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.
Eyeworks Festival of Experimental Animation (Animation)
Block Cinema (Northwestern University) – Saturday, 1pm (Program 1) and 3:30pm (Program 2) (Free Admission)
Curated by Alexander Stewart and Lilli Carré, the Eyeworks Festival of Experimental Animation is essential viewing every year. It's a tightly-curated package, spread over two afternoon screenings. The programming always ranges from some established classics, rediscoveries of forgotten or underappreciated films, and new work. The highlights this year include: In Program 1, Mengxi Yang's AI CAN (2018), a fractured and flittering portrait of an elderly family member through his accumulated junk. The film inventories and plays around with the toys and bits of plastic that have been turned into art objects by the title character, while family members give their explanations in voiceover for his recent project. Some argue that it's Alzheimer's, others laziness and poor diet; but the filmmaker thinks there's something to be celebrated in the new hoarding-turned-art-practice. Larry Cuba's CALCULATED MOVEMENTS (1985) is an obvious classic, using cutting edge computer generated graphics to create an abstracted line dance. Takeshi Murata's DONUTS (2018), on the other hand, is a lumpy splash of very un-calculated movements. It features a flattened, repeated, sliding, funkily overlaid simple shot of people walking in front of brightly colored fast food stands. It's like a visualization of the dream-life of Google Maps. Dane Picard's ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE GEORGE (1992) is a supremely odd and softly sad combination of Shakespearian Jetsons and a rambling personal story told in intertitles. In Program 2, Theo Chin's delightful PINAKOTHEK (2018) is an internet-age love story told in voiceover, while an ultra-widescreen frame slowly slides through an art gallery that fills with more and more odd objects and figures. The always-amazing Barry Doupé's new work BUBBLE BOING (2017) imbues a simple bouncing red ball with playful anxiety, shuttling between soft landings and swift violence as it careens around Doupé's trademark flat mysterious world. Finally, Maria Lassnig, the "grande dame of Austrian animation" is represented with THE BALLAD OF MARIA LASSNIG (1992). This film tells her life story in joyous song, with the artist standing in costume in front of her drawings, swaying around with a nutty abandon, fully confident, and having a helluva lot of fun. Also showing in Program 1: PAUL REVERE IS HERE (Mary Beams, 16mm, 1976), DREAM JOURNAL #2 (Jon Rafman, 2018), ADORABLE (Cheng-Hsu Chung, 2018), MOON BREATH BEAT (Lisze Bechtold, 35mm, 1980), THE DECCAN TRAP (Lucy Raven, 2015), and LANDFILL (James J.A. Mercer, 2014). Also showing in Program 2: BETWEENNESS (Oliver Laric, 2018), THIS IS JUST TO SAY: A POEM AND A REPLY (Maureen Selwood, 16mm, 1987), TALL TIME TALES (Faith Hubley, 35mm, 1992), A LA VOTRE (Monique Renault, 1973), FRAGMENTS (Naoyuki Tsuji, 16mm, 2016), ECTO PETROL PATROL (Matthew Thurber, 2018), and TOSSE NOT MY SOULE (Sebastian Buerkner, 2015). Stewart and Carré in person. (1973-2018, approx. 60 and 66 min, 35mm, 16mm, and Digital Projection) JBM
Nelson Pereira dos Santos’ HOW TASTY WAS MY LITTLE FRENCHMAN (Brazilian Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) — Monday, 7pm
During the 1960s and early 1970s, Brazil was a country enslaved to a military dictatorship—and, miraculously, in the middle of a cinematic renaissance. Brazilian filmmakers, inspired by Italian neorealism and the French New Wave, declared they would create a new type of cinema for their country—Cinema Novo—that would tackle social issues and promote “tropicalism” over the more usual practice of imitating European aesthetics. Open criticism of the military regime was fairly common in the beginning years of the movement, and during those years, Cinema Novo founder Nelson Pereira dos Santos made the masterpiece VIDAS SECAS [BARREN LIVES] (1963), a straight-on view of the cruel lives of a poor Brazilian family in the country’s arid, barren Northeast. By 1971, when HOW TASTY WAS MY LITTLE FRENCHMAN premiered, Pereira dos Santos had been forced to retreat into allegory, using the historical incursions of the Portuguese and French into Brazil as cover for commenting on the harshness of the current dictators. Although FRENCHMAN is missing the simple beauty and emotional core of VIDAS SECAS, the film brilliantly satirizes Brazilian tribal society and its clashes with the duplicitous Europeans out to rape the country of its natural resources, shown here in all its vegetative abundance. The film takes place in 1594. The Tupinambas Indians have allied themselves with the French. Their enemies, the Tupiniquins, are on the side of the Portuguese. The French and Portuguese engage in crude skirmishes while trying to maintain order and European civility by reining in by force certain of their number who prefer to take advantage of a native society unburdened by sexual repression. A Frenchman (Arduino Colassanti) is found to be “mutinously” fornicating with native girls. He is captured and pushed off a cliff into the ocean while bound in chains for this crime, though a letter written by the head of the expedition—one of several droll missives by Europeans that dot the film’s narrative—claims he chose to jump to his death. Miraculously, he survives the fall, only to be captured by some Portuguese and Tupiniquins. Eventually, he finds himself in the hands of the Tupinambas, whose chief, Cunhambebe (Eduardo Imbassahy Filho), is convinced he is Portuguese and condemns him to death in eight months’ time to avenge the deaths of many Tupinambas at the hands of the Portuguese. The Frenchman is treated as an honored guest and given a home and a wife. He goes native, convinced he can earn back his life by being helpful to the chief. Given the title of this film, I don’t think it’s giving too much away to say that the captive is indeed killed and eaten. We think, as he does, that reason will out. But the native Brazilians have as much use for our kind of reasoning as they do for clothes, though it makes sense that his assimilation into Tupinambas culture actually makes him worthy of being eaten. In his final moment, he yells that his killers will be destroyed by his people, an oath he has been told by his wife to say at the moment of his death. Pereira dos Santos thus takes a final swipe at the dictators of Brazil, heirs of the European conquerors who all but destroyed the essence of Brazilian life. (1971, 84 min, Archival 16mm Print) MF
