Albert Serra's THE DEATH OF LOUIS XIV (New French)
Gene Siskel Film Center – Check Venue website for showtimes
In his bedchamber deep in Versailles, Louis XIV (Jean-Pierre Léaud), the beloved Sun King, is burning out, having ruled for over 70 years. Albert Serra's gorgeous film is rigorous, quiet and still. We stick close to the monarch's deathbed, surrounded by his bandying, floundering retinue. The room is a synecdoche for the silky grandeur of the age, a feast of candlelit textures, reds, golds, and exquisite chiaroscuros. The poignant subtext is the mortality of the great Léaud himself, whom we watched grow up onscreen as Antoine Doinel. He gives a tremendous, ironic performance, saying volumes with a quivering cheek, a twinge at the corner of the mouth. The elegant parties and playboy's pleasures a distant glimmer in his faraway eyes, Louis is suffering, though he comes alive in the presence of his beloved dogs, or when he hears the far-off drums and oboes of St. Louis Day. (2016, 115 min, DCP Digital) SP
Ana Lily Amirpour’s THE BAD BATCH (New American)
Music Box Theatre – Tuesday, 7pm
Following 2014’s A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT, Ana Lily Amirpour returns to the screen with her sophomore film, THE BAD BATCH. In a dystopian future and in a world where the notions of community and camaraderie have become isolated and ethnocentric, loner Arlen (Suki Waterhouse) finds herself banished to the desert. The barren wasteland she’s forced to traverse, reminiscent of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE and the MAD MAX series (specifically FURY ROAD), is full of cannibals and hostiles at every turn. She forms an unlikely bond with the no-nonsense Miami Man (Jason Momoma) in an effort to find a missing girl. THE BAD BATCH employs the same genre-mashing style Amirpour employed on GIRL but with slightly less satisfying depth in scope. The silky, dynamic shadows, pulsing electronic music, and skateboards all make a return here; but the focus has shifted more towards grander ideas about the extremes humanity goes to when the normal way of life has ceased to exist. Nevertheless, it remains a beautiful film to look at and shows flashes of Amirpour’s abilities to tackle larger subject material. The idea of “it’s not what you know, but who you know” plays strongly and the inter-weaving of the strong and empowered Arlen amongst various communities showcases the director’s skill at writing compelling lead characters. THE BAD BATCH, although uneven at times, displays fantastic vision and aesthetic as Amirpour continues to refine her style early in her career. (2016, 118 min, DCP Digital) KC
Ana Lily Amirpour’s A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT (Contemporary American)
Music Box Theatre – Tuesday, 9:45pm
Distributor Kino/Lorber cannily but misleadingly marketed A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT as the "first Iranian vampire western." The film's writer/director, Ana Lily Amirpour, was born in London to Iranian parents and raised in America; it was shot in Bakersfield, California (standing in for a fictional Iranian ghost town named "Bad City"); the cast consists almost entirely of Persian-American actors speaking Farsi; and, aside from a stray spaghetti-western-inflected song or two on the diegetic-heavy soundtrack, the movie bears almost no relationship whatsoever to the western genre. It would be more accurate to describe this stylishly crafted, auspicious debut feature as an adult version of LET THE RIGHT ONE IN--a poignant love story about the coming together of two lonely souls, one of whom just happens to be a vampire. The fact that the titular bloodsucker is a hijab-wearing young woman (the excellent Sheila Vand) who only preys on "bad men" has drawn both political and feminist allegorical readings from critics, although this is arguably giving too much credit to a film whose substance is primarily to be found in its surface pleasures. Still, what a surface. Amirpour and director of photography Lyle Vincent weave a potent alchemical magic with their high-contrast black-and-white cinematography--Amirpour's almost exclusive focus on nighttime exteriors in weird industrial locations (i.e., Bakersfield's oil refineries, factories, and railroad yards) recalls the nightmarish atmosphere of her hero David Lynch's ERASERHEAD but, combined with her impeccable taste in pop-music cues, creates a dreamy/druggy vibe that is both entrancing and wholly her own. It's probably too early to tell whether the movie's weaker second half is the result of Amirpour's failure to build narrative momentum or a byproduct of the fact that her true talents may lie outside the realm of traditional storytelling altogether; A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT's single best moment is a non-sequitur involving a drag-queen dancing with a balloon. In this startling non-narrative sequence, the charm of the choreography between performer and balloon is almost perfectly matched by the charm of the choreography between camera and performer. (2014, 99 min, DCP Digital) MGS
THE BAD BATCH and A GIRL WALKS HOME… are showing as a single-ticket double feature, with director Amirpour in person.
