On episode #8 of the Cine-Cast, Cine-File associate editor Ben Sachs gives an overview of Chicago movie-going in November, including a wealth of installation art and film festivals. Sachs and contributors Alexandra Ensign and John Dickson cover several series at Doc Films (Cinema Novo and Beyond, The Films of Johnnie To and Wai Ka-Fai, The Films of Chantal Akerman, and Female Sexuality and the Male Gaze), the Luchino Visconti series at the Siskel Film Center, and Chicago Film Society screenings of Elaine May's MIKEY AND NICKY (read our review below) and Edward Yang's YI YI.
Listen here. Engineered by Cine-File contributor Harrison Sherrod. Produced by contributor Josh B Mabe and associate editor Kathleen Sachs.
The introductory theme is by local film composer Ben Van Vlissingen. Find out more about his work here.
Frank Borzage’s STREET ANGEL (Silent American Revival)
Frank Borzage was arguably the greatest romantic ever to direct movies, and STREET ANGEL (one of his last silent productions) is as good a point of entry into his career as any other film he made. It centers, as so many Borzage films do, on a transcendent love affair between two vulnerable individuals; played by Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell (whom Borzage directed the previous year in 7TH HEAVEN), the pair projects a universal quality that makes them seem to stand in for oppressed lovers everywhere. Gaynor plays a poor waif who reluctantly turns to crime near the start of the film to pay for her ailing mother’s medication. When she’s caught picking pockets, she’s sentenced to a year in the workhouse. Gaynor manages to escape (in a rousing sequence that features camerawork worthy of the German expressionist masterpieces) and takes up with a traveling circus. On the road she meets Farrell’s idealistic painter, and the two fall madly in love. They return to Gaynor’s hometown of Naples, where she spends most of her time in hiding from police—to make matters more challenging, she can’t bring herself to tell her lover that there’s a warrant out for her arrest. The film’s studio-built Italy is a marvelous creation, conjuring up a heightened sense of reality that provides an ideal backdrop to the characters’ exultant emotions (and like Murnau’s SUNRISE, which also featured Gaynor, it showcases the tremendous resources of the Fox studios in the late-silent era). The cinematography, credited to Paul Ivano and Ernest Palmer, beautifully captures such gossamer textures as mist, fabric, and rain, adding to one’s sense of how delicate the heroes’ happiness is. In spite of that delicacy, their love—not only for each other, but for art as well—is resolute and fortitudinous. By the end of the film, the spectator is completely overwhelmed by the sentiments it contains. Preceded by Joris Ivens’ 1929 experimental documentary short RAIN (12 min, 16mm). Live accompaniment by Dennis Scott. (1928, 102 min, 35mm) BS
Lizzie Borden's BORN IN FLAMES (American Revival)
Block Cinema (Northwestern University) — Friday, 7pm (Free Admission)
With a concept, style, and politics that are still radical and relevant, Lizzie Borden's 1983 film gets a revival screening that is all-too-timely. Railing against the patriarchal and racist structures that remained in even the most progressive corners of American Society after the '60s and '70s, we are thrust into a feature length narrative of critique. Borden is able to place her ideology front and center, but also let the story sneak up around it. Embracing the gritty look of both 16mm film and the more battered parts of New York City in the early '80s, and combining them with an objective camera, she uses her low-budget as a storytelling asset. The world in which the anarchist movement dubbed the Women's Army carries out its counterrevolutionary campaign of pirate radio and direct action is rendered complete through a skillful combination of narrative and documentary modes. Artificial news clips about the progress of the current Socialist government and covert operations of the Women's Army's are mixed with observational shots of unemployed men and women on the streets, and we are constantly reminded of the veiled nature of the allegory. Other fictional scenes feel like we're watching the unedited negotiations between rival factions in a civil war as shot by an embedded cameraperson. When the pirate radio DJ—who acts as the film's voiceover—declares that the true nature of socialism is constant revolution, it seems a natural reinforcement of the film's message, rather than a didactic add-on. Managing to tow the line between preaching and pandering is not an easy task when taking on the very fiber of our society, and rarely has a film done it with such ease. Lizzie Borden in person. (1983, 90 min, Restored 35mm Archival Print) JH
Joaquim Pedro de Andrade's MACUNAÍMA (Brazilian Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) — Monday, 7pm
