On episode #10 of the Cine-Cast, associate editor Kathleen Sachs and contributor John Dickson discuss the 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, going through April 4 at the Gene Siskel Film Center; 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.
Fridrikh Ermler’s FRAGMENT OF AN EMPIRE (Silent Soviet Revival)
Fridrikh Ermler’s 1929 Soviet film FRAGMENT OF AN EMPIRE is a curious hybrid of styles and tones. It was made at the tail end of the silent era in the Soviet Union, after several years of modernist editing on display in films by Ermler's contemporarires (Kuleshov, Eisenstein, and Vertov most prominently), but begins almost like something made a decade before. It’s the story of Filimonov, a soldier who has lost his memory and any sense of his identity. He’s working in a rural town near the train station, and one wonders whether the film might be derived from Gogol or another pre-Soviet realist author, given the starkness of the setting and the earthiness of some of the action. But after Filimonov happens to see his wife in a train window, he suddenly recalls everything and the conventional film style up to that point turns 180 degrees with a fantastically percussive montage sequence, reflecting the shock of his returned memory. Filimonov decides to travel to his hometown, St. Petersburg, but is dismayed and confused by its transformation into Leningrad, the modern urbanity and new socialist reality both providing shocks to his system. Here, the film plays in a more parodic fashion, resembling films by Kuleshov or Medvedkin, as Filimonov becomes acclimated, then fully embraces the radical egalitarianism of the new system (again, his flash of realization is presented via a stunning montage sequence). Ermler was noted for his later films’ by-the-book propaganda, and the last third of FRAGMENT is certainly not subtle in its messaging. The excessiveness of it, though, almost plays like comedy, but the film retains an empathy towards Filimonov and never becomes satirical in tone. Throughout, Ermler displays great control over the filmmaking, navigating the sometimes swift changes in style and tone effortlessly and incorporating some mesmerizing imagery (some of which is quite surreal—including a gas-masked Jesus hanging on a cross, one of several moments returned to the film in this restored version). Ermler may not be one of the most noted filmmakers of 1920s and 30s Soviet filmmaking, and I can’t speak to the rest of his work; but this, while not comparable to the best of Pudovkin, Eisenstein, or Dovzhenko, and a bit drawn-out and slow going at times, is still an amazing achievement (and judging by the preview copy I viewed, the newly restored 35mm print should look fantastic). Preceded by the recently found Miles Brothers’ 1906 short [SAN FRANCISCO AFTER THE EARTHQUAKE] (9 min, 35mm restored print). Live accompaniment by Dennis Scott. (1929, 109 min, 35mm restored print) PF
The Onion City Experimental Film and Video Festival) - Opening Night Program (New Experimental)
Presented by Chicago Filmmakers, the Onion City Festival begins Thursday with the Opening Night Program, and continues through Sunday, March 24 (see next week's list for details on the Friday-Sunday screenings).
Chicago Filmmakers (5720 N Ridge Ave.) — Thursday, 7:30pm (Reception), 8:30pm (Screening)
Opening night of Onion City is often a grab-bag show made up of the heavy hitters—a sort of attention grabbing survey of the local, regional, and worldwide trends in experimental moving image making. This year's opening does bring the heavy hitters, but revolves around a theme as well. The program, pointedly named "Histories & Futures,” is a “celebration of yonic power," giving us four excellent new works from female artists with strong local connections. Nazlı Dinçel's Film Farm-produced INSTRUCTIONS ON HOW TO MAKE A FILM (2018, 13m) is a reflexive work that features Dinçel's oft-used elements of sexual subjects, roughly-applied text-on-film, and celluloid-essentials to comedic and playful effect. The Film Farm, an analogue filmmaking retreat in Canada, always brings out the playful side out of filmmakers, and this is one of the more structured and accomplished films I've seen come from the farm. About Melika Bass' CREATURE COMPANION (2018, 31 min), Cine-File contributor Michael Metzger says, "(Bass) invites performers Selma Banich and Penelope Hearne to invent a series of domestic rituals—odd convulsions and exaggerated gestures that unsettle the placid suburban bubbles around them. Recalling Chick Strand’s MUJER DE MILFUEGOS and the early videos of Cecilia Condit (whose BENEATH THE SKIN might have provided a good alternate title), CREATURE COMPANION doesn’t so much tell a story as channel a restless, carnal energy, which Bass and her collaborators can contain for only so long before unleashing in delightfully unpredictable outbursts." Deborah Stratman's VEVER (FOR BARBARA) (2019, 12 min) pays tribute to and collaborates with two of our greatest cinematic forebearers, reassembling footage from Barbara Hammer while Hammer reads texts from Maya Deren. Finally Cauleen Smith's SOJOURNER (2018, 22 min) commingles film footage of current-day political actions and slick digital images that stakes a flag in an iconic art space, reimagining it as "feminist utopia." (2018-19, 78 min total, 16mm and Digital Projection) JBM
Also, interactive installations on view at Chicago Filmmakers throughout the festival include: SHATTERSQUELCH (Hannah Piper Burns), DIMENSIONAL EXCURSIONS (Peter Rose), and ++WE WILL LOVE YOU FOR EVER (Evan Meaney).
