CINE-FILE TENTH ANNIVERSARY SCREENING
Vincente Minnelli’s THE PIRATE (American Revival)
Cine-File at the Music Box Theatre – Wednesday, 7pm
In celebration of our tenth anniversary, Cine-File is presenting Vincente Minnelli’s 1948 musical THE PIRATE on 35-millimeter. Why did we select this film to celebrate our mission? Since its inception Cine-File has sought to draw attention to Chicago’s repertory, underground, avant-garde, and other independent screenings. THE PIRATE is certainly a crucial repertory pick—it hasn’t screened in this city in over a decade, and it represents the Hollywood studio system at its giddy, most imaginative best. Minnelli and producer Arthur Freed were at the height of their creative powers when they made the film; in the years leading up to it, they created two of the boldest musicals in the Hollywood canon, MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS (1944) and YOLANDA AND THE THIEF (1945). These films, like THE PIRATE, use color and decor in such expressive ways that they may be appreciated on formal grounds alone—which is why we feel that Minnelli, despite his mastery as a storyteller, merits comparison with important avant-gardists like Kenneth Anger. Most importantly, THE PIRATE is a testament to the life-changing power of art, which we at Cine-File have tried diligently to promote. Gene Kelly plays a traveling musical-theater performer whose company docks on a small Caribbean island; he falls in love with Judy Garland’s character, Manuela, who has been pledged by her aunt to marry the island’s boorish mayor. Manuela fantasies about being taken away by the famous pirate Mack the Black, and Kelly, in an effort to seduce her, pretends to be him. Kelly’s make-believe leads to genuine changes in the characters’ lives, which are expressed in wonderful song-and-dance numbers that rank among the best MGM created. (Cole Porter wrote the songs, and Kelly directed the athletic, frequently breathtaking choreography.) THE PIRATE’s production went way over budget, and it lost the studio over two million dollars; at the time of its release, it was regarded as a flop. Yet the movie has aged remarkably well, not only because of its brilliant filmmaking, but also because of its enduring message of art bettering life, a very personal theme for Minnelli, one of the cinema’s greatest aesthetes. (1948, 102 min, 35mm) BS
Lois Weber's SHOES (Silent American Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center - Saturday, 3:30pm and Monday, 6pm
The Film Center's Lois Weber retrospective is the month's most important cinema happening. One of the key filmmakers of the silent era, with work that is consistently powerful and skillfully crafted, Weber remains criminally neglected outside of academic circles. Much of Weber's eclipse can be attributed to Hollywood sexism, but the industry's self-regard also plays an important role: Weber's multi-faceted talent—she did everything from writing the stories to operating the camera to developing the film in the lab—was an implicit rebuke to the highly regimented, (gendered) hierarchy that emerged as the studio system consolidated itself in 1917 and afterwards. Weber's strongest work stretches from 1912 to 1916, the period of the early feature, when narrative codes, spatial unities, and temporal rhythms were all being tested and twisted with each new release. Though Weber can be credited with a host of technical innovations (including the early and very effective use of a split-screen in the 1913 short SUSPENSE), her work is not a showcase for the subtle brand of stylistic mastery that can be seen in the work of contemporaries like William C. de Mille and Maurice Tourneur. In contrast, Weber's cinema is sledge-hammer literal, as when "The Naked Truth" is portrayed by a nude nymph in HYPOCRITES (1915) or a stubby hand labeled 'POVERTY' reaches out for heroine Mary MacLaren during a nightmare in SHOES (1916). In the social problem films that constitute the critical core of Weber's extant feature output, the filmmaker's political agenda is declared loudly and often, if not always coherently. It's no coincidence that at the exact moment when Weber's films should have found a fresh audience, campus film societies and museum exhibitors were instead flush with a particularly apolitical brand of auteurism, one which programmatically elevated the occasionally numbskullish personal vision of a Don Siegel or a Phil Karlson over the politically earnest preening of the likes of Stanley Kramer or George Stevens. There's no ignoring the social dimension of Weber's films, no writing it off or minimizing it—these are melodramas that aspiring to changing someone's life. The skeptics should perhaps start with SHOES, a newly restored work that was all but invisible a decade ago. On the surface, SHOES is a work of hardscrabble social realism, but soon enough the materialist miserablism and real-time depiction of household chores suggest nothing less than the JEANNE DIELMAN of its day. ("[T]here is such a thing as being too realistic," demurred the Motion Picture News trade journal.) The single-mindedness of Weber's portrayal of economic and physical deprivation in SHOES, largely to the exclusion of subplots or comic relief, stands in stark contrast to the assembly-line studio films that would follow in her wake. Preceded by Weber and Phillip Smalley's 1911 short THE PRICE (15 min, DCP Digital). (52 min, DCP Digital; New Restoration) KAW
Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s VERONIKA VOSS (German Revival)
Chicago Film Society at Music Box Theatre – Monday, 7pm
VERONIKA VOSS was the last film that Rainer Werner Fassbinder completed during his lifetime and the penultimate film that he directed. It shouldn’t be described as a valedictory work, however. Fassbinder was constantly evolving, finding new subjects at which to direct his anger and sympathy and discovering new means to express those feelings; had he lived past 1982, he surely would have covered much more thematic and stylistic ground. Nevertheless VOSS finds the filmmaker at a level of mastery he had been working towards his entire career. It is “a druglike immersion experience disguised as a CITIZEN KANE-like investigative inquiry, tonally very close to Fassbinder’s earlier IN A YEAR OF 13 MOONS,” wrote Kent Jones for the Criterion Collection in 2003. “The narrative of Robert’s investigation [into Veronika Voss’s past] never gains much momentum, as the sense of skin-crawling anxiety stretches out to infinity in scene after scene. Every image hurts in this hyper-tactile, overstuffed world, shot in bric-a-brac stuffed interiors in the most piercing black and white, closer to an X-ray than to high Hollywood.” Comparing the film to an X-ray feels appropriate in more ways than one, as it seeks (like the other films in Fassbinder’s BRD trilogy, THE MARRIAGE OF MARIA BRAUN and LOLA) to expose the legacy of Nazism hiding beneath Germany’s postwar economic “miracle.” The title character, based on the real-life actress Sybille Schmitz, a movie star during the Nazi era who has lapsed in seclusion and drug addiction in the post-Nazi 1950s; Robert’s discovery of her degradation serves as a metaphor for the recovery of German historical memory. The film works brilliantly as melodrama too. Fassbinder had tremendous sympathy for victims of emotional abuse and those cast out by society at large, and Veronika is both. Her disintegration is tragic to behold, though Fassbinder’s incisive style finds the bitterness and dark humor in her story as well. Preceded by a TBA short. (1982, 104 min, 35mm) BS
Melika Bass: Devotional Animals (New Experimental)
Conversations at the Edge at the Gene Siskel Film Center – Thursday, 6pm
It’s interesting that this program of recent works by Chicago-based filmmaker Melika Bass should be called “Devotional Animals,” because so much of it concerns the things that make us human. THE LATEST SUN IS SINKING FAST (2013-17, 46 min) deals with religious faith, the longing for a sense of home, and our ability to perform work; the work-in-progress CREATURE COMPANION (2017, 23 min) deals with our relationship to our bodies and our awareness of our sexuality. Bass created both projects over ongoing periods, presenting them in different versions each time she exhibited them. (LATEST SUN last appeared in Chicago as a multi-channel gallery installation at the Hyde Park Art Museum, and CREATURE will later be presented as part of an exhibition called “An Attempt to Heal in the Modern World.”) Developing her characters along with her performers, Bass shoots short scenes of the characters performing various actions and accumulates details so that her elusive narratives change shape as they’re created. The ambiguous nature of the storytelling is counterbalanced by the precision of Bass’ style. Her compositions are rigid and carefully composed, and her sparse soundtracks draw attention to one or two specific sounds in the scene. There is a heightened sense of reality in these films that is rather alluring; you know where the characters are and what they’re doing, but you’re never sure what compels their behavior. This sort of tantalizing narrative play is always exciting to encounter in a theater—lets hope the auditorium is extra dark when the program plays. Bass in person. (2013-17, approx. 69 min total, Multiple Formats) BS
DOC10 Film Festival
View DOC10 website for complete schedule
The DOC10 Film Festival, which opened on Thursday, continues through Sunday at the Davis Theater (expect sold-out shows; at least two films are already “rush tickets only” at our press time). In addition to our selections below, the festival has an additional seven films showing this weekend, including the unpreviewed-but-attracting-attention films WHOSE STREETS? (Sabaah Folayan and Damon Davis), CINEMA TRAVELERS (Shirley Abraham and Amit Madheshiya), and CASTING JONBENET (Kitty Green).
