On episode #10 of the Cine-Cast, associate editor Kathleen Sachs and contributor John Dickson discuss the upcoming Christian Petzold matinee series and the Harmony Korine retrospective at the Music Box Theatre; Sachs, Dickson, and contributors JB Mabe and Alexandra Ensign chat about the Onion City Film Festival, taking place March 21-24, and the Chicago European Union Film Festival, starting Friday, March 8 at the Gene Siskel Film Center and going through April 4; and, finally, all the participants discuss the 91st Academy Awards.
Listen here. Engineered by contributor Harrison Sherrod. Produced by Mabe and Sachs.
The introductory theme is by local film composer Ben Van Vlissingen. Find out more about his work here.
Max Ophuls' CAUGHT (American Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) — Friday, 7 and 9:30pm and Sunday, 1:30pm
Max Ophuls made two films with James Mason, who may have been the director's ideal leading man in Hollywood: Few actors were more capable of marrying romanticism and wry detachment. In CAUGHT, Mason plays an embittered idealist working as a doctor in an impoverished city neighborhood. He's the man Barbara Bel Geddes hides out with after she flees the psychotic millionaire she married—but this being an Ophuls film, romantic satisfaction is not arrived at easily. For one thing, there's the vengeful husband lurking in the shadows; also, the doctor, though noble in his deeds, is a strict and cynical man, difficult to warm to. Though CAUGHT could be classified as film noir, its paranoid image of marriage makes it a direct descendent of the Gothic novel as well. (Nineteenth, rather than twentieth, century art usually provides more useful points of reference when discussing Ophuls, whose society-encompassing tracking shots feel like the closest filmic analogue to Balzac's prose or Delacroix's paintings.) (1949, 88 min, 35mm archival preservation print) BS
Rob Nilsson and John Hanson’s PRAIRIE TRILOGY (Documentary Revival)
This trio of short 16mm documentaries—PRAIRIE FIRE (1977, 30 min), REBEL EARTH (1980, 49 min), and SURVIVOR (1980, 28 min)—offers something of a time capsule within a time capsule, looking back at the labor struggles of the Progressive Era from a moment when the last embers of 1960s radicalism were dying out. At the center of each film is the life and memory of North Dakotan Henry Martinson, a veteran labor organizer and irrepressible socialist who was nearing 100 at the time these films were made. Martinson narrates the first film of the trilogy, a full-blooded archival documentary tracing the history of the Nonpartisan League, the organization of North Dakotan farmers that successfully wrested power back from banks and industrialists between 1915 and 1921. Martinson’s distinctive caw drives an imaginative montage of still photography, newspaper clippings, dramatic recitations, folk songs, and Nilsson’s own grandfather’s film footage. If the pan-and-zoom probings of PRAIRIE FIRE invoke the groundbreaking techniques of Koenig and Low’s 1957 National Film Board of Canada short CITY OF GOLD, the verité tenor of the second and third films recalls another classic Canadian documentary cycle, Pierre Perrault’s “Île-aux-Coudres trilogy,” particularly 1967’s LA RÈGNE DU JOUR. Even as the shadow of Reaganism begins to loom over the country, threatening decades of deregulation and anti-union legislation, REBEL EARTH and SURVIVOR offer a jubilant celebration of Martinson's contributions to the labor movement's still-potent legacy. In REBEL EARTH, Martinson travels with a gregarious young farmer, revisiting the faces and places that remain from his heyday as a farmworker, union organizer, publisher, and political candidate. Martinson’s wry humor is on display throughout interactions with both younger Dakotans and fellow old-timers—as is his unwavering commitment to working class emancipation. (His younger, somewhat inebriated companions make less adept advocates for socialism; as a sometime denizen of left-organizing circles, I can say that the awkward dynamic between beardy neophytes and aging hardliners in REBEL EARTH seems timeless.) Through beer hall contretemps, memory-lane social calls, and reedy-voiced song circles, the film adds up to a collective portrait of working-class life on the Plains. SURVIVOR meanwhile offers a sparer, more intimate profile. Content-wise, though, it’s basically more of the same. The filmmakers visit Henry at home, at his former Department of Labor office, at the AFL-CIO local where he still works, letting Henry charmingly holds forth on a life profoundly shaped by his experience in the labor struggles portrayed in PRAIRIE FIRE. In fact, Nilsson and Hanson had already told that story in dramatic form in NORTHERN LIGHTS (1977), a stirring landmark of American independent cinema. With what is effectively a Prairie Tetralogy, one might accuse the filmmakers of an excess of affection, but I’d argue that redundancy is a signal virtue here. In interaction after interaction, tirade after tirade, Martinson constantly broadcasts his socialist beliefs, with each repetition reaffirming his incurably optimistic belief in a future beyond capitalism. The iterative structure of THE PRAIRIE TRILOGY builds on Martinson’s stubborn example, recognizing that their subject is not only a vessel of living memory, but also an embodiment of a central principle of socialist practice: never stop hammering that hammer, never stop beating that drum. (1977-80, 107 min total, 16mm) MM
