Cine-Cast on Transistor Radio
On the inaugural episode, Cine-File managing editor Patrick Friel and associate editors Ben and Kat Sachs discuss the intent of the podcast, as well as their favorite screenings of the year thus far; contributor JB Mabe reviews local experimental screenings happening in March; Kat interviews contributor and Onion City Experimental Film & Video Festival (March 8-11) curator Emily Eddy; and contributors Michael Smith, Scott Pfeiffer and Kyle Cubr conduct a roundtable discussion about the 21st Annual Chicago European Union Film Festival at the Siskel Film Center (March 9-April 5).
Special thanks to Andy Miles, owner of the invaluable Transistor Chicago in Andersonville and producer of our podcast.
Edward Owens: A Portrait Study (Experimental Revival)
Conversations at the Edge at the Gene Siskel Film Center – Thursday, 6pm
Edwards Owens doesn't deserve a place in the pantheon of independent filmmakers of the late 60s into the early 70s—that mostly-brilliant but always-debated group of filmmakers that are canonized in the hagiographies and histories of the era. No, instead, he deserves a place among the much more interesting filmmakers of that time—the sometimes forgotten, sometimes ignored, sometimes marginalized ones who still possess the power to seduce and surprise. He lives among Storm De Hirsch, Bob Cowan, Pola Chapelle, and other filmmakers whose work could hit you in the gut but could be easily forgotten by the next person over. Owens is from the Southside of Chicago, and local-born experimental film artists are as rare as a hen's tooth (though the other spotlighted experimental filmmaker this week—Robert Stiegler—was also Chicago-born—ed). He began studying at SAIC in the mid-60s, went off to New York to make some films and live in the scene, then returned to Chicago to finish his degree at Columbia, but never made a film again (that we are aware of). The influence of mentor Gregory Markopoulos is evident, but Owens’ work possesses a depth of its own. Dramatically-lit portraiture, poetic superimpositions, and keen still-frame interludes dominate his films. PRIVATE IMAGININGS AND NARRATIVE FACTS (1968-70) is a short, silent, tinted portrait of costumed and posed figures. It's minor compare to the next title. REMEMBRANCE: A PORTRAIT STUDY (1967) is something else: a dimly lit revelry of pop tunes, drinking, and celebratory immersion. The final superimposed still images tear to the core. It's a film buzzing with energy and discovery. TOMORROW'S PROMISE (1967) comprises the bulk of the running time at 45 minutes and it's his most accomplished work. It contains all the elements of the other two films, sustained and controlled over its near-feature-length. Watching it you might say it's a shame these films have gone unseen for so long, or you might be simply overjoyed you are getting to see them now. Introduced by New York City-based critic and film programmer Ed Halter. (1967-70, 63 min total, Digital Projection) JBM
CFA OUT OF THE VAULT: ROBERT STIEGLER—LIGHT PLAY (Experimental Revival)
Chicago Filmmakers (5720 N. Ridge Ave.) and Chicago Film Archives – Saturday, 8pm
The various definitions of the word ‘abstraction’ are terrifically gratifying: “Freedom from representational qualities in art.” “Absence of mind or preoccupation.” Inversely, “a state of preoccupation.” “An impractical idea; something visionary and unrealistic.” Each of these applies to experimental film in all its abstruse glory, of course, but I found myself actually repeating the word in my head while watching the films of Robert Stiegler. The late Chicago-based photographer and filmmaker studied at the Institute of Design at IIT (also known as the New Bauhaus—it was founded by formidable constructivist artist and Old Bauhaus professor László Moholy-Nagy) for both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees; in the early 60s, he worked at Morton Goldsholl Associates with Wayne Boyer and Larry Janiak, among others, a duo whose own idiosyncratic films reflect equivalently personal fixations borne of vanguard pedagogy. The Chicago Filmmakers’ website says that this program, featuring Sitelger’s TRAFFIC (1960, 8 min, 16mm), CAPITULATION (1965, 22 min, 16mm), LICHT SPIEL NUR I (1967, 3 min, 16mm) and FULL CIRCLE (1968, 24 min, 16mm), “highlights the influence of Moholy-Nagy’s teachings on his work, in particular his use of light and interest in formal experimentation.” This influence is most evident in CAPITULATION and LICHT SPIEL NUR I. In the former, Stiegler uses negative exposure and other such effects to convey “[a] subjective view of the world and self,” quoting his own notes; an accompanying cello score adds fervor to the methodical, evoking a reverie that belies its seemingly perfunctory manner. LICHT SPIEL NUR I is silent, though its “[c]utting was based on a musical form much like a Bach fugue.” It’s composed of "[a]bstracted footage shot with a camera, each frame time-exposed to create different light qualities.” The result is something at once playful and adroit—“real and synthesized color” marry the disunion. Both these works are more outwardly evocative of Moholy-Nagy’s influence, specifically in their use of negative exposure, light and its frenetic choreography, and color as teleological phenomenon. The other two, TRAFFIC and FULL CIRCLE, read more personal, and are thus enjoyable on different levels. TRAFFIC, which Stiegler describes as “[a]n investigation of what a motion picture camera can do in the hands of a good driver,” feels like a happy accident rather than anything overtly purposeful. Both this and FULL CIRCLE feature Chicago more obviously than