HARMONY KORINE X 5
Music Box Theatre — Showtimes listed below
Harmony Korine's SPRING BREAKERS (American Revival)
Friday and Sunday, 9:30pm
In the light of day, GUMMO may be Harmony Korine’s more enduring, trailblazing achievement, and TRASH HUMPERS is surely his most gleefully, deviantly fascinating, but SPRING BREAKERS stands as his most shiny, indulgent, Day-Glo-drenched ticket to midnight movie infamy. Vanessa Hudgens and Selena Gomez—self-consciously cast here as cast-outs from the corporate House of Mouse—are joined by Ashley Benson and Rachel Korine (wife of director Harmony) as part of an unholy foursome, vivid and bright, gunning for the ultimate spring break glory...until the path turns, almost imperceptibly, into something decidedly darker and looser. Leaning on an unmistakably specific, Floridian iconography of teen hedonism, and infiltrating the vibe of ‘90s cable television (American exceptionalism as filtered through MTV and Girls Gone Wild), SPRING BREAKERS was shrewdly recognized by critics, notably Steven Shaviro, for the radicalism behind its audiovisual experimentation and its formally innovative, recursive editing patterns. Korine’s maximalist aesthetic of flash-forwards, flashbacks, music montages, and mixed formats (from glorious anamorphic 35mm all the way down to VHS camcorder glitchiness) careens into a free association between themes of irony, sincerity, clichés about pop culture, clichés about spirituality, and clichés about co-ed sexuality, like a raunchy Rorschach blot for the midnight or multiplex spectator. The circular narrative structure of SPRING BREAKERS emphasizes the way that cinematic images and sounds not only acquire, but also importantly shed, their meanings when they are repeated ad nauseum. But by emphasizing the stimulation of feelings over meanings, does Korine successfully exploit the cult of spring break, or does he just do it to lull you into a stupor? In the music-video logic of formal rhymes, where endings turn back into beginnings, and you can see the end of the road as the same place you started from, innocence and objectification go hand-in-hand, no need to ask Is it feminist?. In the meantime, never has a Britney Spears song been so incisively, intelligently choreographed. Never has James Franco, starring as cosmic gangster/rapper Alien and a one-man minstrel show, looked so high off his own supply. Never has spring break looked so liberating and tedious at the same time, when the empty, endless drudgery of partying becomes its own punishment. This is where our story ends. Spring Break...for-ever. Preceded by Korine's segment "The Lotus Community Workshop" (29 min) from the 2012 film THE FOURTH DIMENSION and his 2016 music video for Rihanna's "Needed Me" (4 min). (2012, 94 min, 35mm) TTJ
Harmony Korine's TRASH HUMPERS (American Revival)
Friday, Midnight and Tuesday, 9:30pm
With it's creepy atmosphere, toilet bowl-dirty aesthetic and anarchic mise-en-scéne, TRASH HUMPERS is like some kind of mutant that grew out of a puddle of vomit from a dark, East-Coast alley in a Lloyd Kaufman Troma movie. It's bound to test your tolerance for how much vulgarity you can handle. But while a lot of shock-cinema puffs up and stretches out bad taste to make it more cartoonishly palatable, TRASH HUMPERS seems more interested in tuning into the ghoulishness and eeriness that exists at the lower frequencies of bad taste. TRASH HUMPERS isn't a movie that singles-out and shines a light on something that's disgusting (like when John Waters has us watch Divine eat fresh dog shit), it lets its grossness find its own way to you, like a smell that slowly appears under your nose or some slime that you gradually notice is causing your shoe to stick. While TRASH HUMPERS does have its obvious acts of indecency, it doesn't employ clarity to offend you but, rather, vagueness to unsettle you. Because of the way it likes to roll itself in its own lo-fi VHS-aesthetic muddiness, its sharpest points and roughest angles have become dampened and rubbed out. It's like meeting a monster that's already dead (actually): it's not really scary, but it is pretty creepy and it's unthreatening enough for you to wonder at it. Preceded and followed by a selection of shorts and music videos by Korine. (2009, 78 min, 35mm) KH
Harmony Korine’s JULIEN DONKEY-BOY (American Revival)
Saturday and Thursday, 9:30pm
Korine was inspired to make JULIEN DONKEY-BOY by his relationship with his schizophrenic uncle, but rather than create a straightforward account of someone living with this condition, he tries to get inside a schizophrenic’s head. The style of this near-plotless movie is deliberately disorienting—Korine shot it on mini-DV, blew up it up to 8mm and then to 35mm after that, resulting in a film where it requires effort to focus on any detail. The sequencing of events can be difficult to follow as well, and the jarring editing (even more experimental than that of Korine’s debut feature, GUMMO) only adds to the effect. One is never quite certain whether the onscreen action comprises reality or whether it’s merely taking place inside the title character’s head; to complicate matters further, there’s no baseline of recognizable behavior, as the protagonist’s family is so unusual. Werner Herzog plays Julien’s irascible father, who in one scene sprays his other son (Evan Neumann) with cold water out of a garden hose to make him stick to his athletic training; in another, he rambles on about his love for the movie DIRTY HARRY. Chloe Sevigny is Julien’s flaky, pregnant older sister, Pearl, with whom he may have had a sexual relationship. And Ewen Bremner, who plays Julien, is positively extraordinary, delivering such a committed performance that you may not even recognize him at first. (Bremner prepared for the role by meeting extensively with Korine’s uncle and working for several months at an institution for the criminally insane.) The director’s penchant for the odd and discomforting remains very much in place here, but what makes JULIEN DONKEY-BOY unique in his filmography is that the tendency is tied here to the aim of eliciting a specific emotional response. One sympathizes with Julien, even pities him, but one never understands him fully. Korine recognizes that to feign understanding is to simplify a condition too complex for most people to live with, let alone fathom. Preceded by a selection of shorts by Korine. (1999, 94 min, 35mm) BS
