On episode #9 of the Cine-Cast, contributor Harrison Sherrod chats with fellow contributor and local filmmaker Rob Christopher about Christopher's upcoming documentary, ROY'S WORLD: BARRY GIFFORD'S CHICAGO. Associate editor Ben Sachs and contributor Alexandra Ensign cover the upcoming Chicago Film Society and Doc Films calendars. And, finally, Sachs, Ensign, Sherrod, and contributor JB Mabe discuss their favorite films of 2018.
Listen here. Engineered by Sherrod. Produced by Mabe and associate editor Kathleen Sachs.
The introductory theme is by local film composer Ben Van Vlissingen. Find out more about his work here.
Doc Films (at the University of Chicago) has rescheduled Jean-Luc Godard’s EVERY MAN FOR HIMSELF for Monday at 9:30pm and Lana and Lilly Wachowski’s BOUND for Tuesday at 9:30pm.
The Chicago Film Society has rescheduled Budd Boetticher’s SEMINOLE for Tuesday at 7:30pm. See Crucial Viewing below.
Block Cinema (at Northwestern University) has rescheduled Med Hondo’s film SOLEIL O for Thursday at 7pm. See Crucial Viewing below.
The Gene Siskel Film Center has rescheduled Gordon Quinn’s ’63 BOYCOTT and Jason Polevoi’s F*** YOUR HAIR for Saturday at Noon. See Also Recommended below.
The Gene Siskel Film Center has rescheduled Jacques Becker’s 1945 French film FALBALAS (111 min, DCP Digital) for Saturday at Noon.
The Music Box Theatre has rescheduled Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi’s FREE SOLO for Wednesday at 7pm. See Also Recommended below.
Eclipsing: Death and Transformation is an extended multi-media festival that began in December. As part of the festival, the following screening has been rescheduled for this weekend: at Filmfront (1740 W. 18th St.), local artist Xitlalli Sixta Tarin screens BEST OF BOTH WORLDS along with a selection of earlier work on Sunday at 2pm. Free admission but donations accepted/encouraged.
Jean-Luc Godard’s THE IMAGE BOOK (New Swiss/French)
Gene Siskel Film Center — Check venue website for show times (begins a three-week run)
When I screened A MAN ESCAPED in an Intro to Film class a few years ago, one particularly bright student seemed riveted by Bresson’s radical and extensive use of first-person voice-over narration, close-ups of hands at work, and the unusual way these elements interacted with each other. In a post-screening discussion, he made the salient point that “It was as if Lieutenant Fontaine’s hands were doing the thinking and the talking.” I was reminded of this remark at the beginning of Jean-Luc Godard’s THE IMAGE BOOK when a close-up depicts a man’s hands splicing together two shots of 35mm film at an editing table. On the soundtrack, Godard’s 87-year-old voice, now a sepulchral whisper, informs us that “man’s true condition” is to “think with hands.” This is shortly followed by what appears to be a documentary image of a concentration-camp victim’s emaciated fingers. Hand imagery from a variety of sources—from a shot of Buñuel wielding a straight razor in the opening of UN CHIEN ANDALOU to the detail of an index finger pointing upwards in Da Vinci’s painting John the Baptist—proliferates in the early stages of THE IMAGE BOOK. This serves to introduce the film’s structure (“five chapters like the five fingers of a hand”) and overall aesthetic strategy (mixing excerpts of narrative films with documentaries, high art, cell-phone videos, etc.); but, more importantly, it reminds us of Godard’s belief that a filmmaker is ideally someone who works with his or her hands, operating “small instruments” like the analog equipment on which Godard begins the process of slicing and dicing the contents of his vast image data bank before passing that footage on to his cinematographer/co-editor Fabrice Aragno for a digital upgrade. After this brief prologue, THE IMAGE BOOK proper begins: The first four “chapters” feature Godard’s associative montage at its most rigorous—he traces various images, ideas, and motifs throughout film history (water, trains, war, the concept of “the law,” etc.) in a manner not unlike that of his mammoth video essay HISTOIRE(S) DU CINEMA. But, even when it feels most familiar, these passages in THE IMAGE BOOK still show Godard to be a restless experimenter: The famous scene in Nicholas Ray’s JOHNNY GUITAR where Sterling Hayden implores Joan Crawford to “lie” by professing her love for him (a scene Godard has already quoted in several other films) gets a new look by the introduction of a black screen during what should be a shot of Hayden, so that viewers only see the corresponding reverse-angle shot of Crawford in their charged dialogue exchange. Another new trick up the director’s sleeve is the way he presents shots in a deliberately incorrect aspect ratio (i.e., the images appear horizontally stretched) before having them “pop” into the proper ratio, an amusing and oddly satisfying poetic effect. The film’s darker and more disturbing elements, on the other hand, have caused some critics to categorize it as a “horror movie.” In one instance, Godard provocatively juxtaposes an execution scene from Rossellini’s PAISAN, in which Italian partisans are drowned by their Nazi captors, with eerily similar, non-fiction footage of recent ISIS executions. Elsewhere, he juxtaposes images of exploited performers—intercutting shots of a grinning “pinhead” from Tod Browning’s FREAKS with someone performing anilingus in a pornographic film of unknown origin (the latter is identified only as “PORNO” in the lengthy bibliography that makes up most of the closing credits). But it’s the fifth and final chapter, taking up almost the entire second half of the film, that sees Godard boldly striking out into truly new territory: This section examines how Western artists frequently misrepresent the Arab world by depicting it in simplistic and reductive terms (i.e., as either “joyful” or “barbaric”). Godard quotes extensively from authors I haven’t read (e.g., Edward Saïd and Albert Cossery) but the overall meaning is clear in an extended scene that focuses on a fictional Arabic country named Dofa whose “underground has no oil” but whose Prime Minister nonetheless dreams of submitting all Gulf countries to his rule. What’s incredible about this sequence is the startling way Godard conveys the “story” solely through his narration while the image track is comprised of a cornucopia of found footage from movies by both Western and Arabic filmmakers (not to mention some hyper-saturated shots apparently captured by Godard and Aragno on location in Tunisia that are the most visually ravishing in the film). That it’s often difficult to determine where these shots came from is, of course, part of the point. In an otherwise war-and-death-obsessed work that feels even more despairing than usual for this gnomic artist, Godard does, however, express hope for the possibility of a new poetics of cinema, one in which Middle-Eastern and African filmmakers might discover new ways of seeing and hearing themselves. The wild sound design, always a highlight in late Godard, reaches new levels of expressiveness here as voices, sounds and snippets of music aggressively ping-pong back and forth between multiple stereo channels—essentially doing for the ears what the groundbreaking 3D of GOODBYE TO LANGUAGE did for the eyes. In a lengthy post-credits sequence, Godard’s voice-over eventually devolves into a coughing fit while a rhapsodic dance sequence from Max Ophuls’ LE PLAISIR gets the final word on the image track. In spite of what some of his detractors think, Godard still believes in the elemental power of cinema, which is why the mesmerizing IMAGE BOOK is a more accessible work than even many of its champions would have you believe. Spotting references and decoding meanings is ultimately less important than the sensorial experience of simply vibing with the uniquely romantic/pessimistic tone engendered by this giant of the medium’s total mastery of “image et parole.” Note: The Siskel Center has installed a 7.1 surround-system solely for the purpose of accommodating Godard’s ambitious 7.1 stereo soundtrack. (2018, 90 min, DCP Digital) MGS
RaMell Ross’ HALE COUNTY THIS MORNING, THIS EVENING (New Documentary)
Block Cinema (Northwestern University) — Friday, 7pm (Free Admission)