the other two, adding a certain sort of homespun sentiment that keeps its abstraction from being too...abstract. Indeed, Stiegler calls the latter “[a] contemporary Koan…[a] series of highs, encompassing people.” If the others exhibit an absence of mind or preoccupation or, conversely, a state of preoccupation with their respective devices (one could consider an emphasis on things like negative exposure or light effects as being either the absence of other elements or a preoccupation with certain elements at the expense of others), then FULL CIRCLE is the opposite of that tendency, however you want to define it, rooted as it is in ecumenical corporeality. It’s completely infectious, even informing Stiegler’s earlier work with a singular vibe that can’t be learned, much less taught. Moholy-Nagy may have influenced him, but what sets his work apart is inherently personal, further abstracting his films into a realm of their own. KS
Steven Spielberg Sci-Fi in 35mm at the Music Box Theatre
(Check venue website for showtimes)
Steven Spielberg’s E.T. THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL and A.I. ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE (American Revivals)
Perhaps the definitive Steven Spielberg statement, E.T. THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL (1982, 115 min, 35mm) is a potent mix of wonderment and sentimentality. The film imagines the friendship between a grade-school boy and an affectionate space alien, advancing the optimistic message that love is truly the universal language. In his essay “Papering the Cracks,” critic Robin Wood attacked E.T. for its emotional opportunism, noting that Spielberg and screenwriter Melissa Mathison fail to characterize the title character consistently; the alien alternates between seeming wise, innocent, helpless, and godlike, depending on how the filmmakers want the audience to feel at any given moment. Yet this lack of consistency is integral to the movie’s fantasy: one reason why the character of E.T. seems so magical is because he provides what Elliot needs at exactly the right time. The alien is a playmate, a teacher, and a source of emotional support—he fills the gaps in Elliot’s broken family unit. Indeed the film derives much of its power from Spielberg’s sincere and nuanced depiction of a suburban family after a divorce. One recognizes from the opening scenes that the family is missing something and longs to be made whole. These feelings of abandonment and longing give weight to the movie’s fantasy—the wonderment comes as a source of relief. The movie is no less astute in its depiction of children, which shows the influence of François Truffaut (whom Spielberg cast in CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND). The kids of E.T. are adorable yet retain a certain realistic scrappiness—Spielberg clearly relates to his young characters, and he loves them, warts and all. In many regards, A.I. ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE (2001, 146 min, 35mm) represents the inverse of E.T. In this film, the alien creature is not from outer space but manmade, and the broken family he attempts to heal rejects his efforts. Adapted by Spielberg from a script he developed with Stanley Kubrick, A.I. imagines a dystopian future where rising water levels have rendered much of Earth uninhabitable and androids, living like second-class citizens, mediate most human interactions. The first act focuses on a couple who adopt an android boy to take the place of the son they lost. When the couple abandons the boy (in one of the most upsetting passages in Spielberg’s filmography), he embarks on a search to recover his human family, discovering unwelcome truths about himself in the process. The movie divided audiences on first release with its ambiguous conclusion, which imagines the end of humanity and the ironic fulfillment of the android boy’s wish to be reunited with his mother. For some, Spielberg’s handling of this development constituted a betrayal of Kubrick’s cynicism; for others, it represented a strange and powerful conflation of Spielbergian uplift and Kubrickian ambiguity. That the ending has inspired so many readings ultimately makes the film more in line with Kubrick’s work than Spielberg’s, despite the surface sentimentality. Spielberg has often said that he considers Kubrick to be the greatest director of all time, and A.I. is a moving and multifaceted tribute to his career. The emotionalism doesn’t detract from the Kubrickian themes, but rather complicates them and renders them strange. BS
Steven Spielberg’s MINORITY REPORT (American Revival)
Steven Spielberg’s most interesting films tend to be the ones where his instinct to reassure clashes with some darker sensibility in the material. In MINORITY REPORT, that sensibility belongs to author Philip K. Dick, whose short story provided the inspiration for Scott Frank and Jon Cohen’s screenplay. The script captures much of Dick’s paranoia and strange humor (though some of the gross-out gags clearly reflect Spielberg’s adolescent wit), and these qualities color the Spielbergian wonderment engendered by the fantastic settings. The director also inhibits his tendency to inspire awe by lingering on certain details; the movie plunges viewers into the future environment and keeps a frenetic pace throughout. As for the environment, Spielberg and company realize it in spectacular detail (the director even assembled a team of futurologists to imagine as vividly as possible what the year 2054 might look like), creating a world of sensory overload that’s overrun with animated advertisements and surveillance technology. Tom Cruise