William Greaves’ SYMBIOPSYCHOTAXIPLASM: TAKE ONE (Documentary/Experimental Narrative Revival)
Chicago Film Society (at Northeastern Illinois University, The Auditorium, Building E, 3701 W. Bryn Mawr Ave.) — Wednesday, 7:30pm
The majority of William Greaves’ filmmaking career consists of television documentaries about African-American life, but he made an important contribution to experimental cinema with his 1968 feature SYMBIOPSYCHOTAXIPLASM: TAKE ONE. A quasi-documentary meta-movie with an original score by Miles Davis, it alternates between footage of actors performing a drama about marital discord in New York’s Central Park, footage of the crew shooting the drama, and footage of that crew shot by a third party. Greaves plays the director of the film-within-a-film (and to complicate matters further, he’s often seen holding a camera himself); he’s a persistent, often aggravating presence, goading his performers and locking horns with his technical collaborators. For Amy Taubin, writing about SYMBIOPSYCHOTAXIPLASM for the Criterion Collection in 2006, the film provokes questions about much more than filmmaking, opening up issues of power dynamics and representations of race. “It did not directly engage race or racism,” Taubin concedes, “although the fact that Greaves is both the film’s director-writer-producer and its on-screen protagonist—the focus of almost every scene—guaranteed that the viewer, regardless of race, had to confront whatever racial stereotypes she or he held. Quite simply, in 1968, there were at best a handful of African-American directors working in television and no African-Americans directing feature films. For an African-American director to make a feature film, let alone one as experimental as a film by Warhol or Godard, could not have been imagined if Greaves hadn’t gone out and done it.” The provocative nature of Greaves’ presence ties into larger political issues shaping the zeitgeist in which the film was made. Taubin continues: “Given that in May of 1968 the war was raging in Vietnam, students were occupying university buildings, the French left had almost staged a successful takeover of the government, and a string of assassinations had begun, [the film-within-a-film] would be absurdly reactionary if it were taken at face value. Is the crew’s eventual antagonism, then, part of [Greaves’] master plan to dramatize the other major, though not explicitly stated, theme of the film: power, in particular the power struggle between the leader and the group?” This 35mm revival of SYMBIOPSYCHOTAXIPLASM feels particularly relevant in our current era, when debates about representation and the significance accorded to directors have become most pronounced in film writing. In this regard, it may be the most contemporary movie playing in town this week. Preceded by Greaves’ 1964 documentary WEALTH OF A NATION (21 min, 16mm archival print). (1968, 75 min, 35mm) BS
Hong Sang-soo’s IN ANOTHER COUNTRY (Contemporary South Korean)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) — Wednesday, 7 and 9:30pm
In Hong Sang-Soo’s filmography, IN ANOTHER COUNTRY (2012) has been critically received more as a novelty than as a signature work, notable primarily for its casting of Isabelle Huppert and for its peculiar, permutational structure. Indeed, Hong’s unfussy, zoom-heavy style and characteristic obsessions–cinema, male narcissism, infidelity, coincidence–are fully in place, but Huppert’s contribution to this deceptively slight structuralist farce is more than cosmetic. Rather, IN ANOTHER COUNTRY offers an ingeniously conceived study of Huppert’s persona; in turn, the actress gives a performance that distills Hong’s oblique, self-reflexive approach to human nature. Hong casts the actress as three different versions of herself, in a series of vignettes following the same rough contours: a French woman arrives in a nondescript Korean seaside village, where she finds herself amorously entangled with a married film director. The film plays up Huppert’s cultural, emotional and linguistic disconnection, especially during encounters with an outlandishly earnest lifeguard, with whom she