Lynne Littman’s TESTAMENT (American Revival)
Block Cinema (Northwestern University) — Thursday, 7pm (Free Admission)
Action is comforting—when faced with a problem, movement, or the idea of it, is water on the burn, something that helps take away the pain even if it’s a temporary, or even futile, fix. Typically in films that depict the world’s end, it’s action that both soothes the burn, satiating the protagonists’ desire to do something—anything—and propels the narrative, precisely because viewers expect action to be taken. What's truly unsettling, then, is inertia, the waiting, inaction. Lynne Littman’s TESTAMENT, based on a story by Carol Amen that was originally published in Ms. Magazine, follows the immediate aftermath of widespread nuclear attacks in the U.S., specifically as they affect one family and its community. Jane Alexander, who received Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations for her outstanding performance, stars as Carol Wetherly; she lives in the Bay Area suburbs with her husband, Tom (FAMILY PLOT star William Devane), who works in San Francisco, and their three children (the youngest of whom is played by Lukas Haas). Kevin Costner and Rebecca De Mornay appear in early roles as a young neighbor couple with a newborn. The first twenty minutes or so of the film, before there’s even a hint of apocalyptic turmoil, are pure character development, with every member of the family realized in his or her own right; even the overarching narrative device, that of Jane’s journaling, is skillfully introduced into the plot. I can’t shake the delicacy of the scene, when, in bed, Jane awakes, thinking she’s heard something. Considering when this occurs in the film, one wonders if it isn’t the blast (irrespective of the unlikeliness that an atomic blast would be a small sound in the night); rather, it’s her anxiety that drives her to seek comfort from her husband and, then, when he rebuffs her desire for a midnight chat, her journal, the format of which provides the structure for Amen’s story. Without spoiling too much of the plot, I will say that the film, originally produced for PBS’ American Playhouse but distributed theatrically by Paramount, is admirable in its pellucid melancholy—not many films go there, so to speak, and when they do, they hide their futility under a cloak of maelstrom, which inevitably buoys the gloom. By limiting its scope to one family and a few others in the small town where they live, TESTAMENT is actually scarier than any full-scale disaster flick. What’s more horrifying than watching your friends and family succumb, one by one, to the effects of radiation poisoning? What’s more disconcerting than witnessing society as you know it crumble under the weight of forces larger than theoretical structures rendered actual over centuries? If pure, Average Joe fatalism isn’t your thing, then how about that of the Average Jane? Again, without giving too much away—I believe the film has more of an effect when viewed unspoiled, as its exemplary set-up-to-let-down structure is the ultimate source of its bold futility—there’s a feminist subtext that adds yet another layer to its sublimity. Littman hasn’t done much since: a few TV movies and a short documentary in 2003, a follow-up called TESTAMENT AT 20. Regardless, it’s an extraordinary effort, and the only of its kind (the 80s saw a rash of films about the subject of nuclear technology, starting with THE CHINA SYNDROME in 1979; there were even four other similar made-for-TV films that premiered in 1983-84) to be directed by a woman. And it certainly feels that way—action is comforting, but patience, a trait often associated with the so-called weaker sex, is courage. (1983, 90 min, Archival 35mm Print) KS
Chantal Akerman's D'EST (FROM THE EAST) (Documentary/Essay Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) — Wednesday, 7 and 9:30pm
Chantal Akerman said she wanted to travel around Eastern Europe and shoot everything that moved her, so she did. The result, D'EST (From the East) is part ethnographic documentary and part neo-realism—a travelogue from East Germany to Moscow in the aftermath of the fall of the Berlin wall. People watching is one of Akerman's many talents. In some scenes she is a flaneuse—a woman, hidden from view, who follows the paths of unknowing subjects through city streets; in others she is seen, and acknowledged by her subjects, although often its more of an unsurprised glance than an acting out for the camera. Despite all this watching, Akerman's eye is not oppressive; her gaze comes from below, elevating and empathizing with the people she shoots. D'EST is in many ways much like an exhibition of stunning photographs or perhaps a meditative and somber Jacques Tati film; the scenes Akerman captures are at times so perfectly choreographed that its hard to believe they are not planned and orchestrated. Maybe this is just another of Akerman's talents—the ability to compartmentalize the world into images both haunting and touching in equal measure. Unlike JEANNE DIELMAN, Akerman's three-hour masterpiece where audiences are forced to inhabit the oppressive tedium of one woman's daily routines, the everyday is anything but mundane in D'EST. Every image is more compelling than the previous one, proving that the more we look at one another, the more we want to look. Akerman's hope is that perhaps in looking we'll reach an understanding. (1993, 107 min, 16mm) BC
