On episode #3 of the Cine-Cast, Cine-File associate editors Ben Sachs and K.A. Westphal discuss recent releases and screenings they're looking forward to at the Chicago Film Critics Film Festival; Sachs and contributor John Dickson chat about the Philippe Garrel series at the Gene Siskel Film Center; contributor JB Mabe interviews the new Pick-Laudati Curator of Media Arts at the Block Museum of Art at Northwest University, Michael Metzger—they talk about upcoming programming and the direction Mike is taking within the Chicago film community; and contributor Kyle Cubr interviews Chicago Film Society co-founder Julian Antos about their new season.
Listen here. As always, special thanks to our producer, Andy Miles, of Transistor Chicago.
Hong Sang-soo’s CLAIRE’S CAMERA (New South Korean)
Gene Siskel Film Center – Check venue website for showtimes
Ideal entertainment for the beginning of May, CLAIRE’S CAMERA is a light, effervescent film that scores numerous laughs, contains lovely (and, as always with Hong Sang-soo, lovingly sparse) images, introduces a few melancholy notes, and then ends before you know you it, as if telling you to use the time you’d normally spend watching a movie to go for a stroll. (Hopefully the weather will be nice at the screening you attend.) Hong shot it over several days while attending the Cannes Film Festival, yet in trademark minimalist fashion, the movie contains no crowds, no depictions of moviegoing, and the only party we see is shot from outside the main event. The lackadaisical spirit Hong typically finds in Korean cities simply followed him to France—the movie is content to show characters sitting and drinking or walking and talking, and always in depopulated areas. The slender story begins with Man-hee (Kim Min-hee) getting fired from her film distribution job by her uptight boss (Chang Mi-hee), who refuses to divulge her reasons for doing so. (Her behavior is good for a nice, Hongian bit of passive-aggressive comedy.) Over the course of the day, the women separately make the acquaintance of Claire (Isabelle Huppert), an eccentric schoolteacher from Paris who likes to take pictures in her free time. For Man-hee and her boss, art is a business and the site of a territorial war, but for Claire it’s something to be enjoyed as part of life. Will the Korean women learn the French woman’s lesson in happiness? Or will they remain stuck in their ways? Therein lies the film’s subtle sense of tension. At any rate Hong seems to be acting on Claire’s example—CLAIRE’S CAMERA was the second of three films he released in 2017, and he’s already premiered one this year. In Fassbinderian fashion, Hong now treats filmmaking as inseparable from living. (2017, 68 min, DCP Digital) BS
Nick Alonzo’s THE ART OF SITTING QUIETLY AND DOING NOTHING (New American)
The Nightingale (1084 N. Milwaukee Ave.) – Friday, 7:30pm
“Sitting quietly, doing nothing, Spring comes, and the grass grows, by itself.” So goes a 17th-century haiku by Basho that inspired the title of Nick Alonzo’s new comedy. This koan-like poem, which reminds readers of the importance of letting things happen (as opposed to making them happen), is fitting for our modern world where the notion of busy urban professionals consciously “unplugging” in order to undergo a “digital detox” has become a common occurrence. This also happens to be the story of Carl (Alex Serrato), the film’s poker-faced anti-hero who embarks on a solitary, Henry David Thoreau-style retreat into nature after a breakup with his longtime girlfriend Gloria (Alycya Magana). In contrast to Alonzo’s debut feature, SHITCAGO, which featured a deadpan protagonist encountering a strange menagerie of characters in the city, most of THE ART OF SITTING QUIETLY AND DOING NOTHING is devoted to scenes of Carl alone in the woods in the suburbs—masturbating, exercising, writing in his diary, attempting to fish, etc.—scenarios out of which Alonzo gets a surprising amount of comic mileage. The incongruity of this city dweller alone in verdant nature is highlighted by the fact that he perpetually sports a t-shirt emblazoned with Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon album cover—the ultimate symbol of mass reproduction and popular culture—but Alonzo also posits Carl’s strange odyssey as a genuine, and genuinely poignant, desire for spiritual rebirth. At its best, the minimalist, black-and-white-shot SHITCAGO brought to mind early Jim Jarmusch and Chantal Akerman. THE ART OF SITTING QUIETLY AND DOING NOTHING, a clear advance on its predecessor, might best be described as “stoner Apichatpong.” Alonzo and select cast and crew in person. (2018, 80 min, Digital Projection) MGS
Steven Spielberg’s JURASSIC PARK (American Revival)
Chicago Critics Film Festival at the Music Box Theatre – Sunday, Noon
