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 (April 12-17) 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.
Zhangke Jia’s ASH IS PUREST WHITE (New Chinese)
Landmark Century Centre — Check Venue website for showtimes
Set over the course of nearly seventeen years (from 2001-2018) and taking place in three distinct periods, ASH IS PUREST WHITE is a gangland drama with an eye for romance and the rapidly-evolving modernity of China during that time. Qiao (Tao Zhao) is the girlfriend of highly respected Bin (Fan Liao), a mob boss in a small town in the Shanxi region. Although she does not consider herself to be jianghu (gangster, within the context of this film) like Bin and his cohorts, she crosses that line when she’s forced to fire a gun to save his life when a rival gang nearly kills him, sending her to jail for five years as a result. Once free from prison, Qiao sets out to rekindle her flame with Bin and must learn about the changes of nature within herself and their relationship dynamic. Zhangke Jia’s film is simultaneously patient yet breakneck. When viewing each segment as a whole, the narrative unfolds in a realistic fashion with each plot point flowing into the next. It’s only when the chapters are juxtaposed against one another that the daunting passage of time and all that it implies, both for the characters and the era of China being depicted, are realized. In addition to some more overt signs showing these time jumps, Jia plays with the film’s color hue to further signify the importance of these skips. Greens, yellows, whites, and other colors all help to invoke an emotional response from the audience and help to enhance our understanding of Qiao’s situation. The rubber band-like nature of Qiao and Bin’s relationship, in which neither can be too far from the other emotionally before snapping back, is what makes up the film’s core. Zhao’s performance alone makes for enthralling viewing; add in Jia’s finesse for detail and ASH IS PUREST WHITE stands tall as a modern take on the gangster film. (2018, 136 min, DCP Digital) KC
Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s GOOD MEN, GOOD WOMEN (Taiwanese Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) — Thursday, 7pm
The narrative structure of GOOD MEN, GOOD WOMEN suggests that of an Alain Resnais movie, as it shifts fluidly and mysteriously between three different timeframes. In the first, an actress named Liang Ching (played by pop star and actress Annie Shizuka Inoh in the first of her three performances for director Hou Hsiao-Hsien) reflects on her life as she prepares to star in a docudrama about Chiang Bi-Yu, a Taiwanese communist who fought in China’s anti-Japanese resistance movement in the 1940s. The second consists of scenes from that movie, which follows Chiang Bi-Yu from Taiwan to China and back to Taiwan again, when she and her comrades were arrested in Chiang Kai-shek’s postwar crackdown on communists. The third timeframe covers an unspecified length of time in the actress’ past when she worked as a barmaid, got addicted to drugs, and carried on an intense love affair with a gangster. Hou and his frequent screenwriter Chu T’ien-wen develop fascinating parallels and juxtapositions between the different narrative lines, asking viewers to compare the actress’ emotional development with that of the woman she plays in the movie-within-a-movie. In one characteristic passage, a young Liang Ching tells her criminal boyfriend that she’s pregnant, then Hou cuts to a scene of Ching as Chiang Bi-Yu, getting ready to give birth in a hut in a Chinese village decades earlier (or is it a decade later?). The two scenes gain in resonance from sitting next to one another. GOOD MEN, GOOD WOMEN completes a loose trilogy of Hou films about 20th-century Taiwanese history, and like its two predecessors (A CITY OF SADNESS and THE PUPPETMASTER), it is a masterpiece of long-take filmmaking. Hou employs his influential style, rooted in static medium-long shots and precisely choreographed extended tracking shots, in at least two significant ways: one, to encourage the contemplation of history; and, two, to make off-handed or sordid moments in the present seem strangely monumental. Hypnotic to watch and rewarding to think about, GOOD MEN, GOOD WOMEN represents a peak in Taiwanese cinema. (1995, 108 min, 35mm archival print) BS
Rachel Lears' KNOCK DOWN THE HOUSE (New Documentary)
It's not really democracy, is it, if only people with access to millions of dollars can realistically stand for office? Well, Rachel Lears' exhilarating documentary KNOCK DOWN THE HOUSE gives us a look at what democracy might actually look like, and it's inspiring. In case we've been asleep, an epigraph informs us that in 2018, "record numbers of women, people of color and political outsiders set out to transform Congress." All around the country, progressives Democrats went up against establishment Dems—the "bosses" and their machines. Lears follows four of these women in the year leading up to the primaries. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is working as a waitress and bar-back in the Bronx when we meet her. Her sense of fun and humor, her integrity and seriousness of purpose, are evident straightaway. Cori Bush, a nurse, hails from the Missouri district where the police shot Michael Brown to death. Giving up an executive-level job, Amy Vilela from Las Vegas was motivated by a personal tragedy to fight our nation's deadly for-profit healthcare system. Coal-miner's daughter Paula Jean Swearingen, from West Virginia, is fighting the coal barons who have brought death and environmental destruction to her hometown. I should probably put my film critic hat aside and just admit that I'm an all-out partisan of this movement. Still, solidarity wouldn't compel me to recommend this film if I didn't also think it an excellent and honest documentary, albeit one in a very familiar vérité style. Lears has an observant, affectionate eye for the telling gestures and expressions, the faces and landscapes that flavor and bond these very diverse American communities. She structures the film to ride a conventional, suspenseful narrative arc, designed to be accessible for wide Netflix consumption. It's a great true story: at its best, it can restore your faith in humanity. KNOCK DOWN THE HOUSE is a moving and important, if sobering, piece of work. It's going to take a lot more of us just like these four brave, ordinary-but-extraordinary women for democracy to come to the USA. Lears, Producer Sarah Olson, and Executive Producer Stephanie Soechtig in person. (2019, 86 min, Digital Projection) SP
The Doc10 Film Festival continues Friday-Sunday, April 12-14. Check next week’s list for more reviews.