Elaine May's MIKEY AND NICKY (American Revival)
Letting Peter Falk (Mikey) and John Cassavetes (Nicky) run wild on film can be a dangerous proposition. Sure, Cassavetes got away with it as a director, but he financed his own movies. After shooting 1.4 million feet of film while running 3 cameras at once, Elaine May was understandably over budget and the studio was understandably disappointed. Paramount buried the film after a short run, and it would be twelve more years until she would direct again (ISHTAR). Although the film was panned by critics at the time, May's approach yielded a nuanced portrait of the male ego and of Downtown LA that has rarely been matched. The two close-ups and a master shot approach to cinematography was effective, albeit listless, in generating a claustrophobic world—a structure largely controlled during May's lengthy editing process. Although the two leads play low-level LA gangsters, they may as well be any of Cassavetes' standard protagonists: cornered by their jobs and social circumstances, and long past fighting to break out of them. We know the hero isn't going to win by the end of the first reel, and we know that he's not much of a hero by the end of the second. But watching May's collaboration with two great method actors in their prime is worth savoring until the credits roll. Preceded by Michael E. Smith’s 1975 short WHERE IT ALL BEGAN: PHILADELPHIA (10 min, 16mm). (1976, 119 min, 35mm) JH
Johnnie To's BREAKING NEWS (Hong Kong Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) – Tuesday, 7pm
Johnnie To's crackling action movie/media satire/filmmaking master class begins with a virtuoso seven-minute-long take and only gets better from there. Following a botched police bust, a group of criminals holes up in an apartment building and takes a few hostages; pretty soon, their stand-off with the cops devolves into posturing and one-upmanship, with each side doing their darnedest to manipulate the pesky TV news reporters gathered at the scene. An unmatched craftsman of choreographed action and suspense, To is at the top of his game here: his use of cranes, zooms, dollies, depth-of-field, and shifting perspectives is nothing short of dazzling. But what makes this movie such a goddamn masterpiece is the way it also functions as a grand statement of artistic principles—a film about how images work, what makes them exhilarating, and how they can be manipulated. Simply put, one of the great movies of our time. (2004, 90 min, 35mm) IV
jonCates’ 鬼鎮(GHOSTTOWN) (New Experimental)
Conversations at the Edge (at the Gene Siskel Film Center) – Thursday, 6pm
Media artist and SAIC professor is a leading voice in the intersecting fields of New Media Art, Dirty New Media, and Media Archeology—areas that prioritize technologies and the theoretical and conceptual possibilities of technology (intentional or accidental; as designed or at odds with the intended functions) as much as they do the artistic work that results from their use. Cates brings these interests to bear on this new project, his most ambitious—a heavily mediated (emphasis on “media”) deconstruction of the Western (he described it as a “glitch Western”). GHOSTTOWN includes found footage from Hollywood films and television commercials (celluloid films sourced digitally online), newly-shot HD digital footage, built environments with VR and gaming platforms, and a range of digital interventions into this material. Cates focuses particularly on landscape, the wide vista of plains and mountain ranges transformed from pictorial iconography of the genre’s past into shifting and jagged forms and the footage is layered, desaturated of color, glitched, and edited into near abstraction. Amidst these new New Media landscapes, Cates situates his main character—a cowgirl rather than a cowboy, further pushing against the traditions of the genre. Cates’ West is female gendered, and possibly even reads as queer. The only others we see in the film are the Girl from the Gold Mountain, a Chinese spirit figure who confronts the Cowgirl, decrying the brutal treatment of Chinese laborers who built the railroads; and an early, short documentary interview (presented in voiceover above stylized portraiture shots) with Siera Begaye, a young Navajo activist and artist. Again, Cates gives voice to those largely invisible in the histories of the West and in the Western, but the interview section is a bit at odds with the rest of the work, the same issues might have been as easily covered by including a First Nations voice through the use of a character rather than through documentary means. A small point, as GHOSTTOWN as a whole is a provoking and visually striking reworking of the Western form, infusing it with a more inclusive sensibility and a contemporary, digital/computer-centric aesthetic. Cates in person. (2018, approx 64 min, DCP Digital) PF
Věra Chytilová's DAISIES (Czech Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) – Sunday, 7pm