Harmony Korine's MISTER LONELY (American Revival)
Saturday, Midnight and Wednesday, 9:30pm
Whereas Harmony Korine's first two films enlarged upon the basic tenets set out by his script for Larry Clark's KIDS (1995)—albeit with increasing stylistic divagations—the elements of twee phantasmagoria and pulp melodrama that flickered through GUMMO and JULIEN DONKEY-BOY have, in MISTER LONELY, utterly overwhelmed the "gritty," impromptu youth-of-the-beast scenarios that, in their sensationalism, might well have attracted a good portion of Korine's initial audience. LONELY is simultaneously a step into maturity for the erstwhile KIDS screenwriter—the film may in the final analysis be a treatise on the obsolescence of our dreams (which are not wholly ours anyway—the majority of the film concerns the goings-on at a commune of celebrity impersonators), and the possibility that we may be better off (and more ourselves) without them—and a step backwards to an infantile naivety, as signaled by on-the-nose, childish dialogue, awkwardly tearjerking musical sequences, and hopelessly telegraphed plot elements that are likely to make audiences with even the least pretense to sophistication giggle with embarrassment: Korine's film, and by extension Korine himself, stands revealed here as "a mass of irritable substance"—a wounded thing that might really want to be comforted more than it wants to bewitch, bother, or bewilder its spectators. Still, by contrast to other, similar revelations as made by our young auteurs—Aronofsky's THE FOUNTAIN (2006) comes to mind—MISTER LONELY stands revealed as a singular and often beautiful (if never easy-to-swallow) restatement of Korine's not-inconsiderable talents as a ringmaster for a variety of deft audience-baiting and/or alienating practices, and likewise for the occasional scene of baffling, sumptuous, idyllic grace. Call it the Douanier Rousseau method of filmmaking: it may not work, by normative standards—may not be "good"—but we are still unlikely to get anything better, or stranger, out of an American director this year. Preceded by a selection of shorts by Korine. (2007, 112 min, Digital Projection) JD
Also showing this week in the Harmony Korine retrospective is a preview of his 2019 film THE BEACH BUM (95 min, DCP Digital) on Monday at 7 and 9:30pm, with Korine in person.
EUROPEAN UNION FILM FESTIVAL
Gene Siskel Film Center — Showtimes listed below
The Siskel’s annual European Union Film Festival continues through April 4, with more than 60 films from the EU countries. Some highlights are below, and we’ll have additional reviews each week of the festival.
Ruth Beckermann’s THE WALDHEIM WALTZ (Austria)
Friday, 2pm and Sunday, 4:30pm
Using archive footage from the 1970’s and 80’s as well as footage shot by director Ruth Beckermann herself during protests, THE WALDHEIM WALTZ follows the story of Kurt Waldheim and his journey after being U.N. Secretary for ten years to his eventual Austrian presidency. Damning evidence revealing Waldheim’s involvement with the Nazis during World War II emerges. The film juxtaposes Waldheim claiming innocence, that he like many others of that era were involuntarily drafted into the Nazi army, with the World Jewish Congress presenting more information to the contrary, including a photograph of him in uniform. Utilizing a percussive and free-flowing jazz score underneath that seamlessly transitions one scene into the next, Beckermann’s film eerily resonates with modern politics, especially the events of Charlottesville and in the rise of the alt-right both in America and abroad. THE WALDHEIM WALTZ offers a candid look through Beckermann’s eyes as an activist and juxtaposes the moderate with the far right of Austria. (2018, 93 min, DCP Digital) KC
Petra Lataster-Czich and Peter Lataster’s YOU ARE MY FRIEND (Netherlands/Documentary)
Friday, 4:15pm and Wednesday, 6pm
I haven’t seen the Dutch documentary MISS KIET’S CHILDREN, but I found this companion film to be perfectly engaging on its own. It follows a young Macedonian boy named Branche over the course of his first year or so at a language immersion school for children new to the Netherlands. The opening scenes are heart-wrenching, depicting how terrified Branche is to attend the new school. (In one scene, he clings tearfully to his father when the man tries to leave him with his teacher—one feels both the child’s emotional distress and the father’s struggle to calm him down.) But as the film proceeds and Branche grows acclimated to his new surroundings, the film becomes more ingratiating, even uplifting. The boy quickly makes friends with a Syrian classmate, reminding us of how mercifully unprejudiced small children can be; and, thanks to the magic of editing, he seems to become fluent in Dutch in leaps and bounds. YOU ARE MY FRIEND considers such difficult issues as managing problematic behaviors in a classroom and (more obliquely) the feelings of rootlessness that come with being an immigrant, but for the most part, it’s deeply optimistic filmmaking that invites us to share in all of Branche’s achievements. Directors Petra Lataster-Czich and Peter Lataster (the latter of whom also served as cinematographer) invite empathy through their skillful framing; the camera is rarely higher than Branche’s head and it rarely takes in more than what’s in his immediate view, forcing viewers to orient themselves literally at his level. With this visual approach comes a subtle shift in the viewers’ priorities—big ideas like “the immigrant experience” become hazy, while the challenge of trying to communicate something as simple as wanting a particular toy seem monumental. As portraits of early education go, this merits comparison with Frederick Wiseman’s great documentary BLIND (1986). (2018, 78 min, DCP Digital) BS
Marios Piperides' SMUGGLING HENDRIX (Cyprus)
Friday, 8pm and Wednesday, 6pm