I don't remember when I first saw JURASSIC PARK—my dad tells me it was at the Melody 49, a two-screen drive-in in Brookville, Ohio, that’s still screening spring/summer blockbusters like READY PLAYER ONE and AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR late into the night, with accompanying audio coming in through 105.3FM—but I do recall when I first declared it a masterpiece. The thought occurred to me one night during college, in a bar, as all the most poignant and affecting thoughts do. The person to whom I was delivering this drunken homily agreed that it was a good movie, but alas, not a masterpiece, and I recoiled in shame over my enthusiasm for such non avertis cinema. Twenty-five years after seeing it for the first time and almost ten years after my spasmodic declaration, I maintain—this time with the courage of my convictions—that Steven Spielberg’s 1993 film, based on the eponymous novel by famed potboiler peddler Michael Crichton, whose own career resembles Spielberg’s in regards to both their populist sensibilities and resultant accusations of their work having bona-fide “entertainment value,” is a genuine masterwork, perhaps even the lauded director’s pièce de résistance. (Ironically, this assertion comes on the heels of a recent revelation that, at one point, Spielberg resented having to make JURASSIC PARK because it distracted him from SCHINDLER’S LIST, which he was able to do the same year after agreeing to the prehistoric sci-fi action-drama.) The funny thing about Spielberg is that I’m sure there’s at least one person who could say that about each and every one of this films, from DUEL to, most recently, THE POST and READY PLAYER ONE, and everything in between—it’s not just that Spielberg’s filmmaking is personal, which anyone familiar with his biography knows is his greatest strength, but that his work invokes in its viewers a sense that the film in question is not just personal for its maker, but also for them, that whichever world Spielberg has created belongs as much to them as they do it. And even beyond the sense that the world of Drs. Alan Grant (Sam Neill), Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) and Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), as well as John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) and his grandkids Lex and Tim, belongs to me outside the cinema’s darkened theater (inside or out) is the sense of hope that JURASSIC PARK provides. To me, it represents the possibility of cinema, the sense that with cinema, anything is possible. A corny sentiment to be sure, but accurate nonetheless, be it the possibility for realism or fantasy, the joys and horrors to be found in real life or joys and horrors invented anew. JURASSIC PARK may also have been a last vestige of hope for blockbuster cinema, specifically with regards to its groundbreaking special effects via an ingenious combination of practical effects (including men in raptor costumes—take note during the famous kitchen scene) and CGI. In Entertainment Weekly’s appropriately entertaining oral history of the film, Spielberg says, “I was using Universal’s money to basically make an experimental dinosaur picture,” an audacious claim but not altogether untrue. If narrative cinema is rooted in linearity, the prospect of having actors interact with non-existent entities, in this case dinosaurs, literally non-existent, creates a sort of dissonance that simultaneously astonishes and perturbs. Such effects are now so much the norm that it’s hard to find speculative wonder in their execution, but that was precisely the case with JURASSIC PARK. It’s not without irony that another director, Attenborough, plays Hammond, the sanguine CEO whose behemoth company InGen both pioneers the DNA-replicating science and opens the disastrous theme park—what is a filmmaker if not some sort of mad scientist-cum-reluctant businessperson? JURASSIC PARK was criticized for its capitalistic inclinations on-screen and off; as it takes place in a theme park, the branding and subsequent merchandising for said park is prominent within the film, and off-screen, merchandise sales were reported to have topped one-billion dollars just several months after the film, then the highest-grossing of all time, was released. I won’t deny that it certainly reeks of consumerist excess, but I’m also reminded of one of the film’s most iconic set pieces, when, at the end, the T. rex destroys the park’s visitor center after killing the raptors, a banner reading “When Dinosaurs Ruled The Earth” falling as the T. rex roars. A poignant, if unintentional, autocritique, it’s as if to say that all the stuff in the world is no match for that which is natural, be it dinosaurs or the power of a good yarn, as Spielberg calls it—or, when rendered cinematically, both. All this, based more so on feeling than fact, may not be very astute criticism, but maybe that’s okay. Perhaps some films should just exist to awe, to remind us of the medium’s potential for such an impact, one piece of the puzzle though it may be. (1993, 127 min, 35mm) KS
Charles Lamont's MA AND PA KETTLE (American Revival)
Chicago Film Society (at Northeastern Illinois University, The Auditorium, Building E, 3701 W. Bryn Mawr Ave.) - Wednesday, 7:30pm