stars as a surveillance expert who specializes in “pre-crime,” working with a team of clairvoyant superhumans to capture murderers before they can commit any criminal act. When one of the clairvoyants visualizes Cruise murdering someone, he flees from authorities in hopes of clearing his name. Much of the film consists of fast-paced chase sequences, and Spielberg presents them with a levity and pleasure that he hadn’t displayed since the 1980s. MINORITY REPORT is filled with bravura moments, including a De Palma-esque overhead tracking shot that surveils the goings-on of a seedy apartment building. Spielberg’s longtime cinematographer Janusz Kaminski delivers some of his best work; the movie is filled with intricate camera movements and its look is memorably gritty. (Kaminski achieved the latter effect by bleaching the film’s negative before it was processed.) (2002, 145 min, 35mm) BS
Steven Spielberg’s WAR OF THE WORLDS (American Revival)
Largely neglected on its release and still an unjustly underappreciated film in Spielberg’s oeuvre, WAR OF THE WORLDS is in fact a flat-out masterpiece. With CLOSE ENCOUNTERS far behind in the director’s rearview, this film pushes further that movie’s more bitter and painful tonal moments into a massive hybrid of post-9/11 hysteria and paranoia, grief and loss. Along with his other hidden masterpieces, A.I. and EMPIRE OF THE SUN, this film is one his darker outings and one of his most controlled. Tom Cruise echoes Richard Dreyfuss’ wayward father in CLOSE ENCOUNTERS; they even share similar mental breakdowns over the course of the narratives. He longs to be connected with his children, though, rather than trying to escape them. As soon as the aliens begin to attack, the film sets off a ticking time bomb of dread that creeps over the landscape of the movie like the red veins of the invasive, otherworldly species. The pervasive marketing and advertising for WAR OF THE WORLDS promised a loud sci-fi blockbuster to rival mega-money-makers such as INDEPENDENCE DAY. But what confounded audiences got was a very different film than was promoted. For over half the movie, we don’t get too see the aliens and even when we do, the restraint on screen is palpable. The less we see the more paranoid we as viewers become. A lot of the movie takes place in vacant basements and dark places to hide, with all the slam-bam spectacle far off in the distance, hardly visible but disturbingly audible. A series of chamber pieces are followed by one of the most harrowing sequences of mass emigration in modern cinema, with hundreds, maybe thousands of America citizens fleeing to boats ready to sail far from the beaten and torn land once called home. A lot of criticism was generated about this sequence, which had Cruise waving a gun and then, eventually, taking matters into his own hands. The film is less concerned with whether you find Cruise’s character to be right or likable, just as we felt the same about Dreyfuss’ character in CLOSE ENCOUNTERS. Spielberg never was and never will be the emotionally and thematically simplistic filmmaker that the cultural mainstream has pegged him as; his childhood themes are far less idyllic than our own filtered memories. The pain and hurt caused by childhood, on a relatively normal scale, are what he is after; how that arm reaches out towards the parents who have forgotten what its like to be children. (2005, 116 min, 35mm) JD
The Music Box is also screening Steven Spielberg’s 1977 film CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (1998 Director’s Cut, 137 min, 35mm) this week.
EUROPEAN UNION FILM FESTIVAL at the Gene Siskel Film Center – Week Two
The Gene Siskel Film Center’s European Union Film Festival continues this week, and runs through April 5. We have some highlighted selections below, and the full schedule is on the Siskel’s website.
Peter Lataster and Petra Lataster-Czisch's MISS KIET'S CHILDREN (The Netherlands)
Friday, 2pm and Sunday, 2pm
I needed a film like Peter Lataster and Petra Lataster-Czisch's MISS KIET'S CHILDREN about right now: a pro-human, pro-child film that is never "political," yet, in its quiet way, says more than any tract. In a village in the south of Holland, a primary school teacher named Miss Kiet prepares her classroom for the day. What follows is a transporting, moving experience in empathy: it puts us in the shoes of Syrian children. You see, Miss Kiet teaches a class for migrant children, and, as a title announces, "among them are refugees from war zones." And that's really all we need to know. (There are no other titles or commentary whatsoever.) To make MISS KIET'S CHILDREN, seasoned documentarians Peter Lataster and Petra Lataster-Czisch embedded themselves in Miss Kiet's classroom for a year, editing the footage seamlessly so that it almost plays like one long day. This longitudinal approach allows us to get to know these kids as individuals. It also allows their camera (almost) to become that chimera: the invisible "fly on the wall." Their camera is a child, in a way. We see almost everything from a child's point of view. Miss Kiet's upper body is often out of the frame altogether; we see her face only when she bends lower to the ground. As we experience what a child sees, we also begin to experience how he or she feels. The way the filmmakers' style makes empathy possible was brought home to me most powerfully in a moment when presents are opened, and the children's expressions light up with naked joy. I felt it, too. The fact that it's in Dutch adds to the effect: as Americans, we likely can't understand Miss Kiet, either...and the kids don't get subtitles. Thus, we share the children's