Věra Chytilová's films have earned her acolytes and enemies at an equal rate—particularly DAISIES, an anarchic, poetic, visually exhilarating film lacking in any affirmation whatsoever. In more recent years, it has cemented Chytilová's stature as an avant-garde genius, a feminist icon, and a major influence behind films such as CELINE AND JULIE GO BOATING and MULHOLLAND DRIVE. In the period immediately following its release, Chytilová was marked as both a dangerous dissident (by the Czechoslovak government, who unofficially blacklisted her) and a political traitor to the Left (by Godard, who made her the central figure of his anti-Soviet/Czechoslovak documentary PRAVDA). During one of the first screenings of her work in France, audience members walked out, complaining that "they shouldn't make that kind of film. It undermines people's faith in socialism. If that is the way it really is, then none of it is worth it at all." DAISIES leads with exactly this kind of "objectionable" nihilism, opening with the two protagonists deciding that "the world is spoiled; we'll be spoiled, too." These two teenage girls, both named Marie, spend the rest of the film on a hedonistic rampage of consumption and destruction, in no particular order, culminating in a banquet scene that merges both tendencies to an apocalyptic conclusion. Marie and Marie do everything that decent women shouldn't (cheat, steal, make messes, advertise casual sex without following through, overeat, etc)—and care about precisely nothing. They speak in nonsensical, non sequitur dialogue that seems like it could have been randomly generated ("Why say 'I love you?' Why not just 'an egg?'"), but was actually carefully curated by Chytilová to serve as "the guardian of meaning" for her "philosophical documentary." During production, the only thing that she insisted remained untouched was the original script; everything else was up for grabs. Her production team took full advantage of this freedom in depicting the Maries' nihilistic spree, resulting in a surreal and stunning display of meaningless excess at every turn. Most notably, Jaroslav Kucera, the film's cinematographer (and Chytilová's husband), shot the film as one of his famous "colour experiments," and Ester Krumbachová, the film's costumer, styled the Maries in trendy mod bikinis and minidresses as often as elaborate sculptural outfits made from newspaper and loose wires. (1966, 74 min, 35mm) AO
Ryusuke Hamaguhi’s HAPPY HOUR (Japanese Revival)
Asian Pop-Up Cinema at the Ambassador Hotel — Screening Room (1301 N. State Parkway) – Sunday at 1pm (Free Admission*)
One of the most important cinematic discoveries of recent years for me was seeing Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s 5-hour-and-17-minute Japanese masterpiece for the first time. It tells the story of four 37-year-old female friends living in Kobe who are given occasion to re-evaluate their personal and professional lives after they spend the night together at a spa/hot-spring resort in a town nearby (think GIRLS TRIP as directed by Yasujiro Ozu). This quiet, absorbing dramedy is written, directed and acted to perfection and its moment-to-moment narrative unpredictability belies a rigorous structural ingenuity, which only becomes obvious in hindsight: a lengthy scene depicting a workshop attended by the four protagonists about “unconventional communication” takes up much of the film’s first third. This sequence, reminiscent of the rehearsal scenes in Jacques Rivette’s OUT 1, not only foreshadows much of the drama that is to follow but also is elegantly mirrored by another lengthy scene involving an author talk/question-and-answer session in the film’s final third. The quartet of lead actresses (Rira Kawamura, Hazuki Kikuchi, Maiko Mihara and Sachie Tanaka) deservedly shared the Best Actress award at Locarno, and in spite of the lengthy run time, I feel like I could have watched these women’s lives unfold onscreen indefinitely. (2015, 317 min, Digital Projection) MGS
Amy Scott’s HAL (New Documentary)
Gene Siskel Film Center — Check venue website for showtimes
Starting with THE LANDLORD (1970) and ending with BEING THERE (1979), Hal Ashby had as good a run as any film director ever. His movies were about the moral, personal, and political confusions of 1970s America and his own life reflected that unsettled decade as well. Director Amy Scott highlights Ashby’s gifts without turning him into a saint. This was a man who seemed to have boundless empathy for humanity but was unable to sustain relationships with individual humans. He looked like a loosey-goosey hippie but spent months locked in his editing room obsessively recutting his films. Once Hollywood mostly stopped funding for grownup movies in favor of childish spectaculars at the start of the 1980s, Ashby became unmoored. Whether his downfall was precipitated by the studios or was of his own making is left admirably unanswered. Or, rather, many answers are proposed without a definitive winner. It’s tempting to blame “the system” for bringing down a sensitive genius but the truth is rarely so cut and dry. Still, to watch clips from Ashby’s heyday is to witness an artist not only evoking the life of his time but, in the case of BEING THERE, foretelling our own dystopian moment. It takes so many people’s cooperation and goodwill to put together any feature film that it’s a wonder to think back on Ashby’s remarkable 70s streak. Everything seemed to go right over and over again for him (at least creatively.) Scott’s film made me want to go back and rewatch all seven films. Instead, I struggled through LOOKIN’ TO GET OUT (1982). Many of Ashby’s hallmarks were still there, from the improvised-sounding dialogue to the exploratory camerawork, but the feel for character and deep empathy are missing. He’s lost that special something that made his 70s movies tick. Whether the Reagan 80s killed Ashby’s spirit or he did it himself is up for debate but this compelling documentary is worth watching just for the questions it raises. (2018, 91 min, DCP Digital) DS
Hal Ashby’s THE LAST DETAIL (American Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center – Friday, 4pm and Monday, 6pm
