On episode #11 of the Cine-Cast, Cine-File contributors take it on the road with this remote-heavy edition. On this episode, contributor Marilyn Ferdinand discusses filmmaker Patrick Wang and his upcoming film A BREAD FACTORY, playing at the Gene Siskel Film Center and Block Cinema (May 4), and contributor Michael Metzger interviews filmmaker Nellie Kluz at the Onion City Experimental Film & Video Festival!
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.
Susana de Sousa Dias’ 48 (Contemporary Documentary)
Film Studies Center (at the Logan Center for the Arts, 915 E. 60th St., University of Chicago) – Thursday, 7pm (Free Admission)
“This was an insidious repression, very insidious. It was all about an inquisitorial surveillance…That was a Portugal where you had to discover the truth of that Portugal through minimal gestures.” That’s the testimony from one of 16 voices heard in Susana de Sousa Dias’ bracingly austere archival documentary 48 (2010), but it’s also a succinct description of the film’s methodology. 48 narrates the brutal political repression of Portuguese dictator António de Oliveira Salazar’s five-decade-long regime through first-person recollections of political prisoners, which are illustrated only by the mug shots taken by the police during their incarceration. The stoic, sometimes defiant faces of these subversives linger on screen for minutes on end before fading to darkness or dissolving into later portraits which often reveal the shocking toll of sleep deprivation, torture, and suffering under fascism. Sousa Dias radically limits her intervention into this visual record, allowing the images and the voices of the survivors to speak for themselves. But these minimal gestures reveal profound truths about the effect of violence and repression on human relationships, about the frightening capacity of human beings to inflict pain on other humans, and about how we carry the memory of trauma as both individuals and as nations. In this and other films about the Salazar years (including NATUREZA MORTA, 2005 and OBSCURE LIGHT, 2017), Susana de Sousa Dias has developed an exacting, almost forensic cinematic method, in which the unequal power dynamic between the state and the individual is mirrored in the power dynamic between sound and image. Challenging the official regime of enforced visibility recorded in the police archives with offscreen voices sharing unofficial, personal histories, 48 is both archive and argument; it makes a strong case for minimalism as a cinematic and a historical method. (2009, 97 min, Digital Projection) MM
Jafar Panahi’s 3 FACES (New Iranian)
Gene Siskel Film Center - Check Venue website for showtimes
Despite the twenty year filmmaking ban imposed upon him by the Iranian government, Jafar Panahi continues in defiance to make films. His latest, 3 FACES, finds the resourceful director less shackled in terms of the locale where the film transpires. His practice of casting himself in a self-fictionalized role, as seen in previous films, is at play here as well; in 3 FACES it also extends to the film’s lead actress, Behnaz Jafari. Set in a small village in the northwest region of Iran, the film has Behnaz and Jafar searching for a young would-be actress who had sent them a distressed video of herself pleading for help to escape her conservative family’s home so she can study at an acting conservatory in Tehran. Her desire to be an entertainer makes her a pariah; much of the village believes it would be more worthwhile to become a doctor or to pursue another vocation that would be more immediately beneficial to their needs. Shades of both ABOUT ELLY and TAXI are felt, as the film grapples with the reality that traditions can be deeply entrenched within a community and change is slow. Panahi uses humor and satire to great effect to weave a metaphor about persevering in life despite oppression all around. The film’s cinematography utilizes natural lighting in extraordinary fashion, whether it’s the sunbathed mountains surrounding the village or the extreme low light within a car with only a phone screen for illumination. 3 FACES is not only a commentary on Panahi’s own confining situation but also a humorous and impassioned vehicle in which he can elevate the persecution of others facing political or social repression. (2018, 100 min, DCP Digital) KC
Agnès Varda’s DAGUERRÉOTYPES (French Documentary Revival)
Comfort Film at Comfort Station Logan Square (2579 N. Milwaukee Ave.) – Wednesday, 8pm (Free Admission)
The over four decades’ worth of documentary films made by Agnès Varda have winsomely defining characteristics. You recognize them instantly in their singular expression: the generous, inquisitive regard for people ordinary and overlooked; the fascination with the personal and social dimensions of art, particularly photography; the effortless, egalitarian interweaving of autobiography with the stories of her subjects; and always, Varda’s voice from behind the camera, if not her full whimsical person in front of it, pitched toward insatiable curiosity and endless perceptual renewal. DAGUERRÉOTYPES, Varda’s first feature-length documentary, sets the tone for her later work. In it, the filmmaker surveys the shopkeepers on a block of Paris’ rue Daguerre, in the 14th arrondissement where she spent much of her life. The block, chosen both for its proximity to Varda’s home and for its