sense of frustration at not being able to communicate. The film follows three kids in particular: Haya, a sad, funny girl, across whose face sometimes flashes a grownup pain; quiet little Leanne; and Jorg, a troubled boy with Coke-bottle glasses who's a real card. Every day, Miss Kiet strives to help her kids melt into Dutch society, firmly but never rigidly, always kindly and respectfully, and with love. The rule is to speak Dutch in the classroom. (Reverting to Arabic in a comic moment, struggling Jorg proclaims, "May God help my brain.") Girls can stand next to boys, she tells them as they giggle—it's not a problem in this country. We don't need commentary telling us these children likely suffer from PTSD: we can see that for ourselves. It's in the way Jorg yawns because he can't sleep at night. It's in the way that, on the playground, where they interact with Dutch children, Leanne startles and flinches, and Haya screams, hits, and even bullies other kids. I like to imagine that many years from now, these kids will be living happy lives, and that, from time to time, they will think of Miss Kiet—how she stood with Jorg in front of the mirror and said, "What a nice boy that is in the mirror. What a nice, sweet boy." The World Happiness Report 2018 was just announced, revealing that "the overall happiness of a country is almost identical to the happiness of its immigrants." The Netherlands came in at 6th in the world in terms of happiness. (The U.S. came in at 18th, abysmal for a rich nation.) It's the unsung Miss Kiets of the world that make all the difference. Watching MISS KIET'S CHILDREN, I was put in mind of something the travel writer Rick Steves once said: "Our political leaders sometimes make us forget that all of us on this small planet are equally precious children of God." Here's a film that understands that, and shows us what it means to live it out. (2016, 115 min, DCP Digital) SP
Nevio Marasovic’s GORAN (Croatia)
Friday, 6pm and Saturday, 3:30pm
Following the titular GORAN (Franjo Dijak), we see a portrait of an earnest yet disillusioned man. He’s built a new sauna with his friend at his beloved cottage, his blind wife is pregnant, and her well-to-do father has offered him a job at his lumberyard. Plus, it’s about to be his birthday. Too bad for Goran that he’s infertile, forcing him to be suspicious of every one of his friends as to who the true father of his unborn child could be. After confronting one such friend, a chaotic chain of events transpires that soon grows to affect everyone in Goran’s inner-circle. One of GORAN’s most fascinating features is its dynamic shifts in tone, with each act adding a new wrinkle to the fold. From melodrama to mystery to dark comedy, the viewer grows empathetic to Goran’s cause, as he seems unable to positively impact his negative situation, much like Michael Stuhlbarg’s character in A SERIOUS MAN. It’s also easy to see whispers of FARGO’s influence in the film’s plot of a well-intentioned man looking out for his family who falls victim to a set of circumstances that go seriously astray. GORAN’s effective pacing pairs well with the film’s short length to depict a wild, rollercoaster-like ride. (2016, 90 min, DCP Digital) KC
Paolo Taviani’s RAINBOW: A PRIVATE AFFAIR (Italy)
Friday, 6:30pm and Wednesday, 6:00pm
Set in the Italian countryside during World War II, RAINBOW: A PRIVATE AFFAIR follows Milton (Luca Marinelli), a solider in the anti-fascist resistance movement, as he searches for his best friend who has been captured by the Fascists. Milton is also haunted by the memory of a woman to whom he used to teach English who he fell madly in love with but has since moved to another part of the country. The film alternates between the somewhat monochromatic present and colorfully vibrant sequences of Milton interacting with Fulvia, be it teaching her lessons or other moments of bonding they experienced together. Shades of Malick’s BADLANDS are present here as there is a juxtaposition of the harsh, brutality of wartime with the idyllic Italian countryside and other scenes of beauty. “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” serves as the film’s de facto theme, with each inclusion of it adding a new meaning to RAINBOW’s story. There’s a certain calm aura present during the breaks in chaos that adds an uneasy, dreamlike quality to the narrative. A romantic war film, RAINBOW: A PRIVATE AFFAIR shows that lovers and fighters are not necessarily mutually exclusive and that beauty can be found in even the most dire of situations. (2017, 84 min, DCP Digital) KC
Josef Hader’s WILD MOUSE (Austria/Germany)
Friday and Monday, 8:15pm
It’s always disappointing when a film you’d been waiting to see is sold out, but during the EU Film Festival, it’s an opportunity rather than a hindrance; there’s often something else—something you’d never think to see without circumstance recommending it, giving it a 'two thumbs up' by default—in the next theater. Such was the case last year when, after discovering that João Pedro Rodrigues’ THE ORNITHOLOGIST was sold out, I took a chance on Maria Schrader’s STEFAN ZWEIG: FAREWELL TO EUROPE. The film itself is competently directed, if a little rote, and its subject interesting, but the real standout was Josef Hader’s turn as Zweig, a difficult role he played sensitively and subtly, and which begged the question, “Who is this guy?” It turns out Hader is famous in Austria for comedy, making his performance of a depressive author all the more surprising; these two modes merge in his directorial debut WILD MOUSE, the screenplay for which he also wrote. The film follows Hader’s Georg, a snobby music