A feast for the senses, photographer RaMell Ross’ debut film, HALE COUNTY THIS MORNING, THIS EVENING, evades easy description, but the filmmaker gives it a go. Ross prefaces his film with a title card that says “the discovering began after I moved to Alabama in 2009 to teach photography and coach basketball. Photographing in my day-to-day I began filming, using time to figure out how we’ve come to be seen.” And indeed, Ross plays with time the way a poet uses meter to bring images to life. Ross focuses his attention on two young, black men and the people in their orbit as they make their way into the future, and a narrative of sorts emerges about their lives and dreams. But our experience of them occurs more at physical and emotional levels; they are bodies in motion, playing basketball, moving furniture, riding horses, dancing, and goofing on each other. They are figures in the universe Ross shoots so evocatively, superimposing a sun emerging from a partial eclipse onto the palm of a young boy. Shooting from a moving car, his camera blurs acres of cotton crops into liquidlike ripples that seem to scrub at the past injustices those fields have seen. Time-lapse photography imparts the feeling that we are a mere blip in the lifespan of the universe, and when an unexpected death comes, Ross suggests a transformation by watching a black swallowtail butterfly flitting in an open field. His use of sound is suggestive as well. Shooting college basketball players moving around a locker room before a game, Ross’ choice of a slowly building, cacophonous music track becomes uncomfortable, as though our hearts are pounding with the same anticipatory anxiety as the players before they finally find release by heading out onto the court. He films a man burning tires, a noxious act we can practically smell, but chooses to see the beauty of the act as he films the black smoke rising into the atmosphere as the sun shining through the branches of a tall tree backlights it and tinges it red. No matter what we see, know, or think we know about Alabama, by the time Billie Holiday sings the film out with “Stars Fell on Alabama,” it’s clear we’ve been shown heaven on earth. (2018, 76 min, DCP Digital) MF
Frank Perry’s PLAY IT AS IT LAYS (American Revival)
Chicago Film Society (at Northeastern Illinois University, The Auditorium, Building E, 3701 W. Bryn Mawr Ave.) — Wednesday, 7:30pm
PLAY IT AS IT LAYS marked director Frank Perry's fourth "woman's picture." Working from a script by Joan Didion (adapting her novel), Perry made this his experimental vehicle, incorporating stylistic elements from Michelangelo Antonioni and stream-of-consciousness storytelling. The results are sometimes disorienting, though constantly engaging, as Perry journeys through the thoughts of Maria Lang (Tuesday Weld), the self-absorbed and self-pitying wife of a B-movie director. Lang's search for answers to the "big questions in life," and ultimate decision that such a search is pointless, is not as much a reflection of her self-worth as it is the ridiculous intellectual quests of the bourgeois, epitomized by a lengthy sequence in which she randomly shoots at road signs on a highway. Lang's "traumas" and experiences of victimization are seen as the results of her own actions; unlike Perry's other heroines, who are either repressed by their social status or malevolent aggressors, Lang is simply pitiful. Although one can occasionally feel bad for her, it is almost impossible to truly sympathize. Preceded by Arthur Cohen’s 1956 short BROOKLYN GOES TO LAS VEGAS (9 min, 35mm). (1972, 99 min, 35mm) JR
Budd Boetticher’s SEMINOLE (American Revival)
Chicago Film Society (at Northeastern Illinois University, The Auditorium, Building E, 3701 W. Bryn Mawr Ave.) — Tuesday, 7:30pm
One of nine pictures Budd Boetticher churned out at Universal between 1951 and 1953, before cementing his legacy with his “Ranown cycle” later that decade, SEMINOLE (1953) is no masterpiece, but there’s a lot to recommend about this highly eccentric Technicolor quasi-western just the same. On its face, it’s a stiff retread of John Ford’s FORT APACHE (1948), with Richard Carlson in the Henry Fonda role as Maj. Degan, the hubristic, genocidal commander of a Florida fort, and Rock Hudson as an upstart subordinate whose knowledge of the region's peaceful Seminole people contradicts the wisdom of his superior. The film borrows from history as much as it does from Ford, retelling (with copious invention) the story of Osceola, the mixed-race indigenous leader who successfully resisted the army’s efforts to relocate the Seminoles during the 1830s. SEMINOLE recasts the shrewd and determined guerrilla—played, of course, by pan-ethnic wildcard Anthony Quinn—as an idealist and pacifist, martyred at the hands of the devious commander; similarly, the long and bloody Second Seminole War is reimagined not as a national project but as one nasty, careerist officer’s personal mania. While showing Native Americans with even this level of respect was rare for the time, and the film’s unabashed depiction of Osceola’s love affair with a white woman (Barbara Hale) practically unheard of, what makes SEMINOLE worthwhile aren’t its derivations or its deviations. Rather, its strength lies in the blunt authenticities of its environment, and of its violence. Shooting largely in the Florida Everglades, Russell Metty imbues the three-strip cinematography with an uncommon earthiness, particularly throughout the film’s centerpiece, the Major’s ill-advised raid into the swampy interior of the Seminole territory. For this astonishing sequence, which absorbs roughly a quarter of the film’s running time, Boetticher suspends the script’s side-plots and abandons its tepid romance, instead tracking with grim and vivid interest the grueling incursion of a 20-man detachment into the wetlands. As he skillfully ratchets up the fear, loathing, and exhaustion consuming the party, a quality that defines Boetticher’s later work—his elemental understanding of the integral relationship between the land and the blood shed upon it—comes sharply into focus. Indeed, it’s the Major’s inability to comprehend the territory he seeks to conquer, and the brutality of his desire to possess it, that make him so wretched. Our frustration with the Major becomes so acute that when the sequence explodes in a botched nighttime raid on the Seminole village, we watch him take an arrow to the chest with something like relief, even delight. “After having seen the Seminoles, and studied their history,” Boetticher told Bertrand Tavernier, “I’ve made a film about them and I’ve told the truth: they gave the West Point boys a good thrashing.” Only a director as effective as Boetticher could make a film so subversive: under the white flag of pacifism and the convenient disguise of B-picture formulae, SEMINOLE is structured to present this truth—about the brutal injustice of manifest destiny, about the necessity and the validity of native resistance—as if it were self-evident. Preceded by a selection of trailers of Rock Hudson films (approx 9 min, 35mm). (1953, 87 min, 35mm) MM
Jackie Chan’s POLICE STORY and POLICE STORY 2 (Hong Kong Revivals)
Music Box Theatre — Check Venue website for showtimes
The dubbed thwapping of Jackie Chan’s artfully choreographed fight scenes is a form of ASMR I didn’t know existed. His films POLICE STORY and POLICE STORY 2 are as tranquilizing as they are rousing, veritable ballets of brutality with elements of comedy and romance thrown into the mix. Recently restored by Janus Films in high-definition 4K, the first two films in the Hong Kong superstar’s popular action series are relentlessly entertaining, so much so that it’s almost difficult to critique them. Rather, they’re best seen as artifacts of Chan’s prodigious career, which is marked by a skillfulness that’s beyond one’s wildest imagination, rendered so flawlessly that it would seem as if anyone could do what he does. Though often compared to Buster Keaton for obvious reasons—some of Chan’s stunts (which the actor famously performs himself) are almost direct corollaries to those of Keaton’s films—Chan is also similar to Keaton in that he’s directed much of his own best work, having made POLICE STORY (1985, 92 min, DCP Digital) after working with James Glickenhaus on THE PROTECTOR (also 1985), which was intended but failed to launch Chan’s career in the United States. Ironically, the film, which took Chan back to Hong Kong, premiered at the 1987 New York Film Festival, doing much more than THE PROTECTOR to grow his stateside reputation. In the film, he stars as a young police inspector, Chan Ka Kui, who’s assigned to guard a crime lord’s secretary (Taiwanese icon Brigitte Lin) after she’s strong-armed into testifying against her former boss. The incomparable Maggie Cheung, whose comedic tenor rivals that of Chan’s own, also appears as the inspector’s girlfriend. A Jackie Chan film often feels like skipping a stone across water, each plunk a show-stopping set piece separated by passages of anticipation; that is to say, the plot, while entertaining, is largely filler until the next conflict, which inevitably yields stunts as yet unimaginable to the average moviegoer. Chan eschews the slow-build in favor of immediate, heart-stopping action, destroying a whole shantytown in the first 15 minutes as ceaselessly as he destroys a luxury mall in the last 15 minutes. POLICE STORY 2 (1988, 122 min, DCP Digital), more polished but less frenetic than its predecessor, picks up right after the first and features Chan’s long-suffering girlfriend more prominently. After a bomb goes off at a mall—a setting whose potential for chaos Chan understands as clearly as George Romero—Chan commits himself to finding the perpetrators of the attack; again, a somewhat labyrinthine, even nonsensical plot stands in the service of impressive set pieces. Differentiating the film from its predecessor are the increased involvement of Cheung and the presence of a team of young police officers, many of them women, facets that make its convoluted plot all the more enjoyable. Both films’ end credits feature outtakes and, more interestingly, behind-the-scenes footage of Chan directing, with what appears effortless and almost balletic revealed to be the result of rigorous practice and exacting delivery. It’s undoubtedly harder than it looks, but the harmonious execution is hypnotic—never has ass-kicking been so soothing. KS