Theo Anthony's RAT FILM
Theo Anthony's RAT FILM is a quiver-inducing, imaginative—cosmic, even—essay about the war on rats in Baltimore and the city's concomitant history of racial segregation. A devastating illustration of redlining uses today's maps to show how urban ills are concentrated in neighborhoods (largely black) that a 1937 map coded to be avoided for loans. We tag along with rat hunters in those neighborhoods today, including a jovially philosophical middle-aged exterminator, and guys who "rat-fish" in an alley. The fanciful, meditative narration invents a creation myth starring rats—these symbols of plague can even be beloved pets. Scientists investigating behavior created an overcrowded rat dystopia; other simulated environments include Francis Glessner Lee's fascinating miniature dioramas of unexplained death, and an eerie 3D virtual Baltimore. Anthony shares Werner Herzog's knack for spinning yarns into "poetic, ecstatic truth," showing how the urban present is a palimpsest of past injustices. (2016, 83 min, Digital Projection) SP
Tali Shemesh and Asaf Sudry’s DEATH IN THE TERMINAL
Tali Shemesh and Asaf Sudry’s DEATH IN THE TERMINAL—making its U.S. debut at DOC10—is a just-the-facts look at a 2015 terrorist attack at a bus terminal in Southern Israel. At a brisk 53 minutes, Shemesh and Sudry are able to get in and out by masterfully cobbling surveillance footage, cell phone footage, and witness interviews into a study in chaos devoid of political moralizing. The centerpiece of the documentary is one camera’s POV focused on the epicenter of the violence. The shot is returned to repeatedly, run forward and backward at various speeds, panned and scanned to subtly direct the viewer’s attention. Six witnesses recount their actions, and without fail each asserts they knew instantly this was a terrorist attack. A slow drip of information readies us for one last run through the footage. The final moments of DEATH IN THE TERMINAL may be the most effective sleight of editing you’ll see all year, in a documentary that’s a must-see. (2016, 53 min, Digital Projection) JS
Vanessa Gould's OBIT
Vanessa Gould’s OBIT profiles the New York Times’ obituary department. The documentary posits the somewhat uncontroversial idea that, in fact, obits are all about life and those writers devoted to the craft are hardly the cadre of Zoloft-munching bummers you take them to be, thank you very much. Those that enjoyed Andrew Rossi’s PAGE ONE: INSIDE THE NEW YORK TIMES will find much to like about OBIT, and for similar reasons: It provides an entrée into the day-to-day operations of the venerable publication and an excuse to relive some of the Times’ greatest hits. At least a passing interest in the subject is a prerequisite, as talking head journalists rarely get as exciting as David Carr ranting at Shane Smith about Vice’s brand of poop journalism in PAGE ONE. OBIT’s visits with Jeff Roth, The Times morgue’s resident filer/re-filer, are worth the price of admission, though, for fans of journalistic traditions. Director Vanessa Gould and former New York Times obituary writer Bruce Weber in person. (2016, 93 min, Digital Projection) JS
Chantal Akerman’s JEANNE DIELMAN, 23, QUAI DU COMMERCE, 1080 BRUXELLES (Belgian Revival)
Block Cinema (Northwestern University) – Thursday, 7pm
I used to think that Chantal Akerman’s films had more in common with Yasujirō Ozu’s than even those of his most devout disciples. Her use of still, waist-level medium shots (similar to Ozu’s signature “tatami shots,” said to mimic the perspective of someone kneeling on a tatami mat), stylized settings hyper-respective to her cultural background, and a seemingly detached tone that cloaks rich subtext all recall Ozu’s invariant oeuvre. After rewatching her seminal 1975 film JEANNE DIELMAN, 23, QUAI DU COMMERCE, 1080 BRUXELLES, which she made when she was just 25 years old, I still believe that her work exhibits these aspects, but to antithetical effect. Where Ozu reveals the calm within chaos, Akerman inveigles chaos out of the calm, and there’s perhaps no better example of this than her 201-minute tour de force that depicts three days in the life of its title character, a middle-aged mother played to perfection by the solemn, red-haired Delphine Seyrig. Most of the film is comprised of superlative long takes in which Jeanne does her daily chores, intercut by brief expositional conversations with her 16-year-old son and oblique references to her “job” as a rather apathetic prostitute. Though it evokes experimental cinema in how it ingeniously uses a simple concept to confront the illusion of that simplicity, it’s also a brilliant depiction of real life as narrative; in a 2009 interview with the New York Times, Akerman observed that “[i]n most movies you have crashes or accidents or things out of the ordinary, so the viewer is distracted from his own life…[T]his film is about his own life.” A friend once remarked to me that their standard response when asked by a filmmaker to provide feedback about a film they didn’t like was to say that it gave them space to think about that very subject. Ironically, the same is true about the masterwork that is JEANNE DIELMAN. The long takes are simultaneously hypnotic and freeing, producing a sensation that’s almost as mindless as the tasks themselves. Akerman’s depiction of these chores, which are certainly banal even if rendered extraordinary by Babette Mangolte’s lens, is often regarded as a feminist interpretation, a label that Akerman rejects. Indeed, she’s said in several interviews that the seemingly monotonous routines were lovingly inspired by both childhood memories of her mother and Jewish ritual; in the aforementioned interview, she also said that “Jeanne has to organize her life, to not have any space, any time, so she won’t be depressed or anxious…[s]he didn’t want to have one free hour because she didn’t know how to fill that hour,” which speaks less to the mundanity of the tasks at hand and more to Jeanne’s general discontent. At the risk of spoiling the film for anyone still unfamiliar with its abrupt ending, the duration doesn’t so much emphasize the monotony as it provides context around the downturn of both character and tone. It doesn’t show three days in a life, but rather the day before the day that cracks start to appear in the foundation, and then the day that it finally crumbles to the ground, out of which something altogether new and different is formed. (On a tangential note, the ending reminds me of these lines from Sylvia Plath’s Holocaust-adjacent poem “Lady Lazarus”: “Out of the ash/I rise with my red hair/And I eat men like air.” In 1986, Akerman directed an adaptation of Rose Leiman Goldemberg’s off-Broadway play Letters Home, based on Plath’s letters to her mother. So much to unpack there.) Only the late filmmaker’s second feature, JEANNE DIELMAN is almost daunting in its command of the medium—perhaps the only label that can rightfully be attached to it is “masterpiece.” (1975, 201 min, 35mm) KS
The Work of Emily Eddy & The Nightingale’s 9th Birthday!!