Joaquim Pedro de Andrade's MACUNAÍMA is an absurd and orgiastic amalgam of high camp and leftist agitprop. Funneling its satirical rage into the form of the mock epic, it follows the eponymous antihero from the moment he is born fully-grown (to an elderly woman played in drag by the same actor who will later portray the film's villain) to his death at the hands of a cannibalistic mermaid. Andrade based the film on the classic novel of the same name by the great modernist polymath Mário de Andrade (no relation) and borrowed heavily from both the spirit and the letter of the seminal "Cannibalist Manifesto" of Oswald de Andrade (again, no relation). Despite it's barely concealed anti-government message, the film passed censors with almost no alterations (some of the nudity was excised) and met with enormous critical and commercial success. The allegorical substructure relating to 1964 military coup and the 1968 hardline "coup-within-the-coup" will likely be lost on most American viewers, but Andrade's flashy and fleshy kitsch mania is unmistakable and irresistible. (1969, 110 min, 35mm) PR
Alice Guy Blaché in America: Shorts from Solax and The Ocean Waif (Silent Revivals)
Film Studies Center (at the Logan Center for the Arts, 915 E. 60th St., University of Chicago) — Friday, 7pm (Free Admission)
Forget being the first woman to do something—how about being the only woman to do it? Such is the case with Alice Guy Blaché, who, in addition to being the world’s first female filmmaker, was also likely the only female filmmaker working between 1896 and 1906. It’s not that difficult to imagine, but it’s nonetheless mind-blowing to think that at one point, during the earliest iteration of cinema, there was probably just one woman helping to pioneer it. Guy Blaché’s biography is fascinating: she was born in France in 1873 and began working as a secretary for Léon Gaumont in 1894; she made her first film, considered to be the first ever narrative film, in 1896. Some years later, Gaumont sent her husband, Herbert Blaché, to the U.S. to head a franchise in Cleveland. When that failed, the Blachés moved to New York, where Herbert managed Gaumont’s Flushing studio; when that went underused (due to Edison’s rejection of Gaumont as part of the Motion Picture Patents Company), Guy Blaché decided to start her own production studio, Solax Film Company, where she made three of the short films playing as part of this program. I asked the curator, Aurore Spiers, a graduate student at the University of Chicago, how she decided on these four films. “Very often, people who know about Alice Guy Blaché have seen the very first films that she made for Gaumont in France in the late 1890s,” she said. “[Guy] Blaché’s work as a screenwriter, director, producer, and studio owner of Solax Film Company in the United States from 1907 through 1920 is still much lesser known.” The three shorts made at Solax are MIXED PETS (1911, 14 min, DCP), A TRAMP’S STRATEGY (1911, 12 min, Archival 35mm Print), and A HOUSE DIVIDED (1913, 13 min, DCP). All are great examples of Guy Blaché’s command of the form, conveying an assuredness of direction—that they’re consistently good is impressive as well. Spiers says that MIXED PETS is likely the earliest surviving film of Guy Blaché’s stateside career, and that A TRAMP’S STRATEGY is one of the most recently discovered. The longest of the four, THE OCEAN WAIF (1916, 41 min, DCP), was made after Solax closed. One of the only surviving films of her post-Solax career, as well as one of only two of her feature-length films to survive, it was independently made and then distributed by the International Film Service, which was owned by William Randolph Hearst. Though not entirely cohesive (it’s cobbled together, well enough, from surviving source material), it’s a mostly charming tale about a young orphan who falls in love with a writer after they meet in the abandoned seaside house to which she’s escaped from her abusive foster father and that he’s rented in order to write his next novel. The players in all the films are fantastic, exhibiting Guy Blaché’s strength as a director of actors. (She purportedly hung a sign that instructed them to “Be Natural.”) Each early film pioneer, whether man or woman, has his or her own superlative; some excelled as technicians, while others heralded in a genre or narrative element that had been hitherto underealized. Blaché seems to have been one of the first to exhibit steady craftsmanship, both in regards to the technical and narrative aspects of her work, the consistency of which is lacking even among some of the greats. Forget first and only—she’s an aberration not because of her gender, but because of her skill. Live accompaniment by Dave Drazin. KS
Alonso Ruizpalacios’ MUSEO (New Mexican)
Gene Siskel Film Center — Check Venue website for showtimes