Even though it was shot in color (by the esteemed Michael Chapman), I always remember THE LAST DETAIL in black-and-white. Maybe it’s because of the film’s wintry setting; maybe it’s because of the pronounced grimness that underlies the humor. In any case, I think of Hal Ashby’s third directorial effort as one of the starker masterpieces of the New Hollywood era, akin to Peter Bogdanovich’s THE LAST PICTURE SHOW and Martin Scorsese’s RAGING BULL (which was also shot by Chapman), and like those films, it gains much of its heft from a somber critique of machismo. Jack Nicholson (in one of his best roles) and Otis Young play pathetic, lifelong Navy veterans who speak in blustery, foul-mouthed jive to assert their masculine prowess. They’re given orders to escort a young cadet (Randy Quaid) to a naval prison, where he’s going to serve eight years for stealing $40 from a charity fund. The men approach the excursion as an excuse to goof off, but they begin to goof off with purpose when they realize that the cadet, Meadows, is a naïf who’s barely lived. They take Meadows drinking and whoring, developing empathy for him along the way. (A good deal of their affection stems from their unspoken acknowledgment that they’ve barely lived themselves.) Ashby’s laid-back direction invites viewers to share in the men’s camaraderie, while his somewhat distanced approach subtly scrutinizes their behavior. The executives at Columbia Pictures balked at all the swearing in the film, leading editor Robert C. Jones to hold the negative hostage until they relented in their orders that he recut it. Thank goodness he took charge—the film’s rancorous dialogue has a musicality that anticipates the plays of David Mamet, and THE LAST DETAIL would be a lesser work without it. (1973, 104 min, DCP Digital) BS
Hal Ashby’s HAROLD AND MAUDE (American Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center - Saturday, 3pm and Thursday, 8:15pm
Hal Ashby’s second film, HAROLD AND MAUDE, is a morbid black comedy about finding one’s own happiness and what that means across generations. Harold (Bud Cort) is a disaffected young man living with his wealthy widowed mother who craves her attention, staging elaborately gruesome fake suicide scene, which she ignores. Harold also attends funeral of people he does not know. One day while attending one of these, he meets Maude (Ruth Gordon), a nearly 80-year old women with an unusually strong zest for life and wisdom to match her years. The two strike up an unlikely friendship that leads to more, as Harold learns there’s more to life than what he’s known in his hermetic world. Ashby’s film received mixed opinions upon its initial release but has aged well and gained a strong cult following in the years since thanks in part to its zany unpredictability, engaging performances by Gordon and Cort, and its bright, upbeat score performed by Cat Stevens. Harold’s moroseness and seeming death wish, the film’s exploration of mother-son relationships through Harold’s relationship with Maude, and the extent to which that reaches add a dark undercurrent to this film about coming of age and living life to the fullest, (1971, 91 min, DCP Digital) KC
Luchino Visconti's THE DAMNED (Italian Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center — Sunday, 2pm and Wednesday, 6:30pm
THE DAMNED is Luchino Visconti's most polarizing film, an allegory about the rise of Nazism staged like a night at the opera. That it's an intoxicating piece of filmmaking (The colors seem to be painted in oil) is beyond dispute; the argument has to do with the devotion of so much technical mastery to so distasteful a concept. THE DAMNED has passionate followers, including Rainer Werner Fassbinder, who called it his favorite movie. It's easy to see why: Visconti's highly artificial approach to difficult history anticipates Fassbinder's own BRD Trilogy. But the film has a sustained intensity that merits comparisons to Verdi or Wagner rather than Strindberg or Sirk. Visconti views the central industrial family, modeled after the Krupps, as mythological creatures, and he intends to evoke Germany's sins in their reprehensible acts. Those acts include pedophilia, incest, and patricide (touchstones of 19th-century opera) as well as profiting from fascism; clearly, Visconti is not after "realism." He can only conceive of Nazism as the ultimate affront to good taste, but in achieving a style so resolutely beautiful he allows full expression of that period's absolute ugliness. The talented cast includes Dirk Bogarde and Ingmar Bergman regular Ingrid Thulin. (1969, 156 min, DCP Digital) BS
Michael Powell's and Emeric Pressburger's I KNOW WHERE I'M GOING! (British Revival)
Northbrook Public Library (1201 Cedar Lane, Northbrook) – Wednesday, 1 and 7pm (Free Admission)
A rebuke of materialism and the wonton acquisition of wealth, Powell and Pressburger's atmospheric romance is also a soft-sell for British wartime bonhomie. Set in the Hebrides of Scotland, a determined woman intends to meet her industrialist fiancé on the Island of Kiloran, but is held on shore by fate and bad weather. When the woman meets the Laird of Kiloran—an upstanding man on leave from active duty, unconcerned with the value of his land—her faith in upper class wealth is undermined. The film plays like a parable, with the Laird acting as the romantic lead and a model for its war-weary audience: honorable, selfless, moralistic, and satisfied with what he has. I KNOW WHERE I'M GOING! is never didactic and its precisely paced romance leads its characters gently to its theme. Complete with its own mythology of curses and legends, the film uses the island's people to mirror the woman's conflict. Gaelic is spoken casually and an affecting Scottish dance ritual celebrating a couple's enduring marriage provokes her further. Both picturesque and portentous, the Hebrides' fog gives way to gales, then to heavy seas and a massive ocean whirlpool. Through an enveloping sound design and striking photography, Powell and Pressburger's mastery of the elemental is on full display. The effect is a profound diagnosis of their audience's restlessness with war's humbleness and sacrifice, and a lyrical romance that simultaneously allows them to escape. (1945, 91 min, DCP Digital) BW