quaintly ossified nature (plus the apropos name), was in 1976 something of a relic with its unchanging boutiques run by elder tradespeople, a vestige of community-focused labor and commerce fading in an age of modern capitalism. Varda freezes these people—bakers, tailors, perfumers, butchers—in their already frozen little milieu, using her camera, as she often did, as an archivist’s tool of preservation. In a fashion recalling both neorealist and early Soviet cinematic emphases on the working class, she lingers on their various store routines, valorizing their work through the duration she affords it. She also gives them plenty of time to speak. We hear about their pasts, their relationships, and their dreams, their lives fleshed out in frame-filling close-ups that foster an intimate identification. The format of this multi-portraiture is simple, direct, and unassuming in its celebration of the quotidian, which is why Varda’s introduction of a magician, whose performance for a local crowd is intercut with the shopkeepers’ routines, stands out as somewhat ostentatious. The idea—that the shopkeepers carry out a kind of everyday magic—is wittily communicated through juxtapositions that match, say, the magician’s fire-eating with the baker’s brick oven, but the point becomes belabored. While DAGUERRÉOTYPES may not ultimately be as robust and sophisticated as Varda’s subsequent documentaries, it still contains all her customary charm and empathetic observation, indexed by the street in the shops and through the faces she makes immortal. Showing as part of Comfort Film's Guest Curator Series; presented by Cine-File Associate Editor Kathleen Sachs. (1976, 80 min, 16mm) JL
King Vidor's DUEL IN THE SUN (American Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) – Friday, 7pm and Sunday, 1:30pm
Not looking to reinvent the wheel, I’ll start by quoting Dave Kehr’s review of DUEL IN THE SUN for the Chicago Reader: “There's no doubt that it goes too far in almost every direction—but that touch of obsession is exactly what saves it.” Produced by David O. Selznick, who was then partnered with the film’s star Jennifer Jones, DUEL IN THE SUN was intended by the maverick producer to replicate the success of his 1939 record-breaker GONE WITH THE WIND—he actually spent even more on DUEL, making it the most expensive film ever made at the time of its release—though it’s less a historical odyssey than it is something altogether different, more sexual than even its predecessor, which pitted the fiery Vivien Leigh against the bawdy dynamo that is Clark Gable. Here it’s Jones with both Joseph Cotten and Gregory Peck; Jones and Peck especially simmer, sweat almost boiling on their sunburned skin. Jones stars as Pearl Chavez, a young Mestiza woman (her white father is played by Herbert Marshall), who goes to live with family members in Texas after her father is executed for murdering her mother over an affair. The family consists of her father’s cousin and former paramour, Laura Belle (silent film star Lillian Gish), her husband, Senator Jackson McCanles (Lionel Barrymore), and their two sons, Cain and Abel—er, Jesse (Cotten) and Lewt (Peck)—all inhabiting a sprawling estate called Spanish Bit. Jesse loves Pearl, whom the local priest deems to be a “full-blossomed woman built by the devil to drive men crazy,” while she’s drawn to the recalcitrant Lewt, at odds with the good and bad that war internal. The romantic relationships occur against a backdrop of great change in the west, specifically the development of the railway system, to which the Senator objects but open-minded Jesse welcomes. Selznick selected King Vidor to direct because of his experience with Westerns as well as women’s pictures—some of the close-ups recall those perfected in silent film, though it’s hard to say for sure if that’s owing to Vidor’s pedigree, as he was fired at some point due to artistic differences with Selznick, with William Dieterle finishing the film and Josef von Sternberg, William Cameron Menzies, and even the producer himself directing some scenes. Sometimes cheekily called “Lust in the Dust,” its sexiness is absolutely one of its most compelling traits, as the emotional tenor that Selznick struck, for better or worse, with GONE WITH THE WIND here falls flat. That said, its sexiness is reason enough to see it, specifically as put forth by Jones, whose energy always matches that of her auteur, who in this case was Selznick. Despite some problematic elements, specifically with regards to race and sex, Jones dominates—though it didn’t quite match GONE WITH THE WIND in either overall quality or box-office return, the film's complexity, largely owing to Jones' brave performance, is much more interesting. And the ending, yet another example of its ultimate unevenness, is pure cinema. Go for the phenomenal cast and the blazing Technicolor, and stay for a finale that’ll make “Lust in the Dust” sound like a compliment rather than a jab. (1946, 129 min, 35mm archival print) KS
Charles Walters’ EASTER PARADE (American Revival)