Ma and Pa Kettle, the country bumpkins first introduced in Betty MacDonald's 1945 bestseller The Egg and I and immortalized by Marjorie Main and Percy Kilbride in the 1947 film adaptation, join the illustrious list of films, actors, and characters (including Abbott Costello, Deanna Durbin, and Dracula) that purportedly saved Universal Studios from bankruptcy in the 1930s and 1940s. The lovable duo move their enormous family into a futuristic house after Pa wins a slogan-writing contest, but their pre-Industrial Revolution lifestyle is a poor fit for their new home, which seems designed mainly to thwart and injure Pa. (Note to self: research history of comedies about futuristic houses.) There's a fascinating array of styles on display here: the scenes set in the modern house are full of sight gags and physical comedy as well as middlebrow jabs at modernity in all its forms (most pointedly a Cubist painting), but earlier scenes in their shack seem written for radio, the comedy mostly verbal and delivered with verve by Main and Kilbride. It's easy to forget that these are talented actors, and the sheer joy of, say, the surprising elegance of Pa negotiating an automatic door is but one of the many pleasures on display here. Other elements are less pleasurable: a pair of Native American characters (one actually played by a Native American actor) serve the comedic purposes you'd expect from a film of this era, and they're uncomfortable viewing in 2018. There's also a strange and fascinating protective mocking (or mocking protectiveness?) of the Kettles, as the film is premised on making them seem ridiculous and yet defends their inherent nobility against supercilious bankers and town gossips. Only we can make fun of them, it seems to say, because only we really understand them. Viewers' tolerance for this kind of thing will likely determine their reaction to the film. Keeping that in mind, the film delivers a lot of smiles, a few chuckles, and at least one belly laugh. Throw in the chance to see it on 35mm, and it's more than enough. Preceded by Frank Tashlin's 1944 cartoon THE SWOONER CROONER (7 min, 16mm). (1949, 76 min., 35mm) MWP
Eric Rohmer’s LA COLLECTIONNEUSE (French Revival)
Film Studies Center (at the Logan Center for the Arts, 915 E. 60th St.) – Saturday, 7pm (Free Admission)
The first feature-length film of Eric Rohmer’s “Six Moral Tales” was also the director’s first work in color, and boy does he ever take advantage of it. Working with master cinematographer Nestor Almendros, Rohmer creates an intoxicating portrait of a world in bloom. The imagery is simple—grass, stones, water, and sand are recurring visual motifs—yet vividly rendered; many of the shots achieve a transcendent beauty. In classical fashion, form mirrors content, with characters musing and acting on their notions of the beautiful. (As always Rohmer creates the impression that he would have been very much at home in the late 18th century.) Adrien (Patrick Bauchau) is a 30-ish art collector who gets left alone when his fashion model girlfriend leaves for London for six weeks one summer. He decides to idle away the time at the country manor of a distant acquaintance; joining him are another dandyish friend, Daniel (Daniel Pommereulle), and Haydée (Haydée Politoff), a gaminish woman about ten years their junior. Haydée likes to sleep around, and Adrien, who has little else to do, amuses himself by wondering whether she’ll sleep with him. Adrien also narrates LA COLLECTIONNEUSE, and the film is subtly modernist how it draws attention to the subjective viewpoint behind the images. Consider a conversation between Adrien and Haydée on a beach; as the latter talks, Rohmer cuts to a flattering shot of the young woman’s bare legs—clearly a reflection of what Adrien is thinking about. Subjectivity informs the images in subtler ways, as when Adrien’s self-aggrandizing narration undercuts the natural beauty that’s all around him. And then there’s the dialogue, which Rohmer wrote in collaboration with the three leads. Few filmmakers make conversation seem as erotic as Rohmer did; the discussions of beauty are delivered so sensuously and suggestively that they intimate physical pleasure better than almost any rendering of lovemaking in cinema. Politoff takes part in a postshow discussion with U of C professor Richard Neer. (1967, 87 min, DCP Digital) BS
Cecilia Atán and Valeria Pivato's THE DESERT BRIDE (New Argentinean/Chilean)
Gene Siskel Film Center – Check Venue website for showtimes