Jacques Tourneur's CAT PEOPLE (American Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) – Thursday, 7pm
Jacques Tourneur’s CAT PEOPLE was the first release from Val Lewton's legendary B unit at RKO Pictures--which, through nine films made over five years (1942-46), more or less created psychological horror as we know it today. Making the most of low budgets, Lewton turned screen horror inward, focusing on the lives of frail men and women who end up the victims in horror-movie plots. He found his greatest collaborator in Tourneur, a gifted director of actors capable of drawing rare psychological nuance from his players. CAT PEOPLE stars Simone Simon as a timid young Serbian émigré who fears she will become a predatory cat if she consummates her marriage. For Martin Scorsese, who featured it prominently in his PERSONAL JOURNEY THROUGH AMERICAN MOVIES (and paid muted tribute to it in his recent SHUTTER ISLAND), the film was a breakthrough for its integration of subtext into genre storytelling. In this regard, it's "as influential a movie as CITIZEN KANE." Even though this is quite clearly "about a woman's fear of her own sexuality" (Scorsese again), it remains evocative as horror--in part because Simone is so believably vulnerable that we fear for her no matter what happens. (1942, 73 min, DCP Digital) BS
Ali Abbasi’s BORDER (New Swedish)
Music Box Theatre — Check Venue website for showtimes
Classic stories from The Hunchback of Notre Dame to Frankenstein have cast physically anomalous outsiders as both mirrors of and foils to the ills of mankind, serving as metaphors for a society hostile to difference. Without giving too much away, Ali Abbasi’s folkloric-realist BORDER joins their ranks while shrewdly subverting the cultural codes inscribed in such narratives, conceptualizing difference outside prevailing dualisms. The film follows Tina, a lonely Swedish border guard who, from the start, is clearly unlike anyone else. Not only does her visage set her apart—her heavy, protruding brow and pachydermic skin drawing curious stares—but so too does her seemingly supernatural ability to smell people’s guilt and fear, a trait the authorities exploit to find contraband. Near her home nestled in the woods, she appears to commune with foxes and moose, and indeed, her own behavior often resembles that of an animal, most notably in the way her upper lip flares when she’s in proximity of a guilty passenger. But is Tina really that sui generis? When she encounters someone entering the country who looks just like her, she begins to question her true nature as the two embark on a relationship that brings enlightenment and terror. Abbasi gradually parcels out information about Tina and this analogous partner, depicting their multiple idiosyncrasies with fascination but also affection. The film may be grounded in Scandinavian folklore, but its inflections of social realism, horror, and discourses around queerness unsettle it from generic categories, allowing it to engage, most excitingly and even radically, with the politics of anti-humanism. Lest this all get too esoteric, Eva Melander’s extraordinary performance as Tina anchors the film to a sense of lived experience. Behind the impressive prosthetics, the actress powerfully conveys the arc of a woman shambling from the shadows of diffidence and internalized hatred to self-actualization. BORDER is filled with a surfeit of imagery earthly and uncanny, but Melander’s accented face supplies it with its most arresting moments: the plays of anxiety, anger, and shame that capture a life kept on the sidelines of one society, and the blossoming confidence of one emerging tentatively into the center of another. (2018, 109 min, DCP Digital) JL
Arturo Ripstein's TIME TO DIE (Mexican Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center – Friday, 7:45pm and Tuesday, 6pm
One of many interesting things about Arturo Ripstein's Mexican Western TIME TO DIE is just how much it plays like an American Western, making you think once again about how very arbitrary that border between Mexico and the U.S. really is. Still, for many the hook for this memorable low-budget movie will be its literary pedigree: Gabriel García Márquez, the esteemed Columbian man of letters, wrote the movie's story, then adapted it into a screenplay with no less than Carlos Fuentes, the great Mexican novelist. TIME TO DIE is also the debut feature of Mexican auteur Ripstein (BLEAK STREET, THE CASTLE OF PURITY, DEEP CRIMSON), who got his start as a protégé to Buñuel, visiting the set of THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL to learn at the feet of the master. After 18 years away in prison for killing a man, an honorable man (Jorge Martínez de Hoyos) comes back to his little town. He's paunchy now, in his 40s, and gentle. Once, however, he was considered "bulletproof," "the best with women, horses and pistols—a real man." (The movie's a subversion of this kind of machismo.) He doesn't realize the two sons of the dead man, a bad egg he killed fair and square in a duel, still want to kill him, particularly the vengeful older brother (Alfredo Leal). He befriends the kind younger brother (Enrique Rocha), whose girlfriend (Blanca Sánchez) does her best to forestall the inevitable. She takes counsel from the bitter experience of her older friend (Marga López), who, all those years ago, was the "killer's" fiancée. He