Charles Walters was the most natural, graceful, and true director of musicals Hollywood ever had. The genre saw more accomplished auteurs who operated in a grander scale who made the more established classics, but Charles Walters seemingly was the genre made flesh. He was the heart and soul of MGM musicals. He had a 22-year career with the studio, working as a performer (most famously partnering with Judy Garland at the end of PRESENTING LILY MARS), as "dance doctor" for other films, and as a choreographer for everything from MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS to an Abbot and Costello film. He maintained a long relationship with Garland as a collaborator on screen and on the stage. His films are supremely confident while seemingly simple and effortless. "Breezy" is the most-used descriptor of this style, which is true, but it ignores how good you have to be to make it look so easy. While I might prefer the bustling GOOD NEWS or the messier SUMMER STOCK, you can't deny that EASTER PARADE was Walter's most overwhelming financial success and his unimpeachable artistic triumph. The film features Judy Garland at her nimble best, some classic Irving Berlin songs (including "Steppin' Out with My Baby"), Ann Miller making her MGM debut, and Fred Astaire in the unbelievably good and magically minimal number "Drum Crazy." Preceded by the 1937 short ADVENTURES OF BUNNY RABBIT (Erbi Classroom Films, 9 min, 16mm). (1948, 103 min, 35mm) JBM
Orson Welles’ THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND (“New” American)
Gene Siskel Film Center - Saturday, 3pm and Tuesday, 6pm
“If I were a nineteenth-century novelist, I'd have written a three-volume novel. I know everything that happened to that man. And his family—where he comes from—everything; more than I could ever try to put in a movie…I love this man and I hate him.” So said Orson Welles of Jake Hannaford, the fictional film director who holds the center of THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND, put into finished form more than 40 years after Welles stopped production and more than 30 years after his death. As embodied by real-life director John Huston, Hannaford is indeed a figure of voluminous breadth and depth, affording Welles the opportunity to craft one of his most richly allusive works. For THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND is a film that attempts to reconcile the Old Hollywood with the New, the Lost Generation with the flower children, the myth of the macho American artist à la Hemingway with the ugly, exploitative truth of him and his context, and, finally, the modern promise of cinema with the sudden specter of its post-modern obsolescence. Like Charles Foster Kane, Hannaford constitutes less an active player in this drama than a crumbling monument to a former era’s notion of ‘man’ around which the other players gather, in alternately mocking and melancholy celebration, within a mausoleum-like cinematic space. As in KANE, Hannaford’s death in an unexplained car accident is announced before the narrative itself has even begun. THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND proposes to reconstruct the final hours before the crash through “recovered” newsreel and documentary footage, some in color, much in black and white, depicting the filmmaker’s 70th birthday party at a southwestern-style ranch. A carnivalesque soirée that extends to feature-length the classic Welles party sequences of THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS and MR. ARKADIN in story terms, this gathering represents a half-hearted effort to save Hannaford’s stalled comeback, a titular film within the film, by screening its assembly cut for the assembled guests. Between presentations of the bizarre footage, interrupted by increasingly lengthy power outages, the drama unfolds in polyphonic encounters between Hannaford, his chorus of cronies representing Old Hollywood, and an assemblage of wannabes, critics, voyeurs, and bystanders. The most important of these are Peter Bogdanovich, playing a version of himself as Hannaford’s one-time protégé, Brooks Otterlake, now a budding young turk of his generation; Norman Foster, putting in a heartbreaking turn as Hannaford’s loyal-to-the-last lackey Billy Boyle; and Susan Strasberg, pulling a shrill riff on Pauline Kael. A deep roster of studio era character actors—Mercedes McCambridge, Cameron Mitchell, Paul Stewart, Tonio Selwart, and Edmond O’Brien—fill out the chorus of cronies, while real-life New Hollywood directors like Dennis Hopper and Paul Mazursky make cameo appearances for the young set. Through this generational cacophony, Huston’s body lurches drunkenly from scene to scene like an Irish Imhotep, his face almost a death mask, or a cracked sarcophagus, inscribed with legend and rumor. As for the film within the film, Hannaford’s own “The Other Side of the Wind,” many critics have pointed to this as Welles’ OTHER SIDE’s major failing—a flat parody of Michelangelo Antonioni’s ZABRISKIE POINT in particular and art house psychedelia in general—but, for my money, rather the opposite is the case. Constructed much like the hall of mirrors climax of THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI, these taut, entrancing sequences comprise some of the most dazzling imagery Welles ever committed to film, and, when intercut with the party scenes, sharpen Welles’ vision by offering a purely poetic expression of Jake Hannaford’s repressed emotional life. Plus, on 35mm, I’ll bet they sing. (1970-76/2018, 122 min, 35mm) EC
Satyajit Ray’s DEVI (Indian Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) — Wednesday, 7 and 9:30pm
