Robert Bresson’s THE DEVIL, PROBABLY (French Revival)
Chicago Film Society (at Northeastern Illinois University, The Auditorium, Building E, 3701 W. Bryn Mawr Ave.) – Wednesday, 7:30pm
One of the only original screenplays written by Robert Bresson (all but two of his films being adapted from other works), THE DEVIL, PROBABLY is described by the director himself as his “most ghastly.” Told through the use of flashback from news reports, the film reconstructs the life of its young, intelligent protagonist Charles (Antoine Monnier), who has committed suicide. Charles serves as an analogy for the disenfranchised youth of France in the late 1960’s that staged protests at universities and factories. Weary of the opulence of every day life, Charles is left wondering what the point of it all is—even with education, drugs, philosophy, and other things to consider, what is the point of this existence? Many of these musings are pondered aloud to friends or loved ones and one such sequence aboard a bus discussing politics resonates strongly today given the current political landscape in both France and the United States. Bresson's penchant for minimalism pairs perfectly with the existential dread inherent in the film’s plot. Some of the commonplace actives of daily life are shot so matter-of-factly, with little to no camera movement, that it almost feels documentarian in nature. This added facet not only allows the audience to empathize with Charles’s exacerbations but also invites them to ponder their own lives in the grand scheme of things. Rainer Werner Fassbinder says of THE DEVIL, PROBABLY, “The questions Bresson asks will never be unimportant” and now 40 years later, its plain to see that this film maintains the integrity its auteur set out for so long ago. Preceded by Alfred Higgins’ 1977 short WHATEVER HAPPENED TO HONESTY? (13 min, 16mm). (1977, 96 min, 35mm) KC
Gate Theater Film Festival (Experimental Revivals/Retrospective)
Filmfront (1740 W. 18th St.) – Tuesday, September 24 – Monday, September 30
The Gate Theater Film Festival is more of a screening series than a film festival per se; regardless, it’s a rich and diverse showcase of a selection of films from the 1940s through the 60s that all screened at filmmaker/artist/poet Aldo Tambellini’s Gate Theater in New York City during the late 1960s. It’s organized/curated by local scholar and programmer Amelia Ishmael, as an extension of her current research on the Gate Theater. With one exception, everything is showing in 16mm. There are three programs this week, and an additional four programs next week (see our next list for those).
Program 1: A World Half-Consumed in the Heat of Its Own Desire
With a carnally evocative program title borrowed from critic J. Hoberman describing Jack Smith's iconic FLAMING CREATURES (not screening here), the four films in the Gate Theater Film Festival’s first program share vivid erotic ingredients mixed liberally with politics, poetics, nature, and myth. Jack Smith’s final feature NO PRESIDENT (1967) combines newsreel footage of Wendell Willkie, a fictionalized narrative of Wilkie being auctioned off at a political convention, and gaudy scenes of the elaborately dressed mingling with the nude. It's more narratively focused than Smith's previous films, but still contains all of the trademark jiggling provocations and sumptuous compositions he’s known for. Whereas the Smith film has a bit more narrative than you'd expect, CHUMLUM (1964) is probably Ron Rice's most impulsive and immediate film. It's a pharmaceutically-flustered flaunting of flesh and fabric. The events of the film are overseen by Jack Smith playing a master of ceremonies of-sorts to the riotous Factory-Stars-adjacent party imagery that is constantly overlaid with superimpositions from Rice's expert in-camera editing. CHUMLUM also features music from Angus MacLise, under the direction of Tony Conrad. José Rodríguez-Soltero’s JEROVI (1965) is the most criminally under-shown film on the program, and you should definitely take this chance to see it. Puerto Rican-born Rodríguez-Soltero was a key figure of early queer cinema and the New York underground film scene, but his work is not nearly as well known as it should be. JEROVI expertly holds together many thread in its short running time. It's a luscious portrait film of the titular man and his youthful beauty, it's an onanistic dance film, it's a color study of Golden Gate Park bursting with life in summertime, and it's a brief and elliptical telling of the Narcissus myth. JEROVI and Rodríguez-Soltero's other classic, LUPE, both deserve inclusion in the 60s underground film pantheon. Mike Kuchar’s GREEN DESIRE (1966) lives somewhere between the early florid and lurid Kuchar Brothers films and the later solo work of Mike Kuchar’s that focuses more on sad cute young men doing some melancholic emoting while drifting around in skimpy or otherwise soon-to-be-removed garments. The former mode is expressed in the story-line of Kuchar regular Bob Cowan pawing at and trying to make time with a bored pretty lady; the later with a fella who Kuchar describes as a "lanky youth in a quest for a boulder studded brook that bridges the adolescent to the to her side, into Manhood." The lanky youth finds "her side" and briefly considers taking the traditional route into manhood, but who are we kidding? He kicks rocks and heads out to find his path with some more mannered moping in a really fetching orange sweater. (1964-67, 103 min, 16mm) JBM
Program 2: Walk the Streets at Night, Looking for Love
