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.
Sergei Parajanov's SHADOWS OF FORGOTTEN ANCESTORS (Soviet/Armenian Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) — Monday, 7pm
Sergei Parajanov's adaptation of Mykhailo Kotsibuynsky's novel is a sweeping epic, a Romeo and Juliet story about a boy and a girl from a small village in the Ukraine who try to overcome the animosity of their families through love. But the film is not really about the story, or its characters, but rather the wild pageant of Ukrainian village life that Parajanov and crew create through costume, landscape, and, most importantly, a unique and baroque style of camerawork. Cinematographers Yuri Ilyenko and Viktor Bestayev's camera seems totally unhinged, liable to take off running at any time, park itself miles from the action, or take on the identity of a murder weapon as it sees fit. And yet we always have the sense that the whole strange universe of the film is all around us, just out of frame. As the film goes on and the characters grow up, the profusion of technical wonders begins to slow and the story takes more of a center stage. We find ourselves in a world more D.H. Lawrence than Shakespeare, a bleak pastoral world of small farmers, bad memories, and marital frustrations (albeit hinted at with a coded Soviet prudery). But naturalism is never a priority for Parajanov or his actors, who jump back and forth between mad happiness, dull resignation, and murderous rage so quickly that it can be a little confusing. The romantic leads are wooden and stilted, but the craggy ensemble, whose expressionism and physicality borders on mime, is wonderful. (1964, 97 min, 35mm) ML
François Ozon’s 8 WOMEN (French Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) — Wednesday, 7 and 9:30pm
Imagine Agatha Christie meets Douglas Sirk and together they plot against Vincente Minnelli and Alfred Hitchcock in a plot as labyrinthine and confusing as THE BIG SLEEP. That will give a sense of the delightful homage and pastiche that imbue 8 WOMEN with much of its charm. This is a movie by an auteur who loves the classics, much like Pedro Almodóvar's WOMEN ON THE VERGE OF A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN. Ozon wanted to shoot a remake of George Cukor's THE WOMEN, but ran into issues with acquiring the rights, so he decided to adapt the play Huit femmes by Robert Thomas instead. Much like in THE WOMEN, the eight stars of 8 WOMEN dominate all of the screen time, and Marcel, the man with whom they are all obsessed, remains a specter off-screen. These women are portrayed by dazzling stars of French cinema who bring as much extratextual delight to the film as the sensual spectacle of a murder mystery played out through a Technicolor musical. From Danielle Darrieux (a classic film star whose career spanned eight decades!) to Catherine Deneuve to Fanny Ardant and Emmanuelle Béart, the screen is veritably overflowing with charisma as the women scheme, lie, confess, and form a tangled web of intimate bonds and intrigue. Of course, this film is nested in the Isabelle Huppert retrospective at Doc, and Huppert manages to steal every scene she's in, playing an uptight, neurotic, spinster aunt with lightning-fast chatter and overwhelming tension. No single actress manages to dominate the film, however, in part because the plot unravels and re-ravels with every scene, while Ludivine Sagnier (who appears in several other Ozon films), playing a noir-novel-obsessed teenager, provides sharp analysis. Each confession and the intimacy that reveals provides a glimpse into emotional selves that move beyond camp, in somber, quiet moments that break through comedy to the trauma and heaviness of the burdens each of the women bear. These brief respites from the sometimes slapstick farce lend the slightest bit of gravitas and welcome intensity to a movie that is otherwise a lightweight, camp spectacle. 8 WOMEN is especially enjoyable to watch on a big screen because of the painstaking cinematography by Jeanne Lapoirie, whose lush palette and lighting recreates the Technicolor frisson of Vincente Minnelli and makes each actress shine in custom costumes that clearly reference the dashing midcentury panache of Edith Head and Dior. Because Ozon is an auteur who reflects a freewheeling, queer sexuality in some form in his films, 8 WOMEN also includes Sapphic tensions and romance, translating his advocacy for sexual liberation into a fabulously sinful context with a dash of lesbian pulp fiction. Watching 8 WOMEN is the cinematic equivalent of eating a box of gourmet truffles (without the pesky stomach ache to follow). (2002, 111 min, 35mm) AE
