire noir canon. Written by Anthony Veiller, John Huston, and Richard Brooks (the latter two uncredited), THE KILLERS boasts a flashback-driven structure as ambitious as that of CITIZEN KANE, employing multiple narrators and a non-chronological organization of events. Like KANE, the film starts with the death of a mysterious individual—in this case, Lancaster’s Ole “Swede” Anderson—then follows an investigator as he tries to make sense of that person’s life. Ernest Hemingway’s 1927 short story provides the material for the opening ten minutes, which detail the events leading up to Anderson’s murder, and this passage feels particularly Hemingwayesque in its terse dialogue and its critical portrait of masculine bravado. (According to legend, this was the only film adaptation of his work that Hemingway actually liked.) The script preserves the existential despair at the heart of Hemingway’s story, showing Anderson accepting his death with cold indifference, and the fatalism of the early scenes haunts the rest of the picture. What follows is often unexpectedly poignant. Especially noteworthy is a scene where Anderson’s ex-girlfriend describes when she fell out of love with him; her recollection comes between images of her doting on her husband, Anderson having been long resigned to the past. And then there’s Anderson’s relationship with Kitty Collins (Ava Gardner), the woman who draws him into a life of crime. It’s sad, the way she manipulates Anderson, playing on his wounded self-respect and his desire to be somebody—and sadder yet is that Anderson doesn’t even realize he’s being played, so blinding is his devotion to Kitty. (Siodmak and Lancaster would revisit this interpersonal dynamic in their subsequent noir CRISS CROSS.) Even if you didn’t know from the start that Anderson will meet a bad end, you could sense his doom in the expressionistic shadows that hang over most of his encounters. Cinematographer Woody Bredell (who also collaborated with Siodmak on PHANTOM LADY and CHRISTMAS HOLIDAY) contributes greatly to the movie’s sense of foreboding, but its dark romanticism is pure Siodmak. (1946, 103 min, DCP Digital) BS
Don Siegel's THE KILLERS (American Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center - Friday, 4pm, Sunday, 5pm, and Monday, 6pm
It's the same with Hemingway as with Dostoevsky or Shakespeare: every director finds his or her own version of the writer. Hemingway's 1927 short story "The Killers," for instance, has been adapted as a movie at least three notable times: by Andrei Tarkovsky, Robert Siodmak, and Don Siegel. There's an interesting rule here: the directors who saw Hemingway in themselves tended to make the story their own. Tarkovsky was respectful of what he saw as Hemingway's otherness—there is no Tarkovsky KILLERS without the original. But the Siodmak and Siegel versions, made by men who felt closer to the writer than Tarkovsky ever could, make the original an afterthought. Siodmak's doomed fall is as different from Siegel's existential pulp as possible. Except for elements of the plot, you'd hardly think they were based on the same text: different perspectives, different tones, different worlds. (1964, 95 min, DCP Digital) IV
Alejandro Landes’ MONOS (New Colombian)
Music Box Theatre – Saturday and Sunday, 11:45am
In the first scene of MONOS, a group of blindfolded teens plays a game of soccer high on a misty mountaintop. They mill about as night falls, listening for each other’s presences, hoping for a goal. It’s an apposite, concise introduction to this grim fable of moral and ideological blindness, in which a regiment of militarized youth clambers around in metaphorical darkness, stranded from their humanity. The kids, who carry noms de guerre such as Smurf, Wolf, and Lady, are also stranded from geographical coordinates: stationed on a remote mountain somewhere in Latin America, the only real connection they have to the outside world is via their stout sergeant, known as the Messenger (Wilson Salazar), who puts them through rigorous training exercises while reminding them of their loyalty to an obscure Organization. When he departs, leaving them to monitor an American hostage, Doctora (Julianne Nicholson), and a cow named Shakira, things go to hell fast. The Lord of the Flies may be the obvious driving influence for Landes (if you weren’t sure, a rotting pig head makes a late appearance), but unlike that tale of social entropy, the makeshift youth civilization here is poisoned from the start, induced to feral aggression and base survival instincts by the invisible military faction that has radicalized them before the story even begins. Abandoning their foggy highland post after an attack by a rival group, the squad ventures deep into the rainforest, where a combination of the elements, personal hostilities, and panic over their escaped hostage further plunges them into atavistic chaos. It’s also here that Landes most viscerally conjures the film’s experiential intensity, enveloping the senses in the sounds of squelching mud, chattering monkeys, and peals of gunfire, and in the palpably fatiguing images