The four films in the Gate Theater Film Festival’s second program all traffic in images of loneliness. It was a common enough theme for Underground film pre-Warhol, when the lingering influence of Freudianism, Existentialism, and the Beats seemingly cast every avant-garde filmmaker as one of civilization’s discontents. If underground films in the later 1960s reveled in their affronts to bourgeois conformity, then films from the late 40s through the early 60s took great, earnest pains to show the psychic agony wrought by the straight world. Nowhere was this agony more acutely felt than in the work of America avant-garde cinema’s first gay filmmakers, represented here by Willard Maas’s IMAGE IN THE SNOW (1948/1952, 29 min). Like Curtis Harrington’s 1946 short FRAGMENT OF SEEKING and Gregory Markopoulos’ 1949 CHRISTMAS, U.S.A., Maas mobilizes frustrated, conflicted queer desire in the form of an isolated city-dweller (Hunter E. Jones), aimlessly wandering the city streets in search of either gratification, absolution, or oblivion. This tragic pre-Mattachine figure, memorably taxonomized by Richard Dyer as the “sad young man” in his book The Culture of Queers, comes to us in Maas’ film swathed in overwrought verse, religious symbolism, and Cocteau-derived fantasy play, but not even Markopoulos at his most elegant ever gave the sad young man such a beautiful, expansive stage: IMAGE IN THE SNOW offers truly indelible glimpses of New York City’s elevated trains, graveyards, and desolated alleyways. Whether read as projections of an alienated mind or simply as accidental documentary, these scenes—along with the film’s often exquisite close-ups and slow-motion dance sequences—do justice to Maas’ uncommon Romantic sensibility, one whose visual virtues far outweigh his poetic excesses. Stan Brakhage’s REFLECTIONS ON BLACK (1955, 11 min) is an intriguing early work, made before the filmmaker had fully abandoned the psychodramatic narrative forms he inherited from Maya Deren and Sidney Peterson. The atmosphere of urban disconnection and marital disharmony may feel borrowed, but Brakhage’s restless experimentation is readily apparent, particularly when he decides to loop the same shot multiple times, or begins scratching directly on the film to create what has become one of his signature images—a man with flame-like eyes of pure light. These innovations point the way to the subjective mode of camera-perception Brakhage would achieve with ANTICIPATION OF THE NIGHT in 1958, but Stanton Kaye’s GEORG (1964, 55 min), also on the program, imagines a much different idea of the camera-I. The film, one of the first to present itself as a found home-movie diary made by a fictional character, is perhaps the only work on this bill to invent a tradition rather than extend one. A Los Angeles-based filmmaker who finished one more feature before embarking on a rather eccentric career (including stints as a dishwasher at Chez Panisse, a writer at Zoetrope Studios, and, today, the CEO of an internet-of-things company that uses RFID to monitor food freshness), Kaye was no more than 21 when he completed GEORG, which consists of the last reels and testament of a disturbed German WWII veteran who fails to integrate into American society. Due to this fake-diary conceit, the film is often discussed alongside Jim McBride’s DAVID HOLZMAN’S DIARY, which it preceded by three years, but GEORG is a much stranger film. For one thing, the film couches a genuinely anti-war message within an unsettlingly smirking tone that vacillates between black comedy and tragedy. The film’s first act shows the mental and physical devastation wrought upon Georg’s picture-perfect family by the war: in this and other sections, violence is registered on the filmic level, through shots that seem to appear out-of-order, threaded upside-down, punctuated by seemingly accidental freeze frames, and drop-outs. The second and third sections—in which Georg’s attempts to make an off-the-grid life for himself and his pregnant wife in the hills surrounding Los Angeles are spoiled by the construction of a military installation nearby—reveal the tools of filmmaking to be ambivalent instruments of both self-liberation, domestic violence, and even terror. At times, these intrusions of the cinema apparatus are comical, as when Georg repeatedly runs into and out of shots, trailing an absurdly long microphone cable. But the shadow of the tripod in the film’s climactic long take (in which Georg arduously digs a grave, framed by a stunning view of the vast LA Basin) unmistakably signals the film’s recognition of the ironic proximity between the camera and the weapon of mass destruction nearby—a potent Vietnam War era lesson drawn, shockingly, before the Gulf of Tonkin resolution in 1964! In a program full of lonely figures and desolated images, this one is perhaps the most powerful; whereas Brakhage and Maas had a tendency to make a virtue of their alienation, Kaye’s film blithely demonstrates the ultimate impotence of complete withdrawal from even the most cruel and unjust society. Also on the program: Peter E. Goldmann’s NIGHT CRAWLERS (1964, 4 min). (1948-64, 100 min, 16mm) MM
Also this week is Program 3: Don’t Look Now, There’s a Camera Behind You (96 min, 16mm and Digital Projection), screening on Thursday at 7pm. The program features Robert Downey’s CHAFED ELBOWS (1966), the sole digital presentation of the festival, Paul Bartel’s THE SECRET CINEMA (1966), and Stan Brakhage’s BLUE MOSES (1962).