I don’t know how closely Alonso Ruizpalacios’ engrossing and stylish heist-gone-wrong flick hews to the real-life 1985 museum robbery on which it is based but that doesn’t matter one bit. Because, though it goes through the motions required of any self-respecting crime caper, this film’s true subject is the portrait of a young man who believes he is destined for greatness but is sadly mistaken. There are also worthwhile questions raised about cultural plundering and the overall role of museums in society, but, at heart, this is a character study. In Juan, Gael Garcia Bernal has found perhaps his perfect role. Juan is a conceited little man convinced he’s special. He’s been given every chance to succeed by a loving and supportive family but repays them by hatching an absurd criminal scheme, dragging his best friend into it, and watching the whole mess slowly unravel. He has what he thinks are the noblest aspirations but all his energy and talent are completely misdirected. Ruizpalacios tells Juan’s story through elliptical layers of image and text with an ample dose of ironic humor. The film has a combination of dreaminess and gravity not evident from a mere synopsis of its plot. In the end there is no answer why Juan decided to steal some of his country’s most precious artifacts, nor should there be. But there’s no doubt Ruizpalacios is asking the right questions. (2018, 129 min, 35mm) DS
Luchino Visconti’s OSSESSIONE (Italian Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center — Sunday, 2:30pm
Leave it to Luchino Visconti to capture perfectly the mood in Mussolini’s Italy as its fascist government was headed toward oblivion and a feeling of defeat and waste was settling over the Italian population. His interpretation of James M. Cain’s 1934 novel The Postman Always Rings Twice, number two of five film versions, offers up a steaming plate of lust, greed, betrayal, and murder that was transgressive in its own time. OSSESSIONE begins as a wheat-bearing truck stops at a roadside trattoria to gas up and dislodge Gino Costa (Massimo Girotti), a filthy, but handsome tramp who hitched a ride in the flatbed. He charms a meal out of Giovanna Bragana (Carla Calamai, a late replacement for the pregnant Anna Magnani), the beautiful, young wife of the trattoria owner, Giuseppe Bragana (Juan de Landa), a fat, old man who treats her like a servant and possession. The attraction between Gino and Giovanna is as strong as her hatred of her husband, but their tryst seems to be going nowhere, and they part company. When their paths cross again, fate moves them toward a murderous and tragic end. OSSESSIONE is unambiguous about what love makes permissible, signaling the fate that awaits the adulterous murderers when an account of a man shot dead by a cuckolded husband reaches the patrons of the trattoria near the beginning of the film. Even Visconti’s camera blocking when the couple first meets, Gino’s body obscuring all but Giovanna’s legs, lets us know who will be erased by the end of the film. Visconti also inserts the suggestion of a gay subtext with a carnival worker nicknamed The Spaniard (Elio Marcuzzo). Nonetheless, in its own way, OSSESSIONE offered a carefree escape for ordinary Italians through Visconti’s Neorealist approach to filming his story on the Italian streets of Ancona, a lively place where people go to vacation, enjoy street fairs and carnival rides, and gather together communally to eat, drink, and participate in contests and games. The entire scene in Ancona, and later, in the Bragana trattoria, where Giovanna has increased business tremendously by introducing music and dancing to the restaurant, show the sweet life in the midst of tremendous hardship and sorrow, thus lifting the film to a more complex and affecting level. The film was banned after Mussolini’s son rejected it as not reflecting the reality of the Italian people, and Visconti was forced to turn over all prints and negatives for destruction. We only have this valuable document of wartime Italian filmmaking, as well as Visconti’s pungent directorial debut, because Visconti held back one negative. (1943, 140 min, DCP Digital) MF
George Cukor's DINNER AT EIGHT (American Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) — Sunday, 7pm
Busby Berkeley's seminal musical GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933 set the tone for Hollywood's dealings with the Depression in the early 1930s, its opening "We're in the Money" sequence grinning through the fantasy of an economic turnaround. The same sense of desperation and denial can be seen in MGM's portmanteau comedy melodrama DINNER AT EIGHT, which involves the neurotic Millicent Jordan (Billie Burke) fretting over the titular soirée as her husband (Lionel Barrymore) deals with impending bankruptcy and heart failure. Meanwhile, a fading drunken movie star played by John Barrymore becomes a footnote in history, his failure to evolve leaving him behind in the dust as men like the corrupt Dan Packard (Wallace Beery) plan for success. Director George Cukor was never less visually imaginative than in this film—nearly all of it plays out in static medium shots (an exception given to the contrasting sequences involving the lavish introduction of Jean Harlow and John Barrymore's expressionistic downfall)—but he sensibly plays to the cast's strengths, and as such the picture is carried by the exceptional performances, with Burke, Lionel Barrymore, and Marie Dressler stealing the show. If GRAND HOTEL (the clear blueprint for this film) imagined itself as a too-serious imitation of a European melodrama, DINNER AT EIGHT is suitably earthbound and decidedly American, bringing with it a touch of sneering cynicism that helps wash down the sometimes tedious plot threads. (1933, 111 min, Archival 16mm Print) EF