Alireza Motamedi’s REZA and Bahman Farmanara’s I WANT TO DANCE (New Iranian)
Gene Siskel Film Center — Saturday, 6pm and Sunday, 3pm (Reza); Saturday, 8pm and Sunday, 5pm (Dance)
Light and joyous, Alireza Motamedi’s REZA and Bahman Farmanara’s I WANT TO DANCE are quality entertainments, both utterly charming in the facets of Iranian life they depict. In REZA (2018, 94 min, DCP Digital), Motamedi stars as the title character, a burly, blonde-haired divorcé navigating romance as a newly single man. His ex-wife is still in the picture, along with a placid café owner and a mysterious woman seemingly come alive from the fable Motamedi tells via a tonally sedate voiceover. Parts of the film are perhaps a bit self-serious, but Motamedi’s natural charisma keeps it from being pompous, and he wisely balances his loftier ambitions with good-natured exchanges with other sanguine romantics. Also present is the elliptical and even mysterious storytelling that delineates much great Iranian cinema; that it’s used in what’s essentially a romantic comedy is evidence of it as part of the national style. Farmanara’s I WANT TO DANCE (2015, 95 min, DCP Digital) is more political, though just as amiable. Dancing in public is forbidden in Iran, putting the film’s protagonist in a tough spot when, after receiving a CD from a little girl on the street, he mysteriously starts hearing music and feels compelled to dance. Such hysterics befall said protagonist, Nima, a 60-year-old writer, at a point in his life where his friends are dying and he’s creatively blocked. Dancing helps inspire him back to life, so to speak, similarly affecting other Iranians who appear to also hear the music. An underlying theme to the film is mental health, with many characters shown to be anxious and depressed, relying on drugs, both prescribed and recreational, to function. Nima is soon ostracized as being mentally unwell due to his dancing, recalling a centuries-long tradition of political dissidents and revolutionaries being labeled ‘crazy’ because of their subversive actions. Banned for three years in Iran and eventually released under the title I WANT TO, the film is as infectious as its premise, reflecting an inner joy that can never truly be suppressed. KS
David Miller’s SUDDEN FEAR (American Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) — Friday, 7pm and 9:30pm and Sunday, 1:30pm
As is the case with nearly every film in which she makes an appearance, Joan Crawford gives a powerful performance in SUDDEN FEAR. Myra (Crawford) is a wealthy heiress and playwright, who after turning Lester (Jack Palance) down for her next show, marries him when the two strike up a whirlwind romantic relationship. Lester discovers while Myra is writing her will that she plans to donate her fortune. Upset by this fact, he enlists his old flame, Irene (Gloria Grahame), to help him murder his wife so the two can collect the money. David Miller’s film is quintessential noir. The idyllic settings of San Francisco and Los Angeles aid in this and their locales are captured beautifully on screen with wide shots. In a genre famous for its grittiness and pulp, SUDDEN FEAR comes across as polished and sleek. The central narrative hinges on double-crosses on double-crosses as the characters learn of one another’s intentions in secret. Crawford’s performance showcases her ability to portray emotions of every sort, from infatuation and hatred to betrayal and fear. Grahame, who is no stranger to noir or playing the femme fatale, gives her strongest performance since CROSSFIRE and serves as the sultry counterpoint to Crawford’s more rigid demeanor. With well-polished set pieces, SUDDEN FEAR is an exciting cat and mouse game where the cat and mouse frequently change roles. (1952, 110 min, DCP Digital) KC
Astra Taylor’s WHAT IS DEMOCRACY? (New Documentary)
Gene Siskel Film Center — Check venue website for showtimes