Jean-Pierre Melville's LE CERCLE ROUGE (French Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center – Saturday, 5pm and Thursday, 6pm
"[Jean-Pierre] Melville set out to synthesize all the thoughts and feelings he'd acquired about cops and robbers in fifteen years of genre moviemaking and a lifetime of movie watching in LE CERCLE ROUGE," wrote Michael Sragow for the Criterion Collection, adding, "he emerged with something greater than a summing up." The film is an expansive crime thriller in which every major character has the time to reveal novelistic depths and contradictions (in addition to a flamboyant personal style). Alain Delon, playing a variation on his cool assassin from Melville's LE SAMOURAI, is Corey, a recent ex-con who sets out to organize a perfect jewel heist—but as a fake Buddhist quote informs us at the movie's onset, no man can evade punishment if that's to be his fate. Like SAMOURAI but to even greater extent, Melville constructs the criminal progress around precise, professional maneuvers: It is a wholly cinematic work, in that characterization results of fetishized, highly choreographed movement. LE CERCLE ROUGE climaxes with a 25-minute, dialogue-free robbery scene where every action carries extreme consequence—a bold attempt on Melville's part to "outdo" a similar sequence from Jules Dassin's RIFIFI. But where Dassin's achievement stands out from the film around it, Melville's seems the culmination of a very personal style. As Sragow describes it: "Melville uses music minimally, deploys natural sounds like a virtuoso, and, along with cinematographer Henri Decaë, evokes vibrant color with a restricted palette by staying alert to the shifts in light that come with changing time and weather. One could call the result a feast for the senses, except that would imply satiation, even gluttony, and one emerges from this film with senses primed." (1970, 140 min, DCP Digital) BS
Jean-Pierre Melville’s BOB LE FLAMBEUR (French Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center – Saturday, 3pm and Tuesday, 6pm
BOB LE FLAMBEUR is one of the most important films ever made - although it’s probably also a case of a classic movie that’s been more influential than actually seen. The way writer/director Jean-Pierre Melville expressed a punch-drunk love for American genre fare, refracting crime/noir conventions through his unique Gallic sensibility to create something refreshingly new, would exert a massive influence on the directors of the nouvelle vague in just a few years time; in BREATHLESS, which features an extended cameo by Melville, Jean-Luc Godard cheekily implies that it was Jean-Paul Belmondo’s Michel who “ratted on (his) friend” Bob Montagne. Made at a time when most commercial French films were still shot on studio-constructed sets, Melville’s mid-‘50s depiction of the Montmartre demimonde is so pungent you can smell it, but his stylish mise-en-scene - with its chiaroscuro lighting and emphasis on black-and-white checkerboard patterns - set a whole new standard for cinematic cool. BOB LE FLAMBEUR would go on to be remade both officially (as Neil Jordan’s THE GOOD THIEF) and unofficially (by Paul Thomas Anderson as HARD EIGHT) though neither Nick Nolte nor Philip Baker Hall can quite match the combination of world-weary poignancy and super-coolness in their portraits of aging masculinity that Roger Duchesne offers here. Even though it was his fourth feature, and his previous work formidable, BOB LE FLAMBEUR is also, crucially, the movie where “Melville becomes Melville.” With a tip of his Stetson to John Huston’s THE ASPHALT JUNGLE, the brilliant French filmmaker crafted an irresistible shaggy-dog heist story about the titular character, a middle-aged gangster/gambler who dutifully maintains an impeccable sense of personal style even when on a losing streak – making him a forerunner of the stoic badasses essayed by Alain Delon, Lino Ventura and Gian Maria Volontè in Melville’s mature masterpieces of the 1960s and early 1970s. Bob’s bad luck eventually causes him to hatch a scheme to rob the casino in Deauville, a journey to the end of night that leads to one of the wittiest punch lines in cinema. (1956, 98 min, 35mm) MGS
The Chicago Underground Film Festival continues this Friday, Saturday, and Sunday with all screenings taking place at the Logan Theatre (2646 N. Milwaukee Ave.). In addition to the listings below, other films of note include Charles Fairbanks and Saul Kak’s 2016 documentary THE MODERN JUNGLE (71 min; Saturday, 4pm), about a Mexican shaman; and local filmmaker Jerzy Rose’s oddball narrative feature NEIGHBORHOOD FOOD DRIVE (85 min; Saturday, 8pm).