The Nightingale (1084 N. Milwaukee Ave.) – Saturday, 7pm
It’s a big week for the Chicago film community—in addition to Cine-File celebrating its tenth anniversary on Wednesday, the beloved Nightingale Cinema will celebrate its ninth birthday on Saturday with a screening of works by its co-director Emily K. Eddy (and a dance party, because of course). Two shorts from 2013, NO CHICK IS AN ISLAND (7 min) and I (CAN?) NOT BE DEFEATED (9 min), are similarly self-reflexive, embracing the experimental video diary format in a sharply honest way. Reminiscent of Anne Charlotte Robertson’s films, Eddy’s work balances emotional rawness with a droll humility that’s refreshing given the current landscape of confessional artistry. Wry editing further complements the distinct perspective. Two more recent works, THIS MUST BE THE PLACE (2014, 6 min) and VESTURBÆJAR (2017, 10 min), were not available to preview in their current iterations, but they’re surely as enticing. The screening will also include Steve Reinke’s AMSTERDAM CAMERA VACATION (2001,12 min), a clear tonal influence on Eddy, and Eva Rødbro’s I TOUCHED HER LEGS (2010, 14 min), a short experimental documentary whose frankness is likewise affecting. (2001-17, approx. 58 min total, Digital Projection) KS
Robert Bresson's AU HASARD BALTHAZAR (French Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) – Wednesday, 7 and 9pm
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. (1966, 95 min, 35mm) MC
Agnès Varda's VAGABOND (French Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) – Sunday, 7pm
NOTE: Spoilers! — Not all who wander are lost, nor do they always wish to be found. Some are happy to be forever sans toit ni loi (the film's original French title)—without roof or law. Such is the case of Mona, the protagonist of Agnès Varda's VAGABOND. This aimless wanderer is played by a teenaged Sandrine Bonnaire, whose mordant lack of naïveté adds another enigmatic element to the film's elusive structure. The plot accounts for Mona's last weeks before she freezes to death in a ditch, with Varda employing a combination of narrative enactments and documentary-like interviews with people who encountered her before she died. The film begins with mysterious narrator voiced by Varda herself declaring that no one claimed her body after she died and that she seemed to emanate from the sea; Mona is then seen emerging naked from the cold ocean while two boys admire her from afar. Thus begins the film's overarching point of view, one in which the vagabond is little-known and used only as a blank canvas onto which her acquaintances project their own expectations and inefficiencies. Varda's sagacious filmmaking encourages the disconnect between the viewers and the characters, and even between the characters themselves. Slow tracking shots imitate voyeuristic gazes, while the first-person interviews reveal some deceit among the fictional subjects. Varda's use of nonlinear structuring especially suggests such a discord, as the disjointedness personates Mona's mysteriousness. A string-heavy score betrays underlying anxiety, while songs from the The Doors and Les Rita Mitsouko fortify her rebellious nonchalance. At the end, we only know one thing about Mona: that no one really knew her at all. (1986, 105 min, 35mm) KS
Michael Radford's NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR (British Revival/Oppositional Viewing)
Wilmette Theatre (1122 Central Ave., Wilmette) – Tuesday, 7:30pm
On April 4, the same day that George Orwell's classic novel begins, more than 180 theaters across the US, Canada, and Europe will show Michael Radford's equally classic (if somewhat underappreciated) film adaptation. The simultaneous screenings are an explicit protest against fake news, alternative facts, and all the other Trumpian phraseology that echoes Orwell's nightmarish futureworld. The film itself is suitably nightmarish, a nightmare of endless defeat captured brilliantly by Roger Deakins' washed out cinematography and the beaten-down feel of its production design, impressively mirrored on the faces and bodies of its cast, who look perpetually malnourished and unhealthy. Especially Richard Burton. O'Brien, his last major role, becomes a piteous figure because of Burton's obvious real life infirmities. "They got me a long time ago." It feels perverse, but one savors the expression on his face and the weariness in his voice. (1984, 113 min, Digital Projection – Unconfirmed Format) RC
Gareth Evans’ THE RAID: REDEMPTION (Contemporary Indonesian)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) – Thursday, 7pm
THE RAID: REDEMPTION is, by and large, an extremely action packed film and a ripe example of a culmination of one shift in aesthetic tastes in contemporary cinema, an increased and more explicit level of violence. Here, an Indonesian SWAT team is tasked with taking down a crime lord who lives in a fifteen story apartment complex that is both a safe haven for criminals and a fortress designed to keep rivals out. Floor by floor, this police squad must fight their way to the top to take down their prime target. THE RAID features some of the finest fight choreography in recent memory with roughly two-thirds of the film depicting some form of combat. Gareth Evans’ blocking maximizes the brutality shown on screen and the imagery recalls ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 as well as STARSHIP TROOPERS. The storyline is fairly straightforward, but the frantic pacing and high tempo editing makes for an enthralling viewing experience. THE RAID: REDEMPTION belongs near the top of the pantheon of contemporary Pan-Asian cinema and is a modern action classic. (2011, 100 min, 35mm) KC
Guy Maddin's THE FORBIDDEN ROOM (Contemporary Canadian)
Gene Siskel Film Center – Saturday, 5:30pm and Tuesday, 6pm