Orson Welles' THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS (American Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center — Friday, 2 and 6pm and Tuesday, 6pm
You could recut Orson Welles, but you couldn't cut him out. He was like Shakespeare, whose words can be rearranged, taken out of context, or translated into different languages but remain beautiful. There are directors who edit brilliantly but whose films lose meaning if they are cut by someone else. The reason we consider Welles one of the greatest directors is because the genius of his filmmaking lies on a level more basic than the finished film. A single sound recorded by Welles, a single bit of framing overseen by him, is powerful on its own. Which is the reason, perhaps, why his second feature, THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS, seems greater than his first, CITIZEN KANE; KANE is entirely Welles' film, with very little outside meddling, while AMBERSONS was truncated and rearranged without his input. Diluted, it's still astounding—a movie that is great even as a series production stills, plot synopses, or as a reference. It's the reason we have the word "masterpiece." A heartbreaking expression of the way our memories make the past seem like it was inevitable, AMBERSONS catalogues the decline of a wealthy family through the turn of the 20th century. Every piece—the dense images, Welles's narration—is potent enough to kill you. Jonathan Rosenbaum lectures at the Tuesday screening. (1942, 88 min, 35mm) IV
Med Hondo’s SOLEIL O (Mauritanian/French Revival)
Block Cinema (at Northwestern University) — Thursday, 7pm (Free Admission)
Mauritania-born filmmaker Med Hondo's 1970 film SOLEIL O is one of the key films of the burgeoning of African cinema of the 1960s and 70s—though in this case it's more accurate to say African diasporic cinema, since the film is set and was shot primarily in France. Hondo had emigrated to France in 1959, and worked at a variety of jobs before taking an interest first in acting, then directing theater, and eventually filmmaking. SOLEIL O was his first film, and it grew out of his own experiences in France and is shaped by many of the New Wave and modernist formal tactics that were in flower at the time. The story concerns a young African man who travels to Paris to find work opportunities. What he finds though, as did Hondo on his own arrival, is only low-paying and menial work, hostility towards immigrants, entrenched casual and explicit racism, and lingering colonialist paternalism and condescension. Hondo targets these social ills through a variety of means, appropriating a number of New Wave strategies and turning them against their own country and society. At times, this leads to trenchant and humorous scenes; other times, ones that are more explicitly biting and angry. This approach is conceptually exciting, but sometimes uneven in practice; in a few places throughout things feel a bit forced, but the emotional energy underlying the film carries through. Ultimately, SOLEIL O is both a playful and scathing indictment of Hondo's adopted country, and invigorating filmmaking. (1970, 98 min, DCP Digital) PF
A Memory Palace for Ghosts: Experimental Shorts by Shayna Connelly (New Experimental)
Chicago Filmmakers (5720 N. Ridge Ave.) — Saturday, 7pm
With two brief exceptions—the nifty glitch-art piece FUCKED UP POINT BLANK (2019, 5 min) and the self-reflexive ARTIST STATEMENT (2019, 5 min)—the work in this program by Chicago-based filmmaker Shayna Connelly is focused relentlessly on death, but not always morbidly so. The documentary profile EVERY GHOST HAS AN ORCHESTRA (2017, 7 min) is unexpectedly calming, as the subject, experimental composer Michael Esposito, explains how he took inspiration from a near-death experience to create paranormally tinged music. Though Esposito’s narration fills the soundtrack, his face appears just once in the work; Connelly prefers to look at spaces, musical instruments, and closeups of body parts. That Esposito’s voice is literally disembodied suggests the formal equivalent of an out-of-body experience—he seems to haunt the film while still alive. The composer also says some interesting things about his responsibilities and aspirations as an artist, but given the theme, there’s something a little spooky to his assertion that a dead artist can live on through his art. Connelly goes full-bore into spookiness in one of the narrative pieces in the program, QUIVER (2018, 14 min), which follows a death-obsessed female professor as she’s haunted by some ambiguous supernatural force. As in GARDENING AT NIGHT (2016, 12 min), the other narrative short in this program, the filmmaker’s use of camera movements, bare-bones mise-en-scene, and clever atmospherics recalls the work of Edgar G. Ulmer, leading one to wonder favorably about what a Connelly-directed feature might look like. GARDENING is particularly Ulmeresque in its use of disembodied voices to suggest the inner turmoil of the protagonist, a woman who’s been diagnosed with a terminal illness. The results are emotionally heightened without being sensationalistic. The possible influence of Chantal Akerman runs through two of the purely experimental shorts in the program, SIGNALS: WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE? (2015, 5 min) and YOURS IS NOT THE TAJ MAHAL (2017, 4 min), which meditate on finely composed shots of public spaces to examine our emotional distance from other people. These aren’t supernatural like some of the other pieces in the program, but they still consider the feeling of being haunted. Connelly in person. (Approx 60 min total, Digital Projection) BS
Kasi Lemmons’ EVE’S BAYOU (American Revival)
Music Box Theatre — Saturday and Sunday, 11:30am
As far as Hollywood accolades are concerned, this writer couldn’t care less; however, when Roger Ebert exclaimed, “If it is not nominated for Academy Awards, then the academy is not paying attention” at the end of his review for EVE’S BAYOU, he raised an interesting point—this is a film whose quality resides in the blindspot of many. Kasi Lemmons’ directorial debut is heavily concerned with memory and race. Set in 1962, the story revolves around Eve Batiste (Jurnee Smollett) and her Creole-American family in an affluent Louisiana community. On the surface, her family is idyllic, they live in a mansion, her father (Samuel L. Jackson) is a doctor, and they come from a lineage of French nobles. One day, Eve witnesses her father cheating on her mother, and the family’s picturesque facade starts to show cracks. Eve’s sister, who has a very close relationship with her father, informs Eve that what she thought she saw was misunderstood and the idea of memory being flawed is raised and remains as the film’s central theme. The film’s narrative unfolds as a series of memories whose reliability is left questionable; shades of RASHOMON are felt as stories are recounted by multiple characters. Eve must navigate her coming of age while coming to terms with her family’s shortcomings. The cinematography is warm and bright, yet harbors nefarious undertones with its dark shadows, furthering the film’s desire for the audience to determine what is respectable or not. EVE’S BAYOU relies on its characters’ perspectives to tell a story that is dreamlike and open to multiple interpretations. (1997, 109 min, 35mm) KC
Kate Kirtz and Nell Lundy’s JANE: AN ABORTION SERVICE (Documentary Revival)
Block Cinema (Northwestern University) — Saturday, 1pm (Free Admission)