Jim Trainor's THE PINK EGG (New Experimental Narrative)
Jim Trainor, a longtime animator and associate professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, once said, “If my films were live-action, I’d probably be jailed.” We'll see, because his first live-action feature, the whimsical, eerie comedy THE PINK EGG (2016, 71 min, DCP Digital), is here. It's a delightful, virtually wordless “fact-based horror film” about the bizarre life cycles of insects. Humans in unitards portray bugs molting, growing, killing, devouring, and fornicating (or at least sharing vats of bug sperm). The film put me in mind of Karl Pilkington, who used to share his fanciful, anthropomorphized ideas about insect life on the old Ricky Gervais Show podcasts. As Karl tells it, there exists a parasitic wasp that looks for a certain type of spider, lands on its back and injects it with a maggot. The maggot lives off the spider, who thinks, oh, I've got something to take care of now, and makes a web for it. When the maggot gets to the web, it eats the spider. So, Karl wants to know, when did they all get together and work this arrangement out? Laughing, Ricky explains that whereas human behavior is characterized by thought and free will, behavior in lower life forms bypasses any form of consciousness. It's the kind of story you'll see in THE PINK EGG, with the dark humor arising from the blunt truths of evolution and natural selection. In a scene about the bug dating process, we're in a kind of weird insect nightclub. Female honeybees, we learn, may choose the gender of their offspring: watch them turn the blue eggs pink. The film is scrupulously researched (there's even a bibliography!), but playful. The colorful wooden sets and the digitally textured backdrops make my eye happy. The electronic keyboard music, by Caroline Nutley, is jaunty, haunting, and poignant. Chirping cicadas and crickets comprise a big part of the soundscape. Trainor seems to share a sense of existential horror (and ambivalent love) in the face of the natural world with Werner Herzog, who once famously characterized the vaunted "harmony" of nature as one of "overwhelming and collective murder." Yet for all the murder on display here, the film has a sense of childlike wonder and a homemade feel. Preceding THE PINK EGG is another evocative dispatch from the animal world, with a similarly dark sense of humor: Jennet Thomas's experimental video ANIMAL CONDENSED > ANIMAL EXPANDED #1 (2016, 8 min). Thomas co-founded London's Exploding Cinema Collective in the '90s. Here, a Chicken Little with an urgent message meets an "authenticity fetish" in some kind of gently undulating electronic vortex. Against a field of black-and-white rays and orbs, they communicate in sounds and gestures. Their non-sequiturs are rendered for us as subtitles. This is a bit like Op Art, with neat photogrammetry animation. It seems to be about industrial chicken rendering, though at one point the fetish pulls out a mask of a certain orange-haired imposter bearing a message in its mouth: "complexity is fraud." Perhaps it's more broadly an anarchist critique of commodity fetishization itself? Boy I'm glad someone's still doing those. SP
Showtimes noted below
Shorts programs at any film festival are often a mixed bag and, indeed, of the 30 or so titles I previewed there were a few that left me scratching my head. On the whole, though, CUFF routinely offers a healthy selection of impressive experimental works (I restricted my viewing to those, foregoing the short narratives and documentaries) and this year is no exception. Some highlights. Kent Lambert’s RECKONING 4 (Program 4, Friday at 8:30pm) takes as its subject Role Playing Games, the psychological and social impact they can have, and the deep-rooted misogyny in gaming culture. But most of these issues are hinted at or dealt with obliquely, with Lambert instead creating a disturbing visual space with images of gamers (including himself and others taken from movies and other pop culture sources) and character footage from games shifting back and forth as each takes on the roles of viewers and subjects, appearing on monitors, computers, tablets, and phones, blurring the line between the “real” world and the