A woodsman mysteriously appears aboard a submarine that hasn't surfaced for months and whose crew is on the brink of perishing due to lack of oxygen and an unstable cargo: such is the story of THE FORBIDDEN ROOM. Guy Maddin's penchant for nonlinear storytelling and the bizarre is on full display; the narrative jumps from an instructional video on how to take a bath to a song about a man who's obsessed with women's derrieres to the importance of a father's mustache to his family. It is a blending of surrealism à la David Lynch's ERASERHEAD or MULHOLLAND DRIVE and early German expressionism favorites like NOSFERATU or THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI. Maddin's imagery is striking, vibrant, and fluid; some scenes are heavily stylized while others prefer a soft 16mm feel, complete with scratches and other imperfections. Faces shift and melt into one another giving the film a dreamlike quality that lends itself to the film's psychedelic undertones. Intertitles have long been in the director's repertoire and he uses them in lieu of dialogue or to further emphasize the strange actions shown on screen--the words are just as alive as the cryptic images themselves. As much as Maddin's visual style is a pastiche, so too are his familiar themes and obsessions. THE FORBIDDEN ROOM is no exception: the tone shifts throughout (bleakness, irony, and the horrific stand out) and human fears— of drowning, of being alone, of the unknown—are frequently coupled with sexual undertones. The result is another confounding (and rewarding) work that challenges easy interpretations. Filmmaker and SAIC instructor Melika Bass lectures at the Tuesday screening. (2015, 120 min, DCP Digital) KC
Joel and Ethan Coen’s BLOOD SIMPLE (American Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) – Thursday, 9:15pm
Joel and Ethan Coen burst onto the independent film scene in 1984 with their first release, BLOOD SIMPLE. Richard Corliss of Time magazine described it best by saying, “A debut as scarifyingly assured as any since Orson Welles.” After a thirty-plus year career with some twenty-odd entries, it still ranks among their best works. BLOOD SIMPLE’s brilliance lies in its straightforwardness. Although shot on a very small budget and with a relatively unknown cast at the time (including the proficient Frances McDormand in her very first role), the film outperforms its modest inception, elevating itself with sophisticated nuance and the Coens' technical and writing savvy. As with many of their films, the storyline is rather simple; a woman runs off from her husband with another man; revenge is sought and goes very wrong. The sublime editing, which has become a Coen trademark by now, allows each scene to flow into the next effortlessly. BLOOD SIMPLE is an astonishingly strong debut film by two of the greatest independent film directors of our time; it’s a neo-noir that is as enthralling as it is nightmarish. (1984, 99 min, DCP Digital) KC
Paul Verhoeven’s ELLE (New French)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) – Friday, 7 and 9:30pm and Sunday, 1:30pm
In some quarters, ELLE has been unfairly dismissed because of its rape scene. It’s become a polarizing film in the blogosphere and twittersphere, with some reaching their opinions without even having seen the film. ELLE both succumbs to and rises above the rhetorical positions and derision tossed at it, and delivers perhaps the year’s most biting satire, a film unafraid of its complexity and hard to pin-down characters and events. The film stars the great Isabelle Huppert as Michèle Leblanc, the CEO of a highly profitable video-gaming company, who is attacked in her home by an invader, as seen through the ambiguous eyes of a black cat, seated across from the horror, yet impervious to it. Once her rapist has fled, Leblanc decides not to report the incident, which may or may not have something to do with her mysterious past. She then sets in motion a highly unlikely series of events in reaction to this violent event. More than the opening scene does, though, what dominates the film are the other men Leblanc finds herself beset by (her son, ex-husband, sexual partner, male employees, father, mother’s boyfriend, etc.), as they all clamor for her time and money. Verhoeven limits us to a clear identification with his protagonist’s intentions, desires, fears, and dreams; as such, ELLE is less-suited to comparisons with IRREVERSIBLE and THE PIANO TEACHER, and more so to associations with BELLE DU JOUR and BITTER MOON. The film is almost a reverse of the violent sexuality on display in another Verhoeven masterpiece, BASIC INSTINCT, with Leblanc displaying more-than-mild curiosity towards her assailant, even though common sense would dictate differently; both films, along with Verhoeven’s BLACK BOOK, mix the detective genre with voyeuristic desire, so you’re never really sure where the detective’s trail ends and erotic fixation begins. This blurring of the lines between fetishistic observation and good detective work makes Verhoeven’s art particularly relevant, and perhaps even necessary, as a framework through which to grapple with our current corrosive societal and political atmosphere that challenges the very notion of “truth” and “facts,” spiraling them into subjective torrents of dark matter. This is a film seemingly built around the exposing of facts, where we see two characters meet on screen, then part, new information is revealed about one or both of them, then they meet again, constantly challenging our perception of them and the film itself. The audience is then left relegated to the position of the aforementioned impassive black cat, watching but unable to intervene. (2016, 130 min, DCP Digital) JD
Raoul Peck's I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO (New Essay/Documentary/Oppositional Viewing)
Gene Siskel Film Center – Check Venue website for showtimes