DEVI tells a story of obsessive religious devotion giving way to madness: a middle-aged man in a rural Bengali village has a vision and believes his 17-year-old daughter-in-law to be an incarnation of the goddess Kali. He forces her to assume the role of a goddess, she humors him and does it, but then comes to share in his conviction after experiencing what she believes to be a miracle. Both characters go mad in their conviction, and the story ends tragically. Satyajit Ray presents this in a subtly expressionistic style that unites his otherwise disparate early work outside the Apu Trilogy (THE PHILOSOPHER’S STONE, THE MUSIC ROOM, TEEN KANYA [THREE DAUGHTERS]). The visual compositions are neatly but elegantly arranged, and they’re designed to draw out astute little observations about the characters. When the characters finally go mad, Ray doesn’t sensationalize it, but rather plays it for pathos. He’s aided in this end by the nuanced, naturalistic performances from Chhabi Biswas (the star of Ray’s MUSIC ROOM) as the fanatic and Sharmila Tagore (Ray’s discovery from APUR SANSAR) as the daughter-in-law. This is comparable to some of Carl Theodor Dreyer’s films in its stark but even-handed depiction of religious fanaticism, and it’s no less difficult to shake. (1960, 93 min, 35mm archival print) BS
Howard Hawks' THE BIG SLEEP (American Revival)
Music Box Theatre — Saturday and Sunday, 11:30am
Adapted from Raymond Chandler, here is a movie so storied and so central to so many mythologies that it can frustrate even the best-intentioned of appraisals. While many (including Jacques Rivette, who knows whereof he speaks) prefer the preview cut that surfaced several years back, the version being shown here is the more familiar, slightly shorter, slightly more incoherent, and considerably racier theatrical release, including many scenes re-shot and/or shuffled to capitalize on Bogart's then-escalating affair and all-but-incendiary onscreen chemistry with Lauren Bacall (whom he would marry shortly thereafter, following a nasty but necessary divorce). With a screenplay that seems as much a post-structuralist pastiche of the famous source novel as an honest attempt to "bring it to life"—courtesy screenwriter Jules Furthman, the legendary Leigh Bracket, and some guy named William Faulkner—SLEEP at best skims the surface of the genre tropes that it's often blamed for introducing: the film is a wonderful example of how plot, at its extremity, can be made into an instrument of utter exhaustion. (1946, 114 min, 35mm) JD
Rene Laloux's FANTASTIC PLANET (French Animation Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center - Friday, 4 and 8pm and Monday, 6:15pm
In this Dali-esque animation, based on the Cold War-era novel Oms en Serie (1957) by Stefan Wul, the earth is ruled by the "Draags," a giant race of blue neutered technocrats with a passion for meditation. Domestic humans known as "Oms" are the "little animals you stroke between meditations" while wild humans/Oms are hunted like cockroaches. The surreal and perilous world of FANTASTIC PLANET (originally LA PLANETE SAUVAGE) is rendered in beautiful (very 70s) cut out stop motion. Highlights include a glow-orgy induced by an aphrodisiac communion wafer and a cackling anthropomorphized Venus flytrap. The soundtrack is a near-constant synth jam that oscillates from moody and spacey to raunchy porn funk. The film was begun in Czechoslovakia but finished in France for political reasons, and the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Soviet Union looms over the story. Themes of repression, rebellion, and the dangers of technocracy permeate FANTASTIC PLANET. The film seems to suggest that excessive rationality can make the ruling class blind to its cruelty, but also that solidarity can flourish in the midst of persecution and degradation. (1973, 72 min, 35mm) ML
Edward Yang’s TAIPEI STORY (Taiwanese Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) - Thursday, 7pm
Hou Hsiao-Hsien had an extraordinary year in 1985. Not only did he direct one of his greatest films, the autobiographical A TIME TO LIVE AND A TIME TO DIE; he also co-wrote and starred in Edward Yang’s second feature, TAIPEI STORY. These are two of the crucial films of the Taiwanese New Wave, signaling the movement’s twin interests in history and modernity. If TIME TO LIVE is the great historical film of the Taiwanese New Wave (at least until Hou made A CITY OF SADNESS in 1989), then TAIPEI STORY is the great modern film, a consideration of what it means to be Taiwanese when the identity of Taiwan is always changing. Hou plays a former baseball star now running a fabric store in Taipei and stuck in a contentious relationship with his long-time girlfriend. Pop singer Tsai Chin plays the girlfriend in one of her only film roles; she and Yang married in the year TAIPEI STORY was made, despite the fact it’s a spectacularly unromantic movie. Like his hero Michelangelo Antonioni, Yang employs inquisitive mise-en-scene that renders the characters part of the urban design, alienating them before we come to understand that emotional alienation. “Before studying engineering and gradually finding his way to cinema, Yang contemplated attending Harvard for architecture, a field that would have exercised some of the native gifts that became so evident in his films,” wrote Andrew Chan for the Criterion Collection in 2017, “his methodical approach to structure, his sensitivity to how people interact