The finest, most affecting moments in THE DESERT BRIDE are the private, wordless ones. They belong to Chilean actress Paulina Garcia, best known to me for her brief but memorable turn as the recalcitrant seamstress mother in Ira Sachs's LITTLE MEN. She gives a quietly moving performance in this first fiction feature by writer-directors Cecilia Atán and Valeria Pivato, playing Teresa, a 54-year-old live-in maid and caregiver to a family in an ivy-covered house in Buenos Aires. After 34 years with the family, during which she essentially mothered their son, Rodrigo, she finds herself facing a new life when the family has to sell the house. They find her a place with relatives in San Juan, but the bus breaks down in the desert near a pilgrimage town peppered with shrines to the miraculous Saint Correa. Wandering through the market, Teresa encounters a middle-aged, charismatic dress salesman called El Gringo (the wonderful Claudio Rissi). When she accidentally leaves her handbag in his RV (which doubles as the dressing room), she tracks him down and, though he claims no knowledge of her bag, he offers to drive her around looking for it. We feel the romance of the desert highway as they double-check his delivery spots, the taverns and wood-and-adobe homes, and she befriends some of the good people in his life. Playing over Teresa's expression, we see, over the unfolding day, her growing trust in and enjoyment of garrulous, itinerant Gringo, her secret amusement at his occasional flirting. He's a bit of a rascal, a paunchy life-lover. He makes her laugh. There's a kind of low-key suspense. Is he 100% honest? My favorite moment is when Teresa regards herself in the side view mirror, and tentatively lets her hair down. It's clear she hasn't thought of herself as desirable in a very long time. But there are many equally telling wordless moments: when, in flashback, we see her sitting in the empty house amidst the packed boxes, and she picks up a little toy horse from Rodrigo's childhood—and, for a moment, she's happy. Or when, scared about the future the night before her trip, she burrows her face into the blankets. Like good short story writers, Atán and Pivato say as much with what’s between the lines as with what they put in: we get just enough of Teresa's relationship with Rodrigo to see how much the young man loves her. It's a special thing, and a rare one, to have a film told from the point of view of a character like Teresa, brought to life by women auteurs who, I think, clearly love her. In their detailed, empathetic writing and directing, they are helped immeasurably by Garcia, with her little smile, her tired eyes full of a lifetime's joys and disappointments, and her sidelong glances—sometimes watchful and wary, sometimes open and hopeful—that say more than words about what's inside. Thanks to the two leads, this never registers as allegory nor fantasy, but a story about two real, flesh-and-blood, late middle-aged grownups. The passage of time is somehow both the saddest and the happiest part of life. The gentle breeze that blows through much of THE DESERT BRIDE is, somehow, a quiet, unspoken reminder of it. (2017, 78 min, Digital Projection) SP
Asghar Farhadi's ABOUT ELLY (Iranian Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) – Friday, 7 and 9:30pm and Sunday, 1:30pm
Western media typically presents Iran in reductive images of fundamentalist Islam, arid deserts, and threatening militarism. ABOUT ELLY quickly dispels these notions. A group of middle-class friends decide to spend a weekend with their families at a dilapidated seaside villa, and we see that their lives are not much different from our own. When the kindergarten teacher who is also invited along disappears suddenly, the film transitions from drama to psychological mystery. ABOUT ELLY raises many interesting questions both moral and sociological. How far will a person go with lies in order to protect the honor of another? What obligations do both men and women have to one another when the unthinkable occurs? The ramifications to these questions are devastating and life changing in the film. The interpersonal relationships presented are paramount to the film's emotional appeal and narrative. As the relationships degrade and the web of lies grows, the house lends itself as an apt metaphor for the characters themselves--dirty, broken, and hollow. Farhadi's use of muted, earthen colors only furthers the importance of everyone's baser urges and reactions. His mise en scene showcases short focal lengths to portray a sense of dishonesty when a character is out of focus or a sense of claustrophobia when true intentions are revealed. Water plays an important role in this film as well: the ever-crashing waves on the shores contribute to the relentless, foreboding feeling of dread that is omnipresent. Combined with the innocence of the children present, the bleak duality of man is fully realized. Dishonesty's ominous shadow casts largely as ulterior motives are actualized. ABOUT ELLY is one of the crown jewels of contemporary Iranian cinema. Its messages resonate powerfully long after the end credits roll. (2009, 119 min, 35mm) KC
Chan-wook Park’s LADY VENGENANCE (South Korean Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) – Sunday, 7pm