Megan Griffith’s SADIE (New American)
Facets Cinémathèque — Check Venue website for showtimes
If you were raising a monster, would you know it? The title character in Megan Griffith’s new film SADIE seems like an ordinary 13-year-old—curious and awkward around boys, sulky with her mother, and looking forward to the day her father, deployed overseas for four years, will come home. Sadie is also quite intelligent, has a gift for writing, and is starting to display extreme tendencies, like threatening a bully with a gun and trying to sabotage her mother’s budding extramarital romance with sexual and violent provocations. Sophia Mitri Schloss is magnetic and intense as the troubled Sadie, keeping the depth of her disturbance under deep cover. Melanie Lynskey, who played a deeply disturbed teen herself in Peter Jackson’s excellent and frightening HEAVENLY CREATURES (1994), is effective as her caring, but lonely mother who fails to see through Sadie’s devious behavior. SADIE is a film that slowly entrances with its wonderful ensemble cast of characters who build a believable community spirit in its trailer park setting. The dark finale isn’t entirely unexpected, but somewhat betrays the emotional camaraderie that went before it. (2018, 96 min, Digital Projection) MF
Tom Volf’s MARIA BY CALLAS (New Documentary)
Music Box Theatre — Check Venue website for showtimes
In the glittering, overblown world of opera, there are many divas, both female and male. But to most opera lovers, Maria Callas is the very definition of the word “diva.” Even people with barely a nodding acquaintance with opera recognize her striking Greek features and glamorous wardrobe, and know of her reputation for temperament and her long-term affair with Aristotle Onassis that ended when he threw her over to marry Jacqueline Kennedy. Although MARIA BY CALLAS touches on these and other personal and professional moments in her highly publicized life, its focus, thankfully, is on her artistry. The film is comprised of film clips of performances, television interviews, home movies, and still photos, supplemented by actor Joyce DiDonato reading Callas’ private letters, thus allowing her to tell her own story. The generous samplings of her performances in Verdi, Bizet, and especially the bel canto repertoire she helped popularize—Bellini’s Norma figures prominently—are glorious and perfectly capture Callas’ emotional connection with the music and her audiences, even when she misses more than a few high Cs. French director Tom Volf, a photographer turned documentarian, is mesmerized by Callas’ allure and convincingly ensures she is never upstaged by the many famous admirers he shows attending her performances, including Queen Elizabeth II and the Queen Mother, Anna Magnani, and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. MARIA BY CALLAS is a moving tribute to a great opera star. (2017, 113 min, DCP Digital) MF
Johnnie To’s LIFE WITHOUT PRINCIPLE (Contemporary Hong Kong)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) — Tuesday at 7pm
Expanding beyond the usual gangster-centric themes found in his oeuvre, Johnnie To’s LIFE WITHOUT PRINCIPLE is an exploration into the nature of greed and how it extends to all walks of life. Set in Hong Kong in 2008 during a financially turbulent period for the global economy, the film focuses on a policeman whose home-life is strained from his workaholic behavior, an investment banker who faces pressure form her boss to up her numbers, and a gangster whose loyalty is tested when his crew faces arrests. When the market crashes and $5 million is stolen, they must all reassess their choices in order to persevere. To’s storytelling style is cyclical in nature, showcasing some of the three principle characters’ plotlines before returning to the same interlude and montage shown at the beginning of the film. As the film progresses, these threads become interwoven and the non-linear approach begins to payoff. “Greed is human nature,” exclaims a tertiary character at one point and it manifests in many forms in this film; the greed of not sharing ones time, the greed for money, and even the resistance to greed when given the opportunity to skim financially off the top all help to give the film some fully realized characters. Taking place in a time when many people lost everything due to economic downturn, LIFE WITHOUT PRINCIPLE is a financial thriller that takes viewers through the lives of the poor and the rich to show that no one is immune to the siren song and allure of money. (2010, 107 min, Blu-Ray Projection) KC