struggles to communicate. (Huppert’s approach to pantomiming the shape of a lighthouse is counterintuitive, to put it lightly.) These contrivances beautifully model Huppert’s inscrutable affect, what Paul Verhoeven described as her “pure Brechtian” method: romantically and culturally alienated, the blithe artifice of Huppert’s gestures comes into relief. But if Huppert is a Brechtian actor, she is a distinctly introverted one; both her screen persona and the emotional life of her characters are defined by ripples of subjectivity that only just manage to surface. (Occaisionally, viewing her performances, I sometimes find myself sometimes wondering, like Hong’s avatar Moon Sung-keun in the film’s second interlude, if anyone is home.) But Brecht judged performance “according to how little empathy you can get by with, and not (as is usually the case) according to how much you can generate,” coaching actors to “to put yourselves mentally into the person whom you are to represent, into his situation, into his body, into his way of thinking, [but also] to put yourselves out of the character.” Consider IN ANOTHER COUNTRY an exercise in getting in and out of character. In its refractory play of autobiography and fantasy, its dream sequences, doppelgängers, split personae and illusion-shattering zooms, Hong’s cinema thrives on abrupt transitions of absorption and alienation, empathy and objectivity. Improbably, such inversions seem to bring us closer to the mercurial nature of emotion and the tenuousness of our bonds. His self-pity leads to lucid insight; his self-obsession becomes an improbable engine of mutual recognition. Hong undoubtedly recognizes something of his own method in Huppert’s brilliant opacity; is this film a charming, mordant tribute to her artifice, another of his narcissistic meditations, or, rather, a true collaboration? As the very structure of IN ANOTHER COUNTRY proves, you can have it three ways. (2012, 89 min, DCP Digital) MM
Christian Petzold’s BARBARA (German Revival)
Music Box Theatre — Saturday and Sunday, 11:30am
Christian Petzold’s BARBARA was a turning point in the renowned German writer-director’s career. Set in 1980, it’s not only his first period film, but also the first of his films to eschew the sterile, albeit potent, aesthetic that marks his earlier, contemporary-set works. The East German province to which the title character (played by Petzold’s longtime collaborator Nina Hoss) is essentially banished isn’t the lifeless purgatory that most media about the German Democratic Republic (GDR) would have us believe. Rather, it’s a lush landscape, close to the Baltic Sea and bathed in lighting reminiscent of the Rembrandt painting that distinguishes a key scene in the film; the supposed decrepitness of rural East Germany is rendered as beautiful by Petzold and his cinematographer Hans Fromm as a surgery theater was rendered exquisite by the Dutch artist. After going to prison for having applied to leave East Germany, Barbara, a talented and ambitious doctor once employed by the Charité hospital in East Berlin, is sent to work at a small hospital in a rural province; there, she’s subject to horrifying searches whenever the Stasi is unable to locate her. Their suspicion is well founded, however, as Barbara routinely meets up with her West German beau to acquire forbidden goods and money intended for her escape to his side of the country. Complicating things is André, the handsome doctor with whom Barbara eventually falls in love, who has also wound up at the hospital due to contentious circumstances. They bond over their investment in their patients: the teenaged Stella, who’s escaped from a work camp, and Mario, a young man who’s survived a suicide attempt. Like Petzold’s recent TRANSIT, the film (co-written by him and documentary/essay filmmaker Harun Farocki) transposes its source material to a more contemporary setting. The idea of transposition figures highly into Petzold’s work, specifically as it relates to his love of cinema and his appropriation of established genres. Here he turns that ability onto German films made after the dissolution of the GDR, which often portray the East as something altogether broken-down before even the fall of the Wall. “I was thinking about how all the period pictures about the German Democratic Republic used this dirty snow, and this muddy light, to say that the people are cold there—in their hearts, and in their souls, and in the system,” Petzold told Filmmaker Magazine upon the film’s initial release. “But, for me, the German Democratic Republic has the same temperature, and the same climate, and the same light, as the west. The feel of coldness is under the skin, and so we had to make a movie about the things that are under the skin, and not in the air. I think this was a little too primitive in most period pictures about Communism. Therefore, I thought about the Technicolor system, which Germany, like the U.S., had between the ’40s and the ’50s,” again recalling his appreciation and understanding of film history. Petzold is a certainly a filmmaker for whom influences are just that—starting points from which to delineate a new vision, one belonging to both the past and the present, a transposition of art across time. The film’s consideration of ideals versus reality— turned over time and time again, neither good nor bad but ever revolving—is similarly fluid, complexity writ large through the filter of cinema. (2012, 105 min, 35mm) KS