critic who, in the film’s opening scenes, is laid off from his longtime newspaper job. One thing in its favor is that upon first viewing, there’s no telling where it will go from here: Georg wrestles not only with unemployment and the revenge efforts he labors against his former boss, but also with a tenuous home life (his younger wife, Johanna, played by Pia Hierzegger, unknown to me but very good in this role, desperately wants a baby despite both their ages) and a beguiling new business venture with a ne'er-do-well that involves a decaying rollercoaster from which the film takes its name. I’ll be honest and say this is not a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s well directed even if its story is a straggle of potentially meaningful ideas, and it’s quite stunning visually; cinematographers Xiaosu Han and Andreas Thalhammer realize a world that becomes Hader’s vision, scatterbrained though it may be in parts. The Berlinale website generously describes “a funny, dramatic story about the Austrian middle-classes’ private fears of failure and social decline,” calling it “[a] witty and ironic film that reflects on how a bourgeois life can go awry.” This is all evident, though its drollness is markedly apolitical, conjuring visions of opportunities missed. Still, there’s a certain something that Hader brings to the table that’s indefinable by critical standards. Who knows where he’ll go from here—one can only hope that whatever he does next makes its way stateside again. (2017, 103 min, Digital Projection) KS
Radu Jude’s SCARRED HEARTS (Romania)
Saturday, 5:30 and Wednesday, 7:30
Zen Buddhist and end-of-life care pioneer Joan Halifax put it well when she said, “Whether or not enlightenment is possible at the moment of death, the practices that prepare one for this possibility also bring one closer to the bone of life.” This sentiment runs throughout Radu Jude’s amorphous adaptation of Jewish Romanian wunderkind Max Blecher’s 1937 autobiographical novel Scarred Hearts, which chronicles the tragicomic goings-on at a seaside sanatorium. Until his death at 29, Blecher suffered from Pott’s disease, also known as tuberculosis of the bone, and so is the case with his screen surrogate, Emanuel, who spends the majority of the film bedridden in a full body cast, but that doesn’t stop him from living life to the fullest. Misery loves company, and Emanuel befriends an eccentric cast of characters with whom he drinks, fraternizes, and copulates. Outside this hermetically sealed microcosm, the specters of Hitler and his Iron Guard counterpart Ion Antonescu loom large, and it’s possible to read the film as an allegory for petrification amidst the horrors of WWII. Blecher, whose ontological musings are interpolated throughout the film via intertitles, has been referred to as the Kafka of Romania, and indeed, SCARRED HEARTS is imbued with a droll gallows humor that fans of absurdist directors like Roy Andersson or Ruben Östlund might appreciate. Unlike his previous film, AFERIM!, Jude shot SCARRED HEARTS using a square aspect ratio, perhaps to convey the confinement and claustrophobia of Emanuel’s environment. Though the director has freely admitted that “the book is much cooler than the film,” the film is very good too. (2016, 141 mins, DCP Digital) HS
Arnaud Desplechin's ISMAEL'S GHOSTS (France)
Saturday, 5:30pm and Thursday, 6pm
Arnaud Desplechin's sprawling, lovably shaggy ISMAEL'S GHOSTS fairly bursts with life and ideas. It is something of a companion piece to KINGS AND QUEEN, the film he made in 2004. Once again, Mathieu Amalric plays a half-mad, quasi-suicidal, dissipated, irrepressible character called Ismael Vuillard. Only this time, Ismael is a Paris-based film director, living under the shadow of the great octogenarian auteur Bloom, his master (László Szabó). Once, Ismael was married to Bloom's daughter, Carlotta (Marion Cottilard), but she disappeared 21 years ago, and was eventually assumed dead. One day, as Ismael's girlfriend, an astrophysicist named Sylvia (Charlotte Gainsbourg), sunbathes at their seaside retreat, Carlotta reappears on the beach, stunning them both. The characters in this film are around my age. Perhaps that's why, for me, its most potent idea is that by middle age, each of us has led two or three lives, with "ghosts" from previous lives never truly gone, but still knocking about in the attics of our minds. These sometimes include the very person who was at the center of a former life, as Carlotta was for Ismael. After over two decades, wouldn't a sudden reencounter with such a person feel like seeing a revenant? And yet Cotillard, as a presence, is so very alive. If the film begins as a psychological thriller, it goes on to become...well, many things, such as a film about a director who can't, or won't, finish his film—triggered by Carlotta's reemergence, Ismael begins going to pieces. The aborted movie he's writing and directing is a globetrotting spy story—a fanciful spinoff on the real life of his estranged brother, an overseas diplomat called Dedalus (Louis Garrel). ISMAEL'S GHOST is a real pileup of ideas. It's about absence, exile, sex, suicide, anti-Semitism, familial strife, suffering, identity...and even directing and acting. It's about paintings (especially paintings), even featuring a haunting portrait, like in VERTIGO or LAURA, of Carlotta. (Like the men in those films, Ismael is in love with a "dead" woman). Sometimes its ideas are half-baked. Desplechin has never met a line he need respect between reality and fantasy, actors and characters, comedy and drama. I say all this with affection: ISMAEL'S GHOSTS is an embarrassment of riches, and if it risks being just a plain old embarrassment, too? Well, that's part of what's great about it. Gainsbourg and Cottilard give deeply felt, honest performances; more than that, each must capture a note that is quite difficult to get right—a certain hard-earned happiness, self-knowledge, and acceptance. Amalric, of course, makes as poignant and charming a roué as ever. The picture feels like it's always in flux—unpredictable and moving, funny and literary, and, as Desplechin concedes, ultimately so generous, open, and full of light that he's tempted to go dark the next time out. (2017, 135 min, DCP Digital) SP