Since 1974, the island nation of Cyprus has been divided between a Greek South and a Turkish North, a situation of which I confess I was only dimly aware until I saw Marios Piperides' affable comedy SMUGGLING HENDRIX. It's a diverting, fast-paced trifle with serious themes on its mind. Yiannis (Adam Bousdoukos) lives on the Greek side, near enough to the "buffer zone" that he can hear the call to prayer. His pooch, the titular Jimi, kicks off events when he gets loose and darts over into the north. Yiannis, who's never set foot in Turkish-occupied territory, was just about to move to Holland, in the wake of failed romance and dashed musical dreams. Unfortunately, the buffer guards selectively enforce a petty "rules are rules" mantra, and one of those rules is, you may not bring an animal from the Turkish side into the Greek side. So, Yiannis embarks on an adventure to smuggle Jimi out, along with a motley crew of mutually contemptuous characters, including his estranged ex-girlfriend (Vicky Papadopoulou), a wannabe crime kingpin (Özgür Karadeniz), and the Turkish settler now occupying the house where Yiannis was born (Fatih Al). Piperides, who's from the Greek side, has made a lighthearted romp that makes you laugh about seemingly intractable human problems. SMUGGLING HENDRIX may even strike you as a larkish, feel-good version of the geopolitically Kafkaesque vision of Christian Petzold. It's got the same sense of a country as a cage, of a world changing for the worse. If anything, the movie is rather too earnest in underlining its message of transcending borders. Myself, I cheer it on. There's nothing more urgent than breaking down barriers of misunderstanding and prejudice, differences of religion and language, even as some seek to cement the walls between us. People fighting over land is perhaps the oldest and saddest of human stories. At our best, we see the absurdity and rise above it. If his message seems facile, Piperides seems to say, that's only because we humans are not yet as wise as Jimi is. (2018, 93 min, DCP Digital) SP
Marine Francen’s THE SOWER (France)
Saturday, 3:30pm and Monday, 6pm
Marine Francen’s accomplished debut feature invokes the realist paintings of Jean-Francois Millet to tell a fact-based story of the sort of people and places Millet often depicted. It takes place on a southern French farm in the early 1850s where all of the men have been imprisoned under Napoleon III’s crackdown on Republicans. Left to run the farm on their own, the women acquit themselves admirably, tending to the crops and animals as well as their children. Their biggest problem is that they miss men terribly, and their conversations frequently turn to sexual fantasizing. The women eventually agree that, if a man should come to their homestead, they would divide his attentions evenly among them. They get the chance to act out this plan when Jean, a mysterious stranger, arrives; too bad he falls in love with one of the women, the innocent Violette, and doesn’t want to share his affection with anyone else. Francen allows the story to unfold leisurely despite its sexually charged scenario, granting as much screen time to the gorgeous environments as to the psychological drama. Shooting in the Academy ratio and often with natural light, she creates images that seem not to belong to this century, and they create a fascinating tension with the dialogue, which is disarmingly frank for a 19th-century historical drama. This is a highly original work that shines new light on the experience of women during a tumultuous period of French history. (2017, 99 min, DCP Digital) BS
Bodo Kox’s THE MAN WITH THE MAGIC BOX (Poland)
Saturday, 5:30pm and Monday, 8pm
Set in futuristic 2030’s Warsaw, THE MAN WITH THE MAGIC BOX is a story of forbidden love, time travel, and 1984-esque themes. Gloria (Olga Boladz) works in HR for a corporation and instantly falls for Adam (Piotr Polak) who works in the companies janitorial department. One day, Adam discovers a radio that acts as a time travel device which sends him back to Stalinist-run Poland in the 1950’s where he quickly becomes a fugitive after discovering scientific secrets. Gloria, in search of her newfound lover, must travel to the past to be with the man she now loves. Director Bodo Kox’s film is distinctively stylish and its quite clear how film history influenced THE MAN WITH THE MAGIC BOX. Homages from American movies like FIGHT CLUB and BLADE RUNNER to European classics like LE SAMOURI and THE THIRD PART OF THE NIGHT, Kox offers the astute viewer a movie that feels familiar but is decidedly its own. Packed with adventure and thrills, THE MAN WITH THE MAGIC BOX is refreshing take on dystopian Polish cinema. (2017, 103 min, Digital Projection) KC
Willy Perelsztejn’s ASHCAN (Luxembourg/Belgium/Documentary)
Saturday, 8pm, and Tuesday, 6pm
The Palace Hotel in Mondorf-les-Bains in the tiny, landlocked country of Luxembourg was the unlikely scene of a rather remarkable chapter in World War II history. For four months following the defeat of the Axis powers, prominent Nazis, including Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring, Der Stürmer publisher Julius Streicher, and Grossadmiral Karl Dönitz, who briefly became head of state after Adolf Hitler’s death, were held by American intelligence personnel for interrogation before standing trial for crimes against humanity at Nuremburg. This peculiar “resort,” nicknamed Camp Ashcan, and the goings-on therein intrigued director Willy Perelsztejn, who, along with Luxembourgish historian Sally Kremer, decided to mount a stage dramatization of the interrogations and film the production process. The result is ASHCAN, which tries to convey the personalities of the Nazis and their interrogators through interviews and rehearsals with the actors playing them, snippets of performance, historical photos, and the talking-head recollections of John Dolibois, a naturalized American from Luxembourg who was the only interrogator at Ashcan still alive when filming took place (he died in 2014 at the age of 95). The history revealed in the film is interesting, shedding light on an infrequently visited part of WWII lore, but the telling is confusing and somewhat lifeless. However, every time Dolibois is on camera, the film ignites, his youthful amazement at working so close to the epicenter of evil still very much alive some 70 years after the events portrayed. (2018, 90 min, Digital Projection) MF
Corneliu Porumboiu’s INFINITE FOOTBALL (Romania)
Sunday, 3:00pm and Thursday, 8:15pm