Two weeks ago, Netflix released the last six episodes of its hit show Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, which, among its many virtues, has one of the catchiest theme songs in television history, an homage to a viral video from several years ago riffing on the hilarious idiosyncrasies of local news. Apropos of nothing, I couldn’t help but think of the song—specifically the line “females are strong as hell”—while watching Kate Kirtz and Nell Lundy’s JANE: AN ABORTION SERVICE, a relatively compact 1995 ITVS documentary that considers a struggle endured, overcome, and still faced by women across the United States and all over the world. Officially known as the Abortion Counseling Service of Women's Liberation, Jane—the film's focus, named as such after the codeword used by women seeking their help—was an underground abortion service operating in Chicago from 1969 to the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade ruling in 1973. Kirtz and Lundy’s documentary is a no-frills account of the women's group that exemplifies the very qualities favored by Jane, namely female camaraderie and intrepid candidness. The film traces the organization from its humble beginnings at the University of Chicago, where founding member Heather Booth gave out referrals to doctors who clandestinely performed the procedure, to the period when Jane members performed abortions themselves, and eventually to the arrest and subsequent dismissal of charges against the Abortion 7, a group of Jane members who were arrested and whose legal troubles were thwarted by the Supreme Court’s landmark decision. Kirtz and Lundy combine interviews and archival footage, the latter culled from a myriad of sources and cleverly edited to illuminate the interviewees’ firsthand accounts. The matter-of-factness, from both the filmmakers and their subjects, is what struck me most, a stark contrast to many overstuffed documentaries as of late; it delivers the fact that the group performed over 10,000 abortions with the same frankness as stories about the cozy apartment where they performed the procedures. But despite the film’s self-effacing directness, the group’s radicalism impresses at every turn. Think about the kind of system that compels people to take matters into their own hands to such an extreme that they end up performing complicated medical procedures themselves—the womens' bravery and determination are awe-inspiring, emphasis on inspiring, especially in light of recent events. Those looking to learn more about Jane after seeing the film should get their hands on Firestarter Press’ zine, Jane: Documents from Chicago’s Clandestine Abortion Service, or Laura Kaplan’s book, The Story of Jane: The Legendary Underground Feminist Abortion Service. There’s also a 2018 feature-length narrative film about the organization called ASK FOR JANE, directed by Rachel Carey, and another film, THIS IS JANE, starring Michelle Williams and based on Kaplan’s book, in the works from Amazon. Judith Arcana, member of the Jane Collective and longtime teacher of literature, writing and women’s studies, in person. (1995, 58 min, 16mm) KS
Rob Tregenza’s GAVAGAI (New Norwegian/Canadian/German)
Facets Cinémathèque — Check Venue website for showtimes
American filmmaker and educator Rob Tregenza made his directorial debut in 1988 with TALKING TO STRANGERS, an episodic film that won the praise of Jean-Luc Godard, thus ensuring that his future undertakings would show up on someone’s radar screen. He has made a career primarily as a cinematographer and educator, directing only four other films in the ensuing years. His latest, GAVAGAI, continues his interest in the permeability of human experience, a feeling captured first by the film’s title, which is used in philosopher Willard van Orman Quine’s theory on the indeterminacy of translation. The film is structured around 15 poems, some recited in voiceover by lead actor Andreas Lust, by the Norwegian poet Tarjei Vesaas that explore love, barriers to intimacy, and the approach of death. The story, influenced by Tregenza’s co-screenwriter Kirk Kjeldsen, a fan of Vesaas’ who lived in China for several years, centers on a widower (Lust) who hires a driver, Niko (Mikkel Gaup), to take him to several sites in the Telemark region of Norway where he and his beloved Chinese wife visited while she translated Vesaas into Chinese and ending on a hilltop where he will scatter her ashes. Along the way, we meet the driver’s girlfriend, Mari (Anni-Kristiina Juuso), who is fed up with Niko’s commitment phobia. Once Niko learns his passenger’s mission, his attitude toward his relationship with Mari changes and deepens. Lust is exceptional as the grieving husband, allowing no doubt as to the depth of his love and loss. Tregenza’s choice to cast Juuso as both Mari and the dead wife translates, if you will, the feeling of enduring love for Niko, awakening him to his deepest feelings for Mari. The film is rather heavy-handed in its literal visualizations of Vesaas’ poetry, and dressing Juuso in Qing Dynasty clothing was sloppy shorthand on Tregenza’s part. Nonetheless, GAVAGAI sets a contemplative mood that lingers in the mind. (2016, 90 min, Digital Projection) MF
Fritz Lang's SECRET BEYOND THE DOOR (American Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) — Friday, 7 and 9:30pm and Sunday, 1:30pm
Saying SECRET BEYOND THE DOOR is the weakest collaboration between Joan Bennett and Fritz Lang, an argument of the film's overly fussy detractors, isn't really saying anything at all. Sure, it's not SCARLET STREET, and the premise is far less interesting (Bennett falls for the shady owner of an architecture journal whom she later fears will kill her while she sleeps). But what the film lacks in character Lang makes up for in style, combining some of the best elements of his early silent work with the dark tone of the noir genre he helped invent. The film is routine but it's far from tired, bearing the mark of a director who's learned to craft his work like a well-oiled piece of machinery. That sleekness doesn't allow for much personality here, but Stanley Cortez's cinematography alone makes it worth watching, even if the film as a whole doesn't match Lang's best work. (1948, 99 min, 35mm archival print) JA
Jeremy Workman’s THE WORLD BEFORE YOUR FEET (New Documentary)
Gene Siskel Film Center — Check venue website for showtimes
In 1971, yogi and spiritual leader Ram Dass exhorted his followers in a book to “be here now,” a statement made to him by his teacher, Bhagavan Das, that became a guiding principle for hippies throughout the world. Once George Harrison picked up on the phrase as the title of a song on his Living in the Material World album, it went from hippie mantra to bumper sticker in no time flat. Then, of course, the go-go ’80s wiped hippies off the cultural map—yet the yearning for freedom lives on. Exhibit A is Matt Green, the subject of director Jeremy Workman’s documentary THE WORLD BEFORE YOUR FEET. Green quit his job as a civil engineer to walk. He walked the more than 3,000 miles from Rockaway Beach, New York, to Rockaway Beach, Oregon, in 2010, and then decided to walk every surface—street, beach, cemetery, park, industrial site—in the five boroughs of New York City. The project encompasses about 8,500 miles and may take five years to complete, though he has no target end date in mind and, apparently, no real goal for the walk. He has no home, relying instead on short stays with people he knows, or cat-, dog-, or housesitting around the city. He lives on about $15 a day, sourced from his work savings, caretaker gigs, and donations to I’m Just Walkin’, the website that houses his photos and well-researched commentary on the places he’s seen; he particularly likes to photograph 9-11 memorials, barbershops that substitute “z” for “s” in their signs, and “churchagogues,” which are former synagogues repurposed as churches following the exodus of the areas’ Jewish population. Green, an affable 30-something Jewish man from a small town in Virginia, seems an odd fit for one of the most career-competitive, expensive cities on the planet, but it’s clear that his voracious curiosity, civil engineering background, and close observational skills wouldn’t get the same kind of workout anywhere else. Director Workman covers the waterfront of Green’s life before and during his walk, including interviews with two disgruntled ex-girlfriends, a trip to see his parents, and most interestingly, the people he meets and usually charms along his routes. At one point, Green walks with Garnett Cadogan, a black Jamaican immigrant who got to know his new home by walking it. Here we see that Green has the privilege of walking as a white man, as Cadogan describes the strategies he adopted to keep from arousing fear in the people he meets; ironically, it is a white woman who seems ready to call the cops on Green for taking a picture of her luxury car’s vanity license plate. Green’s photography is breathtaking and reveals that although he is living in the moment, he is creating a valuable archive of a city that bears witness to its past, present, and future in ways that tell its multifaceted story, from slave trading to immigration and the remnants of failed housing developments. In a country that often pays lip service to the virtues of individuality and freedom, Green reminds us that it’s possible to live out those values and be happy in the here and now. Subject Matt Green in person at the 7:45pm Friday and 5:30pm Saturday screenings. (2018, 95 min, DCP Digital) MF