Gábor Herendi's KINCSEM—BET ON REVENGE (Hungary)
Wednesday, 7:45pm and Saturday (March 24), 3pm
Jaunty, smashing entertainment, Gábor Herendi's KINCSEM—BET ON REVENGE is as irresistible as it is formulaic. Occasionally, it's just as interesting to see mainstream fare from the EU, such as this crowd-pleasing romance, as it is to see an art film. This Hungarian blockbuster may even offer a better sense of the society in which its audience lives. It's based on a true story, as they say. The prologue is set against the backdrop of the crushed 1848-49 Hungarian revolution. As his son looks on, the emperor's horse trainer, a partisan, is executed by his ex-friend, a vain count who'd remained loyal to the emperor. The story proper unfolds 25 years later, in 1874. The boy has grown up to be a dashing, debauched ladies' man (Nagy Ervin) who loves betting on horses. At the same time, he's an honest fellow and a true gentleman. The vain count's daughter (Petrik Andrea) has grown up to be a feisty, headstrong, independent woman. At first, they're at odds (of course they are). He's on a bad losing streak when, one day at auction, he meets Kincsem, a wild thoroughbred mare. The rap on her is she's "too weak to race, too wild to ride." He bonds with the difficult filly immediately, vowing to make a racehorse of her. The races are stirringly filmed, though a slow-motion, calm-at-the-eye-of-the-storm effect is less effective the second time around. When Kincsem-mania breaks out, the horse becomes a pawn in intrigues of empire and of the heart, the latter involving a jealous old pal and current romantic rival (Keresztes Tamás). To say the stakes are high for the final race would be to understate the matter. The film is set against the Golden Age of the Austro-Hungarian empire, and the period details are sumptuous, colorful and, occasionally, cheerfully anachronistic (I got a kick out of an early selfie taken with a bellows wet-plate camera). The pace is brisk: I'd say average shot-length clocks in at about two to three seconds. It's got two sexy, charismatic leads, and even a calming, piebald kitten called Schultz. A more austere critic than I might cast a frosty eye across the entire endeavor, dismissing it as predictable, pat, and even shamelessly contrived. Such a critic would be correct...and would lack heart. Me, I let out a whoop for Kincsem, the "Hungarian wonder," and wept as she came around the final bend. Great hats, too! (2017, 122 min, DCP Digital) SP
Jordan Peele’s GET OUT (New American)
Northbrook Public Library (1201 Cedar Lane, Northbrook) – Wednesday, 1 and 7pm (Free Admission)
Between the post-racial and the colorblind, evil festers in GET OUT. Released at the beginning of 2017, no film more effectively and immediately tapped into our cultural moment or provoked more conversation throughout the year than Jordan Peele’s feature film debut (now an Oscar winner for Best Original Screenplay). Its upcoming revivals at screening venues across Chicagoland suggests its breakthrough significance and continued importance as a cultural object. As a movie that punctures the myth of a post-racial viewer too, one wonders how the film will play differently or provoke varying kinds of laughter or unease among the suburban audiences at Northbrook Public Library (where contemporary horror films are few and far between on the events calendar) versus Doc Films (where it will be screening at the end of this month) or the South Side plexes in Chatham. GET OUT is a horror story about cultural appropriation, gaslighting, and—most cleverly—the weaponization of social norms and etiquette to enforce strict hierarchies. It also followed an intriguing trend from 2017 of love stories that uneasily shift between scenes of intimacy and scenes of horror, where sentimental attachments are used to manipulate and ensnare (PHANTOM THREAD, MOTHER!, and THE SHAPE OF WATER are other titles that come to mind). GET OUT is also highly successful as a comedy (as the Golden Globes controversially categorized the film, to Peele’s dismay), and yet it is reductive to describe the movie merely in those terms. While it is irreverent, blistering, and funny in a way that frequently stings, a deep strain of melancholy runs throughout it. What story about the pernicious lasting effects of human hate could be otherwise? The film’s premise is simple but compelling: Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), a young photographer, goes to meet his girlfriend Rose’s parents at the Armitage family estate in the country. Chris is nervous from the start—he is black, the Armitages are white, and Rose has neglected to fill her parents in on this (to her, inconsequential; to him, crucial) detail. (Note the stroke of brilliance in casting the Armitage clan: are there any actors more recognizable as “good white liberal” indie stars than Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford?) The weekend begins for Chris with an initially warm, if awkward, welcome from the parents, followed by uncanny run-ins with