Georges Perec wrote, “we oscillate between the illusion of perfection and the vertigo of the unattainable.” Corneliu Porumboiu draws that oscillation in the shape of a soccer field in INFINITE FOOTBALL, a quizzical work of documentary portraiture. The subject is one Laurentiu Ginghină, middle-aged civil servant and inventor of “Football 2.0,” a sport that, to the best of my comprehension, is something like what foosball/table soccer might look like if played by humans on an octangular pitch. Through a series of delightfully digressive interviews at his home, office, and former workplaces and playgrounds, Ginghină explains (and frequently retools) the rules of his game, revealing a great deal about himself (and about contemporary world history) in the process. As in Porumboiu’s earlier features like POLICE, ADJECTIVE (2009) and WHEN EVENING FALLS ON BUCHAREST OR METABOLISM (2013), obsessive tasks and processes serve as a framework for a measured approach to building character. Though it takes a while to get inside Ginghină’s head, the psychology behind Ginghină’s idée-fixe is never in question. Porumboiu begins his film with a scene Ginghină recollecting the traumatic soccer injury that diverted the course of his life, an injury that Ginghină blames on the faulty rules of the game. As in his minimalist farce THE TREASURE (2015), Porumboiu finds the erratic history of Romania sedimented in the most unusual places—in this case, in the hapless Ginghină’s twice-broken leg. Without the gentle pathos animating his subject’s quixotic pursuit, INFINITE FOOTBALL might be impenetrable. But Porumboiu’s interest is ultimately less in personal or even national psychology than in what happens when our private hobbyhorses intersect with the rules that govern language, society, history, or in this case, sport. These collisions define Porumboiu’s distinctive philosophical deadpan, epitomized in INFINITE FOOTBALL when a test match reveals the undeniable shortcomings of Ginghină’s convoluted regulations. Rather than succumbing to the vertigo of the unattainable, however, Ginghină stubbornly returns to the drawing board of perfection. In the film’s gorgeous coda, the broader philosophical and political horizons of this pursuit come into view, making INFINITE FOOTBALL as profound a meditation on the craft our legal and social frameworks as it is on the design of our pastimes. (2018, 70 min, DCP Digital) MM
Antonio and Marco Manetti’s LOVE AND BULLETS (Italy)
Sunday, 4:30pm and Thursday, 7:30pm
Big, goofy, and eager to please, the Manetti brothers’ musical comedy about organized crime in Naples sets the tone in its opening minutes by having the first song sung by a corpse. From there, the film delivers song-and-dance routines about vendetta killings, falling in love with a hit man, and the thrill of getting mugged in the Neapolitan slum of Scampia. The story hinges on two age-old premises—an identity swap and a pair of star-crossed lovers fleeing danger—and these go a long way in making the topical subject matter (i.e., the Camorra’s hold on modern Italy) feel timeless. Indeed this could be a modern-dress update of a commedia dell’arte farce. The story kicks off when Don “the Fish King” Vincenzo finds himself hunted by members of a rival gang. His crafty wife Maria hatches a plan to save him: she’ll have one of the family assassins kill Vincenzo’s working-class look-alike, then arrange a lavish funeral for the poor schlub and tell everyone it’s her husband in the casket. A nurse named Fatima inadvertently learns the plot, inspiring Maria to put a hit on her too. But things get complicated when the man sent to kill her, Ciro, turns out to be Fatima’s long-lost lover. Running over two hours, the film takes its time to deliver the various plot twists, stopping fairly often to have the characters break into song. Good thing the songs are enjoyable and the cast is uniformly funny in a broad, emphatic manner. (2017, 134 min, DCP Digital) BS
Chen Kun-Hou's GROWING UP (Taiwanese Revival)
Filmfront (1740 W. 18th St.) — Saturday, 7pm
Taiwanese director Chen Kun-Hou’s GROWING UP views the marriage between a Taiwanese woman and a mainland Chinese man from the point of view of the woman's illegitimate son. The film holds interest for being co-written by a young Hou Hsiao-Hsien, but the credited director Chen Kun-Ho is a major figure in his own right. Chen directed eight films in the 80s, most of which he also shot; apparently, he was a highly respected cinematographer before coming to direct. Chen's style as a director has been described as elliptical and unobtrusive, more concerned with characters' behavior than with explanations of them. As he provided Hou with several of his earliest screen credits (He's a credited writer on three other films by Chen), it will be interesting to see how Chen's style may have influenced the future master. (1983, 100 min, 16mm) BS
CHRISTIAN PETZOLD X 2
Music Box Theatre — (TRANSIT) Check venue website for showtimes & (YELLA) Sunday, 11:30am
Christian Petzold’s TRANSIT (New German/French)
An antifascist German’s desperate flight from Paris to Marseilles as the Nazis start to overrun France becomes a metaphysical journey in which his very identity is subsumed to the needs of the wife (Paula Beer) of a writer who, unbeknownst to her, committed suicide when she abandoned him in Paris. The man (Franz Rogowski) assumes her husband’s identity and lets go of self-interest to secure her transit documents to escape Marseilles, where other refugees are waiting fruitlessly to be delivered from evil. There is much in TRANSIT that will remind viewers of CASABLANCA (1942), thus continuing director Christian Petzold’s riffs on cinematic history—Herk Harvey’s CARNIVAL OF SOULS (1962) and Georges Franju’s EYES WITHOUT A FACE (1960) are clear inspirations for his YELLA (2007) and PHOENIX (2014), respectively. However, Petzold’s source material is Anna Seghers’ Transit, a renowned 1944 novel based on her own experience as a German exile trapped in Marseilles in 1940–41. His recurring themes of the permeability of identity, betrayal, the complex nature of love, and the ghosts that haunt humanity are married to a sympathetic examination of the current refugee crisis in Europe by setting his film in the present and populating it with Arab refugees. By straddling the present and the past, he effectively renders history and our willful amnesia accomplices to atrocity. (2018, 101 min, DCP Digital) MF
Read our interview with TRANSIT star Franz Rogowski on the blog.