Nacer Khemir’s WANDERERS OF THE DESERT (Tunisian/French Revival)
Block Cinema (Northwestern University) — Wednesday, 7pm (Free Admission)
A schoolteacher (Nacer Khemir) is assigned to a rural village which the driver of the bus that is carrying him there says does not exist. An elderly man on the bus assures him that it does and offers to take him there. We next see the teacher, sans guide, arrive at a ruin in the desert that we are told was once a beautiful oasis teeming with trees and abundant water. After the teacher is taken in by the sheikh and given the room that belonged to his son, the teacher learns of the town’s curse—young men, including the son, who dream of a mythical creature called a Buraq leave the village to wander in an aimless pack through the desert. WANDERERS OF THE DESERT, the first of Nacer Khemir’s so-called desert trilogy (THE DOVE’S LOST NECKLACE  and BAB’AZIZ (2005] complete the trilogy), is an elliptical film loaded with meaning that seems to have confounded some viewers: one reviewer wrote, “Khemir’s most overwhelming mistake lies in plunging his audience into a realm with which most Western viewers are completely ignorant.” This reviewer nails why Khemir made this film: the loss of local cultures around the world to the market demands of a global economy is exactly what WANDERERS OF THE DESERT mourns and works hard to counteract. This film has more in common with Hiroshi Teshigahara’s WOMAN IN THE DUNES (1964) than sand. Both films portray communities that live outside of logic, in lands of dreams, yearning, and, most important, fate. The village children have no use for the teacher’s lessons; young Hussein, a central trickster character in the film, cannot relate to the teacher’s explanation that he can educate them about the history of Tunisia, a country with which Hussein has no lived connection. The teacher soon spends all his time in his host’s home until he is called by the Hajj to free the village men of the curse by showing them an ancient book he has spent his whole life interpreting; the teacher then becomes part of the mythology of the village and subject to its internal rules. The film lends itself to multiple interpretations. It certainly is a critique of the modern world that seduces people away from their inner truth with the promise of riches and fabled love, and it introduces a ridiculous government martinet (“I’m an officer, not a sergeant,” he bellows at the sheikh) who wants to bring order and discipline to an isolated hamlet that has nothing to offer him or the nation—he can’t even get gas for his now-useless car. But it is hard to know whether the village exists at all. With no apparent food source and little water, it’s easy to believe the Hajj that the external life of the village is an illusion and that a treasure much spoken of and earnestly sought by one elderly man is not material in nature. Perhaps the story never really took place at all. On the bus ride, the teacher’s eager guide looks strikingly like a beggar who appears later in the story and is revealed to be the angel of death. Watching WANDERERS OF THE DESERT, newly restored by the Cinémathèque royale de Belgique, plunges the viewer into a beautiful, dreamlike landscape of the mind in which competing passions and ancient structures form the core of the Self. That is a space the individuated Western mind enters rarely and with great discomfort, but the rewards for those with the courage to face this irrational film will find a very rich home in which to flourish. Preceded by Terra Long’s 350 MYA (2016, 5 min, 16mm). (1984, 95 min, DCP Digital) MF
CHICAGO LATINO FILM FESTIVAL
AMC River East 21 – Through April 11
Augusto Tamayo’s MYSTIC ROSE (Peru)
Saturday, 6pm, and Monday, 7:30pm
Saint Rose of Lima, the first Catholic saint from the Americas, is a well-known and venerated figure worldwide. She is said to have saved her native city of Lima from pirates by running to the church and protecting the Eucharist from capture, and numerous accounts of miracles associated with her following her death in 1617 led to her canonization in 1671. Taking on her story must have seemed a tricky proposition for Peruvian director Augusto Tamayo: how to portray a flesh-and-blood woman whose behavior seems extreme, even sick, to modern eyes but whose legacy is a spiritual fact. Tamayo manages to walk that narrow line aided mightily by Fiorella Pennano, who portrays Rose as a single-minded young woman of extraordinary faith whose attempts to join with her savior lead her to deny and mortify her body in ways Tamayo does not shrink from filming. Although we get scenes of Rose with her family, tending to the sick, and moving through the streets of Lima where people reverently touch her garments, the vast majority of the film is focused intensely on her prayers, meditation, and self-mutilation in a small shack on her father’s property where she lived largely in isolation. Religious rapture is extremely difficult to capture on film, and MYSTIC ROSE doesn’t really lift the veil on Rose’s mysterious relationship with the Christ. Pennano’s ecstatic eyes go a long way toward revealing Rose’s peculiar devotions, but then again, she might just have been a masochist. Whatever Rose was, what Tamayo and Pennano make of her is a fairly engrossing experience. Director Augusto Tamayo in person at both screenings. (2018, 138 min, Digital Projections) MF
Pedro Ruiz’s HAVANA, FROM ON HIGH (Canada/Cuba/Spain/Venezuela)
Monday and Wednesday, 6:15pm
“In every soul, like every house, there is a hidden interior behind the façade.” This quote from Portuguese writer Raul Brandao opens up HAVANA, FROM ON HIGH, a quilt-like documentary tapestry of Cuba as seen from “behind the façade.” Or, per the title, from above it, as director/producer/cinematographer Pedro Ruiz interviews over a dozen people living on the rooftops of decaying buildings in Havana’s central district. Overlooking the city, photographed by Ruiz as a dilapidated purgatory/paradise suspended in a perpetual magic-hour haze, these individuals of all ages and ethnicities find some manner of peace. Most have been forced up to these dwellings—often no more than tiny rooms, some renovated from the shafts of transport elevators—due to the city’s housing shortage, but what they find in their ramshackle sky-homes is an expanded perspective. Some lament their economic privation, but see a kind of spiritual freedom in their physical ascent from the clamor of urban life; others, many children of the Cuban Revolution and a few even centrally involved in it, unabashedly extol communism and believe that their lives are perfect exactly as, and where, they are. Ruiz walks a fine line here, a risk of glorifying these lives and by extension a country with a