If the role of the public intellectual is to speak truth to power, then James Baldwin was one of the greatest America ever produced. A searing and compassionate social critic, he was equally penetrating when he turned his novelist's gaze toward film, as this galvanizing, heartbreaking essay/documentary by Raoul Peck demonstrates. Its voiceover is in Baldwin's own words, the beautiful music of his language measured out by Samuel L. Jackson in an intimate spoken-word performance. In televised interviews and debates from the 1960s, Baldwin is pensive and incendiary, and the film cuts between his embattled times and our own. Baldwin investigated the mystery of the fathomless hatred of white Americans for blacks, and while his analysis was economic, it also involved a kind of psychoanalysis of the American psyche. This film's jumping-off point is Remember This House, his unfinished manuscript about the intertwining lives, and violent deaths, of his friends/foils Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr. and Medgar Evers. Soon it turns to The Devil Finds Work, his earthy, shattering essay about growing up a child of the movies. Baldwin understood cinema as "the American looking glass," and he wrote with such lucidity, and such painful honesty, about what he saw reflected there, about himself, race, and his country. "To encounter oneself is to encounter the other," he wrote, "and this is love. If I know that my soul trembles, I know that yours does, too: and, if I can respect this, both of us can live." Viewer identification is complex: as a youngster whose heroes were white, who rooted for Gary Cooper, it came as a huge shock for him to realize "the Indians were you"—and these heroes aimed to kill you off, too. Peck has called his film an essay on images, a "musical and visual kaleidoscope" of fiery blues, lobotomized mass media, classic Hollywood, TV news, reality TV, and advertisements. He causes a government propaganda film from 1960 about U.S. life, all baseball games and amusement parks, to collide with the Watts uprising; a Doris Day movie meets lynched bodies. The point is not even that one is reality and the other is not. It's that these two realities were never forced to confront each other—and they must, because one comes at the other's expense. When Baldwin speaks of the "death of the heart," of our privileged apathy, of an infantile America, an unthinking and cruel place, he could be speaking of the Trump era. He feared for the future of a country increasingly unable to distinguish between illusion, dream, and reality. "Neither of us, truly, can live without the other," he wrote. "For, I have seen the devil...[I]t is that moment when no other human being is real for you, nor are you real for yourself." Let this movie inspire today's young dissenters, and let James Baldwin be our model of oppositional, critical thinking as we raise our angry voices against Donald Trump and everything he stands for. (2016, 95 min, DCP Digital) SP
Ridley Scott's BLADE RUNNER: THE FINAL CUT (American/British Revival)
Music Box Theatre – Check Venue website for showtimes
Seen in any version (there are at least seven), BLADE RUNNER is a monstrous mess—a mélange of film noir, Philip K. Dick, action-heavy cineplex sadism, and horny chinoiserie. A critically-derided flop upon its initial release, BLADE RUNNER carries the uncanny suggestion that its story not only revolves around androids, but may actually have been conceived and shaped by non-human intelligence—a quality it shares with that other misunderstood Summer of '82 sci-fi spectacular, TRON. When viewed alongside director Ridley Scott's prior effort, the masterfully controlled and minutely calibrated terror show ALIEN, BLADE RUNNER feels programmatic and kludgy, as if all decisions about staging, atmospherics, and rhythm were simply fed into an overheated circuit board. (The original ending—an improbably sunny coda repurposed from second-unit outtakes from THE SHINING—plays like the product of an inelegant Surefire BoxOffice algorithm.) It's not so much that art direction, set design, cinematography, editing, music, and acting are working at cross-purposes—instead, they're merely zipping along semi-autonomously, without being shaped into a grammatical whole. So, it's odd and kind of touching that Ridley Scott has repeatedly re-asserted his authorship of this unruly, seemingly author-less masterwork—first in a hastily-produced 'Director's Cut' in 1992, subsequently in a 'Final Cut' released in 2007. (If Scott follows Oliver Stone's example with ALEXANDER, the 'Final Cut' need not really be final; there's always the promise of an 'Ultimate Cut' peeking out over the smoggy horizon.) It now takes on the impossible grandeur of a medieval saga, a lumbering epic embroidered and corrupted by countless textual variants. Most of the major changes were performed for the so-called Director's Cut: Harrison Ford's sleepy voice-over is gone, an origami unicorn rhymes with and undercuts a re-inserted dream sequence, and the freak ending is excised. The Final Cut, by contrast, services superfans, correcting gaffes imperceptible to the uninitiated: matte lines are cleaned up, lip sync is fixed with lines re-dubbed by Ford's son, Joanna Cassidy's face is digitally plastered over the body of a stunt double, Rutger Hauer treats his father more decorously. I still prefer the original 1982 theatrical cut above all others—it really heightens the contradictions, as the student Marxists used to say. But the Final Cut is still queer and ungainly enough to slosh around in. (1982/2007, 117 min, DCP Digital) KAW
Julia Ducournau’s RAW (New French Drama/Horror)
Music Box Theatre – Check Venue website for showtimes