with (and within) built landscapes, his understanding of how place becomes a conduit for emotionally charged ideas about history and identity. The influence of this abandoned profession is nowhere more pronounced than in TAIPEI STORY, his second feature, which reflects the worldly skepticism of a man who was born in Shanghai and raised in Taiwan, and had studied and worked in the U.S. for more than a decade... As in almost all of Yang’s work, the central tensions arise out of what lovers, friends, and family do not know—and do not care to know—about each other. And the more we see of Chin and Lung in their private moments together, the more bewildered and embarrassed they seem that, despite having known each other since their school days, they’ve spent so many years calling something a relationship that now barely merits the name.” (1985, 110 min, DCP Digital) BS
Claude Chabrol’s LE BOUCHER (French Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) — Monday, 7pm
Often working under the guise of genre filmmaking, Claude Chabrol smuggled a wealth of tenderness and class analysis into the cinema. The class analysis is easier to see—Chabrol practically lays it out for you in many of the films (cf LES COUSINS, LES BICHES, PLEASURE PARTY, LA CEREMONIE)—while his tenderness can be less apparent. The way he gradually draws out your sympathy for a sadomasochist and accidental murderer in JUST BEFORE NIGHTFALL is a critical example. The film’s plot is a process of removal, stripping the main character of his power over others until he is at his most vulnerable, most like us. Sometimes Chabrol put his sympathy for the characters front and center, as in LE BOUCHER, and the results were affecting and subtly beautiful. LE BOUCHER takes place in a small town that Chabrol depicts with great affection. Everyone seems to have his or her role in the community to keep it running smoothly. Chabrol opens on the sort of big, celebratory wedding one associates with Italian naturalism. It’s here that the headmistress of the town school, Hélène (Stéphane Audran), meets the new butcher, Paul (Jean Yanne). They dance, share a smoke, then he walks her home. They’re both single and middle-aged; they have a nice rapport. Chabrol goes on to depict their growing friendship as a minor miracle (it’s one of those places where his filmography crosses paths with that of Eric Rohmer, with whom he authored the first book-length study of Hitchcock’s films), showing how these two lonely souls let down their guard and learn to like themselves. Chabrol (like Rohmer) shoots in unshowoffy long takes, allowing Audran and Yanne to steer the action and make you fall in love with them. (More than any of the other Nouvelle Vague directors, Chabrol knew how to use actors as stars in the classical Hollywood sense.) As this is a Chabrol film, there is a murder, or rather, several. There’s also a mystery that gets solved in about 20 minutes, allowing Chabrol to devote the rest of the film to social and psychological observation. What makes this chaste and upstanding woman—the product of a petit bourgeois upbringing and specific social expectations—identify with a murderer? The answer to that mystery is more complex than you may think. (1970, 89 min, 16mm) BS
Claude Chabrol’s LA CÉRÉMONIE (French Revival)
Alliance Française (54 W. Chicago Ave.) – Thursday, 6:30pm
Centuries of crimes against humanity and a highly stratified society with clear divisions between nobility and peasantry have made the transition of European nations to bourgeois bastions of commerce stormy. Although they might like to turn away from this history, European artists living with so many tangible reminders of a long-ago past always seem to be caught in its web. Claude Chabrol is a particularly acute observer and critic of class hierarchies, ever ready to pounce on the bourgeoisie for their pretensions, condescension, and the often-unconscious cruelties they inflict. In this adaptation of A Judgement in Stone, a novel by Ruth Rendell based on a real incident that also formed the basis for Jean Genet’s play The Maids, Chabrol raises the specter of class conflict with the film’s very title, La Cérémonie, which is how the French refer to death by guillotine. The film begins with a simple transaction between Catherine Lelièvre (Jacqueline Bissett), a wealthy woman in need of a maid, and Sophie (Sandrine Bonnaire), an applicant for the job. The women meet in a coffee shop, and Catherine insists on buying Sophie a cup of tea. It is Sophie who brings up the question of wages; a flustered Catherine proposes an increase of 500 francs over her previous wages. Done. At home, Catherine talks with her blended family over a dinner of mussels and wine—her second husband, Georges (Jean-Pierre Cassell), a music lover; her teenage son, Gilles (Valentin Merlet); and Georges’ daughter, Melinda (Virginie Ledoyen). Gilles thinks it’s degrading to call Sophie a maid. Georges defends the title as an honest and accurate one. It is easy to imagine philosophical conversations like this going on in posh households all over France, a very philosophical country with very bourgeois needs. On the appointed day, Catherine goes to meet Sophie. The 9 a.m. train comes, but Sophie does not appear. Only when the train pulls out of the station does Catherine see Sophie sitting on another platform. Sophie says she took an earlier