long and continuing history of human rights abuses. But to mistake HAVANA, FROM ON HIGH’s unusually sanguine portrait for propaganda would be erroneous. The orientation of the film is omni-directional: the voices of its subjects do not coalesce into a uniform attitude of either complacency or despair, but create a social polyphony that encompasses a surfeit of positions, all inevitably but differently informed by tumultuous historical conditions. And as the President of the United States undoes the diplomatic progress made with Cuba, a rehabilitation of isolationist Cold War discourse the film makes reference to through clips of national radio broadcasts, HAVANA, FROM ON HIGH emerges as something of a humanist defense. We see a society of stunted, literally crumbling infrastructure, but also one of people who have pride, aspirations, and needs. The ones who can find homes at the top, Ruiz shows us, are the lucky ones—but they won’t be for long. Preceded by Michael Labarca’s short film, THE CARDBOARD MAN. (2018, 79 min, Digital Projection) JL
Arnaldo Valsecchi’s BROKEN PANTIES (Argentina/Chile)
Monday, 8:30pm and Wednesday, 6pm
The title of this Chilean comedy refers to pastries that an extended well-to-do family serves at special gatherings—though if you thought the film was about sex, you wouldn’t be wrong either. It begins in 1959, when the family gathers at the country estate shared by several members to attend to the death of the family’s elderly matriarch. The clan includes three aging sisters (none of them married), two grown male children (who lost their parents in childhood and were raised by their aunts), and a third, adopted grown child, who’s harbored a crush on her cousin since adolescence. The family harbors several big secrets in addition to the cousins’ incestuous desire; in fact, there are literal skeletons hidden in the barn. Flashbacks reveal who those skeletons were and how they came to die on the estate, yet Arnaldo Valsecchi doesn’t play these subplots for suspense. The film is a gentle comedy that asks us to take pleasure in the family’s knotty nature and regard death (even murder) as part of life. Valsecchi clearly regards sex as part of life too; the film contains earthy scenes of coupling between the cousins, between one of the aunts and her nephew’s vivacious North American wife, and (in flashbacks) between the patriarch and a prostitute he considered his great love. (If the film sometimes resembles an Italian sex farce that may be because Valsecchi is Italian.) The visual style is generally graceful, with smooth dolly shots and colorful mise-en-scene that heighten one’s enjoyment of the story. Valsecchi juggles the multiple timeframes gracefully as well, interweaving past and present without letting one overwhelm the other. (2018, 102 min, Digital Projection) BS
Joan Micklin Silver's BETWEEN THE LINES (American Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center — Visit Venue website for showtimes
The easiest angle on Joan Micklin Silver’s BETWEEN THE LINES (1977), a bittersweet ensemble comedy set at a struggling Boston alt-weekly, is that its digital restoration and return to American screens seem conspicuously timed with what clickbait vulgarians are calling the “Goldblumaissance,” a moment of increased pop-culture visibility for actor Jeff Goldblum—though the idea of a “renaissance” seems odd for an actor that never seems to age. As chronically broke rock critic Max Arloft, Goldblum glistens with his always-on, hunky-dorky energy, but if BETWEEN THE LINES wears its 42 years so well, it’s not just because Goldblum seems to have been pounding comped drinks at the fountain of youth. Nor is the film’s relevance simply a measure of Silver and screenwriter Fred Barron’s dismaying foresight when it comes to the protracted death of the alt-weekly—though that’s a strong angle, too. The film’s fictional Back Bay Mainline is a once-radical underground rag (come for the hard-hitting exposés and the rock column, stay for the “hippie smut”) whose looming corporate buyout threatens to drain out what little countercultural zeal remains among its staff, who occupy different positions on the hippie-to-yuppie spectrum. But the buyout mirrors, precipitates, and perhaps excuses the sellout that flower-power idealists would soon embrace en masse, making the film an important precursor to more familiar landmarks of boomer handwringing like RETURN OF THE SECAUCUS SEVEN and THE BIG CHILL. From that angle, it’s easy to view disillusioned former star reporter Harry (John Heard) and arrogant would-be novelist Michael (Stephen Collins) as embodiments of the growing divide between those still clinging to the lost cause of 60s activism and those eager to cash in ahead of the materialist decade to come. That’s clearly the thrust of the script, but if BETWEEN THE LINES offers something tonally closer to the acrid personal/political malaise felt in post-60s French cinema, it’s because Silver dares to present Harry, Michael, and Max—all of the film’s male characters, really—as complete assholes. If the film has a protagonist, rather, it’s Abbie (Lindsay Crouse), a talented photographer struggling to reconcile her affection for Harry with his narcissism and neediness. The ups and downs of their relationship are pointedly keyed to her ability to assert herself professionally and sexually; in the film’s most fascinating sequence, Abbie accompanies him to interview a sex worker, directly challenging his condescension as both a reporter and as the bearer of the male gaze. The difficulty faced by women struggling, and sometimes failing to define themselves apart from their male partners is soberly but sympathetically illustrated in Abbie’s friendship with Laura (Gwen Welles), who stifles her own talent to endure an abusive relationship with Michael. From this angle—the film’s most interesting, I think—the big question isn’t whether to drop out or sell out. After all, that question presumes that we all enjoy the same privilege that white men have in choosing our degree of complicity in systems of exploitation. Instead, the film explores the ethical ambiguities faced by women whose personal and professional desires depend on how much they’re willing or unwilling to put up with from male colleagues, lovers, and bosses. It’s a question that surely was as much on the mind of female directors in the 1970s and 80s as it is today, and one which the film dramatizes in both form and content: one constantly senses that Silver is pushing back against the male-oriented conventions of Barron’s script and asserting her own priorities. By shifting the film’s emotional center towards its female leads, Silver turns the film into the kind of gendered negotiation her characters themselves have to face; onscreen, these arguments are often rendered in brilliant semi-improvisatory exchanges, suggesting that the director needed to make room for women’s perspectives between the lines of the script itself. But then again, maybe she just wanted to leave more room for Jeff Goldblum to play around. (1977, 101 min, DCP digital) MM
Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s PULSE (Japanese Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) — Sunday, 7pm
In 2001, the Internet was still a gigantic mystery to those who patiently waited for their dial-up connection to allow them to access it. These were the days when people warned you about “buying things over the Internet” and parents and schools heavily guarded their browsers for fear of young minds being warped by the nether regions of the World Wide Web (something which is still a distinct possibility). The Internet was a bottomless altered reality that could’ve contained anything. We basically get what the Internet is now, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t something terrifyingly unknown hiding inside. PULSE’s horror contains more than just an early 2000’s phobia that the Internet could be riddled with portals to horrifying places; the film’s true power derives from a more metaphysical position. When acclaimed Japanese filmmaker Kiyoshi Kurosawa introduced PULSE to the audience of its 2001 Cannes premiere, where it was in competition for the Un Certain Regard prize, he thanked the committee for allowing his film to be shown at all. In his words, “(PULSE) is a horror film,” and films of this nature were hardly ever selected to compete in serious competitions. Not only do his words echo a similar statement by the master John Ford (“I make westerns”), they signal that the film functions well outside of its typified genre. On paper, PULSE does sound like a horror film: young students in Japan discover they can access a website that somehow connects to the land of the dead, and that this phantasmic website is learning very quickly to extend its otherworldly reach into the reality of everyday life, causing an entire city to start committing suicide or simply vanish into shadows on the wall. The film was remade in 2006 as a crappy Hollywood horror cash-grab, capturing none of the atmosphere, intelligence, or sheer terror of the original (unfortunately genre-great Wes Craven was set to direct the remake but was removed from the project over creative differences, control going instead to a guy who directed the cut scenes in video games). The original PULSE vaguely resembles the zombie films of George Romero and Lucio Fulci, or even an alien invasion film like Don Siegel’s INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS. (Kurosawa himself claimed the film was inspired by Tobe Hooper’s LIFEFORCE.) The only real difference is the scale on which this film operates. Its horror is almost beyond words, partly because many of the causes for the ghostly behavior are never wrapped up or explained. Why do so many filmmakers, now dubbed by lowbrow critics as directors of “elevated horror”, feel the need to explain as to why the events in their film took place? One might consider true horror as impossible to explain as to why things happen. Kurosawa certainly has zero time for that and would rather inject unease through the film’s slow pacing and “dated” techniques such as rear-projection (used to suggest someone is traveling in an automobile). Whether or not you consider that to be a desperate financial resort to stay within budget, in PULSE (and the rest of Kurosawa's films) it has the distinct power to unnerve. This is where Kurosawa finds his way beyond the trappings of genre, his command of cinema history and form allows his films to convey pure, unexplainable horror that can unsettle a viewer like nothing else. Kurosawa's refusal to explain bucks the current trend of those brazenly dubbed “elevated horror," coined to showcase movies such as GET OUT, A QUIET PLACE, or THE BABADOOK. It suggests that most people consider horror a commodity, a section in the bygone days of video stores. Whatever the reasons for neatly categorizing films as “intelligent horror," the genre has never actually lacked intelligence or elevation. PULSE doesn’t even show blood being spilled; its violence transcends the physical and hovers over the terrifying notion of a spiritual death, a death beyond the confines of the body. The director, in a 2006 interview, expressed that he wouldn’t consider PULSE a horror film in the traditional sense. It’s possible he hoped to escape the J-horror trend in his home country, a movement he helped ignite and which lead to him being courted by overseas producers hoping to emulate the success of his previous horror outings, something Kurosawa didn’t seem to be very interested in. Whatever the reason, PULSE is one of the most terrifying films ever made in any part of the world, with nary a jump-scare in sight. Kurosawa also, in a book about horror films he co-wrote with Makoto Shinozaki (sadly in need of a full translation), argues that movies dealing with monsters or murderers are indeed scary, but they are terrors to be overcome and conquered. Kurosawa’s terrors come from a place closer to psychological drama, of the sight of a loved one now dead appearing before you, then suddenly vanishing, leaving the impression of their absence in your mind, which will now never be the same again: “the fear that follows one throughout one’s life." (2001, 119 min, 35mm) JD
Satyajit Ray’s APARAJITO (Indian Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) — Wednesday, 7 and 9:30pm
APARAJITO concludes with a shot of the main character, Apu, walking down an open road. The image evokes both death (the hero is walking away from the town where his mother just died) and new beginnings (who knows what lies ahead?), placing it in a lineage of great open-road shots, along with the final shot of Chaplin’s MODERN TIMES, the eponymous character on the train track in Da Sica’s UMBERTO D., or any of the roads in Abbas Kiarostami’s films. Satyajit Ray shares with these other filmmakers an aptitude for what might be called complex simplicity—an ability to convey big, universal ideas through relatively simple mise-en-scene. APARAJITO, the second film in Ray’s Apu Trilogy, was instantly recognized in the West as a masterpiece, winning three awards (including the Golden Lion) at the 1957 Venice Film Festival, though it was not successful in India; according to Ray, he lost money on it. This rift between the film’s acceptance at home and abroad speaks to the universality of Ray’s art. What Indian audiences might have found banal, outside spectators saw as new windows into people everywhere. APARAJITO considers