Luis Buñuel's VIRIDIANA (French Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) — Sunday, 7pm
The selection of Buñuel's VIRIDIANA as the Palme d'Or winner in 1961 was more than the validation of a zeitgeist—it was a display of political solidarity. The film's making and arrival at Cannes have become the stuff of legend: Its satire of both greed and piety attacked the primary totems of a Catholic, Fascist country—Franco's Spain; the film was banned upon completion and a print had to be smuggled out of the country for its premiere. But Buñuel is not among the greatest of all filmmakers simply for courting controversy. Each of his formal decisions, even when seemingly anarchic, reveals a piercing worldview. Michael Wood writes in his notes for the Criterion Collection's DVD release: "The film is divided very clearly into two parts: the story of an elderly man's hopeless love and suicide, and his near violation of a young woman; and that of the young woman's attempt to rescue a small portion of the world's unfortunates. There is desperation in the first part and grimly comic failure in the second, but the overall effect is more spirited than that sounds—because of the endless, irreverent life in the filmmaking itself, and because of Buñuel's commitment to the possibility of change, even when it seems impossible." (1961, 90 min, 35mm) BS
Robert Redford’s ORDINARY PEOPLE (American Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) — Monday, 7pm
In its opening scene, ORDINARY PEOPLE offers a montage of the natural beauty and material riches of Chicago’s well-heeled North Shore as the ubiquitous theme song of the 1980s, Pachelbel’s Canon in D, underscores the refinement of the setting. The montage ends on the façade of a prep school. The camera moves into a rehearsal room where young men and women are rehearsing the choral version of the Canon and finally lights on a young man bellowing a bold “Hallelujah” with the rest of the group. The young man, eyes dark and sunken, is Conrad Jarrett (Timothy Hutton). In a following scene, Conrad’s parents, Calvin (Donald Sutherland) and Beth (Mary Tyler Moore), are attending a community theatre performance. The amateur acting and Neil Simonish script have put Cal into a semicoma, but Beth is alert and enjoying herself. Afterward, they commiserate with another couple, asking the collective question, “Did we like it?” and gossiping about the weight the lead actor has gained. When Beth and Cal return home, Conrad is still awake. His father checks in on him, asking if he’s having trouble sleeping. Conrad lies: “No.” Cal goes to bed and tugs on his wife’s shoulder, her cue to embrace him for sex. The wealth of this family would seem to set them apart from the people most people would consider ordinary. But we soon learn that though more insulated than most from life’s travails, the Jarretts have suffered a tragedy that shows they are as ordinarily vulnerable as the rest of us. Bucky (Scott Doebler), the older of the two Jarrett boys, drowned in a storm that dismasted and capsized the sailboat he and Conrad were piloting on Lake Michigan. Conrad, depressed, grieving, and overcome with guilt, slashed his wrists, and has only recently returned home after several months in a mental hospital. While Cal worries over Conrad, Beth wants to put the whole mess behind her. As the Jarretts deal with what happened to them, they discover some home and personal truths, and learn what it is they are made of and what that will mean to the rest of their lives. Robert Redford’s directorial debut, ORDINARY PEOPLE is a rather meat-and-potatoes film from a cinematic standpoint, but it well deserved its Best Picture Oscar win for the incredible caliber of the performances Redford elicited from his cast. Hutton, in his screen debut, exemplifies his character’s containment and emotional bravery at the same time. Watching Conrad try to reach out to those he cares about is like watching a baby chick peck its way out of its egg. Moore, strategically cast against type to warm up the ice queen Beth is in Judith Guest’s source novel, is from a family that prides itself on taking care of itself. But clearly, Beth grew up with all the advantages and breeding of her upper-middle-class milieu and didn’t have the occasion to learn how to really take care of herself at a basic level. She was charming and beautiful, married well easily, and effortlessly internalized the few social rules she’d need to sail through a conventional life. But not being a truly modern woman of the ’80s, she does not respond to the “how do you feel” culture about to engulf all the stoic throwbacks like Beth. Calvin is an interesting piece of work that Sutherland mines with that mild Canadian demeanor of his that conceals and reveals so much. On the surface, Cal’s a sensitive man, the proto-metrosexual. It’s hard to discern through all of his caring and inner examination his passive-aggressive attacks on Beth, as he constantly monitors Conrad’s needs, and even his own, but fails to discern how shattered and in need his own wife is. When he finally assesses her as someone he doesn’t think he can love anymore, he breaks into sobs that, to me, seem as triumphant as they are sad. While we never get an accurate window on Bucky as a person and feel the loss his family and friends do, we do get an absorbing picture of the aftermath and of the changing cultural landscape that makes survival that much more difficult for people like Beth. And that’s quite a lot. (1980, 124 min, DCP Digital) MF
Joseph Losey's THE PROWLER (American Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) — Thursday, 9:30pm
Nervous housewives should never get together with nervous cops, especially when lonesome. But if they didn't we wouldn't have THE PROWLER, a gem of a film exquisite enough to redeem Joseph Losey from his fairly lousy remake of M, released just a few months earlier. Evelyn Keyes is the housewife, who listens to her husband on the radio every night until signoff, and Van Heflin is the morose city cop, intent on making love to her. An inconvenient pregnancy drives the adulterous couple to a strange ghost town where Keyes will give birth in a three-walled shack. Superb. Losey has a talent for letting his characters tense up without much stylistic manipulation: bizarre events unfold quite naturally, making Keyes and Heflin's jagged relationship even more frightening. Wife and cop, sympathetic as anyone else in their cozy suburb, are both inherently doomed. (1951, 92 min, 35mm) JA
Hal Hartley's AMATEUR (American Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) — Wednesday, 7 and 9:30pm
Hal Hartley's first real attempt at post-modernism—and his densest and most ambitious film until HENRY FOOL—is an odd mix of drollness and earnestness, conceptual hipness and moral seriousness, jokey cool and genuine yearning. Not all of it works, but that's beside the point: Hartley's aim isn't to accomplish anything in particular (though he does), but to try to tackle—in an American film—subjects nobody in American cinema ever talks about because they're considered either too high-brow (culture, art) or too low-brow (religion, treated somewhat seriously), using techniques no one in American cinema uses—many borrowed from late Godard, but a few taken directly from theater (including, notably, having a young woman play a boy). Cast with a Sternbergian ear for accents, the film stars longtime Hartley lead Martin Donovan as an amnesiac who gets involved with a virginal pornographer (Isabelle Huppert), unaware of his own connection to an icy porn star (Elina Löwensohn). Hartley throws in some intrigue and thriller action, but everything's really just a vehicle for the dialogue, which gracefully circles around a handful of contradictory themes. This is as good an introduction as any to one of the most underrated American filmmakers of the last twenty years. (1994, 105 min, 35mm) IV
Mikhail Kalatozov's I AM CUBA (Eastern Bloc Revival)
The Film Studies Center (at the Logan Center for the Arts, 915 E. 60th St., University of Chicago) — Friday, 7pm (Free Admission)