Claire Simon’s THE COMPETITION (New Documentary)
Gene Siskel Film Center — Saturday, 4:45pm, and Thursday, 8:15pm
France’s prestigious La Fémis film school, located at the former Pathé studios in Paris’ Montmartre district, is the setting for a fascinating documentary that is almost as grueling as the process it portrays. Director Claire Simon, a former instructor at the school, turns her camera on its admission process, during which hundreds of applicants compete for a tiny number of spots—40 in all across all areas of filmmaking, from directing to distribution. THE COMPETITION has many commonalities with the films of Frederick Wiseman—taking on an institution and telling its story through pure observation of the people and places within it. Where it differs slightly is in Simon’s intense focus on the instructor panels, watching them question each applicant and then debate the relative merits after the applicant has left the room. As with any panel, opinions differ, and some very heated debates take place that say as much about group dynamics as they do about the applicant under discussion. Like the panelists, I observed the applicants closely during their interviews and, in their absence, the impression they left behind. A black African woman whose father was a politician forced to flee their country tells the panel that politicians don’t solve problems and that she wants to make films to tell the truth corrupt governments won’t. Strangely and quite inappropriately, the panel probes into her family life and the choices her sister is making, visibly upsetting her. Then, when they ask her for a film that influenced her, she is so flustered that she can’t come up with one. This, of course, will disqualify her; the interview seemed to me like a deliberate act of sabotage. In another panel debate, all the interviewers admit that the candidate is crazy, but a couple of them like the film clip he sent. Abandoning the notion that a film set is also a workplace, one panelist seems to think it’s just fine for directors to behave badly if they produce genius work. THE COMPETITION had my head swimming at the preconceptions, prejudices, and personal quirks that go into choosing students—and, of course, this has implications for anyone in any line of work who has hiring responsibilities. Even with “objective” score sheets, essays, and entrance exams, one’s future can hinge on whether or not the interviewer is having a bad day. Simon in person at the Saturday screening. (2016, 121 min, DCP Digital) MF
Orson Welles' OTHELLO (International Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center — Tuesday, 6pm
Screening is Orson Welles' original cut of OTHELLO, the US/UK theatrical version released in 1955. This version has remained commercially unavailable since the early 1990s, when Welles' daughter supervised a "restoration" that drastically altered the film's soundtrack, going so far as to hire sound-alike performers to re-record portions of the dialogue. This was a great loss since, according to Welles scholar Jonathan Rosenbaum, the original is a feat of audio design, as well as visual, imagination. As he wrote in 1995: "Working on OTHELLO without the resources of Hollywood sound equipment, Welles aimed for a rawness in such sound effects as crashing waves, colliding curtain rings, and echoing footsteps. Drawing from his prodigious radio experience, he partly compensated for his inferior [camera] equipment with subtle atmospheric effects dubbed in later and integrated with the music." This rawness extends to much of the aesthetic of the film, which Welles produced independently over a four-year period, shooting when he could afford the celluloid and altering certain scenes when he lacked for resources. (In a justly celebrated example, Welles reset the murder of Rodrigo in a Turkish bath so he could film it without costumes.) All of this makes OTHELLO a watershed in both Welles' career and the history of independent filmmaking, but what of the movie itself? To cite Jack Jorgens' Shakespeare on Film, it is "one of the few Shakespeare films in which the images on the screen generate enough beauty, variety, and graphic power to stand comparison with Shakespeare's poetic images. [Welles'] visual images compensate for the inevitable loss of complexity and dramatic voltage accompanying heavy alterations in the text." Some of the most powerful images include centuries-old Moorish architecture (found in Italy and Morocco), shot in ever-surprising Expressionist angles, and the looming faces of the cast, which brings a silent cinema intensity to the characterizations. Film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum lectures. (1952, 90 min, Digital Projection) BS