constructed worlds of the games and asking who really is in charge. It’s a smart, subtle critique that only loses some of its impact when its message becomes too literal. In AS WITHOUT SO WITHIN (Program 7, Saturday at 5pm) Manuela de Laborde films ambiguous “sculptural” objects, further distorting any sense of recognizability they may have through a variety of lighting and color effects, superimposition, and re-photography. Nothing seems familiar, everything is strange; but everything feels vaguely important, somehow, as if things once vital are now forgotten. A mysterious film that is both beautiful and haunting. Also in Program 7 is Mónica Savirón’s ANSWER PRINT, a found footage film constructed entirely from film prints that have color faded to varying shades of pink and red. It’s a perverse tactic; color fading is perhaps the most dreaded condition problem for film viewers, collectors, programmers, and archivists. A few scratches, or a few splices, usually not a big deal. But bad color – horrors! That Savirón can reveal beauty even in this most compromised material is a wonder, and her sensitive editing creates delicate rhythms and subtly critical associations arising out of the appropriated images, adding depth to that improbable surface beauty. Ben Balcom’s OUR OWN PRIVATE UNIVERSE (Program 8, Saturday at 7pm) casts two actors, a male and female couple, sitting in a convertible, “driving” through a mostly rural and forested landscape – via some delightfully obvious rear-projection (with even the end-flares of the camera rolls appearing behind them, as perhaps some momentary nuclear holocaust briefly interrupting their drive). They converse in snatches of dialog taken from Samuel Beckett and from Douglas Sirk films, backed by a lush, orchestrated soundtrack that I’d also bet is from a Sirk film (it should be if it isn’t). Balcom fragments the conversation; the actors repeat lines with differing inflections, are cut off, interrupted though jump cuts, echo each other, and continually, randomly switch places in the car, again through jumps in the editing. What they are saying ends up losing all meaning, becoming empty non-sequiturs, banal phrases. Like the visual space of the film, the hollowness of the performances, and the disjunctive editing, language itself is revealed as an artifice, as only a construction that lacks any reality. Everything Balcom does here is pitch-perfect and increasingly hysterical. One of the smartest deconstruction works I’ve seen. PF
Dane Komljen’s ALL THE CITIES OF THE NORTH (Bosnian/Montenegrin Experimental Narrative)
Dane Komljen’s Bosnian/Montenegrin film ALL THE CITIES OF THE NORTH is an amazing film that I saw months ago and still don’t think I can do justice to in a full review, so don’t let this brief and overly synoptic write up dissuade you—this is an assured, important, and terrific work. ALL THE CITIES is part observational documentary, elliptical narrative, and experimental rumination, focused on two men, Boban and Boris, who inhabit provisional and abandoned spaces, perform daily tasks that almost seem ritualistic or of more import than one would think, and converse in spare, fragmented phrases, if at all. A third person enters their world, and relationships change. It’s a puzzling, provocative, and curiously moving film (even as the entire film is an extended longueur of sorts) from one of the most exciting voices in contemporary cinema. (100 min, Digital Projection) PF
Ryan Sarnowski’s MANLIFE: THE LAST OF THE LAWSONIANS (New Documentary)
Alfred Lawson, professional baseball player, aviation pioneer, novelist, populist economist, and cult leader isn’t a name on too many people’s lips any more, but there was a time back around the second World War when, at least in the Midwest, he had a loyal following possibly in the thousands. Today, only one Lawsonian evangelist remains, a nonagenarian named Merle Hayden. Sarnowski’s documentary is nominally about Hayden’s lone quest to keep Lawson’s teachings alive. He works an annual booth at a Wisconsin air show, sends out mailings, reads and rereads Lawson’s texts, and preserves a massive home archive of writings, correspondence, photographs, and ephemera related to his hero. But Sarnowski