In Julia Ducournau’s RAW, sixteen year old Justine (Garance Marillier) is the last of her vegetarian family of four to enroll in veterinarian school. This particular school has a rite of passage wherein the older students (including Justine’s sister, Alexia) haze the incoming students by dumping buckets of blood on them and forcing them to consume a raw rabbit kidney while taking a shot of liquor. This latter rite awakens a deep and primal hunger within Justine that not only acts as a catalyst in her coming of age but also triggers more predatory instincts. RAW is as visceral as they come. It takes bold chances with its script and subject matter that pay dividends to the viewer, but be warned this is not a film for those with a weak constitution. Much of the action centers on the sisterhood of Justine and Alexia. Their dynamic plays out as rebellious thanks to their implied strict upbringing, and the two share increasingly shocking moments as the film progresses. Ducournau draws influence from older body-focused horror films such as EYES WITHOUT A FACE as well as more modern stylized features including the works of Nicolas Winding Refn and Jeremy Saulnier. The driving, Europop score adds a frantic layer that attempts to simultaneously sharpen the horror and dull the viewer’s empathy. Haunting and unforgettable, RAW provokes strong reactions, mental, and for some, physical. Like a pack of lions on the prowl, it strikes at the most vulnerable of our senses. (2016, 99 min, DCP Digital) KC
Ceyda Torun’s KEDI (New Turkish Documentary)
Music Box Theatre - Check Venue website for showtimes
In Istanbul, Turkey, feral cats can be found everywhere; however, unlike the rats of our fair Chicago, these animals experience a peaceful co-habitation with the populace that, for some, borders on the reverential. KEDI packages Istanbul’s admiration for its felines in several vignettes and is meant for cat lovers and non-cat lovers alike. The stories told are uplifting. For some of the interviewees, these cats represent a tangential relationship between themselves and their beliefs in religious omnipotence. The cinematography found in KEDI is superb and beautiful. At times providing a cat’s eye view of the city, the camerawork bounces from rooftop to rooftop, scurries up trees, and dives down pathways that only the nimble footed could traverse. Combined with the staccato score, KEDI has succinct and upbeat tempo. The film follows seven cats’ lives and the nuances of their individual personalities are allowed to flourish on screen. Ceyda Torun explores the circumstances of how these animals came to become so prevalent in Istanbul and to paint a portrait of why their existence is a joyous thing for everyone. KEDI is the kind of film that gives essence to mankind’s love for cats and showcases all of the natural and urban beauty that can be found in Istanbul. (2016, 80 min, DCP Digital) KC
MORE OPPOSITIONAL VIEWING
Black Cinema House (at the Stony Island Arts Bank, 6760 S. Stony Island Ave.) presents Hyphen-labs: Neurospeculative-Afrofeminism on Friday at 7pm. The event welcomes members of Hyphen-labs, “an international collective of women artists, designers, engineers, game-builders, and writers known for works that merge art, technology, and science. Their latest project, the multiplatform NeuroSpeculative AfroFeminism uses video, virtual reality, and medical imaging to explore Black women’s contributions to science while raising issues of identity and perception.” Free admission.
South Side Projections presents Rats, Roaches, and Resistance: Housing Activism Films on Saturday at 5pm at the University of Chicago Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture (5733 S. University Ave.). Screening are Erik Lewis’ 1984 documentary WHERE CAN I LIVE? A STORY OF GENTRIFICATION (32 min), which “documents tactics used by tenants fighting gentrification in Park Slope, Brooklyn, in the early 1980s, while also putting on view the abusive practices of investor landlords,” and the early 1970s Communications for Change film SOCIAL AND POLITICAL HOUSING SCRAPBOOK (10 min), about “community activism in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood over substandard housing.” Both works will be shown via television monitor. Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, Assistant Professor of African American Studies at Princeton University and author of From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation, will lead a discussion. Free admission
Facets Cinémathèque presents a “teach-in event” screening of Leni Riefenstahl’s 1935 German propaganda film TRIUMPH OF THE WILL (114 min, Video Projection) on Sunday at 1pm. Judy Hoffman, Professor of Practice at the University of Chicago's Department of Cinema and Media Studies and a documentary filmmaker, will lead the discussion after the screening. Free admission, but donations will be requested.
MORE SCREENINGS AND EVENTS
Northwestern University’s Screen Cultures Visiting Speaker Series presents a talk by Dr. Jan Olsson (Stockholm University) titled "From Studio to Archive: Networks of Film Ecology in the Silent Era" on Friday at 3:30pm. It takes place at the Peggy Dow Helmerich Auditorium, Annie May Swift Hall, on the Northwestern University campus. Free admission.
Comfort Film at Comfort Station Logan Square (2579 N. Milwaukee Ave.) presents An Evening of Cinematic Works by Layne Marie Williams on Friday at 7pm; and the Chicago Latino Film Festival co-presents Ana V. Bojorquez and Lucía Carreras’ 2015 Guatemalan/Mexican film THE GREATEST HOUSE IN THE WORLD (74 min, Digital Projection) on Wednesday at 8pm. Maria Lopez from the Chicago Latino Film Festival in person. Free admission.
The Park Ridge Classic Film Series screens Harry Lachman’s 1937 film IT HAPPENED IN HOLLYWOOD (67 min, Unconfirmed Format) on Thursday at 7pm at the Park Ridge Public Library (20 S. Prospect Ave., Park Ridge). Free admission.
Black World Cinema (at the Studio Movie Grill Chatham, 210 W. 87th St.) presents Alain Bidard’s 2015 Martinican animated film BATTLEDREAM CHRONICLE (108 min, Digital Projection) for a week-long run.