I interviewed Canadian filmmaker Astra Taylor over ten years ago, while I was in college, on the occasion of her 2008 documentary EXAMINED LIFE. Not only is she incredibly smart and a great interviewee, but she’s also quite personable, someone with whom it’s easy to have a conversation. I note this not because it should be required of a filmmaker—especially a female filmmaker—but because her innate ability to inspire and engage in discourse is part of what makes her work so successful. Furthermore, she spent her middle school years “unschooling” herself, a process by which she and her siblings were responsible for their own education vis-à-vis whatever they were interested in at the time, a facet of her biography which likely contributed to her rapacious curiosity. On top of all this is what seems to be a career-long fascination with philosophy, the study being the main theme of her first two films, ZIZEK! (2005), about the controversial Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek, and EXAMINED LIFE, documenting her outside-the-ivory-tower conversations with some of the world’s foremost philosophers, among them, again, Žižek, Cornel West, and Judith Butler. All of this informs her most recent film, WHAT IS DEMOCRACY?, in which she asks just that, its title an appropriate reflection of the subject at hand, both a fixed definition and a fluid concept, belonging, simultaneously, to the past, the present, and the future. Its structure is more freewheeling than her previous two films, at least apparently so—she said in a recent interview with The Nation that its structure is actually “very precise,” but that her “goal was not to belabor the audience with it, but rather to let it almost wash over them.” Much of the film takes place in Greece, a location chosen not just for being the birthplace of democracy, but also because of its contemporary struggles related to politics, the economy, and immigration. West makes an appearance, as do political theorist Wendy Brown, scholar-activist Silvia Federici, and all-around badass Angela Davis; new to Taylor’s film work is the use of regular people, non-intellectuals whom she asks “what is democracy?” and other questions specific to their circumstances. The standouts among them are a group of schoolchildren all too aware of structural power imbalances, a barber who’d once been incarcerated reflecting on the lack of democracy within that system, and a young Syrian asylum seeker living in a Greek refugee camp. In these scenarios, the film’s title isn’t so much a question as an admonishment, perhaps forcing the viewer to reconcile individual interpretations of the concept with problematic consequences inherent within it. Interspersed throughout the film, like chapter titles, are quotes from Plato’s The Republic; the film, then, is in discourse with those ideas put forth, a visual representation of them, rescued from abstraction. It’s altogether more polished than Taylor’s first two films, with exquisite cinematography from Maya Bankovic, and where a DIY-aesthetic benefitted the previous films, a more refined look helps elucidate crevices previously unexplored by a filmmaker whose ambitions span not just the globe, but the history of human thought. Taylor seems to make films like she thinks and maybe even lives—philosophically, in pursuit of ideas greater than herself. Taylor in person at the Friday and Saturday shows. (2018, 107 min, DCP Digital) KS
Takashi Miike’s AUDITION (Japanese Revival)
Music Box Theatre — Friday and Saturday, 11pm
Note: Spoilers! — AUDITION may have been Takashi Miike’s international breakthrough, but it’s an uncharacteristic work in several respects. When Miike is at his freewheeling best (as in DEAD OR ALIVE 2: BIRDS, THE HAPPINESS OF THE KATAKURIS, or DETECTIVE STORY), he’ll change a film’s tonal register repeatedly over the course of the running time; AUDITION, on the other hand, contains only one significant shift in tone. Many of Miike’s other features abound with outlandish humor as well as gruesome violence, but (save for a humorous montage that occurs fairly early) AUDITION abounds only with violence. In terms of style, Miike often likes to alternate between long takes and brisk montage; this film favors the former over the latter. AUDITION is also one of the only Miike features (of which there are now over 100) that can be said to tackle issues of sexual politics and gender roles; his work is usually too absurd to connect to real-world concerns. Still, AUDITION is thoroughly Miike-esque in the devilish glee with which it provokes its viewers. That