is less interested in the minutia of Lawson’s religion or Hayden’s proselytizing and much more fascinated by the peculiarities of constructing history. MANLIFE is filled with animated segments, dramatic readings of Lawson’s speeches, speculations on the contents of unopened boxes, and contradictory memories related by Hayden and his 89-year-old girlfriend, Betty. At one point, Hayden is asked about a specific tenet of Lawsonian beliefs and fumbles through a recitation of Lawson’s exact words. (Hayden proudly holds a degree of ‘Knowlegian’ in the field of Lawsonomy, awarded for having studied Lawson’s books for thirty straight years and having proven to have every word of them memorized.) Sarnowski explores Hayden’s massive collection, heaped without organization in piles and stacks throughout his tiny home, while another man, whose abandoned documentary on Hayden has been appropriated into MANLIFE, discusses what he hopes might be hidden somewhere inside it. We never learn whether it does. Yearbooks are opened only to have the pictures cut out of them be the topic of conversation. A model of one of Lawson’s airplanes is proudly displayed at the air show, though in fact it never flew. History, MANLIFE tells us, isn’t the story of what happened but rather an attempt to pretend to make sense of the undifferentiated morass of badly remembered, incompletely recorded, only partially saved trivia. Sarnowski’s movie offers up a powerful work of pretend, a documentary that, like an optical illusion, is perpetually turning itself inside out, and like the best illusion, demands both our attention to its details and our focus on all it leaves behind. (2017, 83 min, DCP Digital) KB
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
Joseph L. Mankiewicz's ALL ABOUT EVE (American Revival)
Northbrook Public Library (1201 Cedar Lane, Northbrook) – Wednesday, 1 and 7:30pm (Free Admission)
Joseph L. Mankiewicz, an ubiquitous presence in Hollywood thanks to some early string pulling by his brother Herman, was a screenwriter for Paramount and a producer for MGM before he realized his second-greatest ambition and became a director for 20th Century Fox (his first was to make it as a Broadway playwright). Ambition is written on the walls of ALL ABOUT EVE, Mankiewicz's sharp and ever-popular comedy of self-comment in which a dissembling fan (Anne Baxter) insinuates herself into the personal and professional life of an aging Broadway star (Bette Davis) until the sparks and epithets really begin to fly. A feeling of ersatz-ness reigns in much of Mankiewicz's cinema: Bette Davis seems to be impersonating Bette Davis, much as EVE is striving for the deeper themes of SUNSET BOULEVARD, released the same year. But Mankiewicz stuck bravely to his guns, impressing upon his actors the need to step outside their roles and acknowledge their theatrical conceits—and many an adoring fan has followed along. (1950, 138 min, DCP Digital) JB
Terence Davies’ A QUIET PASSION (New British)
Music Box Theatre – Check Venue website for showtimes
Substance aside, I remember three things from my early literary education: One, that William Shakespeare may not have written the classic plays attributed to him, and that other persons ranging from Christopher Marlowe to Queen Elizabeth could have in fact been the “real” Bard; two, that Charles Dickens allegedly wrote such long novels because he was paid by the word; and three, that noted poet Emily Dickinson was a notorious recluse who rarely left her home. To a young mind yearning to discover that fact is indeed stranger than fiction, these claims, now largely demystified, inspired as much interest as their subjects’ venerated oeuvres. Dickinson’s circumstances, however, beguiled me more than the others. Sure, a clandestine literary scandal and felicitous business acumen are intriguing, but her self-imposed sequestration resonated with my pre-teen self (“The Soul selects her own Society —/Then — shuts the Door —/To her divine Majority —/” she writes in Poem 303). And though the idiosyncrasies of her confinement are better understood thanks in part to a myriad of click-bait listicles with headlines like “Most Exaggerated/Bizarre/Just Plain Stupid Myths About Writers with Brown