nothing less than the entire human life cycle, starting with tales of childhood and death, going on to show how a young man grows into an adult, then returning to death in a symphonic resolution. Ray always considered himself an urbanite (he grew up in Kolkata as the son and grandson of publishers) and saw himself as an outsider with regards to the characters of PATHER PANCHALI, the first film of the Apu Trilogy. With the second, his own experience came closer to mirroring that of the characters, and he was thereby able to ground the action in personal feelings. The movie opens in Benares (now Varanasi) in 1920, showing the ten-year-old hero and his parents, a priest and his wife, living vibrant lives in spite of their poverty. (There’s some great imagery here too in how Ray frames a great stone staircase leading down to the Ganges.) Jonathan Rosenbaum wrote of APARAJITO: “Its treatment of death—of Apu's father toward the beginning of the film and of his mother near the end—is among the most beautiful, mystical, and precise handlings of that subject in all of cinema, worthy of Mizoguchi; in a way the film is little more than a careful contextualizing of these two astonishing sequences.” I agree with the first claim, but not with the second; Ray depicts Apu’s development from pre-adolescence to early adulthood in such poetic terms that the film sustains the universal resonance of the passages Rosenbaum highlights. The way the hero works himself dog-tired to pay for his college education mirrors his late father’s reverential devotion to religion—in another, subtler way, the film comes full-circle. (1956, 110 min, 35mm archival print) BS
Orson Welles' CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT (International Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center — Friday, 4pm and Tuesday, 6pm
A thoroughly thrilling experience, inspiring on every conceivable level, and one of the saddest films ever made. Welles made a life-long study of Shakespeare, adapting him on stage many times and making, in MACBETH and OTHELLO, two of his best movies. As a very young man, he attempted a mammoth adaptation he called Five Kings, combining scenes from the eight history plays revolving around the War of the Roses and The Merry Wives of Windsor, a project that here, transformed from a youth's ambition to a mature artist's melancholy, forms the seed for CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT, a sprawling, strange, and deeply big-hearted melodrama of love and death, honor and betrayal, cowardice and duty, profligacy and desperation. In his films he has always demonstrated a fascination with texture, with visual patterning, with the complex choreographies of incoherent human figures made possible through spaces of grotesque and labyrinthine depth. This is nowhere more apparent than here. In a series of grand kinetic dances, Welles arranges haunting specters of death, swirling amongst and engulfing the lusty, hot-blooded, and immanently life-loving commoners and nobles that populate Shakespeare's version of history. There is no-one so ignoble not to deserve the adoration of Welles's camera, or the dignity of Welles's staging. As Hal, the wastrel son of the usurper King Henry IV, Keith Baxter deserves particular note: he is as affectionate and as cruel as can be borne by one mere character, and his masterful portrayal of Hal's contradictions mirror the contradictions at the heart of the film. No one for more than a moment here is what he or she seems, no space is wholly trustworthy, and no plot truly secret, for the most serious of all games, and the most pleasurable, is that which is played with one's own life as the stake and with no hope of surviving to collect the winnings save in the songs of our loved ones. In short, this film is magic itself, a celebration of cinema as the grandest of tricks, that which alone can transform the past into the present as palpably as memory, and the whole of the material world into the effervescence of poetry. The greatest film by the greatest director. Film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum lectures at the Tuesday screening. (1965, 119 min, DCP Digital) KB
Nicholas Ray's JOHNNY GUITAR (American Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) — Friday, 7 and 9:30pm and Sunday, 1:30pm
The western is an odd beast, a genre bound only by location, easily shaped into something as desolate or as crowded, as stark or vivid, as is required. They come more varied than science fiction films, expanding the West into something more complex than outer space, and creating dozens of different landscapes out of the same mold—Anthony Mann's West, John Ford's West, Budd Boetticher's West. Nicholas Ray's West, at least as created in JOHNNY GUITAR, is one of the most bizarrely beautiful. From Peggy Lee's desperate title song and Victor Young's score, hanging over the film like a sympathetic vulture, to the unearthly two-strip Trucolor, which seems to bind the film's characters into their environment as if they're bleeding into one another, it's Ray's most aesthetic film. But it's every bit as personal as IN A LONELY PLACE or WE CAN'T GO HOME AGAIN. Joan Crawford and Sterling Hayden don't seem fit for the west, and the same could be said of their gender roles, but it's their complete discomfort that gives the film its tense and uneasy beauty. Ray has a knack for finding poetry where others would surely fumble, and here he's at his most poetic. (1954, 110 min, DCP Digital) JA
Agnès Varda's THE GLEANERS AND I (Documentary Revival)
DePaul Student Center (2250 N. Sheffield Ave., Room 120) — Wednesday, 5:30pm (Free Admission)
Agnès Varda, arguably the first filmmaker of the French New Wave, builds an easy rambling and revelatory road movie in THE GLEANERS AND I, an essay film about the historical French custom of gleaning, the act of collecting crops left to waste after the harvest. Varda takes to the motorways with her digital camera and captures gleaning as it is in contemporary French life. She interviews potato farmers, crust punks, gypsies, grocers, justices, vintners, and artists, illuminating lots of sympathetic thematic tensions along the way. Varda doesn't linger in interviews; she brings us only snippets of the people she speaks with, capturing their charm in a few juicy clips. Varda uses GLEANERS to consider her own aging, revolving technology, the ethics of waste, and, probably most poignantly, the sliding economic realities that brought gleaning back as a common practice. (2000, 79 min, Digital Projection) CL
Screening as part of DePaul University Humanities Center's event “Bourgeois Disgust: Cleanliness and Its Discontents.” The screening is followed by lectures, a performance, and an interactive exhibition.