big shift—from muted drama to grisly horror—is one of the great surprises in modern movies, and it plays like a tramcar veering wildly in a dark funhouse. Miike restrains himself for the movie’s first half, seldom moving the camera and developing a gentle (albeit occasionally wry) tone. The movie promises to be a subdued, if eccentric tale of a 60-ish widower, Aoyama, who gets persuaded to look for a new wife—until the story becomes something totally different. Aoyama pretends to be a producer holding auditions for a fake movie, videotaping women talking about themselves under the assumption they’ll be cast in the lead role. He comes to pay for this ruse and then some, experiencing emotional manipulation and ultimately torture at the hands of the woman he picks to be his bride. His comeuppance is excruciating, yet also bleakly funny, representing an ironic reversal not only of the audience’s narrative expectations, but also what they might think a straight man can get away with. (1999, 115 min, DCP Digital) BS
Imanol Uribe’s CAROL’S JOURNEY (Spanish Revival)
Instituto Cervantes (31 W. Ohio St.) — Tuesday, 7pm (Free Admission)
Twelve-year-old Carol Powell (Clara Lago) and her mother, Aurora (María Barranco), leave their home in New York City, to return to Aurora’s native Spain, where Carol’s American father (Ben Temple) is fighting on the republican side of the Spanish Civil War against the fascists. They set up housekeeping with Aurora’s father, Don Amalio (Álvaro de Luna), in the countryside, and Carol, a bit of a tomboy, explores the natural world around her and begins making friends with three spirited boys, especially Tomiche (Juan José Ballesta), whose father was executed by the fascists. This film for young adults, based on a book adapted for the screen by its author, Ángel García Roldán, and director Imanol Uribe, offers a gentle look at a serious time that Uribe references as increasingly intrusive on the ordinary lives of Carol and her circle of friends and relatives. Lago is a charismatic actor who plays Carol as a confident, outspoken American we fear will get into big trouble once Franco’s victory is secured. Her intelligence and the bravery of her first love, Tomiche, set an example for more mature children and young teens of resilience, loyalty, and hope. It’s also a treat to see veteran actor Rosa Maria Sardà, who plays Aurora’s friend Maruja, teaching the next generation in her home and acting as their sounding board and confidante. The too-pat ending is overly optimistic, but the final image provides an earned emotional payoff. (2002, 104 min, DVD Projection) MF
The Bradbury Chronicles: Three 16mm Shorts (Narrative Shorts Revival)
As society more and more resembles the plot of a Ray Bradbury text—with our streaming and our smart phones and now even smart speakers, intended to work like many of the devices that appear in the lauded author’s stories—it’s increasingly hard to see films like the ones presented in this program. With the aggressive streamlining of production and distribution comes the loss of a certain kind of discovery best embodied by the educational film, an uncanny genre appreciable by both children and adults. Take, for example, the program of short educational films by Barbara Loden and John Mackenzie presented by the Chicago Film Society last fall. Meant to be educational, the films also provided lessons, perhaps unintentionally, on both a high standard of filmmaking and the sublime dereliction of human existence, the former greatly influencing the efficacy of the latter. Though Bradbury’s work generally toes the line between optimism and futility, it’s nevertheless edifying and thus a natural fit for instruction; but, like much other made-for-the-classroom material, the films in this program are utterly bizarre and delightfully economical, the constraints of the medium—like B movies and two-bit genre flicks—almost an asset to their artistic integrity. The first, Bernard Selling’s THE FLYING MACHINE (1979, 16 min, 16mm), based on a 1953 short story and play, both with the same name (all of the films in the program share their titles with the work on which they’re based), takes us back to China in 1200 A.D., where the emperor confronts not just a man who’s built a flying machine, but also the desire to create and the potentially disastrous implications of progress. The film stars