A response of sorts to Quentin Tarantino's KILL BILL cycle, this is a flamboyant tale of revenge centered on an iconic female lead—another scorned woman who must defeat an evil man before reuniting with her daughter. Park is one of the most entertaining filmmakers working today—Like Tarantino or the P.T. Anderson of BOOGIE NIGHTS and MAGNOLIA, each shot is a designed as an elaborate stylistic challenge—making this screening a must-see for the uninitiated. Overall, the film gets marred by the Hollywoodism that's come to define international blockbusters in recent years (Think of it as a blood-drenched AMELIE), but Park's subsequent work—I'M A CYBORG, BUT THAT'S OK and his entry in the omnibus film THREE... EXTREMES—marked a welcome return to the brazen weirdness of his earlier films. Still, there are enough movie-movie moments in LADY VEGEANCE to get drunk on. (2005, 112 min, 35mm) BS
Elia Kazan’s A FACE IN THE CROWD (American Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) – Wednesday, 7 and 9:30pm
François Truffaut characterized Elia Kazan’s A FACE IN THE CROWD as “a great and beautiful work whose importance transcends the dimension of a cinema review.” Well. I’ve got my work cut out for me. Perhaps J. Hoberman felt the same way when he chose to make a thorough examination of the film the epilogue of his book An Army of Phantoms: American Movies and the Making of the Cold War? More on that later. Andy Griffith, best known for playing Atticus Finch-lite on his eponymous television show, stars as Larry “Lonesome” Rhodes, who’s given that nickname by Patricia Neal’s Marcia Jeffries after she discovers him in her small town jail’s drunk tank and puts him on her local radio program. Lonesome is not a particularly talented singer—rather, his talent lies in his rudimentary, if somewhat dishonest, philosophical ramblings, which catapult him to success. It’s hard not to think of Donald Trump when watching A FACE IN THE CROWD, despite the seeming political disparity. Indeed, Hoberman notes that “[l]onesome though he may be, Rhodes can instrumentalize mass culture because he personifies it. Before the movie ends, he is...a major threat to American democracy.” Hoberman also analyzes the way in which Kazan and screenwriter Budd Schulberg depict television as a medium that can be used to unduly influence its audience, a scenario that’s playing out before our very eyes as a reality star with no previous political experience acts as President of the United States. “Kazan and Schulberg intuited that...media personalities and movie stars would now nominate themselves for the leading roles,” Hoberman writes, something that he says came to “full fruition” with Reagan, and that’s now even yuger—and scarier—in light of Trump’s rise to power. Griffith’s performance in his big-screen debut is as deft as it is disconcerting; even his features appear larger than life as he takes on Lonesome’s mendacious personality. Neal, in a performance that one might say is the antithesis of her role as Dominique Francon in King Vidor’s adaptation of The Fountainhead, serves as the so-called moral straight man, and Walter Matthau’s Mel Miller (or Vanderbilt ‘44 as Lonesome calls him, revealing an anti-intellectual attitude that’s all too familiar) foils her earnestness with his acerbic yet perceptive cynicism. (1957, 126 min, 35mm) KS
Lucrecia Martel’s ZAMA (New Argentinean)
Facets Cinémathèque – Check Venue website for showtimes
“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, Video Projection) JD
Raoul Peck’s THE YOUNG KARL MARX (New German)
Goethe Institute (150 N. Michigan Ave., Ste. 200) – Tuesday, 6pm (Free Admission)
Would the release of Haitian filmmaker Raoul Peck’s THE YOUNG KARL MARX have even made a blip on the radar in the U.S. just over a decade ago? These were the pre-Great Recession halcyon days, with Barack Obama—the supposed socialist—bound for office, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average chugging along at a record setting pace. Marx? Who needs him?! Over the next few months and years, the answer would become clear: everybody. And that answer still resounds like a code red clarion call in our contemporary political climate, which explains the electric charge Peck’s film holds in 2018, when words like socialism and fascism don’t seem so antiquated stateside. Peck is no stranger to finding topical relevance in historical figures; part of what makes his 2017 documentary on James Baldwin, I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO, so compelling is the way the film lays painfully bare how little progress we’ve made in vanquishing racism since Baldwin’s time. On the one hand, it’s shocking that this film hasn’t been made before, a testament, no doubt, to Marx’s taboo status. Curiously, he’s had only a handful of other onscreen incarnations, including a USSR 1966 propagandist biopic titled YEAR AS LIFE and Alexander Kluge's 570 minute NEWS FROM IDEOLOGICAL ANTIQUITY, most notably. Marx, arguably the most controversial (and misunderstood) thinker in modern history, is many things to many people—champion of the labor movement, bogeyman of the free market, grand architect of Soviet ideology, patron saint of graduate students everywhere—and Peck’s film sets out to achieve the admirable goal of separating man from myth. One of Marx’s most revolutionary claims was that