Laurie Simmons’ MY ART (Contemporary American)
Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago — Sunday and Tuesday, 2pm (Free with museum admission)
Art photographer/videographer Laurie Simmons is known for creating mash-ups of objects that interrogate the superficial and more lasting wants that have come to characterize success in America, as well as engaging in costume play that contrasts private life with public persona. As the star of MY ART, she plays Ellie, an artist much like herself whose career seems to have stalled while artists in her circle of friends (Blair Brown and her daughter, Lena Dunham) are in high demand. She packs up some equipment and her disabled dog, Bing, and heads to a small town in upstate New York to housesit for the summer and work. Standoffish and self-isolating at first, she eventually yields to the attentions of Frank (Robert Clohessy), an actor now working as a gardener who wants to help her in her work. She enlists him; his assistant (Josh Safdie), also a “resting” actor; and a retired attorney (John Rothman) to act in her filmed recreations of scenes from famous movies of the past—THE MISFITS, A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, JULES AND JIM, among others. Simmons isn’t a great actor, but she’s fabulous at finding the iconic moments in the films she chooses when the characters make a connection, for example, the scene in which Kim Novak bewitches James Stewart in BELL, BOOK, AND CANDLE or the spark Gary Cooper feels when he sees Marlene Dietrich in a tuxedo in MOROCCO. MY ART has a leisurely DIY feel and a strong sense of community that reminded me of the films of Stephen Cone, and it quietly illustrates the joy of connection through the act of making art. (2016, 86 min, Unconfirmed Format) MF
The film is showing in conjunction with a major retrospective of Simmons’ work running through May 5 at MCA Chicago.
Vittorio De Sica's BICYCLE THIEVES (Italian Revival)
While Vittorio De Sica is often considered the more sentimental master of Italian Neorealism (Contrasted with Roberto Rossellini; every major film movement requiring its own Lennon-McCartney dichotomy, apparently), it should be noted that several of his major films (UMBERTO D., MIRACLE IN MILAN) were cast with untrained performers. As a result, an unshakable authenticity lays at the foundation of BICYCLE THIEVES; the actors' unglamorous faces allow De Sica's simple story to graze the universal. Much of the action concerns an unemployed man's search for his stolen bicycle (which he needs for a prospective job) through the streets of postwar Rome. Accompanied throughout by his young son, Antonio can never descend totally into despair because of his great affection for the boy. Martin Scorsese has compared De Sica's emotional acuity to Chaplin's, whose radical, unyielding sympathy for the poor was one of the direct antecedents to the whole of Italian Neorealism. (1948, 93 min, Digital Projection) BS
Benedikt Erlingsson’s WOMAN AT WAR (New Icelandic)
Music Box Theatre — Check Venue website for showtimes
Can one person make a real difference in the world? That is the central question of Icelandic director Benedikt Erlingsson’s unusual thriller, WOMAN AT WAR. Halla (Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir) is a single, middle-age choir director in Reykjavík who secretly carries out acts of sabotage to disrupt the industrialization of Iceland. The thrilling opening scene in the breathtaking Icelandic landscape shows us just how resourceful and determined Halla is to focus people’s attention on the existential threat posed to future generations by climate change and environmental pollution. She is a lone crusader, however, and the authorities are hot on her heels. Further, she learns that after four years of waiting— a lifetime ago for Halla, given the turn her life has taken— she has been approved to adopt a Ukrainian orphan. Geirharðsdóttir plays dual roles as Halla and her identical twin, Ása, a yoga instructor who chooses to save the world by exploring her innerspace, thus presenting the dichotomy of public versus private action in service of the greater good. The philosophical underpinnings of WOMAN AT WAR are well served by the smart, well-constructed script by director Erlingsson and co-screenwriter Ólafur Egilsson that positions Halla as a brave, but very human eco-warrior, emphasized amusingly by having an on-camera trio of musicians provide the music cues that would be a heroic, fully orchestrated soundtrack in a more conventional film. And unlike a conventional film, the feel-good ending is undercut by the realization that nothing we have seen in the film has stopped the encroaching flood. (2018, 100 min, DCP Digital) MF
Christian Petzold’s TRANSIT (New German/French)
Music Box Theatre — Check Venue website for showtimes
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
Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman’s LOVING VINCENT (New Polish/British Animation)
Music Box Theatre — Sunday, 11AM