Andrzej Wajda's KANAL (Polish Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) — Sunday, 7pm
Andrzej Wajda's second feature and one of the first films by a Polish director to achieve global attention, this can be viewed as a precursor to the cinematic renaissance that would soon birth Roman Polanski and Jerzy Skolimowski. KANAL still carries a major reputation on its own, as part of Wajda's acclaimed "War Trilogy" and as a gripping meditation on the moral costs of warfare. Set among Poland's resistance in the final days of World War II, the film focuses on a group of fighters driven literally underground (Much of the film takes place in the sewers of Warsaw) to continue their efforts. Writing in The Onion in 2003, Scott Tobias noted that film's feeling of "eerie limbo" defines much of its construction: "Deeply sympathetic to his characters, Wajda appreciates their nationalist pride and determination, even as it crashes against the demoralizing futility of their cause... [O]nce Wajda heads into the chest-deep muck [of the sewer-set sequences], the film gains a sad, unforgettable intensity, as it follows the horrible fate of men and women forced into unimaginable conditions while the Germans wait with booby traps and machine guns above." (1957, 91 min, DCP Digital) BS
Ida Lupino's THE HITCH-HIKER (American Revival)
Music Box Theatre — Monday, 7pm
"This is the true story of a man and a gun and a car. The gun belonged to the man." The film belongs to Ida Lupino, gravel-voiced actress and one of the rare female directors in classic Hollywood. Produced under her short-lived The Filmakers banner, THE HITCH-HIKER alternates between sensory deprivation and overload. After a dazzling credits sequence awash in disembodied limbs and darkness punctuated by gun blasts, Lupino toys with the viewer like her psycho protagonist (William Talman) toys with the hapless fishermen (Edmond O'Brien and Frank Lovejoy) who make the mistake of offering him a ride. Noir-veteran cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca (OUT OF THE PAST) spends much of the brief running time right up in the three men's pores. Meanwhile, Lupino's script almost daringly switches allegiance from psycho to victim to viewer, featuring extended scenes in unsubtitled Spanish and a hilarious meta moment when it acknowledges its debt to previous insane-hitchhiker movies. In an era when "noir" gets stamped on any black-and-white film that takes place outside of the drawing room, this is a wallow in real darkness. The prologue warns that, "What you will see in the next seventy minutes could have happened to you"; by the fadeout, it felt like it had happened to me. Introduced by Elizabeth Weltzman, author of Renegade Women in Film & TV. (1953, 71 min, DCP Digital) MP
Nadine Labaki’s CAPERNAUM (New Lebanese)
Gene Siskel Film Center — Check venue website for showtimes
Capernaum is a city name found in the New Testament where Jesus was said to have lived and performed more miracles than any other place. Today, the land where Capernaum used to stand is Lebanon, and after seeing Beirut-born director Nadine Labaki’s searing drama CAPERNAUM, a viewer might wonder whether she chose that title to call forth a new redeemer to help the suffering poor whose stories she tells. A host of first-time actors is ably led by young Zain Al Fareea. He plays Zain, a 12-year-old boy who looks much younger, no doubt due to malnutrition, and whose parents are abusive and despairing. They marry off Zain’s beloved younger sister, Sahar, to a man three times her age, prompting Zain to run away and setting the stage for the climactic tragedy that will send Zain to jail and, in a strange twist, prompt him to sue his parents for giving him life but no chance to be the good person he knows he was meant to be. The film has a quality to it that reminded me of the Oscar-winning documentary BORN INTO BROTHELS: CALCUTTA’S RED-LIGHT KIDS (2004). The sheer struggle for survival in the slums of Beirut is heartbreaking, and watching Zain try his best to care for his siblings and then the 1-year-old son of an undocumented Ethiopian woman who takes him in shows his heart and will are strong, but no match for the uncaring world of the adults around him. CAPERNAUM is an angry cry, through the character of Zain, for people to pay attention to and do something about the misery of others. Labaki’s greatest achievement may be that she made a beautifully crafted film with such a deep understanding for her untrained actors that it’s nearly impossible to tear our eyes from the screen or forget what we’ve witnessed. (2018, 119 min, DCP Digital) MF