Lucrecia Martel’s ZAMA (New Argentinean)
Gene Siskel Film Center — Friday, 7:45pm and Tuesday, 6pm
“I know it seems like the inexplicable, but it’s just a boy in that box,” says a man to the film’s namesake character, Diego de Zama, as he watches a wooden crate move by itself on the floor outside his room. This supernatural facade haunts the stagnate title character, and us the viewer, who is explicitly implicated in the film’s first bit of opening dialogue. Zama (wonderfully portrayed by Daniel Giménez Cacho) conspicuously watches a group of indigenous women covering their naked bodies in mud; he is spotted by the women, who tease him by yelling, “Voyeur!" Lucrecia Martel places Zama in the lower-right corner of the frame, drawing a direct line between the accusatory women’s pointed glance and the viewer. As he runs away, one of them catches this leg, to which he turns around and slaps her, twice. Zama, a functionary of the King of Spain, is awaiting a transfer out of the land he helped colonize, in hopes to return to his wife and newborn son in Buenos Aires. Meanwhile, he suffers one indignity after another, first by the innkeeper’s daughters, who bathe and sleep with him in his temporary home, then by a blue-blooded seductress of nobility. He’s constantly humiliated by his superiors (the surrounding slaves silently mock him at every turn), his vapid manhood dissolving slowly all around him. As he nervously awaits the transfer papers, he is thrown out of his temporary furnishings by a new governor recently arrived on the scene. Zama then drags his belongings to a possibly haunted inn on the edge of town, as he waits for the very same governor to sign off on a letter to the King, imploring his long-gestating transfer to his family. The knotty corridors of bureaucracy delay the letter further, so he takes it upon himself to hunt down the phantom-like bandit that has been pestering local authorities for years, in hopes of speeding up his transfer process. It is this journey that makes up the second half of the film, in which Zama and a few men plunge into the heart of the surrounding savannah in search of this elusive figure. Martel took up ZAMA after five years of toiling away on a sci-fi feature that resulted in nothing, most likely due to financier dead-ends. This led her to Antonio Di Benedetto’s 1957 novel, which she read while recovering from exhaustion and illness. It then took three years to turn ZAMA into her latest cinematic gem, which deceptively breaks with her “Salta Trilogy” (her previous feature films, LA CIENAGA, THE HOLY GIRL, and THE HEADLESS WOMAN), in that the earlier films followed multiple women, while ZAMA follows just one man. Despite the reversal of gender roles, her latest wholly embodies, and even properly contextualizes, her three previous films. All four deal with the implications of a bourgeois, almost sleepwalking society whose actions and motives directly influence the indigenous populations they live amongst, resulting in simmering hotbeds of un-acknowledged racism that refuse to be uprooted, no matter how hard some may try. Like the main character of THE HEADLESS WOMAN, Zama is at the will of forces higher and above, both within the upper-echelons of society they hail from, while also from inside the cognitive anxieties and doubts that swim laps around his mind. Martel’s characters listen to voices, real and imagined, as they try to create meaning and narrative to their trancelike states of existence. As always with Martel, off-screen sounds, layered in hallucinatory power, achieve a hypnotizing spell of insects buzzing, birds crying, and animals screaming, that meld into the film’s visuals like distant figures blurring out of perception under a hot sun. Martel reportedly avoided the use of candles and torches to light the atmosphere, bucking the tradition of lighting schemes intended to induce one into a 17th-century world (a la BARRY LYNDON, with which ZAMA shares a kindred spirit). The result is one of unnerving possession and complete immersion into a nightmare brought on by Zama himself, who resists any attempt to go with the flow of his circumstances, thrashing against the powers of red-tape, lust, and sunstroke in his attempts to arrive at a sense of complacency with his current state of affairs. It’s impossible to avoid succumbing to the film’s atmosphere and somnambulistic gaze, especially when you realize suddenly you are in the presence of one of the absolute masterworks of the last ten years. (2017, 115 min, DCP Digital) JD
Debra Granik’s LEAVE NO TRACE (New American)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) — Saturday, 7 and 9:30pm and Sunday, 4:30pm