Here's another chance to see the "world’s first hand-painted feature-length film" on the big screen. A breakthrough work, Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman’s LOVING VINCENT is comprised of 65,000 gorgeous oil paintings, on canvas, executed by a team of over 125 classically trained painters, working from live-action reference footage and Van Gogh's own paintings. A pulsing, exhilarating experience, I imagine it will only continue to find new audiences: I'm one of them. What the filmmakers have managed to do is get Van Gogh's experience of life, of nature, on screen, in all its richness and lust. Connoisseurs will love the details: you can hear that horse famously in the center-background of Cafe Terrace at Night clip-clopping towards you, under the starry, starry night. It's a pretty staggering technical accomplishment—you can enjoy it just for the texture of those big, thick, swirling impasto brushstrokes. But what's really remarkable is how they were able to craft a story with an emotional impact that does justice to this life, and to a body of work in which so many continue to take solace. The story takes us from Arles in the south of France, via Montmartre, to Auvers-sur-Oise in the north, where Van Gogh died in 1891. It's a year later, and we join Armand Roulin (Douglas Booth), the son of Postman Joseph Roulin (Chris O'Dowd), on his quest to deliver the last letter written by lonely, ill Van Gogh (Robert Gulaczyk) to his brother Theo (Cezary Lukaszewicz). Each character is a famous Van Gogh portrait come to life. There's Dr. Gachet (Jerome Flynn); his daughter Marguerite (Saoirse Ronan), at her piano or in her garden; innkeeper Adeline Ravoux (Eleanor Tomlinson). Sometimes, as with the Boatman (Aidan Turner), they've imagined a character based on "just a really tiny character at the shore of the river in a painting," as Kobiela put it. Miraculously, these all ring true as real, dimensional humans. Playing detective, Armand questions them about what really happened on the days leading up to Van Gogh's death: suicide, murder, or accident? Color—throbbing, shimmering, clashing—is for the present; black and white, evoking the greys of Van Gogh's early Nuenen style, is for memories. To describe the film's structure, critics have evoked CITIZEN KANE or RASHOMON. The surreal visual experience they've compared to WAKING LIFE—there's a similar feeling of life as a waking dream, which reminded me of AKIRA KUROSAWA'S DREAMS, with our Marty Scorsese as Van Gogh. ("The sun! It compels me to paint!") I was even reminded of JFK, what with Dr. Mazery's musings on what we might call the "Rene Secretan theory." Everyone Armand talks to has a different theory about "why," a different perspective on who and what we saw before. I think what he comes to understand is that he's looking in the wrong place. The truth is in the beauty, and the life force, of what Van Gogh left behind, a love this film celebrates in every frame. Cracking entertainment, too. A modern classic. (2017, 94 min, DCP Digital) SP
Followed at 12:45pm by Miki Wecel's 2019 Polish documentary LOVING VINCENT: THE IMPOSSIBLE DREAM (60 min, DCP Digital).
MORE SCREENINGS AND EVENTS
The Chicago Film Society and Chicago Filmmakers (5720 N. Ridge Ave.) present TV on Film 2 on Saturday at 6pm. This four-hour long program features 16mm prints of a variety of television programs, commercials, infomercials, and more.
The Conversations at the Edge series (at the Gene Siskel Film Center) presents Tabita Rezaire: Network Blossom (60 min, Digital Projection) on Thursday at 6pm, with Rezaire in person. The program features three videos by the French Guiana-based media artist: SUGAR WALLS TEARDOM (2016), DEEP DOWN TIDAL (2017), and PREMIUM CONNECT (2017).
The Nightingale (1084 N. Milwaukee Ave.) hosts the UIC MFA Thesis Screening (2016-19, 64 min, Digital Projection) on Friday at 7pm. The program includes work by Kylie Renee Clark, Tamara Becerra Valdez, Leticia Bernaus, and Danny Carroll, along with UIC alum Jesse McLean's 2011 video REMOTE. Artists in person. Free admission.
Also at Block Cinema (Northwestern University) this week: Dirty Looks LA: Eight Years On (1966-2017, approx 84 min, 16mm and Digital Projection) is on Friday at 7pm, with L.A.-based screening series Dirty Looks' founder/programmer Bradford Nordeen in person. Included are Warren Sonbert’s AMPHETAMINE (1966, 16mm), Mariah Garnett’s ENCOUNTERS I MANY OR MANY NOT HAVE HAD WITH PETER BERLIN (2012, 16mm), Michael Robinson’s ONWARD LOSSLESS FOLLOWS (2017), Jill Reiter’s FRENZY (1993), and work by Brontez Purnell, Lila De Magalhaes, Chris E. Vargas, and Aimee Goguen. Free admission.
Body + Camera 2019 Chicago: The Un/Certain Body, a day-long festival of dance, movement, and performance films, is on Saturday from 10am-8pm at the Chicago Cultural Center. More info and full schedule at www.manacontemporarychicago.com/bodycamera2019. Free admission.
Everything's A Movie, a program of documentary shorts by the Northwestern University MFA in Documentary Media cohort of 2020, is on Friday at 6pm at Northwestern University (Annie May Swift Hall, 1920 Campus Dr., Evanston). Screening are works by Isabella Ostos, Xinyan Wang, Mireya Guzmán-Ortiz, Emmely Aldave, Ian Bertorelli, Zixin Zhang, Milton Guillén, Elana Meyers, Ruidi Ni, and Abbigail Vandersnick. Artists in person. Free admission.
Asian Pop-Up Cinema presents Zhang Yang's 2018 Chinese documentary UP THE MOUNTAIN (126 min, Digital Projection) on Saturday at 2pm, with Asian film scholar Shelly Kraicer in person; and Lu Qingyi's 2018 Chinese documentary FOUR SPRINGS (105 min, Digital Projection) on Sunday at 2 and 5pm, with Lu Qingyi and Kraicer in person. Both screen at the Heritage Museum of Asian Art (218 W. 26th St.).
Regina Dominican High School (O’Shaughnessy Auditorium, 701 Locust Rd., Wilmette) presents the Regina Celebrates Reel Women film festival this weekend. Screening are: Ida Lupino’s 1966 film THE TROUBLE WITH ANGELS (112 min) on Friday at 7pm; Haifaa Al-Mansour’s 2012 Saudi Arabian/International film WADJDA (98 min) on Saturday at 3pm; Linda Corley’s 2019 documentary AFTER PARKLAND, THE HEALING OF A COMMUNITY AND A NATION (60 min) is on Saturday at 7pm; and Richard Boleslawski’s 1936 film THEODORA GOES WILD (94 min) is on Sunday at 2pm. More info and tickets at https://rdhs.org.