The career of Georgian filmmaker Mikhail Kalatozov is a virtual index of the changing prerogatives of the Soviet film industry. Following the formalist gambits of SALT FOR SVENETIA (1930) and NAIL IN THE BOOT (1931), Kalatozov was excommunicated from revolutionary filmmaking and eventually appointed Moscow's ambassador to Hollywood. With the post-Stalin thaw, Kalatozov was suddenly in vogue again. His 1957 film THE CRANES ARE FLYING was a festival phenomenon and even earned US distribution from Warner Bros. For Pauline Kael, Kalatozov represented a deceptively non-ideological strain of Communism kitsch, calculated to make Westerners swoon with drippy romantic sentiment. Kael didn't have much to fear. Kalatozov would soon begin work on I AM CUBA, a belligerent third-world epic practically engineered to alienate liberal sympathizers. Indeed, I AM CUBA never played in the States until a 1992 engagement at the Telluride Film Festival; shortly thereafter, it was picked up by Milestone and asserted itself as, in J. Hoberman's phrase, the "Siberian mammoth" of Cold War cinema. The formal brilliance of I AM CUBA is now well known and copied recklessly by capitalists everywhere (P.T. Anderson most unabashedly). The staggering, swaggering camera choreography and unapologetic reliance on white-hot infrared film stock acknowledged, we should also consider I AM CUBA as a daffy but ultimately sincere political document. Kalatozov and his cameraman Serguey Urusevsky were adolescents in 1917 and experienced the corrosion of the Revolution first hand. The poet Yevgeni Yevtushenko, who co-wrote the screenplay with Cuban Enrique Pineda Barnet, was born in 1933 and knew the Revolution only in its debased Stalinist form. To these artists, Castro's Cuba was a legitimate laboratory and a beacon of promise. One version of the film, with Spanish dialogue and a Russian overdub that translates each line, literalizes the superimposition of one political experience upon another. One regime salutes another and incubates a full-blown pulp creation myth. Amy Heller and Dennis Doros, founders of the independent distribution company Milestone Films (which distributes CUBA), will be in person. (1964, 141 min, DCP Digital) KAW
Paweł Pawlikowski’s COLD WAR (New Polish)
Music Box Theatre — Check venue website for showtimes
Whether inspired by a clichéd romantic notion of doomed love or by an interest in examining historical epochs, storytellers have long fixated on relationships unfolding during times of sociopolitical tumult. The juxtaposition of the personal and the political allows for all manner of parallels and convergences to illuminate the human tolls of social upheaval; the intensity of romance, in particular, comes to seem like a particularly resonant analog of a world sometimes literally on fire. But whereas many films in this subgenre-of-sorts take a conventionally epic tack, charting the psychological and erotic development of a relationship across historical backdrops as vast as the films’ running times are long, Paweł Pawlikowski’s COLD WAR opts for a defiant austerity. Taking place across four countries in postwar Europe, it condenses 15 years of turbulent romance and geopolitical strife into a terse 80 minutes minus credits. Or, more appropriately, it suggests these things through omission. Indeed, as trite as it might be to say, Pawlikowski’s film is as much about what’s not shown as what is. Although we see the material effects of World War II and the subsequent Soviet dominion over Eastern Europe, it is in the elided swaths of time that transpire between the film’s starkly unsentimental cuts to black when we know the greatest tragedies have occurred. The absences are structuring, making the images and sounds we are privy to all the more bittersweet for their (fleeting) presences. And what images and sounds they are: Pawlikowski, reteaming with IDA cinematographer Łukasz Żal in the same 1.37:1, black and white aesthetic, creates visuals that gleam. One could be forgiven for mistaking the film for an actual postwar European opus from a Resnais or a Bresson, so remarkable is its sensuous evocation of this cinematic idiom, architectural rubble and chic modern surfaces finding equal purchase in fastidiously composed frames. The soundtrack, meanwhile, is filled with the Polish folk songs and midcentury jazz performed by the film’s protagonists Zula (Joanna Kulig) and Wiktor (Tomasz Kot). The film is almost a musical in the way it uses song to illustrate both their (d)evolving relationship and the changing culture they navigate, acting as commentary on the ravages of national politics and self-failings alike, with escape from either becoming an impossibility. Call it a European art-house A STAR IS BORN and you wouldn’t be too far off, except here, the romance between Zula and Wiktor, too impeded by circumstance to ever reach consummation, is less a fully formed relationship than a metonymical tool to reflect a continent riven by political conflicts. This symbolic function, combined with Pawlikowski’s rigorously pared-down form, has the effect of denying their stormy romance much heat, or psychological realism. But this was a COLD WAR, after all, and catharsis wasn’t in the cards. By the end, the film’s abbreviated runtime seems to communicate less time racing by than time stolen. (2018, 85 min, DCP Digital) JL
Gordon Quinn’s ’63 BOYCOTT and Jason Polevoi’s F*** YOUR HAIR (New Documentaries)
Gene Siskel Film Center — Saturday, Noon
’63 BOYCOTT is a timely look backward as the U.S. public education system stands vulnerably in the crosshairs of public officials who seem determined to destroy it. Archival footage and current interviews with some of the organizers of and participants in the boycott tell the story of a separate and unequal Chicago Public Schools (CPS) system they maintain was created and perpetuated by then Mayor Richard J. Daley. Schools in black neighborhoods were overcrowded and underresourced. Black students used outdated textbooks, and adding insult to injury, they had to share them. Modern scientific equipment and teaching aids found in white schools stood in stark contrast to the lack of any equipment available to black students. The final outrage was the appointment of Ben Willis as Superintendent of Schools. Accused of being a segregationist and a racist, Willis proposed to “relieve” overcrowding not by moving black students to nearby white schools, but rather by turning mobile homes into classrooms situated in school parking lots. Under pressure to resign over this “Willis wagon” plan, his probably insincere offer to step down was rejected by the school board. The time to boycott—and cost CPS hundreds of thousands of dollars in state aid—had arrived. ’63 BOYCOTT offers footage and still photos of various activists and activities, including the sit-in at the Board of Education and alternative Freedom Schools set up to teach black history. These images are intercut with footage of protests that broke out in 2013 when Mayor Rahm Emanuel ordered the closing of 54 schools, the bulk of which served students of color. The images are remarkably similar, sadly emphasizing that battles fought years ago have never really been won. Still, it is worth taking heart. Sandra Murray, a bright African-American student in 1963 who was told to forget her ambition to be a research scientist went on to earn a doctorate in biology, win National Science Foundation grants for research into cell biology and endocrinology, and taught in various universities in the United States and in Ethiopia. (2016, 30 min, DCP Digital)
In the highly competitive craft beer industry, it takes more than a good-tasting brew to stand out from the crowd; sometimes it takes a good story. Andrés Araya and Mila Ramirez are the husband-and-wife team from Mexico who founded 5 Rabbit Cerveceria in south suburban Bedford Park, Illinois, in 2010 to brew beer inspired by the flavors of their native country. Their small business got a nice shot in the arm when they landed the contract to produce house beer for the restaurants at Trump Tower Chicago. Then, in 2015, the candidate made his infamous statement about Mexicans “bringing … problems to us. They are bringing drugs, and bringing crime, and their rapists.” That’s when 5 Rabbit got its story. F*** YOUR HAIR chronicles the company and its protest reaction—breaking its contract with the Trump organization and selling the beer it had already brewed for the Tower as Chinga Tu Pelo (F*** Your Hair, in reference to the famously ugly presidential coif we’ve all come to know and laugh at) to local purveyors like Hopleaf and Roots Handmade Pizza in only two days. The 5 Rabbit story was widely reported, including by WBEZ-FM reporter Monica Eng, and it’s possible that Chicago filmmaker and videographer Jason Polevoi was inspired by what he heard to make F*** YOUR HAIR. The result is a delightful, interesting film that explores the brewery’s journey by interviewing many of the people who took part in it, including the graphic designer of the Chinga Tu Pelo logo, the company’s attorney, some fans of the beer, and filmmaker and artist Lilly Wachowski, who created a can design for the follow-up brew, La Protesta. None of the people at 5 Rabbit think that what they did is going to change the world, but the experience certainly changed them. As Araya explains, “Suddenly, all the friends I had out there felt like family.” (2019, 37 min, DCP Digital) MF
Directors Gordon Quinn and Jason Polevoi are scheduled to appear at the rescheduled screening.