The Northbrook Public Library (1201 Cedar Lane, Northbrook) screens Rob Reiner’s 1987 film THE PRINCESS BRIDE (98 min, DCP Digital) on Saturday at 1pm; Theodore Melfi’s 2016 film HIDDEN FIGURES (127 min, DCP Digital) on Tuesday at 1 and 7pm; and Jia Zhangke’s 2015 Chinese film MOUNTAINS MAY DEPART (131 min, DCP Digital) on Wednesday at 1 and 7:30pm. Free admission.
Also at the Gene Siskel Film Center this week: Lonny Price’s 2016 documentary BEST WORST THING THAT EVER COULD HAVE HAPPENED… (95 min, DCP Digital) is on Friday at 2pm, Saturday at 1:30pm, and Wednesday at 6pm; Roberto Sneider’s 2016 Mexican/Canadian film YOU’RE KILLING ME SUSANA (100 min, DCP Digital) begins a two-week run; Terence Davies’ 2016 UK/Belgian film A QUIET PASSION (125 min, DCP Digital) has a free advance screening on Monday at 7:30pm, with Davies in person (RSVPs for this event are full; approx. 70 admissions will be available on the day of the screening, first come first served); and as part of the Asian American Showcase this week are THE TIGER HUNTER, MOTHERLAND, RESISTANCE AT TULE LAKE, WEXFORD PLAZA (check the Siskel website for details).
Also at Doc Films (University of Chicago) this week: Kenneth Lonergan’s 2016 film MANCHESTER BY THE SEA (137 min, DCP Digital) is on Saturday at 7 and 9:30pm and Sunday at 4pm; Jonathan Mostow’s 1997 film BREAKDOWN (95 min, 35mm) is on Monday at 7pm; and Philippe Falardeau’s 2011 Canadian film MONSIEUR LAZHAR (94 min, 35mm) is on Tuesday at 7pm.
Also at the Music Box Theatre this week: Tomer Heymann’s 2016 Israeli documentary MR. GAGA (100 min, DCP Digital) opens; Matthew Aaron’s 2017 film LANDLINE (104 min, Digital Projection) screens daily at 5pm; George Roy Hill’s 1967 film THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE (138 min, 35mm) is on Saturday and Sunday at 11:30am; Jacques Perrin, Jacques Cluzaud, and Michel Debats’ 2001 French documentary WINGED MIGRATION (89 min, 35mm) is on Tuesday at 7pm, with John Bates, Associate Curator of Birds and head of the Life Sciences section of Integrated Research at the Field Museum, in person; and Greg Mottola’s 2007 film SUPERBAD (113 min, 35mm) is on Friday and Saturday at Midnight.
Facets Cinémathèque plays Kristina Grozeva and Petar Valchanov’s 2016 Bulgarian/Greek film GLORY (101 min, Unconfirmed Format) and Jenny Gage’s 2016 film ALL THIS PANIC (80 min, Unconfirmed Format) for week-long runs.
The Gorton Community Center in Lake Forest (400 E. Illinois Rd., Lake Forest, IL) screens Ira Sachs’ 2016 film LITTLE MEN (85 min, Digital Projection) on Thursday at 7pm.
ONGOING FILM/VIDEO INSTALLATIONS
The Art Institute of Chicago exhibition Zhang Peili: Record. Repeat is on view through July 9. The artist’s first US exhibition features over 50 channels of video from 1989-2007. It is on view in Modern Wing galleries 186 and 289.
The Art Institute of Chicago exhibition Hélio Oiticica: To Organize Delirium is on view through May 7. The large exhibition of work by the acclaimed Brazilian artist includes several films by him, and some related films. Included are Oiticica’s films BRASIL JORGE (1971), FILMORE EAST (1971), and AGRIPPINA IS ROME-MANHATTAN (1972); two slide-show works: NEYRÓTIKA (1973) and CC6 COKE HEAD’S SOUP (1973, made with Thomas Valentin); and Raimundo Amado’s APOCALIPOPÓTESE (1968) and Andreas Valentin’s ONE NIGHT ON GAY STREET (1975, 16mm).
Olympia Centre (737 N. Michigan Ave. - entrance at 151 E. Chicago Ave.) presents Virginio Ferrari & Marco G. Ferrari: Spirit Level through April 6. The show features sculpture, 16mm film, video and installations by artists Virginio Ferrari and Marco G. Ferrari, including Marco Ferrari’s SPIRIT LEVEL (2015-16, 30 min) and CONTRAILS WITH BODY (2011-16, 3 min).
The Art Institute of Chicago (Modern Wing Galleries) has Dara Birnbaum’s 1979 two-channel video KISS THE GIRLS: MAKE THEM CRY (6 min) currently on view.
CINE-LIST: March 31 - April 6, 2017
MANAGING EDITOR // Patrick Friel
ASSOCIATE EDITORS // Ben Sachs, Kathleen Sachs, Kyle A. Westphal
CONTRIBUTORS // Michael Castelle, Rob Christopher, Kyle Cubr, John Dickson, Scott Pfeiffer, James Stroble