Lee Chang-dong's BURNING (New Korean)
Gene Siskel Film Center — Check Venue website for showtimes
“It’s a metaphor.” Spoken by the inexplicably wealthy, smugly superior Ben (Steven Yeun) after he equates cooking at home to making offerings to the Gods, this line, like so much of the teasingly elusive BURNING, hints that we’re in delicately self-reflexive territory in Lee Chang-dong’s latest. It’s one of a tantalizing series of moments, mostly generated by Yeun’s perpetually smirking and vaguely otherworldly character, that draws us ever deeper into the film’s porous reality, where our unreliable narrator Jongsu’s (Yoo Ah-in) confounded perspective makes us question the veracity of what we’re seeing. The mysteries start accruing early, when Jongsu, a barely employed, young aspiring writer, happens upon Haemi (Jeon Jong-seo), a girl from his childhood neighborhood whom he can’t remember. Haemi is off to Africa, and she’ll need Jongsu to feed her cat while she’s away, but like the phantom tangerine she pantomimes over dinner, there is no trace of the cat. For a while, anyway, Haemi seems to offer the romantic companionship Jongsu has been missing, but when she returns from Africa with Ben in tow, the rich, possibly sinister interloper unleashes in Jongsu a cascade of latent anxieties, desires, and resentments that are as socioeconomically based as they are libidinal. In the thorny, unmistakably homoerotic relationship between the sullen working-class Jongsu and the suave new-moneyed Ben, Lee articulates a dynamic underpinned equally by class antagonism and envy, by a disdain for a callous power elite as well as by the aspirations of a young generation, evident especially in eastern Asian countries such as South Korea, to assimilate the goals of global capitalism. Like Haemi, who oscillates (perhaps uneasily) between economically desperate millennial and male sexual fantasy projection, Ben is a slippery subject, a recognizable brand of entitled affluent hotshot who nevertheless appears like a kind of taunting phantasm. It is a mark of Steven Yeun’s sneaky performative prowess that he can make Ben feel like both a plausibly malicious person and a free-floating metaphor for modernity and toxic masculinity, every ingratiating grin and forced yawn an invitation to confront the banally seductive face of evil. BURNING refers, most denotatively, to Ben’s avowed habit of burning down abandoned greenhouses, but what it really describes is the psychological unease that smolders in places both rural and urban, sparked by the conditions of a society pervaded by inequality and disaffection. We can’t be sure if everything Jongsu thinks happens literally does. Then again: it’s a metaphor. (2018, 148 min, DCP Digital) JL
Ali Abbasi’s BORDER (New Swedish)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) — Saturday, 7 and 9:30pm and Sunday, 4pm
Classic stories from The Hunchback of Notre Dame to Frankenstein have cast physically anomalous outsiders as both mirrors of and foils to the ills of mankind, serving as metaphors for a society hostile to difference. Without giving too much away, Ali Abbasi’s folkloric-realist BORDER joins their ranks while shrewdly subverting the cultural codes inscribed in such narratives, conceptualizing difference outside prevailing dualisms. The film follows Tina, a lonely Swedish border guard who, from the start, is clearly unlike anyone else. Not only does her visage set her apart—her heavy, protruding brow and pachydermic skin drawing curious stares—but so too does her seemingly supernatural ability to smell people’s guilt and fear, a trait the authorities exploit to find contraband. Near her home nestled in the woods, she appears to commune with foxes and moose, and indeed, her own behavior often resembles that of an animal, most notably in the way her upper lip flares when she’s in proximity of a guilty passenger. But is Tina really that sui generis? When she encounters someone entering the country who looks just like her, she begins to question her true nature as the two embark on a relationship that brings enlightenment and terror. Abbasi gradually parcels out information about Tina and this analogous partner, depicting their multiple idiosyncrasies with fascination but also affection. The film may be grounded in Scandinavian folklore, but its inflections of social realism, horror, and discourses around queerness unsettle it from generic categories, allowing it to engage, most excitingly and even radically, with the politics of anti-humanism. Lest this all get too esoteric, Eva Melander’s extraordinary performance as Tina anchors the film to a sense of lived experience. Behind the impressive prosthetics, the actress powerfully conveys the arc of a woman shambling from the shadows of diffidence and internalized hatred to self-actualization. BORDER is filled with a surfeit of imagery earthly and uncanny, but Melander’s accented face supplies it with its most arresting moments: the plays of anxiety, anger, and shame that capture a life kept on the sidelines of one society, and the blossoming confidence of one emerging tentatively into the center of another. (2018, 109 min, DCP Digital) JL