James Hong (CHINATOWN, BLADE RUNNER, BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA) as the emperor; less notable but still impressive, considering its likely small production budget, is its commitment to time and place. Bradbury’s prose is terse, his descriptions of fantastical entities based, somewhat ironically, in a fictive sort of factuality rather than writerly floridness; his imagination provides the skeleton for these scenarios, but he expects us, the readers, to supply the muscle and flesh, bringing them to life in our mind’s eye. Thus, the film versions of his work serve to help fill in those gaps from the perspectives of their adaptors; in this case, it’s lushly literal, having been filmed in a Japanese garden with the actors wearing period costumes, elements that further contextualize the laconic dialogue that defines Bradbury’s parable-esque stories. The more contemporary of the three, Dianne Haak’s THE VELDT (1979, 23 min, 16mm), based on the 1951 story, is eerily relevant as it considers the ramifications of technology that supplants the need for human effort and affection. In it, a couple becomes paranoid after their children's nursery, designed, via screens, to realize the kids’ imaginations as realistically as possible, stays fixed on an African veldt in which lions are seen eating something recently killed. A more stereotypical conceptualization of Bradbury’s vaguely futuristic environment—lots of gray, efficiency over aesthetic, etc.—juxtaposes the emotional instability of the couple, prompting discomfort in those viewing it. A very young Jason Bateman stars as one of the children, and while this may seem merely an interesting piece of trivia, it’s their creepy performances that heighten this from cautionary sci-fi to almost modish horror, like Black Mirror or any number of contemporary genre films about the digital age. If this program could be said to follow a trajectory, THE FLYING MACHINE would represent confusion and anger (to borrow the emperor’s words) over phenomenal onset, and THE VELDT paranoia and fear over its consummation. The final film, Ed Kaplan’s ALL SUMMER IN A DAY (1982, 25 min, 16mm), based on the 1954 story but set even further into the future, would then represent the resulting sadness of its inevitable fallout. Shot by award-winning cinematographer Robert Elswit (GOOD NIGHT, AND GOOD LUCK; THERE WILL BE BLOOD) early in his career, it follows a group of schoolchildren over a day in their lives on Venus, Earth having become overpopulated some years before. But this day isn’t like any other—it’s the day the sun is supposed to come out after several years of torrential downpours, with one little girl particularly excited to see what she had to leave behind on earth. Neither the story nor the film gets into the science of the matter, a point lovingly illustrated in a scene where the kids’ teacher asks for new information about the sun, and chides one student for repeating a fact while praising another for having written a poem. This film more than the others deviates from its source material, providing a somewhat optimistic slant; still, their collective bleakness is conspicuous and ever-prescient. Bradbury’s writing, prodigious and recognized as it was and still is, is always relevant. Then, however, his stories were mostly speculative—now, they’re almost total reality. (1979-82, 64 min total, 16mm) KS
Bartosz Konopka’s RABBIT À LA BERLIN (Contemporary Polish/German Documentary)
Block Cinema (Northwestern University) — Friday, 7pm (Free Admission)
RABBIT À BERLIN gives a brief history of the Berlin Wall by way of detailing the lives of the rabbits walled within the no-man’s-land of Potsdamer Platz. It’s a fascinating documentary, examining the unintentional architecture of rabbit paradise, with lush green fields, no predation, and plenty of room for their ever-expanding warren. As Cold War paranoia sets in and the East German government moves to make the wall more formidable, we see what was once a perfect rabbit commune turn into a literal death trap for our leporine signifiers. Desperation under Soviet occupation turns to exuberance when the wall falls, and the rabbits, much like the reunified populace, seek to strike a new equilibrium. (2009, 50 min, Digital Projection) DM
Showing with Dirk Otto’s 1990 German documentary WIR BLEIBEN HIER (32 min, Digital Projection).