train. Catherine again seems flustered by another break in decorum. Sophie seems peculiar—blunt, remote, and unpredictable. As they prepare to drive to the Lelièvres’ isolated home, they are waylaid by Jeanne (Isabelle Huppert), the local postal clerk, who begs a ride to work. Jeanne and Sophie exchange investigative glances. Once Jeanne leaves, Catherine confides to Sophie that Georges can’t stand the woman. Apparently, Jeanne was implicated in the death of her developmentally disabled daughter, but exonerated for lack of evidence. We have all the elements of a conventional horror movie—remote estate, odd servant, suspected murderer in town. Chabrol’s genius is in locating horror in everyday life and resentments, not in physically creepy environs underlined with foreboding music and menacing stares. Chabrol creates an ironic denouement for this film as the Lelièvres watch a live broadcast of an opera by Mozart, the musician who brought opera to Germans in their own language instead of the elitists’ preference for Italian. Chabrol reserves judgment on the morality of both sides of the battle of the classes. The menace remains, and that’s the real horror. Introduced by Milos Stehlik, founder and artistic director of Facets. (1995, 112 min, Video Projection) MF
Claire Denis’s HIGH LIFE (New International)
Music Box Theatre — Check Venue website for showtimes
“Beauty pisses me off,“ Claire Denis once said. No wonder Monte, the protagonist of HIGH LIFE, was first inspired by the greasily gaunt Vincent Gallo, Denis’s one-time muse of American scumminess, and subsequently developed for Philip Seymour Hoffman, whose mass of gut, skin, and stubble always felt tailored to fit a personal core of self-loathing. In the intervening years as the project sought funding, Gallo would burn out in a manner clownishly characteristic of the lowlifes he had played, while Hoffman would check out tragically so. Fifteen years on, HIGH LIFE comes to us at last, but in a fashion unimaginable at its time of origin. Claire Denis has officially broken out. Someone I met at a recent screening of L’INTRUS drove this home upon remarking the high volume of “youngs” in attendance. Robert Pattinson is one of these “youngs,” as are other members of the ensemble gathered around him here: Mia Goth, Ewan Mitchell, Claire Tran, and Gloria Obianyo—all in their twenties or early thirties. These millennials comprise one half of the crew that mans the spacecraft in HIGH LIFE. An older half consists of André Benjamin (yes, that André), Agata Buzek, Lars Eidinger—all early forties—and Juliette Binoche, the oldest at 55. I list the whole cast, leaving aside one key character, to emphasize how Denis has adapted her vision generationally to fit her leading man. The 32 year-old Pattinson has come to epitomize the current state of the film industry, where star actors pursue their personal favorite auteurs in an art house cinema version of millionaire spelunking. He has already drawn much deserved praise for the fierce commitment he brings to HIGH LIFE, but I’ve seen few considerations of how his presence, with all it implies, affects the ecological balance of Denis’s art and, more importantly, how she responds to it. This is not a matter of pop cultural status alone. It’s a matter of a certain type of beauty, the beauty Denis once reviled, as well as of youth. The director’s previous films are filled with both youth and beauty of course. Young, beautiful bodies, and the sense of temptation and taboo they invite, have animated Denis’s cinema from CHOCOLAT to 35 SHOTS OF RUM, but no actor Denis has previously engaged exudes the ethereal, almost sacred beauty of a Hollywood star like Pattinson, and Monte was not originally supposed to be young. Denis wanted Hoffman for Monte, because he seemed “tired of life.” The story she would tell around this tired man involved a failing spaceship light-years from earth, a morgue filled with dead bodies, and a newborn baby. Through flashback, it would emerge how the crew, death row convicts on a suicide run to a black hole, had self destructed under the mental and physical strain of their circumstances, leaving only this man caring for this baby, the spawn of kinky fertility experiments. HIGH LIFE preserves the outline, but embodied by Pattinson, Monte becomes less a figure of age and waste than of wasted potential and stunted growth. His youth and the youth of his fellow convicts suggest a surrogate family of orphans in juvenile detention, the older inmates Benjamin and Buzek—ship’s gardener and pilot respectively—surrogate older siblings, and Eidinger and Binoche—captain and doctor—their surrogate parents. For HIGH LIFE is a film about family, how a family forms between bodies in space, specifically when that space is a prison. Denis displays little interest in man’s relationship to technology or the possibility of the infinite, the major themes of nearly all space science-fiction since 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. The spacecraft she conceives is a low-tech system of interconnected rooms organized along an inescapable corridor. The space beyond is an implacably black void promising nothing but descent. Here there is only the body, its needs and desires, and the space that maintains and preserves it, while also regulating, restraining, even satisfying it, without accommodation for pleasure. This focus on body matters