Tomm Moore's SONG OF THE SEA (Contemporary Animation)
South Side Irish Film Festival at the Beverly Arts Center — Saturday, 3pm
Since the release of Walt Disney's 1937 masterpiece SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS as one of the first animated feature length films, animation has come a long way. From cut-outs to cel shading to stop motion to CGI, the medium has evolved greatly. In this current era, traditional animation techniques are now eschewed for CGI due to its stylistic appearance, rapid production, and overall flexibility. Tomm Moore's SONG OF THE SEA is a throwback to the hand drawn Golden Age of Animation of Disney and others. An Irish folk tale that has a timeless feel and would fit well in any era, it is one of the most visually stunning animated films ever made. To be frank, gorgeous is an understatement for how breathtaking this movie is to behold. Every cel is a labor of love. Full of eye-popping spiral, circular, and fractal images, Moore's film is one to be experienced on the big screen in order to completely absorb his intoxicating efforts. Hayao Miyazaki, famous for MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO and SPIRITED AWAY among many others, is indisputably the greatest living master of hand drawn animation, and his influences are on full display in Moore's film with a couple slight nods to boot. After his previous 2009 work, THE SECRET OF KELLS, Moore has improved upon his skills in every way, from his refined characters to his rich and vibrant storytelling to his graceful art design. Moore is staking a claim as the next great animation auteur with SONG. If and when Miyazaki decides to retire for good and actually means it, audiences can rest assured that the torch is being passed into capable hands. One can only hope that his career is just as long and prosperous. (2014, 93 min, Digital Projection) KC
Also showing as part of the festival on Saturday at 7pm (6pm reception) is Lance Daly's 2018 Irish/Luxembourg film BLACK '47 (100 min, Digital Projection).
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
MORE SCREENINGS AND EVENTS
The Chicago Feminist Film Festival continues Friday at Columbia College Chicago (Film Row Cinema, 1104 S. Wabash, 8th Floor). Full schedule at www.chicagofeministfilmfestival.com. Free admission for all events.
The One Earth Film Festival takes place from March 1-10 at various Chicago and suburban locations. Info and full schedule at www.oneearthfilmfest.org.
The Film Studies Center (at the Logan Center for the Arts, 915 E. 60th St., University of Chicago) screens Tamar Lando’s 2018 documentary OUR MOTHER THE MOUNTAIN (40 min, DCP Digital) on Friday at 7pm, with Lando in person; and Ross Lipman’s 2018 documentary/essay film BETWEEN TWO CINEMAS (84 min, DCP Digital) on Thursday at 7pm, with Lipman in person. Free admission.
The Conversations at the Edge series (at the Gene Siskel Film Center) presents On Watching Men (1976-2010, approx. 82 min total, Various Formats) on Thursday at 6pm, with curator Rachel Rakes in person. The program includes Yael Bartana's KINGS OF THE HILL (2003, 8 min, Digital Projection), Jumana Manna’s BLESSED BLESSED OBLIVION (2010, 21 min, Digital Projection), Tracey Moffatt’s HEAVEN (1997, 28 min, Digital Projection), and Chick Strand’s COSAS DE MI VIDA (1976, 25 min, 16mm).
Block Cinema (Northwestern University) screens Stephen Cone’s 2017 film PRINCESS CYD (96 min, DCP Digital) on Friday at 7pm, with Cone and selected crew members in person; and Stephen Maing’s 2018 documentary CRIME + PUNISHMENT (112 min, DCP Digital) on Thursday at 7pm, with Maing in person. Free admission.
The Museum of Contemporary Photography presents A Sharp Light That Shines on Wednesday at 6pm (in Ferguson Hall, 600 S. Michigan Ave., Columbia College). The program includes: GONE IS SYRIA, GONE (Jazra Khaleed, 2016), HERE YOU ARE (Tyma Hezam, 2017), MARE NOSTRUM (Rana Kazkaz and Anas Khalaf, 2017), BEST OF LUCK WITH THE WALL (Josh Begley, 2016), AFTER THE SPRING (Mathilde Babo, 2017), and YOUR FATHER WAS BORN 100 YEAR OLD AND SO WAS THE NAKBA (Razan Al Salah, 2017). Free admission.