Shell-shocked vet Will (Ben Foster) and his teenage daughter Tom (Tomasin McKenzie) have been off the grid in a forest outside Portland, Oregon for many years when a chance sighting by a jogger spells an end to their way of life. Forced to reintegrate into contemporary society, Will chafes under the externally imposed constraints while Tom is torn between allegiance to her father—who has been her only family and provided the only home she’s ever known—and the community of other people. The beauty of Granik’s film is that it presents flawed people doing what they can to get by in a world they can’t abide in shades of grey rather than the all-or-nothing terms which a story of a man withdrawing himself and his only daughter from society might imply. Will’s effort to shield Tom from the civilization that has scarred him locks her into an existence that may be necessary for him but will eventually stunt her. As Granik showed with WINTER’S BONE (2010), she has an eye and ear for rural American subcultures. The Pacific Northwest and the idiosyncratic misfits who fashion a life they can abide on the margins of the larger monoculture are as much the subject of this film as Will and Tom’s story is. Granik wisely leaves gaps in their history allowing the viewer to bring their own experience to the pair’s plight rather than explaining away their situation via psychological or sociological theories. The longing to live in harmony with nature and to be left to one’s own devices has been with humanity since the start. One doesn’t have to be a traumatized vet to want to run off into the woods, the question is what is one running from and what is one running toward, and who can one take along for that ride? (2018, 119 min, DCP Digital) DS
Joel and Ethan Coen's THE BIG LEBOWSKI (American Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) — Monday, 9:30pm
Dude, people love this movie—and with good reason. THE BIG LEBOWSKI is what so few modern comedies are: legitimately good. Between all the "dudes" and "fucks," it's easy to miss some of the underlying themes of the film; but beyond its oft-quoted dialogue and obsessive fan base, THE BIG LEBOWSKI is an LA noir for the modern age. It's also a gigantic metaphor for the Gulf War, a true testament to the time in which it is set, and eerily prophetic to watch today. A Bush is in office, we're in a recession, and we're fighting a fatuous war in the Middle East, so boy is this film still relevant. Don't forget, though, that it's also hilarious. Fix yourself a White Russian, folks. Let's see what happens when you fuck a stranger in the ass. (1998, 117 min, 35mm) CS
Ingmar Bergman’s WILD STRAWBERRIES (Swedish Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center — Friday, 4:15pm and Monday, 8pm
Summer is a very special, brief time of the year in Sweden, known as the time of messy Midsummer rituals, joyful hedonism, and sexual spontaneity and abandon. How could it be otherwise in a country where the summers are so exquisitely balmy, fleeting, and intensely alive, compared to the harsh severity and darkness of the more famous Swedish winters? One of Bergman’s greatest odes to summer is WILD STRAWBERRIES [SMULTRONSTÄLLET]. (It is worth noting that the smultron featured in the Swedish title is not the same fruit as the strawberry grown in the U.S., but a much sweeter, alpine variety that is an unofficial sort of symbol of national pride in Sweden, returned to by Bergman in several of his films as a recurring motif for personal fulfillment and the short-lived pleasures of life.) Bergman’s 18th directorial feature, WILD STRAWBERRIES is a film often singled-out for special praise as his most poignant and stirring cinematic achievement—and it is also surely the most beloved, enduring personal favorite of both classic European arthouse enthusiasts and more ironic, Nouvelle Vague-inclined, closeted Bergman fans alike (of which this reviewer humbly counts herself as one). Made during a significant personal, midlife crisis for the director—marked by the dissolution of both his marriage to his third wife Gun Grut, as well as the end of his affair with Bibi Andersson—WILD STRAWBERRIES is a film about the crucial importance of recognizing close familial relations and interpersonal warmth as the sustenance that will save you from the coldness of life’s crushing indifference (in fact, Bergman suggests, in a deadened world, it is the only thing that can). Starring the great Swedish silent film director and actor Victor Sjöström (THE PHANTOM CARRIAGE, HE WHO GETS SLAPPED) in his final screen appearance as Professor Isak Borg, the film’s main narrative innovation is its 24-hour frame during which the action consists of the professor’s journey with his daughter-in-law (Ingrid Thulin) by car from Stockholm to Lund to receive an honorary degree. This seemingly simple road-trip premise is strikingly intercepted by a series of flashbacks, memories, unexpected encounters, and hauntingly vivid and nightmarish dream sequences—the latter in particular reminding us of Bergman’s underappreciated surrealist genius (high-strung symbolism and Dutch angles galore!), and anticipating the grand guignol imagery still to come in THE MAGICIAN. Balanced admirably between representations of both the bleak realities as well as the unexpected joys of living, what Bergman gives us in WILD STRAWBERRIES is an unforgettable lesson that life—even when you don’t deserve it—hands you little gifts of camaraderie and friendship, little windows of opportunity for connection, reminders of all the ways that life and cinema can be beautiful. (1957, 91 min, DCP Digital) TTJ