Orson Welles' THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI (American Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center — Friday, 1:55 and 6pm and Tuesday, 6pm
Orson Welles famously adapted this noir story on the fly to satisfy contractual obligations. And yet THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI is as inventive as any of Welles' “proper” masterpieces, creating an Expressionist phantasmagoria out of the story's bizarre characters and situations. (One highlight: Welles regular Everett Sloane playing a lawyer, whose crutches give him a machine-like walk, having to interrogate himself in court.) It's also just as personal. If Welles' great theme is, according to Chris Marker, how close we can get to evil, then THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI is no deviation. As Welles' dumb Scotsman finds himself knee-deep in conspiracy, he rationalizes his participation out of love for the alluring woman of the title, played by Rita Hayworth, whom he would soon divorce. Film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum lectures at the Tuesday screening. (1947, 87 min, DCP Digital) BS
Wim Wenders' WINGS OF DESIRE (German Revival)
Block Cinema (Northwestern University) — Thursday, 7pm (Free Admission)
In 1971, Wim Wenders and other luminaries of New German Cinema (including Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Werner Herzog, and Alexander Kluge) founded the famous Filmverlag der Autoren to produce and distribute their own films, and Wenders and Austrian novelist and playwright Peter Handke completed their first feature film collaboration, THE GOALIE'S ANXIETY AT THE PENALTY KICK (1971). Nearly twenty years later, they co-wrote WINGS OF DESIRE, a beautiful film in the tradition of the German fairytale and dedicated to the angels and to master directors Yasujiro Ozu, François Truffaut, and Andrei Tarkovsky. Wenders tells the story of an angel, Damiel (Bruno Ganz), falling in love with trapeze artist Marion (Solveig Dommartin), who flies through the air at the Circus Alekan (named in honor of the film's cinematographer, Henri Alekan). Damiel fervently desires to abandon his spiritual existence to become a human being and experience the pleasures and pains of life, particularly that of love, which can be both. He and the other angels experience the world in black and white, but Wenders uses bursts of color to indicate the magnificent difference in the way humans see it. WINGS OF DESIRE is also an ode to Berlin, recalling the city films of the early twentieth century, such as Walter Ruttmann's BERLIN: SYMPHONY OF A GREAT CITY (1927) and Dziga Vertov's MAN WITH THE MOVIE CAMERA (1929). The original German title is DER HIMMEL UBER BERLIN, meaning The Sky, or Heaven, over Berlin. Wenders begins shooting the city from an angel's point of view in the sky, and his camera later descends to the streets, looking at or out of cars, buses, and trains. He concerns himself with Berlin's history and the stories of its people, particularly since World War II. Recurring shots of the Berlin Wall covered in decorative graffiti figure prominently as does old war footage of air raids and of the victims they claimed lying amidst the rubble. Ultimately, WINGS OF DESIRE is a story about time—as longed for by angels, as lived by Berliners, and as experienced by us in watching the film unfold. (1987, 128 min, DCP Digital) CW
Jean-Luc Godard’s THE IMAGE BOOK (New Swiss/French)
Gene Siskel Film Center — Check venue website for show times
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 Bunuel 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
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
Ale Abreu's BOY AND THE WORLD (Contemporary Brazilian Animation)
A nominee for Best Animated Feature, and the kind of fascinating, kaleidoscopic, "small" picture that gets a pat on the head before the heavy equipment gets handed out to the usual suspects, even though it has an honesty about the emotional intensity and tactility of a child's experience that more garlanded films don't approach. It introduces the Boy's countryside upbringing as a torrent of discrete experiences, a barrage of birds, light, sentient plant life, fireflies, and dust motes the size of baseballs. The external happenings burn inward, causing time-shift flickers of memory in his mind, surreal, quicksilver whipsaws of past, present, and future. The plot is simple--the father must leave the farm to find work, and the boy runs away to find him--but the details are all, and all in all stunning: clinging to his father's leg as he leaves, the mother and father appear as wraiths, almost, prefiguring loss (the father is given a classic stitched mouth, as if to point up his leaving as a little death); a moment where an aging laborer steels himself momentarily in front of a field boss to present toughness he doesn't possess; and the exemplary imagemaking of the boy's entrance into the city, with a parade of blackshirts and armored vehicles burrowing into its heart to the sounds of downbeat electronica. The film sends the boy on railway and highway, through fogscape and heatscape, becoming a phantasmagorical critique of rapine capital, a dystopic vision of happy talk news, and exploitation of workers and resources. It is agitprop, and it is lovely; it's not necessarily a "children's film," but it's the kind of thing that can burn in the memories of smart, sensitive kids for the rest of their days. (2013, 80 min, Video Projection) JG