Full Spectrum Features and Americas Media Initiative present the second of six programs over the course of the year in their Cuban Visions film series. Program Two, “LGBTQ Politics and Gay Marriage,” features four documentary shorts by Cuban filmmaker Damián Sainz on Thursday at 7pm at the Athenaeum Theatre (2936 N. Southport Ave.), with Sainz in person. Screening are: BATERIA (2017, 16 min), HOMAGE (2013, 22 min), FROM FRESH WATER (2012, 15 min), and CLOSE UP (2009, 22 min). Followed by a discussion between Sainz and activist, playwright, and author Norge Espinosa.
Cinema 53 (at the Harper Theater, 5238 S. Harper Ave.) screens Curtis Chin's 2015 documentary TESTED (90 min, Digital Projection) on Thursday at 7pm. Chin will participate in a post-screening discussion with author and Univ. of Chicago professor Eve L. Ewing. Free admission.
The Midwest Independent Film Festival (at the Landmark’s Century Centre Cinema) presents Midwest Shorts Night on Tuesday at 7:30pm. Preceded by a 6pm reception and a 6:30pm producers’ panel. Info at www.midwestfilm.com.
Italian Cultural Institute (500 N. Michigan Ave.) screens Cristina Comencini's 2005 Italian film DON'T TELL (116 min, Video Projection) on Thursday at 6pm. Followed by a discussion. Free admission.
The Northbrook Public Library (1201 Cedar Lane, Northbrook) screens Bradley Cooper's 2018 film A STAR IS BORN (136 min, Digital Projection) on Wednesday at 1 and 7pm and Thursday at 1pm. Free admission.
The Park Ridge Classic Film Series at the Park Ridge Public Library (20 S. Prospect Ave., Park Ridge) screens Fritz Lang's 1921 silent German film DESTINY (114 min, Digital Projection) on Thursday at 7pm. Live accompaniment by Jay Warren.
Also at the Gene Siskel Film Center this week: Ondi Timoner’s 2018 film MAPPLETHORPE (102, DCP Digital); and Bahman Farmanara’s 2018 Iranian film TALE OF THE SEA (97 min, DCP Digital) is on Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 5:15pm.
Also at Doc Films (University of Chicago) this week: Kenneth Lonergan’s 2011 film MARGARET (186 min, DCP Digital) is on Monday at 7pm; Nisha Ganatra’s 1999 film CHUTNEY POPCORN (92 min, 35mm) is on Tuesday at 7pm; Emile Ardolino’s 1987 film DIRTY DANCING (100 min, 35mm) is on Thursday at 7pm; and Alex van Wammerdam’s 2013 Dutch film BORGMAN (113 min, DCP Digital) is on Thursday at 9:30pm.
Also at the Music Box Theatre this week: Cristina Gallego and Ciro Guerra’s 2018 Columbian film BIRDS OF PASSAGE (125 min, DCP Digital) opens; Jonas Åkerlund’s 2018 UK/Swedish film LORDS OF CHAOS (118 min, DCP Digital) and Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s 2018 German film NEVER LOOK AWAY (189 min, DCP Digital) both continue; Sam Raimi’s 2009 film DRAG ME TO HELL (99 min, 35mm) is on Friday and Saturday at Midnight; Isaac Cherem’s 2018 Mexican film LEONA (107 min, DCP Digital) is on Sunday at 7pm (presented by the JCC Chicago Jewish Film Festival); Ken Hunnemeder and Sergio Salgado’s 2017 Goose Island-produced documentary GRIT & GRAIN: THE STORY OF BOURBON COUNTY STOUT (69 min, DCP Digital) is on Tuesday at 7pm; and John McDermott’s 2015/2019 documentary JIMI HENDRIX EXPERIENCE: ELECTRIC CHURCH (105 min, DCP Digital) is on Wednesday at 9:30pm.
Facets Cinémathèque plays Dustin Feneley’s 2018 New Zealand film STRAY (104 min, Video Projection) and Danishka Esterhazy’s 2018 Canadian film LEVEL 16 (102 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: March 1 - March 7, 2019
MANAGING EDITOR // Patrick Friel
ASSOCIATE EDITORS // Ben Sachs, Kathleen Sachs, Kyle A. Westphal
CONTRIBUTORS // Kyle Cubr, Marilyn Ferdinand, Jonathan Leithold-Patt, Michael Metzger, Michael W. Phillips Jr.