Hair” or whatever, critics still made a point of decrying Dickinson’s life as being inherently uncinematic when writing about Terence Davies’ A QUIET PASSION. On the contrary, her life is ripe for filmic rendering, and Davies succeeds in evoking the richness of an oft-ignored subject—a woman’s byzantine interior, wontedly suppressed beneath a slavish exterior. (Dickinson laments in Poem 764: “My Life had stood - a Loaded Gun - /In Corners - till a Day /The Owner passed - identified -/And carried Me away -.”) A biopic is an interesting choice for a director celebrated for his fiercely personal fixations, though all of his films since THE LONG DAY CLOSES (1992) with the exception of one (OF TIME AND THE CITY in 2008, his only documentary) have dealt with broader themes, having as their source an array of books (THE NEON BIBLE, THE HOUSE OF MIRTH, and SUNSET SONG) as well as a play (THE DEEP BLUE SEA). Still, it’s clear that Davies chooses sources close to his personal interests; in addition to possessing a fervent love of poetry, Davies presents Dickinson, who’s played brilliantly by Cynthia Nixon in yet another of the director's’ perfect, albeit surprising, casting choices (Emma Bell as the teenaged Emily is also amazing), as a feminist hero who rallied—sometimes with her voice, sometimes with her pen—against various forms of oppression. Two interludes in particular emblazon the film with his auteurist stamp: the first, the literal aging of the central characters, bridging the gap between Dickinson’s religiously rebellious childhood (another personal theme) and her later years initially spent in the company of family and friends, then finally alone in her house before she died at the age of 55 (the myth of her seclusion rooted in some legitimacy), and the second, an auspiciously disparate, documentary-style interlude about the Civil War, complete with music, colorized photographs and jarring death tolls. The former effect—and yes, it is quite an effect—is representative of Davies’ preoccupation with the passing of time, while the latter allows him to include an experience near to his own life—war. Dickinson lived during the Civil War—in fact, it was her most fruitful period, as she wrote almost half her poems over those years—but none of her work references it (in her foreword for The Essential Emily Dickinson, Joyce Carol Oates uses this fact to distinguish Dickinson from Walt Whitman, another 19th century poet, but one for whom the war was material rather than immaterial). This segment, then, serves to divide the film just as Dickinson’s life was seemingly divided between an earlier, more well-adjusted period, during which she had a relatively active social life, and her famed reclusiveness; the concept of life and self before and after war is present in most of Davies’ films, the ultimate human conflict an apt metaphor for any number of internal struggles. Striking widescreen cinematography further illuminates this conflict, but not without a hint of irony—does such a large frame befit a secluded life? Perhaps not, but it does befit a grand mind. Davies’ script complements Dickinson’s poetry, which is either read in voiceover or cleverly integrated into a scene (she reads Poem 260, of “I’m Nobody! Who are you?” fame, to her baby nephew upon meeting him for the first time), though it’s the witty banter, mostly invented by Davies with the writer’s letters as inspiration, that steals the show, revealing Dickinson as the furtive revolutionary she was. He handles her descent into reclusion and her eventual death as tactfully as her more vivacious years were depicted mirthfully; when she dies, we cry with her family, lamenting the loss not only of a great poet, but also a new friend. “And then – the size of this ‘small’ life –/The Sages – call it small –/Swelled – like Horizons – in my vest –/And I sneered – softly – ‘small’!” (Poem 271). (2016, 126 min, DCP Digital) KS
Andrei Tarkovsky's STALKER (Soviet Revival)
Music Box Theatre – Saturday, Monday, and Thursday, 2:30pm