material circumstances directly determine consciousness, and indeed, his theories of political economy did not occur in a vacuum. The film chronicles a formative period in Marx’s life as he and his family bounce around Europe, getting expelled from Prussia and Paris for political dissent before settling in London, where Marx penned his most famous work, The Communist Manifesto. This is not a portrait of Marx as demigod, but as a spunky, scrappy intellectual, so impoverished that he can barely feed his family, and discriminated against for his Jewish surname. Not only does the film do justice to the historical Marx, it also sheds light on the formative relationships that contributed to his thinking. His bromance with Friedrich Engels, a lifelong friend, collaborator, and benefactor, is front and center, but it’s the duo’s female counterparts who steal the show. Jenny von Westphalen Marx, who edited and transcribed her husband’s works, is clearly the shrewder, wittier partner here, while Engels’s better half, Mary Burns, an irreverent Irish factory worker with ties to underground labor organizations, provides an invaluable window onto the conditions of the working class. One can only fantasize about a different young Marx movie, helmed by Judd Apatow in the style of THE HANGOVER trilogy, that chronicles some of his, um, lesser known subversive antics, such as gallivanting around Berlin on a donkey, getting tossed in prison for public intoxication, and challenging a soldier to a duel. With the exception of a stunning tableau vivant that breaks the fourth wall, Peck’s movie is not Marxist when it comes to film form, like Godard’s Brechtian agitprop experiments LA CHINOISE and TOUT VA BIEN, or Eisenstein’s montage masterworks. At moments it has the feel of a stodgy period piece that the evil parents from GET OUT might pride themselves on seeing to bank some progressive capital, begging the question: can revolutionary ideas be transmitted in a decidedly non-revolutionary form? The movie is not, thankfully, intended to function as a lecture on Marxist philosophy, and while all the fuss about the Young Hegelians and competing conceptions of materialism might leave some viewers feeling alienated, Peck is careful not to veer into outright didacticism; even those unacquainted with Marx’s writings will be able to discern the broad strokes contours of his thought, e.g. private property is bad, profit equals exploitation, and so on. Marx’s communism was always envisioned as a global affair, and so it’s befitting that Peck’s movie concludes the EU Fest, an urgent reminder that collectivism remains possible amidst the torrent of jingoistic, isolationist rhetoric spewing from the White House. In short, this is not the best movie of the year so far, but it may very well be one of the most important. (2017, 114 mins, Video Projection) HS
Douglas Sirk's IMITATION OF LIFE (American Revival)
Northbrook Public Library (1201 Cedar Lane, Northbrook) – Wednesday, 1 and 7pm (Free Admission
Early in IMITATION OF LIFE, Lana Turner's character says, "Maybe I should see things as they really are and not the way I want them to be." Oh, the irony. In Douglas Sirk's films, however, it doesn't so much burn as blaze—so fiercely, in fact, that it's not difficult to understand how the irony and subversiveness for which Sirk is known among the cinephile crowd was lost on popular audiences at the time. Of Sirk's acclaimed '50s work, IMITATION OF LIFE is perhaps the most outwardly melodramatic with an emotional blow up on every reel and a conclusion that necessitated theater owners distributing tissues in the lobby. Turner plays Lora Meredith, an unemployed widow who moves to New York City with her young child in hopes of becoming a Broadway actress. There she meets Annie and her daughter, Sarah Jane; both are African American, but Sarah Jane is light skinned and thus appears white. So sums up the limitations—and imitations—of life that the film's main characters must confront throughout the narrative. The way Sirk address these concurrent storylines accounts for a distanciation that permeates his famed melodramas. In addressing both as equally "melodramatic," Sirk therefore assigns equal importance to all characters, white and black. Not only does he assign importance through screen time, he even seems to use it to highlight the absurd contrasts between Lora and her daughter, Susie, and Annie and Sarah Jane. Susie's biggest problem in life seems to be finding a boyfriend and perhaps taking care of the thoroughbred her mother gifts her upon graduation. Sarah Jane, on the other hand, grapples with being a black person who appears white, even suffering physical abuse at the hands of a boyfriend after he finds out that she's not as she appears. Like Susie, she too seeks validation, both from men and the outside world at large, though her background affords her none. As her mother, Annie must witness first-hand her daughter's torment over being black. The dichotomy is further emphasized by the unlikely family unit