Bing Liu’s MINDING THE GAP (New Documentary)
Chicago Cultural Center — Saturday, 2pm (Free Admission)
Above and beyond a prescience toward current events that makes his first documentary one of the year’s most crucial, Bing Liu also has the distinction of being what one might call a natural filmmaker. The consummate visual aesthetic of MINDING THE GAP often seems wane in light of the film's sociopolitical urgency, but it's a perfect example of how these components can work in concert. Produced by Kartemquin Films and shot over several years, the film follows a group of boys (now men) from Rockford, Illinois, through various obstacles in their respective lives. Though heralded as a skateboarding doc, the enduring burnout sport is really a narrative device by which the story glides, grinds, and even crashes. Liu himself is one of the young men in question, along with Zack Mulligan and Keire Johnson—contrary to what the film would have you believe, only Mulligan and Johnson are childhood friends, with Liu an acquaintance who met both at different points in late adolescence and early adulthood. The men have more than skateboarding and their hometown in common: All three are intimately familiar with domestic violence, a theme that not only coheres the subjects, but the film itself. It’s perhaps as apt an exploration into toxic masculinity as I’ve seen of late, with firsthand insight into the hows and whys of the epidemic. The most difficult element of the film is Zach’s alleged abuse of his on-and-off again girlfriend, Nina, who’s also the mother of his child; Liu interviews both about the abuse and even plays a recording of Nina’s alleged retaliation. It’s comparable to a similar, but more graphic, sequence in Wang Bing’s BITTER MONEY (another one of the best documentaries to play in Chicago in recent years), the audience watching as these incidents unfold in front of them, rather than behind closed doors. As in the work of fellow documentary filmmakers Wang and Frederick Wiseman, Liu’s diplomatic observation of problematic circumstances seems necessary to one’s overall understanding of them—he presents domestic violence not as an incurable illness, but rather a treatable symptom, part of a larger societal framework in which almost everyone is a victim. His images, near masterful, do as much to convey this as the words forthrightly spoken by his subjects. Medium and regular close-ups delve into the subjects’ souls, and heedful compositions express more than words; consider the pivotal scenes where Liu interviews his mother, herself a victim of domestic violence, about his abuse at the hands of his stepfather. He isn’t filming these scenes, but Liu's exceptional direction, likely borne of his early career as a camera operator and cinematographer (he's credited as such on this film, as well as on Kartemquin's ALL THE QUEEN'S HORSES and AMERICA TO ME), is evident in the set-up, the camera equipment a noticeable divide between him and his mother, revealing both connection and artifice. Maybe less emotionally affecting, but still superlative, is the delightfully frenetic skateboarding footage and snowy shots of Rockford à la Pieter Bruegel the Elder's “Hunters in the Snow," all of which compounds one’s reception of Liu as a veritable aesthete. He's certainly one to watch—hopefully we’ll do so him as thoughtfully as he does us. Followed by a discussion. (2018, 93 min, Video Projection) KS
MORE SCREENINGS AND EVENTS
The Chicago Film Society (at Northeastern Illinois University, The Auditorium, Building E, 3701 W. Bryn Mawr Ave.) screens Lowell Sherman’s 1932 film FALSE FACES (81 min, 35mm restored archival print) on Wednesday at 7:30pm. Preceded by Tex Avery’s 1946 cartoon NORTHWEST HOUNDED POLICE (8 min, 16mm).
The Film Studies Center (at the Logan Center for the Arts, 915 E. 60th St., University of Chicago) screens Guo Baochang’s 2005 Chinese opera film DREAM OF THE BRIDAL CHAMBER (88 min, DCP Digital) on Thursday at 7pm, with Guo Baochang and cinematographer Hou Yong in person. Screening as part of the Connecting the Dots… symposium (see below). Free admission.
The symposium Connecting the Dots Through Guo Baochang: Contemporary Chinese Opera, Film, TV takes place at the University of Chicago from Thursday, February 21 to Saturday, February 23. Free admission.
The Conversations at the Edge series (at the Gene Siskel Film Center) screens Eric Baudelaire’s 2011 French/Japanese/Lebanese experimental documentary/essay film THE ANABASIS OF MAY AND FUSAKO SHIGENOBU, MASAO ADACHI AND 27 YEARS WITHOUT IMAGES (66 min, DCP Digital) on Saturday at 12:30pm; and Laida Lertxundi: Landscape Plus on Thursday at 6pm, with Lertxundi in person. Screening are CRY WHEN IT HAPPENS (2010), THE ROOM CALLED HEAVEN (2012), WE HAD THE EXPERIENCE BUT MISSED THE MEANING (2014), VIVIR PARA VIVAR (LIVE TO LIVE) (2015), 025 SUNSET RED (2016), and WORDS, PLANETS (2018). All 16mm.
The Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago presents a program of short experimental documentaries by Sasha Litvintseva on Friday at 7pm, with Litvintseva in person.
Chicago Filmmakers (5720 N. Ridge Ave.) screens local filmmaker Pamela Sherrod Anderson’s 2018 documentary THE G FORCE (57 min, Digital Projection) on Sunday at 3pm, with Anderson in person.
Cinema 53 (at the Harper Theater, 5238 S. Harper Ave.) screens Ari Luis Palos and Eren Isabel McGinnis’ 2012 documentary PRECIOUS KNOWLEDGE (75 min, Digital Projection) on Thursday at 7pm. Followed by a discussion between author and UofC professor Eve L. Ewing and CPS teacher and education writer Ray Salazar. Free admission.
The Alliance Française (54 W. Chicago Ave.) screens Claude Lelouch’s 1966 French film A MAN AND A WOMAN (103 min, Video Projection) on Saturday at 1:30pm.
Also at the Instituto Cervantes (31 W. Ohio St.) this week: Marcela Rincón González’s 2017 animated Columbian/Uruguayan kids film LILA’S BOOK (76 min, DVD Projection) on Wednesday at 6pm. Free admission.
The Northbrook Public Library (1201 Cedar Lane, Northbrook) screens Billy Wilder’s 1954 film SABRINA (113 min, Digital Projection) on Wednesday at 1 and 7pm; and John Hughes: A Reflection is on Thursday at 7pm. Kevin Smokler (author of Brat Pack America) will discuss Hughes’ career and connection to Northbrook, followed by a screening of Hughes’ 1985 film THE BREAKFAST CLUB (97 min, Unconfirmed Format). Free admission.
The Beverly Arts Center (2407 W. 111th St.) screens Phyllida Lloyd’s 2011 film THE IRON LADY (105 min, Digital Projection) on Wednesday at 7:30pm.
Also at the Gene Siskel Film Center this week: Abner Benaim’s 2018 Panamanian documentary RUBEN BLADES IS NOT MY NAME (85 min, DCP Digital) plays for a week.
Also at Doc Films (University of Chicago) this week: Yorgos Lanthimos’ 2018 film THE FAVOURITE (121 min, DCP Digital) is on Saturday at 7 and 9:30pm and Sunday at 4pm; Sergei Parajanov’s 1969 Armenian film THE COLOR OF POMEGRANATES (79 min, DCP Digital) is on Sunday at 7pm; Susan Streitfeld’s 1996 film FEMALE PERVERSIONS (114 min, 35mm) is on Tuesday at 7pm; Stan Lathan’s 1984 film BEAT STREET (103 min, 35mm) is on Thursday at 7pm; and François Ozon’s 2003 French/UK film SWIMMING POOL (103 min, 35mm) is on Thursday at 9:30pm.
Also at the Music Box Theatre this week: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s 2018 German film NEVER LOOK AWAY (189 min, DCP Digital) opens; Oscar-Nominated Documentary Short Films continues; CatVideoFest is on Saturday and Sunday at Noon and Tuesday at 7pm; and Julius Avery’s 2018 film OVERLORD (110 min, DCP Digital) is on Friday and Saturday at 11:15pm.
Facets Cinémathèque plays Andrew Bujalski’s 2006 film MUTUAL APPRECIATION (110 min, Video Projection) and Alex Lutz’s 2018 French film GUY (101 min, Video Projection) for week-long runs.
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.
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 15 - February 21, 2019
MANAGING EDITOR // Patrick Friel
ASSOCIATE EDITORS // Ben Sachs, Kathleen Sachs, Kyle A. Westphal
CONTRIBUTORS // Kyle Cubr, Alexandra Ensign, Marilyn Ferdinand, Jim Gabriel, Jonathan Leithold-Patt, Mojo Lorwin, Doug McLaren, Michael G. Smith, Candace Wirt