just wants to knit and live out his days quietly with the woman he still loves. Soon enough, however, he's suiting up to repeat the past, putting on the same vest he wore on that fateful day. Though Ripstein had a major career that continues to this day, he doesn't rate an entry in any of the three film encyclopedias I own. He's been influential, though: Alex Cox has said, "In the 1990s all the feature films I made were shot in a style the Mexicans call 'plano secuencia' (a single master for every scene). I was inspired in this by my friend the director Arturo Ripstein." I like the way he moves his camera, often gliding elegantly around his people rather than deploying conventional shot/countershot. I enjoyed the occasional strange cut, wherein he'll switch location in mid-conversation. The sound design, too, is sometimes distorted and subjective, as when the ticking of a clock seems to quicken and get louder, as if it were a nervous woman's heartbeat. Note the visual elaboration of certain thematic elements (fathers and sons, fate), such as the moment when the older son catches a glimpse of himself in a mirror on a high wall, and in the frame he looks just like the painting of his late father he keeps in his room. Alex Phillips's sensory cinematography makes us feel the dusty heat coming off the cobblestones, and the guitar-based score by Carlos Jiménez Mabarak is lovely and plaintive. All the heavy thematic material, straight out of Greek tragedy as it is, could sound ponderous, but it never really is (even if it is a bit self-conscious at times). Instead, it's a movingly primal and classical tale. García Márquez once acknowledged the thread in his work of "love that encounters obstacles." "Love and death are always very close," he went on. "That's something Shakespeare invented before us." All of this is very much on the screen in TIME TO DIE. (1965, 88 min, DCP Digital) SP
Alexander Mackendrick’s THE SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS (American Revival)
Filmfront (1740 W. 18th St.) – Saturday, 7pm
While much of what today is regarded as film noir depicts atomized characters estranged from public life, Alexander Mackendrick’s SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS is a dark take on the world of publicity itself. New York locations, James Wong Howe’s signature high-key lighting technique, crackling slang-heavy dialogue by Ernest Lehman and Clifford Odets, a score by Elmer Bernstein and Chico Hamilton--the film offers all of these. But the centripetal force drawing everything together here is Burt Lancaster as the Walter Winchell-alike J.J. Hunsecker. Holding court at “21” Hunsecker, through his newspaper columns and radio programs, as well as the aid of Tony Curtis as the slithery publicity agent Sidney Falco, decides the fate of up and coming performers, advancing talent just as often as viciously crushing it with slangy sangfroid. But J.J. accrues his power though more than an innate dexterity with language; another key is his ability to acquire, withhold, and disclose secrets—both real and fabricated—at opportune times. SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS is McCarthy’s America, a more proximate look at the sleazy world of scandal L.A. CONFIDENTIAL tried to pastiche, a study in control and manipulation, the cinematic equivalent of Wee Gee’s New York City photography, and, above all, it's Burt Lancaster in a role that will scare the shit out of you. (1957, 96 min, Digital Projection) NH
Ingmar Bergman’s THE SEVENTH SEAL (Swedish Revival)
Northbrook Public Library (1201 Cedar Lane, Northbrook) – Thursday, 7pm (Free Admission)
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. Showing as part of the Sci-Fi/Fantasy movie discussion group meeting. (1957, 96 min, Unconfirmed Format) BS
MORE SCREENINGS AND EVENTS
The Chicago International Children’s Film Festival continues through November 9. More info and complete schedule at https://festival.facets.org.
The Polish Film Festival in America continues through November 18. More info and complete schedule at www.pffamerica.org.
The First Nations Film and Video Festival continues through November 9 at various Chicago (and one Wisconsin) locations. More info and full schedule at www.fnfvf.org/blog.
Also at Block Cinema (Northwestern University) this week: Shevaun Mizrahi’s 2017 Turkish/US documentary DISTANT CONSTELLATION (80 min, DCP Digital) is on Friday at 7pm.
South Side Projections presents The Mural Movement and the Black Arts Movement (1970-74, 50 min, Digital Projection) on Saturday at 6:30pm at the South Side Community Art Center (3831 S. Michigan Ave.). The program features a selection of short films by painter Don McIlvaine (approx. 10 min), Kartemquin Films’ 1974 documentary VIVA LA CAUSA (12 min), and recently rediscovered footage from the archives of the DuSable Museum, labeled “Murals Contemporary Art Gallery.” With muralists Arlene Crawford and Eugene “Eda” Wade in person. Free admission.
Chicago Filmmakers (5720 N. Ridge Ave.) hosts the Chicago International Reel Shorts Film Festival this weekend, with shows on Friday at 6 and 8pm and Saturday at 2, 4, 6, and 8pm. Complete schedule at www.projectchicago.com.
The Museum of Contemporary Photography (600 S. Michigan Ave., Columbia College) presents a Video Playlist focused on race and sexuality on Wednesday at 6pm, curated by SAIC professor Romi Crawford. Free admission.
On Sunday at 3pm, as part of the Chicago Humanities Festival, author Michael Benson gives an illustrated talk titled The Making of 2001: A Space Odyssey, drawing on new information from his recent book on the film. The event is at Columbia College Chicago’s Conway Center (1104 S. Wabash). Admission is free, but RSVPs are required: www.chicagohumanities.org/events/807-making-2001-space-odyssey.