of the actors trudging through the unforgiving landscape, dirt and sweat clinging to their skin. Mica Levi’s score, meanwhile, churns unnervingly throughout, oscillating between ethereal flutes and pulsing electronic distortions that suggest the musical analog of asphyxiation. All of the young actors do impressively committed work here, particularly Sofia Buenaventura as the ironically named Rambo, who emerges as the group’s brittle conscience, but Julianne Nicholson deserves special mention for a performance so grueling and full-bodied one feels taxed just watching it. Battered, chained, and ambushed by mosquitoes, yet relentless, we empathize with her even as her own animalistic will to survive tips over into desperate violence. Nearly all of its characters are, in some way, victimizers, but MONOS maintains some sliver of humanity in recognizing them as victims first, as people who have been subjugated and turned against one another by systems they can hardly begin to understand. In a lingering moment that locks on the fearful eyes of one of the children, Landes’ film perhaps evokes nothing so much as Elem Klimov’s devastating COME AND SEE, registering atrocity in the face of a child whose youth it has annihilated. Its thesis about war may not offer anything new, but MONOS does a worthy job of making us feel a twinge of its harrowing, internecine effects. (2019, 105 min, DCP Digital) JL
Nanfu Wang and Jialing Zhang's ONE CHILD NATION (New Documentary)
Gene Siskel Film Center - Check Venue website for showtimes
Nanfu Wang and Jialing Zhang's ONE CHILD NATION isn't interested in plumbing the depths of Chinese academic demography, the political backdrop in which China's one-child policy took hold from 1979 to 2015, or even the epic scale of the long-term population impacts. In a way the film, like many Chinese citizens, view the policy as an inevitability. To wit, a 2008 Pew survey registers a Tom Hanksian level of approval (76%) amongst Chinese citizens for the restrictive policy. Rather for Wang and Zhang it's the lived experience of their family during this period and the grisly realities of implementing such a mandate that the directors train their sights on to deliver ONE CHILD NATION's gut-punch insights. Through interviews with relatives and acquaintances, Wang—with infant son in tow for effect—demonstrates the lose-lose-lose scenarios in which compliance was carried out: First, through government-sponsored abortions and forced sterilization; second, through the abandonment of newborn babies in public spaces; and third, through the confiscation and essential laundering of babies through the international adoption system. Artist Peng Wang, who photographed abandoned fetuses in junkyards, observed that as China moves beyond its one-child policy, "the most tragic thing for a nation is to have no memory." By giving a face and a voice to the circumstances outlined above, ONE CHILD NATION ensures a new generation has the lessons of a generation lost seared into its memory. (2019, 85 min, DCP Digital) JS
MORE SCREENINGS AND EVENTS
The Chicago South Side Film Festival continues this weekend (Friday-Sunday), with screenings and events at multiple locations. More info and complete schedule at www.southsidefilmfest.org.
The (In)Justice for All Film Festival continues through October 12 at multiple venues. More info and full schedule at www.injusticeforallff.com.
The Conversations at the Edge series (at the Gene Siskel Film Center) presents Zach Blas: Obedient x3 on Thursday at 6pm, with Blas in person. The program will include three of Blas’ works, including his 2018 CGI animated video CONTRA-INTERNET: JUBILEE 2033.
The Nightingale (1084 N. Milwaukee Ave.), in conjunction with Block Cinema, presents Ism, Ism, Ism: Meta – Cinema Critiques Cinema on Wednesday at 7pm. Screening are: THE VAMPIRES OF POVERTY (Luis Ospiña and Carlos Mayolo, 1977, 29 min, Colombia), DUEL (Daniel Santiago, 1979, 3 min, Brazil), CINEPOLIS, THE FILM CAPITAL (Ximena Cuevas, 2003, 22 min, Mexico), and CHAPUCERIAS (Enrique Colina, 1987, 11 min, Cuba). All Digital Projection. Free admission.
Also at Block Cinema (Northwestern University) this week: filmmaker Zia Anger’s 2019 live multimedia performance event MY FIRST FILM (75 min, Digital Projection and live performance) is on Friday at 7pm, with Anger in person. Free admission.
South Side Projections and the Stony Island Arts Bank (6760 S. Stony Island Ave.) screen two 1970’s documentaries by the New York City group Pacific Street Films on Saturday at 2:30pm: FRAME-UP! (1974, 30 min, Digital Projection) is by Steven Fischler, Joel Sucher, and Howard Blatt, and VOICES FROM WITHIN (1977, 20 min, Digital Projection) is by Fischler and Sucher. Free admission. Showing as part of the (In)Justice for All Film Festival (see listing above).
Chicago Filmmakers (5720 N. Ridge Ave.) presents Jean Sousa: Film Poems and 16mm Shorts on Saturday at 7pm, with local experimental filmmaker Sousa in person. Screening is a selection of her earlier films and more recent digital videos (1977-2019, approx. 75 min, 16mm and Digital Projection).