Christian Petzold's YELLA (German Revival)
What’s that they say? "No one died wishing they spent more time at the office”? Christian Petzold might beg to differ—neoliberal ambition is at the center of his 2007 film YELLA, a de facto remake of Herk Harvey’s 1962 horror film CARNIVAL OF SOULS, set in—where else?—East Germany less than twenty years after reunification in 1990 and just before the onset of global economic collapse in 2008. As such, it’s a wrly imaginative spin on the horror genre, yet another example of Petzold’s career-long practice of deviceful appropriation, implausible terror here supplanted with that of a more realistic variety. Petzold’s longtime collaborator Nina Hoss stars as the titular character, a young woman for whom things seem to be turning around after she gets an accounting job in Northern Germany. Standing in her way is Ben, her estranged, abusive husband and former business partner, economic anxiety an obvious motivating factor of his abuse (though not an excuse for it—Petzold’s depiction of domestic violence as a form of political violence is one of the film’s most affecting statements). He shows up at her house in Wittenberge and insists on driving her to the train, tension building until he suddenly veers off a bridge. What follows is pure Petzold: they survive the crash and wash ashore, after which Yella seemingly walks away unscathed and manages to get to her new job in Hannover. At her hotel she meets Philipp, and, after discovering that the original job is a bust, begins working with him in assessing companies’ financial viability. Philipp is something of a swindler, however, and Yella soon becomes complicit in his schemes; she also falls in love with him, the gentle scammer a complete turnaround from her abusive husband, who’s somehow managed to find her. Those who haven’t seen YELLA but are familiar with Harvey’s cult classic may see where this is going, but for those yet uninitiated into this particular Petzold ghost world, I dare not spoil it. Let’s just say that, like a lot of horror movies, there’s a twist, one both terrifying and tragic—but here the terror is capitalism, a condition that permeates sheer existence, present both in life and death. The third film in Petzold’s Gespenster (“Ghost”) Trilogy, following his 2000 film THE STATE I AM IN and his 2005 film GHOSTS, YELLA perhaps exemplifies Petzold’s preoccupation with ghostliness to its full effect, both as an homage to a genre and a commentary on the depersonalizing effects of the so-called “free”-market economy. Related to that, and another throughline in Petzold’s career, is symbolism inherent to transit; Yella travels via train between Wittenberge and Hannover, many scenes take place in the car, et cetera. Here again it's an existential metaphor about transit between states of being, or, maybe, between an idealized and a default state of being, which is apparently a capitalistic one, the two modes seemingly interchangeable in this productivity driven world. Despite its apparent subtlety—a talent of Petzold’s, who executes his ludicrous scenarios with thrilling grace—the horror is as visceral as it is intellectual. (2007, 89 min, 35mm) KS
Jafar Panahi's THE CIRCLE (Iranian Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) — Sunday, 7pm
THE CIRCLE is one of the great Iranian films, but not because it dares to take as its subject the persecution suffered daily by women in Iran. For this, it constitutes an act of heroism, and it represents one of the noblest services that art can provide to democratic societies: raise awareness of political injustice by dramatizing it on the level of human tragedy. THE CIRCLE stands as one of the great Iranian films not because of its important subject matter, but because its artistry transcends the despairing reality of its subject. It is, in fact, an invigorating experience, full of masterfully orchestrated camera movements and seductive narrative elisions that make its urban setting seem alive with possibility. (The movie's impact is in no way thwarted by the fact that its female characters are so limited in their possibilities.) The vitality of Panahi's filmmaking informs the structure of THE CIRLCE: In what Jonathan Rosenbaum called "a narrative relay passing from one character to the next," and which he compared to the narratives of SLACKER and Bunuel's THE PHANTOM OF LIBERTY, the story moves around Tehran with a freedom that allows it to take in the experience of many different women, all of them oppressed in some way by Iran's misogynistic laws. Panahi makes his characters resonate through relatively few details (Rosenbaum also compared the film to a "punchy Warners proletarian protest quickie of the 30s") and with non-professional actors, no less. This quality is crucial in the movie's great political triumph of inspiring viewers around the world to empathize with a plight they've been fortunate never to face. (2000, 90 min, 35mm) BS
James N. Kienitz Wilkins's COMMON CARRIER (New Experimental)
Film Studies Center (at the Logan Center for the Arts, 915 E. 60th St., University of Chicago) — Friday, 7pm (Free Admission)
In all but the most technically virtuosic experimental films, double exposures suggest a haphazard brilliance, a grasping, instinctual sense of how two disparate images might interact in-camera. Even more sophisticated films which fuse separate rolls of footage through optical and contact printing are always walking a tightrope between chance and intention. Such superimpositions are firmly in the realm of collage: in the language of Cubism, it’s a synthetic form of connecting images together. But video superimpositions behave differently. If Godard’s later work is any guide, layering video images in editing software produces a more analytic form, as if the idea were to get the viewer to critically disentangle the overlaid images again. An experimental feature built entirely through superimposed frames, James N. Kienitz Wilkins’s COMMON CARRIER (2016) is also an analytic exercise, both a self-examination and a social inquiry into the lives of working artists during a time of precarity, corporate exploitation, debt, and dispersal. Wilkins downplays the more metaphorical possibilities of superimposition to focus on strategies for collapsing and expanding space, but when the film does shift into more pyrotechnic passages of associative montage, it’s easily the equal of Isiah Medina’s groundbreaking work of digital-cinema poetry 88:88 (2015). Wilkins’s more distanced, disciplined sensibility results in a less rapturous but more coherent and intriguing experiment. Controlled doublings and juxtapositions, such as the soundtrack that ping-pongs between NPR to Hot 93, lend