Also presented by Asian Pop-Up Cinema this week: Shinichiro Ueda’s 2017 Japanese film ONE CUT OF THE DEAD (96 min, Digital Projection) is on Wednesday at 7pm at the AMC River East 21, with actor Takayuki Hamatsu in person.
Black Cinema House (at the Stony Island Arts Bank, 6760 S. Stony Island Ave.) screens Mario Van Peebles’ 1995 film PANTHER (124 min, Video Projection) on Friday at 7:30pm. Free admission.
The Alliance Française (54 W. Chicago Ave.) screens Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1961 Italian film LA NOTTE (122 min, Video Projection) on Wednesday at 6:30pm.
The Instituto Cervantes (31 W. Ohio St.) screens Gracia Querejeta’s 2015 Spanish film FELICES 140 (95 min, DVD Projection) on Wednesday at 7pm. Free admission.
Also at the Northbrook Public Library (1201 Cedar Lane, Northbrook) this week: Ol Parker’s 2018 film MAMMA MIA! HERE WE GO AGAIN (114 min, DCP Digital) is on Saturday at 2 and 7pm. Free admission.
The Park Ridge Classic Film Series at the Pickwick Theatre (5 S. Prospect Ave., Park Ridge) screens John Sturges’ 1963 film THE GREAT ESCAPE (172 min, Digital Projection) on Wednesday at 2 and 7pm.
Kartemquin Films and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation Veterans Program present six episodes from David Washburn’s new series Loyalty: Stories on Friday, November 9 at 7:15pm (with a 6:30pm reception) at the Muslim Education Center (8601 Menard Ave., Morton Grove)] Followed by panel discussion. Free admission, but RSVP required: www.eventbrite.com/e/loyalty-stories-chicago-film-premiere-muslim-education-center-tickets-51440722586.
Also at the Gene Siskel Film Center this week: Roger Michell’s 2018 documentary TEA WITH THE DAMES (84 min, DCP Digital) and John Anderson’s 2017 documentary HORN FROM THE HEART: THE PAUL BUTTERFIELD STORY (95 min, DCP Digital; Anderson and musician Corky Siegel in person at the Friday 8pm, Saturday 5pm, and Sunday 2pm shows) both play for a week; and the Cortadito Showcase (approx 90 min total, Digital Projection) of local Latinx shorts is on Saturday at 7:45pm, with filmmakers in person.
Also at Doc Films (University of Chicago) this week: Miloš Forman’s 1979 musical HAIR (155 min, Archival 35mm Print) is on Friday at 7pm only; Brad Bird’s 2018 animated film INCREDIBLES 2 (125 min, DCP Digital) is on Saturday at 7 and 9:30pm and Sunday at 1:30 and 4pm; and Jesús Franco’s 1969 Italian film VENUS IN FURS (86 min, 35mm) is on Thursday at 9:30pm.
Also at the Music Box Theatre this week: Kate Davis and David Heilbroner’s 2018 documentary SAY HER NAME: THE LIFE AND DEATH OF SANDRA BLAND (103 min, DCP Digital) opens, with four shows only (Friday at 4:30pm, Saturday and Sunday at 11:30am, and Tuesday at 7pm); Luca Guadagnino’s 2018 film SUSPIRIA (152 min, DCP Digital) continue; Michael Lehmann's 1988 film HEATHERS (100 min, 35mm) is on Friday and Saturday at Midnight; The Adventure Film Festival is on Sunday at 5:30pm; Sonic Youth: 30 Years of Daydream Nation is on Sunday at 9:15pm, with Thurston Moore, Steve Shelley, and Sonic Youth Archivist Aaron Mullan in person. Screening are Lance Bangs’ 2018 music documentary DAYDREAM NATION, the “Sonic Youth” edit of PUT BLOOD IN THE MUSIC (Charles Atlas, 1987), and selections from Sonic Youth’s archives; and Mat Whitecross’ 2018 documentary COLDPLAY: A HEAD FULL OF DREAMS (115 min, DCP Digital) is on Wednesday at 8pm.
Comfort Film at Comfort Station Logan Square (2579 N. Milwaukee Ave.) presents Shifting Geographies Part 2 on Wednesday at 8pm. Screening are: Cao Fei and Ning Ou’s 2003 Chinese documentary SAN YUAN LI (45 min, Digital Projection) and Rebecca Tsai’s 2018 documentary GOODBYE, TAIWAN (Unconfirmed Running Time, Digital Projection). 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 9 - November 15, 2018
MANAGING EDITOR // Patrick Friel
ASSOCIATE EDITORS // Ben Sachs, Kathleen Sachs, Kyle A. Westphal
CONTRIBUTORS // Beth Capper, Kyle Cubr, Marilyn Ferdinand, Jason Halperin, Nathan Holmes, Jonathan Leithold-Patt, JB Mabe, Anne Orchier, Scott Pfeiffer, Dmitry Samarov, Michael G. Smith, Brian Welesko, Ignatiy Vishnevetsky