Ingmar Bergman’s THE SEVENTH SEAL (Swedish Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center — Saturday, 5:30pm and Wednesday, 6pm
Whenever I revisit THE SEVENTH SEAL, what hits me hardest isn’t the heavy symbolism or the theological discourse, but rather the material involving the traveling players. Along with the romance in SUMMER WITH MONIKA, these passages epitomize the earthiness and sensuality that course through the first decade or so of Ingmar Bergman’s filmmaking career, communicating not just fascination with but also enthusiastic love for other people. The middle-aged actor and his young wife are bright, hearty, and endearing characters; the cheery way they go about life and work provides a sharp contrast to the angst and spiritual suffering of Max von Sydow’s knight. They also serve to illuminate just what von Sydow is suffering for—that is, some feeling of contentment with being alive. The actors’ pleasure in raising a child feels timeless, no less than the knight’s struggle to understand his purpose on earth, and these recognizable experiences make the medieval setting feel intimate and knowable. (Not for nothing is THE SEVENTH SEAL one of the most popular of medieval films.) As for the stuff involving chess and Death, it’s been parodied so often as to lose some of its aesthetic power, but the questions the film raises about mortality remain ever relevant. (1957, 96 min, DCP Digital) BS
Mel Stuart's WATTSTAX (Documentary Revival)
Black Cinema House (at the Stony Island Arts Bank, 6760 S. Stony Island Ave.) — Friday, 7:30pm (Free Admission)
Nominally an archival documentary of the Wattstax Music Festival in 1972, the best sequences have nothing to do with the musicians on stage. Yes, there's Isaac Hayes, bedecked in a vest of golden chains, singing a languid version of "Theme from Shaft" to a filled Los Angeles Coliseum. And there's a fire-eyed Rufus Thomas performing "Do the Funky Chicken" before conducting the crowd back to their seats. But these performances act as a platform for a thematic distillation of black identity during the Black Power movement, seven years after the Watts Riots. Between freewheeling concert footage, Stuart (FOUR DAYS IN NOVEMBER, WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY), or more likely his black cameramen, ventured into Watts to interview its residents about their thoughts on love, the blues, language, style, and life in the neighborhood after the riots. The interviews feel as if they hit each touchstone of stereotypical black culture: a man's afro is preened in a barbershop while another discusses the power of Christ. One particularly gripping and frantically shot sequence features churchgoers brought to tears and delirious convulsions by The Emotions' rendition of "Peace Be Still." At the concert, Stuart's use of the zoom lens isolates women's curves and intricate Black Power handshakes from across the Coliseum, as if studying a new breed with a new language. All this might be unseemly were it not for WATTSTAX's purposed assertion that "Black is Beautiful." It is a refrain heard in Jesse Jackson's recitation of "I Am - Somebody" and rounded by Richard Pryor's withering, humorous critiques of the stereotypes portrayed. Followed by a discussion by DJ Duane Powell. (1973, 103 min, Digital Projection) BW
MORE SCREENINGS AND EVENTS
The Polish Film Festival in America continues through November 18. More info and complete schedule at www.pffamerica.org.
The Chicago Film Society (at Northeastern Illinois University, The Auditorium, Building E, 3701 W. Bryn Mawr Ave.) screens S. Sylvan Simon’s 1944 film SONG OF THE OPEN ROAD (93 min, 35mm) on Wednesday at 7:30pm. Preceded by Ben Holmes’ 1935 comedy short HIT AND RUM (20 min, 35mm).
South Side Projections and the DuSable Museum (at the DuSable) screen Juan Declan’s 2011 documentary AFRICOBRA: ART FOR THE PEOPLE (30 min, Digital Projection) on Saturday at 7pm. Followed by a discussion with AFRICOBRA member Gerald Williams and producer Deva Newman, moderated by artist and writer D. Denenge Duyst-Akpem. Free admission, but the RSVPs are full; space will likely be available at the event start, but is not guaranteed.
Chicago Filmmakers (5720 N. Ridge Ave.) and Hot House present the first of three programs as part of Hot House’s larger Tri-continental Series on Saturday at 7pm. This program is a double feature of Lionel Rogosin’s 1959 film COME BACK, AFRICA (95 min, Digital Projection) and Flora Gomes’ 1988 Bissau-Guinean film MORTU NEGA [THOSE WHOM DEATH REFUSED] (85 min, Digital Projection).
The Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago screens Leilah Weinraub’s 2018 documentary SHAKEDOWN (72 min, Digital Projection) on Friday at 7pm, with Weinraub in person.