Alexandria Bombach’s ON HER SHOULDERS (New Documentary)
Music Box Theatre — Sunday, 11:30am
In the weeks following the shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, which claimed the lives of 17 people and wounded, either physically or emotionally, many others, reporters of an especially cinephilic ilk likened survivor and resultant activist Emma González to Renée Jeanne Falconetti, the French actress whose face, with all its masterfully variegated expressions in Carl Theodor Dreyer’s THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC, launched a thousand appreciations for her extraordinary anterior performance. The New Yorker legitimized what Film Twitter had canonized in meme form, photo comparisons of Falconetti and González, solemnly tearful at the March for Our Lives in D.C., artfully situated under the headline “Joan of Arc and the Passion of Emma González.” A similar comparison entered my mind as I watched Alexandria Bombach’s ON HER SHOULDERS, a documentary about another remarkable survivor-activist, Nadia Murad Basee Taha, a young Yazidi woman whose village was overtaken by ISIS forces, after which most of her family was killed and she was forced into sexual slavery. Though comparing the two would be pointless, if not petty—both are undoubtedly extraordinary young women—it’s Murad who for me recalls Dreyer and Falconetti’s Maid of Orléans, the simple grace of suffering apparent as they endure pain and humiliation—and, in their own way, conquer those very obstacles—in the face of religious persecution. Over the course of the film, Bombach follows Murad as she shares her story around the world and, finally, at the United Nations Security Council (which made her the First Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking), with her steadfast companions and even Amal Clooney, accomplished human rights lawyer and wife of George, by her side and eager to raise awareness about the Yazidi genocide in Iraq. Bombach intercuts this rote—albeit compelling—documentary footage with cinematographically striking talking-head sequences of Murad that elucidate a poignant inner-pain. Much like Dreyer, Bombach transforms face into landscape, humbling the film’s more sensational moments with a solemn reminder that its subject is a person and her people, rather than a far-off manifestation of All That’s Wrong With the World. The filmmaker holds back the more sordid details of Murad’s experience, instead focusing on her activism and understandable frustration with the media’s lurid preoccupations. Near the beginning, Bombach leaves in footage of Murad performing a sound-check clap, reminding us that what we’re watching is, in fact, a film, prudently constructed, like most films, to reflect a tendentious viewpoint. But rather than impress upon us a meretricious view of the medium’s impact, she reinforces cinema’s role as adamantine spectator, itself a face that stares back at us, inquisitive of our gaze. (2018, 94 min, DCP Digital) KS
Hirokazu Kore-eda’s SHOPLIFTERS (New Japanese)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) — Saturday, 7 and 9:30pm and Sunday, 4pm
Gene Siskel Film Center — Check venue website for showtimes
Music Box Theatre — Saturday, 11:20am and Monday-Wednesday, 2pm
Coming home after a day spent shoplifting, a man and a boy see a young girl playing by herself outside an apartment and decide to take her home with them. Their household is presided over by an elderly woman, along with two younger women, one of whom has a relationship with the man. Their home is a ramshackle corrugated lean-to, perpetually in danger of being demolished by a local property flipper. They get by on various grifts and scams to supplement the meager salaries of the grownups’ menial jobs and the old lady’s pension. Each member of this makeshift family does their best to play the part they wish they had in their previous lives. I kept thinking of Dickens’ Oliver Twist while watching this movie. There’s a lot of Fagin in the man and of the Artful Dodger in the boy; the grubby neediness of their lives is out of Dickens as well. In his careful and unassuming way, Kore-eda has made a devastating indictment of capitalist society, as well as the sacrosanct place the nuclear family holds within its structures. He continues plumbing the depth and breadth of what connects one human being to another through this group of strangers—unwanted or rejected by their relations and by the larger world—who throw in their lots together to form a bond made by choice rather than blood. This one left me gutted. (2018, 121 min, DCP Digital) DS
Ingmar Bergman’s WILD STRAWBERRIES (Swedish Revival)
Beverly Arts Center (2407 W. 111th St.) — Thursday, 7:30pm
Summer is a very special, brief time of the year in Sweden, known as the time of messy Midsummer rituals, joyful hedonism, and sexual spontaneity and abandon. How could it be otherwise in a country where the summers are so exquisitely balmy, fleeting, and intensely alive, compared to the harsh severity and darkness of the more famous Swedish winters? One of Bergman’s greatest odes to summer is WILD STRAWBERRIES [SMULTRONSTÄLLET]. (It is worth noting that the smultron featured in the Swedish title is not the same fruit as the strawberry grown in the U.S., but a much sweeter, alpine variety that is an unofficial sort of symbol of national pride in Sweden, returned to by Bergman in several of his films as a recurring motif for personal fulfillment and the short-lived pleasures of life.) Bergman’s 18th directorial feature, WILD STRAWBERRIES is a film often singled-out for special praise as his most poignant and stirring cinematic achievement—and it is also surely the most beloved, enduring personal favorite of both classic European arthouse enthusiasts and more ironic, Nouvelle Vague-inclined, closeted Bergman fans alike (of which this reviewer humbly counts herself as one). Made during a significant personal, midlife crisis for the director—marked by the dissolution of both his marriage to his third wife Gun Grut, as well as the end of his affair with Bibi Andersson—WILD STRAWBERRIES is a film about the crucial importance of recognizing close familial relations and interpersonal warmth as the sustenance that will save you from the coldness of life’s crushing indifference (in fact, Bergman suggests, in a deadened world, it is the only thing that can). Starring the great Swedish silent film director and actor Victor Sjöström (THE PHANTOM CARRIAGE, HE WHO GETS SLAPPED) in his final screen appearance as Professor Isak Borg, the film’s main narrative innovation is its 24-hour frame during which the action consists of the professor’s journey with his daughter-in-law (Ingrid Thulin) by car from Stockholm to Lund to receive an honorary degree. This seemingly simple road-trip premise is strikingly intercepted by a series of flashbacks, memories, unexpected encounters, and hauntingly vivid and nightmarish dream sequences—the latter in particular reminding us of Bergman’s underappreciated surrealist genius (high-strung symbolism and Dutch angles galore!), and anticipating the grand guignol imagery still to come in THE MAGICIAN. Balanced admirably between representations of both the bleak realities as well as the unexpected joys of living, what Bergman gives us in WILD STRAWBERRIES is an unforgettable lesson that life—even when you don’t deserve it—hands you little gifts of camaraderie and friendship, little windows of opportunity for connection, reminders of all the ways that life and cinema can be beautiful. (1957, 91 min, Digital Projection) TTJ
Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi’s FREE SOLO (New Documentary)
Music Box Theatre — Wednesday, 7pm