formed by the four women; Annie's unwavering love and Sarah Jane's feelings of inferiority within the unit are the least "melodramatic" (read: most genuine) aspects of the film. It was an enormous success and is widely considered Sirk's masterpiece, though it was the last film he made in Hollywood before leaving the United States. Just as with MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION, John M. Stahl had already made an adaptation of the eponymous novel in 1934. IMITATION OF LIFE is especially prescient nowadays considering the current sociological climate. So farsighted, in fact, that one wonders if modern moviegoers unfamiliar with Sirk's work won't really feel that distant from it, in much a different way than the original audiences. (1959, 125 min, DCP Digital) KS
Richard Donner's THE GOONIES (American Revival)
Wilmette Theater (1122 Central Ave., Wilmette) – Sunday, 2pm
The retreat into infantile adventure as a way to resolve genuine economic problems is a hallmark of the early Spielbergian oeuvre, and Richard Donner's autumnal 2.35:1 children's epic (bankrolled by Spielberg) is no exception. The middle-class gifted children of drizzly seaside Astoria, Oregon, facing eviction of their families by an expanding preppie country club, are inspired by their region's poorly-documented colonial past to literally descend deep into the earth to recover an entombed bounty of pre-fiat riches. Pursued by a small, villainous Italian-American crime family unconsciously preserving the tricks of the pirate trade (robbery, counterfeiting, murder), our perpetually-yelling heroes combine their scholastic talents (mechanical engineering, Spanish proficiency, and sight- reading) to linearly "complete" a variety of video-game-adaptation-ready action sequences and save their steep, hilly neighborhood from becoming what would have been the Pacific Northwest's shittiest golf course. Millions of the film's original viewers, by contrast, would in fact ultimately lose their homes in this decade's housing bubble. Post-screenings discussion led by film critic and blogger Don Shanahan. (1985, 114 min, Unconfirmed Format) MC
MORE SCREENINGS AND EVENTS
The Chicago Film Critics Association Film Festival takes place at the Music Box Theatre this week. Full schedule at https://chicagocriticsfilmfestival.com.
Yasujiro Ozu’s silent 1933 Japanese film WOMAN OF TOKYO (47 min, 35mm) is co-presented by the Chicago Film Society, the Chicago Critics Film Festival and the Music Box Theater (at the Music Box) on Saturday at 11:30 am. Preceded by the surviving fragment of Ozu’s 1929 film A STRAIGHTFORWARD BOY (14 min, 35mm). Live accompaniment by Dennis Scott.
The Film Studies Center (at the Logan Center for the Arts, 915 E. 60th St.) screens Mark Rappaport’s 1975 film MOZART IN LOVE (99 min, Unconfirmed Format) on Thursday at 4pm. Introduced by Jonathan Rosenbaum and followed by a discussion. Showing as part of of the symposium Opera Through the Eyes of Film, which takes place on Friday, May 11, from9am-6pm at the Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society (5701 S. Woodlawn Ave., University of Chicago). Free admission for both. More info at www.popera2020.com/opera-through-the-eyes-of-film-i.html.
DePaul University presents Charles Fairbanks and Saul Kak’s 2016 documentary THE MODERN JUNGLE (72 min, Video Projection) on Friday at 5:30pm at their downtown campus (247 S. State St., Room LL105), with Fairbanks in person. Free admission, but limited seating available on a first-come basis.
Chicago Filmmakers (5720 N. Ridge Ave.) screens Jon Silver’s 2018 mockumentary THE CIVIL HOAX: CIVIL WAR DENIERS (52 min, Digital Projection) on Saturday at 7:30 and 10pm, with Silver and Writer/Producer Joey Gartner in person.
Comfort Film at Comfort Station Logan Square (2579 N. Milwaukee Ave.) screens Marlon Riggs’ 1995 documentary BLACK IS…BLACK AIN’T (87 min, Digital Projection) on Wednesday at 8pm, selected by Hiromi Ueyoshi for Comfort Film’s Guest Curator series. Free admission.
The Chicago Cultural Center presents Muslim Girls and Monsters: A Screening of Select Episodes from The Girl Deep Down Below on Wednesday at 6pm. Free admission.
Cinema 53 presents Quartier Lointains: Emerging AfroFrench Filmmakers on Thursday at 7pm at the Harper Theater (5238 S. Harper Ave.). Screening are: RETOUR À GENOA CITY (Benoît Grimalt, 2017, 29 min), NULLE PART (Askia Traoré, 2013, 25 min), LE BLEU BLANC ROUGE DE MES CHEVEUX (Josza Anjembe, 2016, 21 min), and GAGARINE (Fanny Liatard and Jérémy Trouilh, 2015, 15 min). With Quartiers Lointains curator Claire Diao and filmmaker Josza Anjembe in person.
Asian Pop-Up Cinema screens Zhang Yang’s 2016 Chinese documentary PATHS OF THE SOUL (115 min, Video Projection) on Sunday at 1pm at the Midwest Buddhist Temple (435 W. Menomonee St.). Free admission, but RSVPs are required: www.asianpopupcinema.org/soul5618; and Kim Yong-hwa’s 2017 South Korean film ALONG WITH THE GODS: THE TWO WORLDS (139 min, Digital Projection) is on Wednesday at 7pm at AMC River East 21.