has led many to draw a connection with Ridley Scott’s ALIEN and its related vision of space as a source of genetic hostility, but the comparison only functions on a conceptual level. The sensations of HIGH LIFE feel closer to Mario Bava’s ALIEN precursor PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES with its psychedelic eroticism, albeit channeled through the environmental existentialism of Andrei Tarkovsky’s SOLARIS. As in Bava, color filtered lights seem to encase the characters in an almost tangible manifestation of their repressed urges, and, as in Tarkovsky, the fecundity of earth, here represented in remnant form by the ship’s greenhouse, returns them briefly to the memory of home. At a more basic level, the signature physicality of Denis’ art achieves a greater concentration in this setting than her previous earth-bound projects ever permitted. The force of mere looks, gestures, and poses of the body in HIGH LIFE restores something of the formal balance between the abstract and the concrete that Howard Hawks perfected under the studio system in films like ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS and RIO BRAVO. And just as Hawks required the muscular presences of Cary Grant and John Wayne to hold the center of mythic constructions, Denis needs Pattinson in HIGH LIFE for his iconic potency. Again and again, Denis cuts to images of her star’s head, shaven, shapely, in terrifyingly intimate close ups. These shots register the repressive effect of each new trauma Monte witnesses, each new indignity he endures, over the course of this most perverse space odyssey. By the film's end, it seems we have spent a lifetime with this once young man, drawn by the decay of time, the weight of gravity, the predations of people, in this prison of space. (2018, 110 min, DCP Digital) EC
Nadine Labaki’s CAPERNAUM (New Lebanese)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) - Saturday, 7 and 9:30pm and Sunday, 4pm
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
Mel Stuart's WILLY WONKA & THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY (American Revival)
Music Box Theatre - Saturday, 2pm
Even though the lackluster Peter Ostrum (who played Charlie and thankfully retired from the acting business to become a veterinarian) covers the film in a slimy, sentimental goo, Mel Stuart's exceptional but uneven WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY still remains a visual and rather perverse delight. Get past the interminable "Cheer up Charlie" song and the flimsy ending and you're left with some gorgeous color cinematography and the pleasure of watching half a dozen pre-pubescent miscreants get their comeuppances while Gene Wilder acts bewildered. Most of the musical numbers are quite good too, and the classroom scenes with David Battley as an inept grade school teacher are worth the price of admission alone (1971, 100 min, 35mm) JA
Yasujiro Ozu's LATE SPRING (Japanese Revival)
Park Ridge Classic Film Series (at the Park Ridge Public Library, 20 S. Prospect Ave., Park Ridge) — Thursday, 7pm (Free Admission)
The appropriately titled LATE SPRING is the film generally considered the beginning of Ozu's late period. Not only does the film introduce stylistic elements with which Ozu's name has become interchangeable (little to no camera movement, geometric compositions, deliberately unemphatic line readings, etc.); it marks the director's first deployment of a story that would preoccupy him for the remainder of his career: A middle-class family must arrange the marriage of an adult child who, for whatever reason, appears in no rush to be married. Like the great ceramic artists of Japan's late-feudal period, Ozu developed a totally personal body of work from the variation of the most familiar elements—in this case, narrative tropes of the shomin-geki ("common-people's drama"). By focusing on this critical juncture in the life of a family, Ozu found endless grace notes on the theme of generational conflict (more often than not passive, which would prove a goldmine for the director's sly humor), cultural changes (reflected visually in Ozu's painterly attention to the changing seasons), and the character of Japan. (1949, 108 min, Video Projection) BS
MORE SCREENINGS AND EVENTS
The Chicago Film Society (at the Music Box Theatre) screens Charles Walters' 1948 musical EASTER PARADE (107 min, 35mm) on Sunday at 7pm. Preceded by the 1937 short ADVENTURES OF BUNNY RABBIT (Erbi Classroom Films, 9 min, 16mm).
Also presented by the Film Studies Center (at the Logan Center for the Arts, 915 E. 60th St., University of Chicago) this week: The 1938 Amateur Movie Show: A Reconstruction is on Friday at 7pm, with curator Charles Tepperman (University of Calgary; Amateur Movie Database Project) in person. The screening will be accompanied by a live vinyl selection from WHPK DJ Bryce Prewitt. Free admission.
Block Cinema (Northwestern University) screens Al Reinert's 1989 documentary FOR ALL MANKIND (79 min, DCP Digital) on Friday at 7pm; and Filipa César's 2017 French/Portuguese documentary SPELL REEL (96 min, DCP Digital) on Thursday at 7pm. Free admission.
Enjoy the Film (6431 S. Cottage Grove Ave.) screens Ronald V. Ashcroft's 1957 film THE ASTOUNDING SHE-MONSTER (62 min, 16mm) on Wednesday at 7pm. Co-hosted by South Side Projections and Shock Theater from the Cinema Dementia Collection. Free admission.