The Alliance Française (54 W. Chicago Ave.) screens François Truffaut’s 1973 French film DAY FOR NIGHT [LA NUIT AMERICAINE] (116 min, Digital Projection) on Saturday at 1:30pm.
The Northbrook Public Library (1201 Cedar Lane, Northbrook) Paul Nethercott’s 2018 documentary short GRATEFUL: THE JENNI BEREBITSKY STORY (15 min, Video Projection) on Tuesday at 7pm, with Bethercott, Berebitsky, and members of her family in person. Free admission.
Also at the Gene Siskel Film Center this week: Margarethe Von Trotta and Felix Moeller’s 2018 German documentary SEARCHING FOR INGMAR BERGMAN (100 min, DCP Digital) and Leon Lee’s 2018 Canadian documentary LETTER FROM MASANJIA (76 min, DCP Digital) both play for a week; and Christian Tod’s 2017 Austrian/German documentary FREE LUNCH SOCIETY (95 min, DCP Digital) is on Saturday at 5:30pm, with Tod in person.
Also at Doc Films (University of Chicago) this week: Miloš Forman’s 1981 film RAGTIME (155 min, 35mm) is on Friday at 7pm and Sunday at 1:30pm.
Also at the Music Box Theatre this week: Luca Guadagnino’s 2018 film SUSPIRIA (152 min, DCP Digital) continues; Frank Oz's 1986 film LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS (94 min, 35mm) is on Friday and Saturday at Midnight; Naoko Yamada’s 2018 Japanese animated film LIZ AND THE BLUE BIRD (90 min, Digital Projection) is on Saturday and Sunday at 11am and Wednesday at 7pm; Matt Riggieri and Nick Kovacic’s 2018 documentary AGAVE: THE SPIRIT OF A NATION (78 min, DCP Digital) is on Monday at 7pm; and Douglas Tirola’s 2018 documentary BREWMASTER (94 min, DCP Digital) is on Tuesday at 7pm, with members of the cast and crew in person.
Also at Facets Cinémathèque this week: Justin P. Lange’s 2018 Austrian zombie film THE DARK (94 min, Video Projection) screens Friday-Wednesday (no Thursday shows).
The Chicago Cultural Center screens Karen Lynn Weinberg’s 2017 documentary KEEP TALKING (80 min, Video Projection) on Saturday at 2pm. Free admission.
Comfort Film at Comfort Station Logan Square (2579 N. Milwaukee Ave.) and the Dill Pickle Food Co-op screen Steven Alves’ 2014 documentary FOOD FOR CHANGE (82 min, Video Projection) on Tuesday at 8pm. Free admission.
ONGOING FILM/VIDEO INSTALLATIONS
Gallery 400 (400 S. Peoria, UIC) presents Chicago New Media 1973-1992 through December 15.
The Block Museum (Northwestern University) presents Up Is Down: Mid-century Experiments in Advertising and Film at the Goldsholl Studio though December 9.
Elastic Arts (3429 W. Diversey Ave., 2nd Floor) presents Intellectual Property: A solo exhibition of work by Julia Dratel though November 17 (open most evenings during public events, or by appointment through the artist—contact via her website: http://juliadratel.com/intellectualproperty. The exhibition includes photographs (digital and film), poetry, and two single-channel video/sound works: rehearsal 1.29 (2017-18, 2 min loop) and battery park city (excerpts: "a loyalty to the objects you know") (2009/2018, 6 min loop).
The Graham Foundation (Madlener House, 4 W. Burton Place) continues Martine Syms: Incense Sweaters & Ice through January 12.
Currently on view at the Art Institute of Chicago: Martine Syms' SHE MAD: LAUGHING GAS (2018, 7 min, four-channel digital video installation with sound, wall painting, laser-cut acrylic, artist’s clothes); Rosalind Nashashibi's VIVIAN’S GARDEN (2017, 30 min, 16mm on HD Video) is in the Donna and Howard Stone Gallery, through December 2; Dara Birnbaum’s KISS THE GIRLS: MAKE THEM CRY (1979, 6 min loop, two-channel video) is in the second floor corridor.
CINE-LIST: November 16 - November 22, 2018
MANAGING EDITOR // Patrick Friel
ASSOCIATE EDITORS // Ben Sachs, Kathleen Sachs, Kyle A. Westphal
CONTRIBUTORS // Kyle Cubr, John Dickson, Eric Fuerst, Marilyn Ferdinand, Jason Halprin, Tien-Tien Jong, Peter Raccuglia, Dmitry Samarov, Carrie Shemanski, Brian Welesko