the black household help. But Chris’s visit becomes increasingly hostile as the weekend wears on, and more guests arrive at the estate for the Armitages’ annual garden party. From there, Chris is made to suffer a series of small indignities and becomes the center of an increasingly uncomfortable attention. White partygoers insist on giving him their uninvited opinions about the African-American experience, cast objectifying glances over his body, and make fetishizing remarks about his “genetic make-up.” Like another horror film from 2017, Aronofsky’s MOTHER!, horror here is brilliantly imagined at first as simply the nightmare of having to deal with people who don’t understand social cues, and grows into the danger of not seeing the right time to get out of someone’s house. If the horror in GET OUT feels stark, real, and vivid, it is because of the way the movie builds this gradually from small moments of disquieting tension. The film’s important intervention is in showing how seemingly little instances of casual racism are never really little, but rather are stepping-stones to bigger, uglier transgressions to come. Seemingly small slights, off-hand remarks, and micro-aggressions are already toxic because they pave the way for larger, suffocating patterns of dehumanization like slavery, lynching, or the mass incarceration of black men—all of these initial thoughtless actions are already symptoms of a failure to recognize another person as fully human. “Sometimes, if there’s too many white people, I get nervous.” This decisive line of dialogue is delivered as just a whisper in the film, but it expresses an intensely personal, un-PC, and painful truth. There are many things left unsaid in GET OUT too, but the conversations that the film has started and the contemporary racial tensions it has helped bring to light are well worth revisiting in any of its upcoming public screenings with different audiences around the city. Wherever monsters and mold grow, sunlight is the best disinfectant. (2017, 104 min, Digital) TTJ
Yuen Woo-Ping’s DRUNKEN MASTER (Hong Kong Revival)
Music Box Theatre – Saturday and Sunday, 11:30am
DRUNKEN MASTER, one of Yuen Woo-Ping’s first directorial efforts, is essentially a showcase for his breathtaking martial arts choreography, with very little narrative filler in between the rousing fight sequences. Jackie Chan stars as Fei-Hung, the spoiled son of a martial arts schoolmaster. When the story begins, Fei-Hung is already an impressive kung-fu fighter—he can even beat up some of the teachers at the school—but he lacks the discipline required of a master. Enter the itinerant Beggar So (the drunken master of the title), who arrives to train Fei-Hung for a year. What follows is a formulaic kung-fu comedy, with Fei-Hung learning concentration, inner strength, and the secret moves that comprise So’s kung-fu of the Eight Drunken Gods. It would be passable if not for the choreography—of which there is plenty—and for Chan’s joyful performance. Like Buster Keaton or Fred Astaire, Chan in his best vehicles uses his body and the world around him to create an ongoing physical music; even when he loses a fight, it’s entertaining to watch him put up the effort, engage with his partner, and take the hits like a pro. The world of DRUNKEN MASTER is tailored perfectly to Chan’s screen persona; everyone is irritable and skilled at kung-fu, and everyone uses fighting to resolve any imaginable issue. The wacky sound effects and score make it feel even more like an old Popeye cartoon, as do character names like Stick King and Iron Head. (1978, 111 min, DCP Digital) BS
Rithy Panh's THE MISSING PICTURE (Contemporary Cambodian Documentary)
Gene Siskel Film Center – Friday, 4pm and Tuesday, 6pm
Without pictures, audio, or any other kind of recordings, one man must rely on his own personal memory to tell a tale that a majority of the Western world has no knowledge of. Cambodian filmmaker Rithy Panh re-enacts the Khmer Rouge takeover of his country during his youth through the use of clay figures. The political takeover, reminiscent of the Chinese Cultural Revolution of the sixties, included the 're-education' of children born to intellectuals and artists and calls for an entirely self-sufficient country. Panh's personal experiences are shown to the audience only as far as the hundreds of hand-carved clay dolls will allow. The filmmaker never appears, only his voice is heard narrating his memories. Interspersed with the figurines is the limited existing news and documentary footage of the time, which gives a broader sense of Cambodia during this three-year period. Propaganda from Pol Pot's regime put forward a tale of a well-fed, educated nation, but the director's own story paints a far different story, one similar to accounts of atrocities from Holocaust victims. The use of hundreds of dolls to detail the plights of famine, torture, and grief is perhaps odd, but it isn't that different in practice from using human performers to portray a historical scene: both are distanced from the actual event, and it's the director's handling of the figures or the actors that allows for engagement with the subject. And yet, with the inanimate clay dolls cut away and painted to represent a mostly forgotten time, a haunting image is produced that may create a longer-lasting impression than more conventional documentary strategies. SAIC professor Nora Annesley Taylor lectures at the Tuesday show. (2013, 92 min, DCP Digital) SW
MORE SCREENINGS AND EVENTS
The Chicago Jewish Film Festival continues through March 18 at several locations. Details and full schedule at https://jccfilmfest.jccchicago.org.