In 2017, professional rock climber Alex Honnold became the first person to scale the 3,200-foot-tall monolith in Yosemite National Park called El Capitan without any safety equipment. This method, called free soloing, is the ultimate challenge for those who climb. The climber’s only equipment is his or her body—how strong it is and what it can do—and the preparation and concentration built up by experience. One wrong move is literally a matter of life and death. FREE SOLO, another beautifully shot outdoors film produced in part by National Geographic, is a documentary record of Honnold’s historic achievement. It is also a disturbing look at the ethos of extreme sports and the debasement of the natural world. As revealed in FREE SOLO, Honnold has spent his adulthood as a climbing vagabond, living for years inside a van and regarding girls as temporary hook-ups. Considered something of a highly intelligent oddball by his classmates when they all were growing up, he seems to have missed out on parental nurturing. He has internalized the notion that he needs to be perfect to overcome his mother’s disdain for him—and if ever there was a sport that requires perfection, it’s free soloing—and he seems to have a literal screw loose, that is, an unresponsive amygdala, which is the part of the brain responsible for fear conditioning. It appears that the only time he really feels in the zone is when he’s scaling a big rock face, and his girlfriend and climbing friends, many of whom are part of the documentary’s camera crew, know that trying to dissuade him from his dreams for El Cap is hopeless. Director Chin is a master at portraying the unique language and bonds of professional climbers and getting the shots during the climb without distracting Honnold. Vasarhelyi, Chin’s partner and wife, bores into the personal story, revealing Honnold to be a blunt and singular person, willing to wound his girlfriend by saying he will always put climbing before extending his life expectancy; he does not share her sympathy for the wife of a climber they learn has died on the Nuptse Wall of Mt. Everest during Honnold’s preparations (“What did she expect?”). This is where the film becomes really troubling. Like the 2008 documentary MAN ON WIRE, which deals with Philippe Petit’s high-wire walk between the towers of the World Trade Center, FREE SOLO shows the emotional toll exacted on the people who care about Honnold. Petit’s friends, none of them wire walkers, dropped him after the walk, a fate mitigated for Honnold by the fact that other climbers are helping him. In 2014, Honnold and other free soloists did lose Clif Bar’s sponsorship, which said “that these forms of the sport are pushing boundaries and taking the element of risk to a place where we as a company are no longer willing to go.” Nonetheless, extreme sports comprise a multibillion-dollar industry that continues to grow. Another 2018 documentary, MOUNTAIN, shows long lines of people queuing to climb Everest and despoil it with their detritus. Watching Honnold’s terrifying climb up El Cap, I couldn’t help noticing all the chalk whitening the handholds, defacing a once-forbidding edifice. While people have long been fascinated with and challenged to perform feats of daring-do, the commodification of adventure is turning mountains into molehills. (2018, 100 min, DCP Digital) MF
MORE SCREENINGS AND EVENTS
The Conversations at the Edge series (at the Gene Siskel Film Center) screens former Chicagoan Jodie Mack’s 2018 experimental feature THE GRAND BIZARRE (61 min, 35mm) on Thursday at 6pm, with Mack in person. Also showing is her 2018 short HOARDERS WITHOUT BORDERS 1.0 (5 min, 16mm).
Also at Block Cinema (Northwestern University) this week: Manthia Diawara’s 2017 Portuguese/US/Malian documentary AN OPERA OF THE WORLD (70 min, Digital Projection) is on Wednesday at 7pm, with director and NYU Professor of Cinema Studies Diawara in person. Free admission.
Gallery 400 (400 S. Peoria St., UIC) presents Fluid Entanglements on Tuesday at 6pm. The program of experimental video shorts, curated by Loyola University professor Robyn Mericle, includes: THE SEA IS HISTORY (Louis Henderson, 2016, 28 min), SOMNIUM (Rosa Barba, 2011, 19 min), SUBATLANTIC (Ursula Biemann, 2015, 11 min), and DISLOCATION BLUES (Sky Hopinka, 2017, 17 min). Free admission.
Northwestern University’s MFA in Documentary Media program screens Anayansi Prado and Heather Courtney’s 2018 documentary THE UNAFRAID (87 min, Digital Projection) on Tuesday at 7pm in the Annie May Swift Auditorium (1920 Campus Dr., Northwestern), with co-director Courtney in person. Free admission.
The Midwest Independent Film Festival (at the Landmark’s Century Centre Cinema) takes place on Tuesday with a 7:30pm screening of Joe Chappelle’s 2018 film AN ACCEPTABLE LOSS (102 min, Digital Projection), with Chappelle in person. The event begins with a 6pm reception and a 6:30pm producers panel.
The Italian Cultural Institute (500 N. Michigan Ave., Suite 1450) screens Marco Bellocchio’s 2016 Italian film SWEET DREAMS (131 min, Video Projection) on Thursday at 6pm. Free admission.
The Northbrook Public Library (1201 Cedar Lane, Northbrook) screens Frank Lloyd’s 1935 film MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY (132 min, Digital Projection) on Wednesday at 1 and 7pm. Free Admission.
Also at the Gene Siskel Film Center this week: Can Ulkay’s 2017 Turkish film AYLA: THE DAUGHTER OF WAR (123 min, DCP Digital) is on Saturday at 3pm and Wednesday at 7:45pm; and Maryam Sepehri’s 2017 Iranian/US documentary MOUTH HARP IN A MINOR KEY: HAMID NAFICY IN/ON EXILE (62 min, DCP Digital) is on Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 4:45pm, with Sepehri and scholar, filmmaker, and Northwestern University professor Naficy in person at both shows. Showing with Naficy’s 1969 documentary ELLIS ISLAND (38 min, Digital Projection).
Also at Doc Films (University of Chicago) this week: Maria Maggenti’s 1995 film THE INCREDIBLY TRUE ADVENTURE OF TWO GIRLS IN LOVE (94 min, 35mm) is on Tuesday at 7pm; and Alan Parker’s 1980 film FAME (135 min, DCP Digital) is on Thursday at 7pm.
Also at the Music Box Theatre this week: Matt Riggieri and Nick Kovacic's 2018 documentary AGAVE: THE SPIRIT OF A NATION (78 min, DCP Digital) is on Monday at 7pm; and Tommy Wirkola’s 2009 Norwegian film DEAD SNOW (92 min, 35mm) and Nicolas Pesce’s 2017 film PIERCING (81 min, DCP Digital) are on Friday and Saturday at Midnight.
At the Chicago Cultural Center this week: the Chicago Latino Film Festival presents Paula Markovitch’s 2011 Argentinean/Mexican film THE PRIZE (99 min, Video Projection) on Wednesday at 6:30pm. Free admission.
ONGOING FILM/VIDEO INSTALLATIONS
Isaac Julien’s 2007 video installation THE LEOPARD (WESTERN UNION: SMALL BOATS) is on view at the Block Museum (Northwestern University) through April 14.
PRESENT ABSENCE, a five-channel video installation by Salome Chasnoff and Meredith Zielke, is on view at Uri-Eichen Gallery (2101 S. Halsted) through February 1 (call 312 852-7717 for an appointment).
Currently on view at the Art Institute of Chicago: Naeem Mohaiemen’s 2017 three-channel video installation TWO MEETINGS AND A FUNERAL (88 min) is on view through March 31 in the Stone Gallery; Martine Syms' SHE MAD: LAUGHING GAS (2018, 7 min, four-channel digital video installation with sound, wall painting, laser-cut acrylic, artist’s clothes); and Dara Birnbaum’s KISS THE GIRLS: MAKE THEM CRY (1979, 6 min loop, two-channel video) is in the second floor corridor.
CINE-LIST: February 1 - February 7, 2019
MANAGING EDITOR // Patrick Friel
ASSOCIATE EDITORS // Ben Sachs, Kathleen Sachs, Kyle A. Westphal
CONTRIBUTORS // Julian Antos, Kyle Cubr, Marilyn Ferdinand, Tien-Tien Jong, Jonathan Leithold-Patt, Michael Metzger, Joe Rubin, Dmitry Samarov, Michael Glover Smith, Ignatiy Vishnevetsky