The Italian Cultural Institute (500 N. Michigan Ave.) screens Gianluca Maria Tavarelli's 2012 Italian film THE YOUNG MONTALBANO: BACK TO BASICS (120 min, Video Projection) on Thursday at 6pm. Free admission.
The Instituto Cervantes (31 W. Ohio St.) screens Víctor Erice's 1983 Spanish/French film EL SUR (94 min, Video Projection) on Tuesday at 7pm. Free admission.
The Northbrook Public Library (1201 Cedar Lane, Northbrook) screens Elia Kazan's 1947 film BOOMERANG! (88 min, Digital Projection) on Wednesday at 1 and 7pm. Free admission.
The Beverly Arts Center screens Campbell Scott and Stanley Tucci's 1996 film BIG NIGHT (109 min, Digital Projection) on Wednesday at 7:30pm.
Selections from the Gene Siskel Film Center’s Black Harvest Film Festival will be screening at the BBF Family Services (1512 S. Pulaski Rd.) through mid-May. This week is Juliane Dressner and Edwin Martinez’s 2018 documentary PERSONAL STATEMENT (87 min, Video Projection) on Friday at 6pm. Free admission.
Also at the Gene Siskel Film Center this week: Wolfgang Fischer's 2018 German film STYX (94 min, DCP Digital), Donal Mosher and Michael Palmieri's 2018 documentary THE GOSPEL OF EUREKA (75 min, DCP Digital), and Cristina Gallego and Ciro Guerra's 2018 Columbian film BIRDS OF PASSAGE (125 min, DCP Digital) all play for a week; and the Asian American Showcase begins, with Emily Ting's 2019 US/Chinese film GO BACK TO CHINA (96 min, DCP Digital) on Friday at 8:15pm, Kulap Vilaysack's 2018 documentary ORIGIN STORY (106 min, DCP Digital) on Saturday at 8pm (Vilaysack in person), and the shorts program Asian American Dreams (94 min, DCP Digital) on Sunday at 5:30pm.
Also at Doc Films (University of Chicago) this week: Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman's 2018 animated film SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE (117 min, DCP Digital) is on Saturday at 7 and 9:30pm and Sunday at 4pm; John Sturges' 1974 film McQ (111 min, Digital Projection) is on Tuesday at 7pm; The Wachowskis' 1999 film THE MATRIX (136 min, 35mm) is on Tuesday at 9:30pm; and Franc Roddam's 1979 UK film QUADROPHENIA (120 min, 35mm) is on Thursday at 9:30pm.
Also this week at Doc Films: Claire Denis' 2018 film HIGH LIFE (110 min, DCP Digital) has an advance screening on Monday at 7pm, with Denis in person. This is a free event, first come-first served, with priority given to UofC students (there will be a student line, admitted first; and a non-student line, admitted second, space permitting).
Also at the Music Box Theatre this week: Yann Gonzalez's 2018 French film KNIFE+HEART (102 min; 35mm Friday-Sunday and DCP Digital Monday-Thursday) opens; Harmony Korine's 2019 film THE BEACH BUM (95 min, DCP Digital) continues; Jill Reiter's 1994/2015 film IN SEARCH OF MARGO-GO (45 min, Digital Projection) is on Sunday at 7:30pm, screening with her 1993 shorts FRENZY (9 min) and BIRTHDAY PARTY (12 min), as part of the L.A.-based queer screening series Dirty Looks' tour with Reiter and Dirty Looks founder/programmer Bradford Nordeen in person; Dan Savage's HUMP! Film Festival is on Friday at 7:30 and 10pm and Saturday at 7 and 9:30pm; Roger Corman's 1960 film THE LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS (72 min, 35mm archival print) is on Monday at 7pm, followed by a panel discussion with Walter Stearns (Mercury Theater), Andrew Stasiulis (DePaul University), Peter Sobczynski (film critic at RogerEbert.com), and Ron Falzone (Columbia College Chicago); Laura Farber's 2018 documentary WE ARE COLUMBINE (79 min, Digital Projection) is on Tuesday at 7pm, with Farber and Field Producers Josie Bode, Clare Deady, and Heidi Zersen in person; and Emma Tammi's 2018 film THE WIND (86 min, DCP Digital) is on Friday and Saturday at Midnight.
Facets Cinémathèque plays Lauren Belfer and Suzannah Herbert’s 2018 documentary WRESTLE (96 min, Video Projection) and Miles Lagoze’s 2018 documentary COMBAT OBSCURA (70 min, Video Projection) for week-long runs.
Comfort Film at Comfort Station Logan Square (2579 N. Milwaukee Ave.) screens Moussa Sene Absa's 1993 Senegalese/French film ÇA TWISTE À POPONGUINE [TWIST IN POPONGUINE/ROCKING POPONGUINE] (95 min, Digital Projection) on Wednesday at 8pm. Showing as part of Comfort Film's Guest Curator Series and presented by SAIC M.A. candidate and programmer Emily Martin. 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.
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; and 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 5 - April 11, 2019
MANAGING EDITOR // Patrick Friel
ASSOCIATE EDITORS // Ben Sachs, Kathleen Sachs, Kyle A. Westphal
CONTRIBUTORS // Julian Antos, Kian Bergstrom, Kyle Cubr, John Dickson, Marilyn Ferdinand, Jonathan Leithold-Patt, Christy LeMaster, Michael Metzger, Scott Pfeiffe