Filmfront (1740 W. 18th St.) presents Perpetual Motion and the Control Grid: A Nokiawave Primer, a film clips-lecture by Jacob Lindgren and Till Wittwer, on Saturday at 7pm.
Cinema 53 (at the Harper Theater, 5238 S. Harper Ave.) presents Footwork on Film with The Era Footwork Crew and RP Boo on Wednesday at 7pm. "Chicago filmmakers Brandon "Manny" Calhoun and Wills Glasspiegel from The Era Footwork Crew screen and discuss a series of short films from their archive that explore and expand upon the history of Chicago footwork." Followed by a Chicago footwork party, DJ'd on vinyl by the originator of the footwork sound, RP Boo. Free admission.
Asian Pop-Up Cinema screens Garin Nugroho's 218 Indonesian film MEMORIES OF MY BODY (106 min, Video Projection) on Tuesday at 7pm at the Joffrey Ballet Tower Studio A; and Jun Li's 2018 Hong Kong film TRACEY (114 min, Digital Projection) on Wednesday at 7pm at AMC River East 21, with Jun Li in person.
The Northbrook Public Library (1201 Cedar Lane, Northbrook) screens Robert Wise's 1958 film I WANT TO LIVE! (120 min, Digital Projection) on Wednesday at 1 and 7pm. Free admission.
The Beverly Arts Center screens Nora Ephron's 2009 film JULIE & JULIA (118 min, Digital Projection) on Wednesday at 7:30pm.
Also at the Gene Siskel Film Center this week: Hong Sang-soo's 2018 South Korean film HOTEL BY THE RIVER (96 min, DCP Digital) and Franco Rosso's 1980 UK film BABYLON (95 min, DCP Digital) both play for a week; and in the Chicago Palestine Film Festival this week: Bassam Jarbawi's 2018 Palestinian/US/Qatari film SCREWDRIVER (108 min, DCP Digital) is on Saturday and Thursday at 8pm; Mats Grorud's 2018 French/Swedish/Norwegian animated film THE TOWER (74 min, DCP Digital) is on Sunday at 5pm; and Max Blumenthal and Dan Cohen's 2018 documentary KILLING GAZA (97 min, DCP Digital) is on Wednesday at 8pm. All of the Palestinian Film Festival selections this week are preceded by shorts; check the Siskel website for details.
Also at Doc Films (University of Chicago) this week: Masayuki Suo's 1996 Japanese film SHALL WE DANCE? (136 min, 35mm archival print) is on Sunday at 7pm; Henry King's 1940 film CHAD HANNA (86 min, 35mm) is on Tuesday at 7pm; and Richard Lester's 1964 UK film A HARD DAY'S NIGHT (92 min, DCP Digital) is on Thursday at 9:30pm.
Also at the Music Box Theatre this week: Alex Ross Perry's 2018 film HER SMELL (135 min, DCP Digital) opens (Perry in person at the Saturday 8pm and Sunday 1:45pm shows); Kent Jones' 2018 film DIANE (95 min, DCP Digital) has a single showing on Sunday at 5pm; Lukas Feigelfeld's 2017 German film HAGAZUSSA: A HEATHEN’S CURSE (102 min, DCP Digital) is on Friday and Saturday at Midnight and Wednesday at 7:30pm; Tommy Wiseau's 2003 film THE ROOM (99 min, 35mm) is on Friday at Midnight; and Jim Sharman's 1975 film THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW (100 min, 35mm) is on Saturday at Midnight.
Facets Cinémathèque plays Eddie Mensore's 2019 film MINE 9 (84 min, Video Projection) for a week-long run, with Mensore in person at the 7 and 9pm Friday shows and the 3, 5, and 7pm Saturday shows.
The Chicago Cultural Center screens Stanley Nelson's 2019 documentary BOSS: THE BLACK EXPERIENCE IN BUSINESS (90 min, Video Projection) on Saturday at 2pm. Followed by a discussion. Free admission.
ONGOING FILM/VIDEO INSTALLATIONS
Local videomaker, artist, writer, activist, and educator Gregg Bordowitz is featured in a career retrospective exhibition, I Wanna Be Well, at the Art Institute of Chicago through July 14.
Also on view at the Art Institute of Chicago: Martine Syms' SHE MAD: LAUGHING GAS (2018, 7 min, four-channel digital video installation with sound, wall painting, laser-cut acrylic, artist’s clothes).
CINE-LIST: April 19 - April 25, 2019
MANAGING EDITOR // Patrick Friel
ASSOCIATE EDITORS // Ben Sachs, Kathleen Sachs, Kyle A. Westphal
CONTRIBUTORS // Julian Antos, Edo Choi, Kyle Cubr, Jeremy Davies, Marilyn Ferdinand, Jonathan Leithold-Patt, Mojo Lorwin, Michael Metzger