Loosely based on the Soviet novel Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, Tarkovsky's STALKER creates a decrepit industrial world where a mysterious Zone is sealed off by the government. The Zone, rumored to be of alien origin, is navigable by guides known as Stalkers. The Stalker of the title leads a writer and a scientist through the surrounding detritus into the oneiric Zone—an allegorical stand-in for nothing less than life itself—on a spiritual quest for a room that grants one's deepest subconscious wish. Tarkovsky composes his scenes to obscure the surroundings and tightly controls the audience's view through long, choreographed takes. Shots run long and are cut seamlessly. Coupled with non-localized sounds and a methodical synth score, sequences in the film beckon the audience into its illusion of continuous action while heightening the sense of time passing. The use of nondiegetic sounds subtly reminds us that this may be a subjective world established for the Stalker's mystical purpose. Where sci-fi films tend to overstate humanity's limitless imagination of the universe, Tarkovsky reappropriates the genre's trappings to suggest the cosmos' deepest truths are in one's own mind. STALKER posits—perhaps frighteningly—that, in this exploration of the self, there is something that knows more about us than we know ourselves. The writer and scientist, both at their spiritual and intellectual nadir, hope the room will renew their métier; the Stalker's purpose, as stated by Tarkovsky, is to "impose on them the idea of hope." But STALKER is a rich and continually inspiring work not for this (or any other) fixed meaning but rather for its resistance to any one single interpretation. (1979, 163 min, DCP Digital; New Restoration) BW
Woody Allen's MANHATTAN (American Revival)
Music Box Theatre – Check Venue website for showtimes
Woody Allen's first film in CinemaScope—but not his last evocation of classic black-and-white cinematography (ZELIG, BROADWAY DANNY ROSE, etc.)—this remains the most commercially successful film of his career and, for many fans, his high watermark as well. A comedy-drama about romance versus practicality, this has a host of sophisticated one-liners and a lot of asides about the beauty of New York City. Allen plays a TV writer dating a precocious high school student who enters into a more "responsible" romance with his best friend's mistress. The cast—which includes Michael Murphy, Diane Keaton, and Mariel Hemingway—is memorably good, as is Gordon Willis' cinematography. Famously refusing to follow characters as they walk in and out of the frame, Willis developed a unique approach to film comedy; it's been referenced in films as diverse as THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS and Godard's IN PRAISE OF LOVE. (1979, 96 min, DCP Digital) BS
MORE OPPOSITIONAL VIEWING
Facets Cinémathèque screens Mike Gray and Howard Alk’s 1971 documentary THE MURDER OF FRED HAMPTON (88 min, Video Projection) on Tuesday at 6:30pm, as part of their Teach-In series. Followed by a panel discussion with Bill Cottle, the film's producer and a founder of Film Group; Billy "Che" Brooks, Minister of Education of the Illinois Chapter of the Black Panther Party; and Flint Taylor, co-founder of the People's Law Office and the lead attorney in the civil rights case filed against the Chicago Police Department in the slaying of Hampton. Moderated by Gretchen Helfrich, a civil rights attorney and former host of WBEZ's Odyssey, and Facets' Founder and Artistic Director Milos Stehlik.
Comfort Film at Comfort Station Logan Square (2579 N. Milwaukee Ave.) screens Liz Kaar’s 2016 documentary video series STRANDED BY THE STATE (Unconfirmed Running Time), about the Illinois budget crisis, on Wednesday at 8pm, as part of the The P.O.W.E.R. Project series of events. With a panel discussion and Kaar in person. Free admission.
MORE SCREENINGS AND EVENTS
The Chicago Film Archives presents the 6th Annual CFA Media Mixer fundraiser on Thursday at 8pm at The Hideout (1354 W. Wabansia). The event features three new videos by local filmmakers, working in collaboration with local musicians, made from footage housed at the CFA. This year’s filmmakers and musical groups/musicians are Eric Fleischauer (with Matchess), Samantha Hill (with Haptic), and Marianna Milhorat (with Brian Kirkbride). Hosted by Alison Cuddy and a DJ set by Latham Zearfoss. More info at www.chicagofilmarchives.org.