the film an architecture that rein in the limitless possibilities of non-linear editing. In form and content, the film is a bit like looking at yourself in the window of a coffee shop: it’s easy to see oneself reflected among the film’s ensemble of frustrated creatives, moonlighters, and layabouts, but are you one of the people shamelessly broadcasting their professional ambitions, or are you another victim of wifi-enabled distraction? Superimposition represents only one of many shrewd ways the film dramatizes its identification-alienation, working-hard-or-hardly-working dilemmas: on the outside looking in as an off-screen voice, Wilkins also appears onscreen in interviews and its charmingly under-rehearsed scripted passages. While documentary and essay-film techniques embody the film’s split sense of immersion and distraction, its reflexivity is tempered by mumblecore-ish narrative passages about young people struggling with interpersonal, economic, geographical, and technological disconnection. In these moments, the film recalls two recent Argentinean films, Mathias Piñero’s HERMIA & HELENA (2016), which also made gorgeous use of superimpositions in the form of long dissolves, and Eduardo Williams’ THE HUMAN SURGE (2017), which also mapped its socioeconomic terrain around its characters’ relative access to data. But from its wily use of subtitles to the way it stages dialectical exchanges between Rihanna and Radiolab, COMMON CARRIER is an essay film through-and-through, one that earnestly grapples with the paradoxes of a creative economy in which people striving to imagine new forms of social connection find themselves increasingly alienated both from their labor and from their peers. It’s a keen work of analysis about the frustrated desire for synthesis. Wilkins in person. (2017, 78 min, DCP Digital) MM
Orson Welles' TOUCH OF EVIL ("Director's Cut") (American Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center — Friday, 2pm and Tuesday, 6pm
The film opens with a close-up of a time bomb. A doomed couple crosses the border from Mexico to California with ticking death in the trunk of their convertible. Another doomed couple moves with them, on foot. In a moment, all the world will explode. But this isn't a film about explosions and death. It's a film about violence, about the horrifying disconnect between words and deeds, about betrayal and lies. As the racist bully of a policeman, Hank Quinlan, Orson Welles exudes grotesquery, sweating bullets of injustice and bigotry with every wheezing step. He blunders through the film, a monstrous presence prepared to do anything to enact his vision of law and order, willing to frame a man for murder just because he doesn't like his attitude. All is transient, in flux, not merely taking place on the border but being about borderlines themselves. Where do we draw that line between interrogation and torture, between investigation and harassment, between evidence and supposition, between the friend and the foe? TOUCH OF EVIL is a film of cold fury, one that gives us a vision of existence as a permanent state of emergency, in which all that was previously thought solid has not just melted but burst into flames. The film begins with a bomb in a bravura long-take that falsely shows the world as whole, coherent, legible, only to destroy that world, to show it as always having been destroyed just moments before. But it ends with a sequence of crushing beauty: Quinlan, pursued through a wasteland of Mexican architectural filth by the mock-heroic Vargas (Charlton Heston), finally learns that in this space of nihilism, where things themselves can lie (a stick of dynamite, a photograph, a corpse) his own words are the only things he cannot escape. Objects are mere opportunities for deceit here, and space just a field of power, mastered by evil and oppressive, corrosive, of the genuine. Only words, perversely, can be trusted, and it's through words, finally, that the monster will be slain, though it's a meaningless victory: the man Quinlan framed has been tortured into confessing anyway. Marlene Dietrich's famous line of elegy, 'What does it matter what you say about people?' is the loveliest and bleakest affirmation of the indefatigability of injustice ever put on celluloid. Film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum lectures at the Tuesday show. (1958, 112 min, 35mm) KB
Sergei Eisenstein’s ALEXANDER NEVSKY (Soviet Revival)
Park Ridge Classic Film Series (at the Park Ridge Public Library, 20 S. Prospect Ave., Park Ridge) — Thursday, 7pm (Free Admission)
ALEXANDER NEVSKY was Eisenstein’s most propagandistic film, a Soviet-sponsored vision of Slavic might over Teutonic invaders. Government officials suggested the project and decorated the director with the Order of Lenin for his efforts once the movie was completed. NEVSKY vilifies foreigners as forthrightly as it celebrates Russians, and its rousing depiction of battle remains, per J. Hoberman, “a dangerously stirring call to arms.” That it is a superior work of propaganda is a result of Eisenstein’s artistry, which resists the dictates of Stalinist order. Note how he locates a human dimension in every character he presents, no matter how broadly the character’s defined (it’s a talent Eisenstein shared with Charles Dickens). Note also the integration of humor. Eisenstein’s humanist instinct separates his propaganda from that of Leni Riefenstahl, whose dehumanizing approach to her subjects made her filmmaking perfectly aligned with the Nazis’ mission. Of course, Eisenstein was also a better filmmaker than Riefenstahl; his approaches to composition and editing are among the most original in film history. NEVSKY is worth seeing on a big screen simply because Eisenstein directed it. The images, as is always the case in his films, suggests architecture in motion; the organization of images suggests futurist murals. Sergei Prokofiev’s score is justly one of the most famous in cinema; as ambitious as the images, it’s a symphony with separate movements for different passages. (1938, 112 min, Digital Projection) BS
Paweł Pawlikowski’s COLD WAR (New Polish)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) — Saturday, 7 and 9:30pm and Sunday, 4pm
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 Conversations at the Edge series (at the Gene Siskel Film Center) presents a program of work by experimental media artist Evan Meaney on Thursday at 6pm, with Meaney in person. Screening are two digital video works, CEIBAS: EPILOGUE—THE WELL OF REPRESENTATION (2011, 7 min) and BIG_SLEEP™ (2015, 27 min), and demonstrations of two virtual reality works, WHY MY GARDEN IS A REAL PIECE OF SHIT (2017) and ++WE WILL LOVE YOU FOR EVER (2017).