Black Cinema House (at the Dorchester Art + Housing Collaborative, 1456 E 70th St.) screens the second episode of Donna Deitch’s 1989 television miniseries THE WOMEN OF BREWSTER PLACE (Unconfirmed Running Time, Video Projection) on Friday at 7:30pm. Free admission.
Also at the Goethe-Institut Chicago (150 N. Michigan Ave., Ste. 200) this week: Jason Barker’s 2011 documentary MARX RELOADED (52 min, Video Projection) is on Wednesday at 6pm; and Christian Tweente’s 2018 film THE GERMAN PROPHET – THE LAST VOYAGE OF KARL MARX (Unconfirmed Running Time, Video Projection) is on Thursday at 6pm. Free admission.
Also at the Gene Siskel Film Center this week: Randall Wright's 2017 film SUMMER IN THE FOREST (108 min, DCP Digital Projection) is on Friday at 3:30pm, Saturday at 7:30pm, Sunday at 2:45pm, and Monday at 7:30pm; Sergio Corbucci's 1968 Italian western THE GREAT SILENCE (105 min, DCP Digital) is on Friday at 6pm, Saturday at 3pm, Sunday at 5pm, and Tuesday at 6pm; Masahiro Sugano's 2014 documentary CAMBODIAN SON (90 min, DCP Digital Projection) is on Friday at 3:45pm and Tuesday at 6pm, with a lecture by SAIC professor Nora Annesley Taylor at the Tuesday show; Philippe Garrel's 1991 French film J'ENTENDS PLUS LA GUITARE (98 min, 35mm) is on Friday at 6pm and Saturday at 3pm; and his 1967 French film MARIE POUR MÉMOIRE (74 min, DCP Digital Projection), preceded by his 1964 short LES ENFANTS DÉSACCORDÉS (15 min, DCP Digital Projection), is on Saturday at 5pm and Monday at 7:45pm; and the SAIC Film, Video, New Media, Animation Show 2018 is on Wednesday at 4:15, 6 and 8:30pm, Thursday at 4:15, 6 and 8pm, Friday, May 11 at 4:15, 6 and 8pm and Saturday, May 12 at 4:15, 6 and 8:30pm. Each showtime is a different program of work by students at SAIC, and all are free admission.
Also at Doc Films (University of Chicago) this week: Alex Garland's 2018 film ANNIHILATION (115 min, DCP Digital) is on Saturday at 7 and 9:30pm and Sunday at 4pm; Guy Maddin's 1991 film ARCHANGEL (83 min, 35mm) is on Monday at 7pm; Michael Haneke's 2004 film TIME OF THE WOLF (114 min, 35mm); Hal Ashby's 1971 cult classic HAROLD AND MAUDE (91 min, 35mm) is on Thursday at 7pm; and Peter Greenaway's 1990 film A ZED & TWO NOUGHTS (115 min, 35mm) is on Thursday at 9:15pm.
Also at the Music Box Theatre this week: Chloë Zhao’s 2017 film THE RIDER (104 min, DCP Digital) and Sophie Fiennes’ 2018 British documentary GRACE JONES: BLOODLIGHT AND BAMI (115 min, DCP Digital) both continue; and Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead’s 2017 film THE ENDLESS (111 min, DCP Digital) is on Friday and Saturday at Midnight.
The Italian Cultural Institute (500 N. Michigan Ave.) screens Massimiliano Bruno’s 2017 Italian film IGNORANCE IS BLISS (102 min, Video Projection) on Tuesday at 6pm. Free admission.
Sentieri Italiani (3712 N. Broadway Ave.) screens Bernardo Bertolucci’s 2012 Italian film ME AND YOU [IO E TE] (103 min, Video Projection) on Saturday at 4pm.
ONGOING FILM/VIDEO INSTALLATIONS
The Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago has artist Paul Pfeiffer’s two-channel video installation Three Figures in a Room (2016, 48 min looped) on view through May 20.
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: May 4 - May 10, 2018
MANAGING EDITOR // Patrick Friel
ASSOCIATE EDITORS // Ben Sachs, Kathleen Sachs, Kyle A. Westphal
CONTRIBUTORS // Michael Castelle, Rob Christopher, Kyle Cubr, John Dickson, Scott Pfeiffer, Michael W. Phillips Jr., Harrison Sherrod, Michael G. Smith