The monthly Midwest Independent Film Festival at the Landmark’s Century Centre Cinema screens Bill Watterson’s 2017 film DAVE MADE A MAZE (80 min, Digital Projection) on Tuesday at 6pm. There’s a reception at 6pm, a distribution panel at 6:30pm, the film is at 7:30pm, and an after-party.
Block Cinema (at Northwestern University) presents NU Docs, three evenings of work from Northwestern’s MFA in Documentary Media program, on Wednesday and Thursday and continuing on Friday, June 9 at 7pm each night. The Wednesday program, Where We Belong, includes work by Sebastian Pinzon-Silva, Philippine Merolle, Luther Clement, and Weichao Xu. The Thursday program, Second Life, includes work by Julio Molica, Ashley S. Brandon, Nevo I. Shinaar, and Iyabo Kwayana. Free admission.
Black Cinema House (at the Stony Island Arts Bank, 6760 S. Stony Island Ave.) screens Nefertite Nguvu’s 2015 feature IN THE MORNING (75 min, Digital Projection), with Nguvu in person, on Friday at 7pm. Free admission.
Bedsheet Cinema (3149 W. Lyndale, Apt 1 Courtyard) screens Marcel Camus’ 1959 Brazilian film BLACK ORPHEUS (100 min, Video Projection) on Wednesday at 8pm as an outdoor screening.
Sinema Obscura at Township (2200 N. California Ave.) presents Sinema Musica, a program of locally-made music videos with many of the filmmakers in person, on Monday at 7pm.
Also at the Gene Siskel Film Center this week: Niki Caro’s 2016 Czech Republic/UK/US film THE ZOOKEEPER'S WIFE (127 min, DCP Digital) and Pappi Corsicato’s 2017 documentary JULIAN SCHNABEL: A PRIVATE PORTRAIT (88 min, DCP Digital) both play for a week; and Jean-Pierre Melville’s 1955 French film BOB LE FLAMBEUR (98 min, 35mm) is on Saturday at 3pm and Tuesday at 6pm.
At Doc Films (University of Chicago) this week: David Feige’s 2016 documentary UNTOUCHABLE (105 min, Digital Projection) is on Friday at 7pm and Sunday at 1:30pm (an additional screening is on Friday at 3pm at the U of C’s Oriental Institute, with Feige in person); Bill Condon’s 2017 film BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (123 min, DCP Digital) is on Saturday at 7 and 9:30pm and Sunday at 3:30pm; and Jane Campion’s 1993 New Zealand film THE PIANO (121 min, Blu-Ray Projection) is on Sunday at 7pm.
Also at the Music Box Theatre this week: Sarah Adina Smith’s 2017 film BUSTER’S MAL HEART (96 min, DCP Digital) opens; Mike Newell’s 2005 film HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE (157 min, 35mm) is on Friday and Saturday at Midnight, and Saturday at 11am; and the Dog Film Festival has screenings on Sunday at Noon and 2pm.
Also at Facets Cinémathèque this week: Oliver Laxe’s 2016 Moroccan/Spanish/French/Qatari film MIMOSAS (93 min, Video Projection) and Maura Axelrod’s 2016 documentary MAURIZIO CATTELAN: BE RIGHT BACK (95 min, Video Projection) both have week-long runs.
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 (Modern Wing Galleries) has Dara Birnbaum’s 1979 two-channel video KISS THE GIRLS: MAKE THEM CRY (6 min) currently on view.
CINE-LIST: June 2 - June 8, 2017
MANAGING EDITOR // Patrick Friel
ASSOCIATE EDITORS // Ben Sachs, Kathleen Sachs, Kyle A. Westphal
CONTRIBUTORS // Kian Bergstrom, Jeffrey Bivens, Kyle Cubr, Scott Pfeiffer, Michael G. Smith, Brian Welesko