Block Cinema (Northwestern University) screens Isaac Julien’s 1991 UK film YOUNG SOUL REBELS (105 min, 35mm) on Friday at 7pm. Free admission.
Chicago Filmmakers (5720 N. Ridge Ave.) presents an illustrated lecture by local filmmaker and DePaul professor Shayna Connelly titled An Alternate History of Cinema: Female Pioneers on Saturday at 7pm. The event includes excerpts of work from Alice Guy-Blaché, Lois Weber, Germaine Dulac, Dorothy Arzner, Mary Ellen Bute, Leni Riefenstahl, Marie Menken, Maya Deren, Storm de Hirsch, Shirley Clarke, Carolee Schneemann, Yoko Ono, Chantal Akerman, and Shirin Neshat.
The Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago presents a screening of work by Sky Hopinka on Friday at 7pm, with Hopinka in person.
Asian Pop-Up Cinema presents Antonia Grace Glenn's 2017 Japanese/US documentary THE ITO SISTERS (80 min, Digital Projection) on Saturday at 2pm at the Wilmette Theatre, with Glenn in person; Batbayar Chogsom's 2018 Mongolian/Swiss film OUT OF PARADISE (98 min, Digital Projection) on Tuesday at 7pm at AMC River East 21, with Chogsom in person; Siew-hua Yeo's 2018 Singaporean/Dutch/French film A LAND IMAGINED (95 min, Digital Projection) on Wednesday at 7pm at AMC River East 21, with Yeo in person; and Denis Do's 2018 Cambodian/French film FUNAN (84 min, Digital Projection) on Thursday at 7pm at the Alliance Française (54 W. Chicago Ave.).
The Stateless Film Festival: Stories from Turkish Freedom Seekers is on Monday at 7:30pm at the Davis Theater. The program of four shorts and a panel discussion is presented by Acting Out Awareness. More info and tickets at www.actingoutawareness.org.
The Jane Addams Hull-House Museum (800 S. Halsted St.) presents Through Her Eyes: Contemporary Shorts by Women of Color Filmmakers on Monday at 6pm. Screening are: RESPECT AND LOVE (Angelique Webster, 2018, 16 min), INTO MY LIFE (Cassandra Bromfield, 2018, 15 min), DE COLORES (Luz Zamora, 2017, 16 min), and DREAMS IN TRANSIT (Karen Martinez, 2017, 29 min). Free admission, but RSVP required: https://bit.ly/2CbNcRg.
The Instituto Cervantes (31 W. Ohio St.) screens Ricardo Franco's 1997 Spanish film THE LUCKY STAR (90 min, DVD Projection) on Tuesday at 7pm. Free admission.
The Northbrook Public Library (1201 Cedar Lane, Northbrook) screens Marielle Heller's 2018 film CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME? (106 min, Digital Projection) on Wednesday at 1 and 7pm. Free admission.
Also at Doc Films (University of Chicago) this week: Samuel Fuller's 1964 film THE NAKED KISS (91 min, 35mm) is on Friday at 7 and 9:30pm and Sunday at 1:30pm.
Also at the Music Box Theatre this week: Milorad Krstic’s 2018 Hungarian animated film RUBEN BRANDT, COLLECTOR (94 min, DCP Digital) and Cristina Gallego and Ciro Guerra’s 2018 Columbian film BIRDS OF PASSAGE (125 min, DCP Digital) both continue; Jonas Åkerlund’s 2018 UK/Swedish film LORDS OF CHAOS (118 min, DCP Digital) is on Friday and Saturday at Midnight; and Tsivia Barkai's 2018 Israeli film RED COW (100 min, DCP Digital) is on Sunday at 7:30pm, showing as part of the JCC Chicago Jewish Film Festival.
Facets Cinémathèque plays Felix Randau's 2017 German/Italian/Austrian film ICEMAN (96 min, Video Projection) and Miles Lagoze's 2018 documentary COMBAT OBSUCRA (70 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 15 - March 21, 2019
MANAGING EDITOR // Patrick Friel
ASSOCIATE EDITORS // Ben Sachs, Kathleen Sachs, Kyle A. Westphal
CONTRIBUTORS // Kian Bergstrom, Kyle Cubr, Jeremy Davies, Marilyn Ferdinand, Kalvin Henley, Tien-Tien Jong, Jonathan Leithold-Patt, JB Mabe, Michael Metzger, Scott Pfeiffer