The Media Burn Archive and the National Public Housing Museum present Lost and Found on Thursday at 6pm at the Jane Addams Homes (1322 W. Taylor). This is a free outdoor screening and includes dinner. Screening are MORE THAN ONE THING (Steven Carver, 1969), VOICES OF CABRINI (Ronit Bezalel, 1999), excerpts from CITIES: STUDS TERKEL’S CHICAGO (John McGreevy, 1979), excerpts from the FITV youth–produced television show Youth on Racism, and home movies from the National Public Housing Museum and the South Side Home Movie Project collections.
Presented by Asian Pop-Up Cinema this week: Johnnie To’s 2015 Hong Kong film OFFICE (117 min, Digital Projection) is at the Chinese-American Museum on Saturday at 2pm (free admission); Heather Tsui’s 2018 Taiwanese film LONG TIME NO SEA (97 min, Digital Projection) is at the Illinois Institute of Technology on Sunday at 2pm (free admission); Joyce Bernal’s 2018 Filipino film MISS GRANNY (114 min, Digital Projection) is at the Harold Washington Public Library on Tuesday at 6pm (free admission); Christopher Sun’s 2019 Hong Kong film DECEPTION OF THE NOVELIST (90 min, Digital Projection) is at River East 21 on Wednesday at 7pm, with Sun and producer/actor Justin Cheung in person; and Wong Kwok-fai’s 2019 Hong Kong film THE ATTORNEY (102 min, Digital Projection) is at River East 21 on Thursday at 7pm, with actor Kenneth Tsang Kong, screenwriter Frances To, and executive producer Cherrie Lau in person.
Cinema 53 (at the Harper Theater, 5238 S. Harper Ave.) screens Leslie Harris’ 1992 film JUST ANOTHER GIRL ON THE I.R.T. (92 min, Digital Projection) on Thursday at 7pm, with Harris in person. Followed by a discussion with Harris and a youth leader from the Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health, moderated by UofC professor and Cinema 53 director Jacqueline Stewart. Free admission.
The Rebuild Foundation at the Stony Island Arts Bank (6760 S. Stony Island Ave.) screens Dawn Porter’s 2013 documentary GIDEON’S ARMY (96 min, Digital Projection) on Saturday at 4pm. Free admission.
Comfort Film at Comfort Station Logan Square (2579 N. Milwaukee Ave.) screens Tim Boggs’ 1987 film BLOOD LAKE (82 min, Digital Projection) on Wednesday at 8pm. Free admission.
The Alliance Française (54 W. Chicago Ave.) screens Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s 2001 French film AMÉLIE (122 min, Digital Projection) on Saturday at 1:30pm; and Océan’s 2019 documentary OCÉAN (111 min, Digital Projection) on Thursday at 6:30pm.
Also at the Gene Siskel Film Center this week: Stanley Nelson’s 2019 documentary MILES DAVIS: BIRTH OF THE COOL (114 min, DCP Digital) begins a two-week run, with Nelson and Vince Wilburn, Jr. (Miles Davis' nephew/bandmate) in person at Friday, Saturday, and Sunday screenings (check website for details); Louis Malle’s 1958 French film ELEVATOR TO THE GALLOWS (91 min, DCP Digital) is on Saturday at 3:15pm and Wednesday at 8:15pm (plus a third screening next week).
Also at Doc Films (University of Chicago) this week: Elio Petri’s 1961 Italian film THE LADYKILLER OF ROME [L’assassino] (105 min restored version, DCP Digital) is on Friday at 7pm and Sunday at 1:30pm; Lulu Wang’s 2019 film THE FAREWELL (100 min, DCP Digital) is on Saturday at 7 and 9:30pm and Sunday at 4pm; Cristina Gallego and Ciro Guerra’s 2018 Columbian film BIRDS OF PASSAGE (125 min, DCP Digital) is on Monday at 9:30pm; and Alfonso Cuaron’s 2018 Mexican film ROMA (135 min, DCP Digital) is on Tuesday at 9pm.
Also at the Music Box Theatre this week: Takashi Miike’s 2019 Japanese film FIRST LOVE (108 min, DCP Digital) opens; Todd Phillips’ 2019 film JOKER (122 min, 70mm) continues; and Joe Begos’ 2019 film BLISS (80 min, DCP Digital) is on Friday and Saturday at Midnight.
Facets Cinémathèque plays Christopher Cantwell’s 2019 film THE PARTS YOU LOSE (99 min, Video Projection) for a week-long run.
CINE-LIST: October 4 - October 10, 2019
MANAGING EDITOR // Patrick Friel
ASSOCIATE EDITORS // Ben Sachs, Kathleen Sachs, Kyle A. Westphal
CONTRIBUTORS // Michael Castelle, Kyle Cubr, Alexandra Ensign, Marilyn Ferdinand, Jonathan Leithold-Patt, Harrison Sherrod, Jamie Stroble, Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, Candace Wirt