The Nightingale (1084 N. Milwaukee Ave.) presents Group 312 Films: The 2018 Annual Report, a program of films by the Chicago-area film collective, on Friday at 7pm; and hosts UIC MFA 2018: Works for the Screen (2017-18, approx. 48 min total, Digital Projection) on Monday at 7pm. Screening are works by Emme Williamson, Daniel Haddad Troconis, Shir Ende, Caitlin Ryan, and Sarah O'Neil.
Asian Pop-Up Cinema presents Hong Sang-soo’s 2017 South Korean/French film CLAIRE’S CAMERA (69 min, Digital Projection) on Thursday at 7pm at Alliance Française (54 W. Chicago Ave.). Introduced by Columbia College associate professor Ron Falzone. Free admission; RSVP required. More info at www.asianpopupcinema.org.
Black Cinema House (at the Dorchester Art + Housing Collaborative, 1456 E 70th St.) screens Donna Deitch’s 1989 television miniseries THE WOMEN OF BREWSTER PLACE (200 min, Video Projection) on Friday at 7pm. Free admission.
The Sci-Fi Spectacular takes place on Saturday beginning at Noon at the Davis Theater (4614 N. Lincoln Ave.). Screening are A TRIP TO THE MOON (with live accompaniment by Jay Warren), THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES (with Victoria Price, daughter of Vincent Price, in person), ROBOCOP (1987 version), ZARDOZ, THE BLOB (1958 version), SCANNERS, BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS, and NEVER ENDING STORY (with actor Noah Hathaway in person). All Digital Projection. More info at https://facebook.com/scifispectacular.
Also at the Music Box Theatre this week: Emily Railsback’s 2017 documentary OUR BLOOD IS WINE (78 min, DCP Digital) opens; Andrey Zvyagintsev’s 2017 Russian film LOVELESS (127 min, DCP Digital), Sebastián Lelio’s 2017 Chilean film A FANTASTIC WOMAN (104 min, DCP Digital), and Paul Thomas Anderson’s 2018 film PHANTOM THREAD (130 min, DCP Digital) all continue; and Adam Rifkin’s 1991 film THE DARK BACKWARD (101 min, 35mm) is on Friday and Saturday at Midnight.
Facets Cinémathèque plays Lisa Addario and Joe Syracuse’s 2018 film DEAR DICTATOR (90 min, Video Projection) and Roland Joffé’s 2017 South African/UK film THE FORGIVEN (120 min, Video Projection) for week-long runs.
The Park Ridge Classic Film Series (at the Park Ridge Public Library, 20 S Prospect Ave, Park Ridge) screens Robert Hamer’s 1949 British comedy KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS (106 min, Digital Projection) on Thursday at 7pm. Free admission. http://parkridgeclassicfilm.com
The Italian Cultural Institute (500 N. Michigan Ave.) screens Massimo Guadioso’s 2016 Italian comedy AN ALMOST PERFECT TOWN (92 min, Video Projection) on Tuesday at 6pm. Introduced by Loyola University professor Anna Clara Ionta. Free admission.
Also at the Northbrook Public Library (1201 Cedar Lane, Northbrook) this week: Kamala Lopez's 2016 documentary EQUAL MEANS EQUAL (93 min, Digital Projection) on Monday at 7pm. Free admission.
The Chicago Cultural Center presents OTV - Open Television on Wednesday at 6pm. The program will feature a selection of new pilot episodes and series that will be showing on the online platform Open TV. Free admission.
Instituto Cervantes (31 W. Ohio St.) screens Álvaro Fernández Armero’s 2014 Spanish comedy LAS OVEJAS NO PIERDEN EL TREN (103 min, DVD Projection) on Tuesday at 7pm.
Gorton Center (400 E. Illinois Road, Lake Forest) screens two Kartemquin Films’ documentaries on Friday at 11am and 7pm. Screening are Gordon Quinn’s ’63 BOYCOTT (2016, 30 min, Digital Projection) and Laura Checkoway’s EDITH+EDDIE (2017, 29 min, Digital Projection).
ONGOING FILM/VIDEO INSTALLATIONS
The Art Institute of Chicago (Stone Gallery) has on view a show of two large-scale installation works by French artist Philippe Parreno. One of these, With a Rhythmic Instinction to Be Able to Travel beyond Existing Forces of Life (2014) includes a moving-image component.
Also currently on view at the Art Institute of Chicago: Frances Stark’s 2010 video installation NOTHING IS ENOUGH (14 min loop) in Gallery 295C; and Nam June Paik’s 1986 video sculpture FAMILY OF ROBOT: BABY in Gallery 288.
CINE-LIST: March 16 - March 22, 2018
MANAGING EDITOR // Patrick Friel
ASSOCIATE EDITORS // Ben Sachs, Kathleen Sachs, K.A. Westphal
CONTRIBUTORS // Kyle Cubr, John Dickson, Tien-Tien Jong, Jb Mabe, Scott Pfeiffer, Harrison Sherrod, Shealey Wallace
ILLUSTRATIONS // Alexandra Ensign