16mm Film Projection in the 21st Century (New Experimental)
Chicago Film Society at Cinema Borealis (1550 N. Milwaukee Ave., 4th Floor) - Friday, 7pm
Programmed as a public-supplement to a projection workshop taking place this weekend in Chicago, this show is a fantastic international hodgepodge of first-rate recent celluloid work. In A DISTANT EPISODE (2015), Ben Rivers follows the time-honored tradition of an artist being given access to a more traditional film set and exploiting the expensive surroundings for their own devices. In Rivers' case, he uses his always-stunning widescreen black-and-white compositions to create a hallucinatory sci-fi landscape film. Andrew Busti's 26 PULSE WROUGHT – VOL 1 (2014) is a rigorous single-frame flickering dance of shaped light and landscape cutouts. PRIMA MATERIA (2015), by the masterly Charlotte Pryce, is a hand-processed film of the microcosmic exquisitely ablaze. In TRAVEL STOP (2018), Mike Gibisser uses his relaxed and eccentric framings to create a dreamy contemplation of the world's largest truck-stop. John Price is a renowned Canadian cinematographer who creates hand-hewn, alchemical films of great beauty. His THE SOUNDING LINES ARE OBSOLETE (2009) is a black-and-white speculative sci-fi documentary. Finally, Berlin-based filmmaking duo OJOBOCA (Anja Dornieden and Juan David González Monroy) do a bit of gorgeous poetic ethnography in Java with THE MASKED MONKEYS (2015). Following the screening, the audience and the workshop organizers will participate in a discussion of the current state of 16mm filmmaking and projection. (2009-18, 80 min, 16mm) JBM
Monte Hellman's TWO-LANE BLACKTOP (American Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center - Friday, 8pm and Sunday, 5pm
From Kent Jones' essay for the Criterion Collection's DVD release, a superb piece of writing that's worth quoting at length: "[The movie creates] a trancelike absorption in movement and ritual. Hellman's film, like [Jacques Rivette's] PARIS BELONGS TO US, is comprised of many of the in-between moments that most filmmakers would cut. In the process, a strange terrain of tenderness and disconnection inhabited by the four principal characters is mapped out: their shared remoteness is exactly what makes it safe for them to venture into one another's company. This movie about a cross-country race between a car freak in a lovingly souped-up '55 Chevy and a fantasist in a store-bought GTO moves at an even, gliding pace, and it's all about stopping to gas up, eat, make some bread in local quarter-mile drag races, pick up hitchhikers, let the engine breathe, share a drink. The characters think they're in a race, but they're really players in a theater of life, the stage of which stretches from sea to shining sea." While TWO-LANE BLACKTOP has been rightfully recognized as Monte Hellman's masterpiece, it's also worth noting the contribution of writer Rudolph Wurlitzer, himself a worthy successor to Beckett. Wurlitzer was recruited to rewrite the film on the success of his first two novels, Nog (1969) and Flats (1970). Those books are remarkable pieces of experimental fiction that feature characters who are constantly shifting their identities—a novelistic device that Wurlitzer adapts brilliantly to his film script. None of the characters have proper names, and Warren Oates' GTO creates a new history for himself with every conversation he enters into. (As Jones puts it, "Oates is the smiling extrovert-dreamer, for whom everything becomes a part of the Playboy dream he's spinning on his drive across the country... he puts the softness of the American character on display to devastating effect.") These are narrative reflections of the wide, empty spaces that characterize Hellman's mise-en-scene, and they combine to create a memorably eerie portrait of American ambition and folly. (1971, 102 min, 35mm) BS
Kidlat Tahimik’s PERFUMED NIGHTMARE (Filipino Revival)
PO Box Collective (6900 N. Glenwood Ave.) - Friday, 8pm (Free Admission)
When PERFUMED NIGHTMARE appeared on the scene in 1977, winning three awards at the Berlin International Film Festival, it announced a vital new voice in international cinema—Filipino director, writer, and actor Kidlat Tahimik. Tahimik was recognized in 2018 as a National Artist of the Philippines, the state’s highest honor for artists, but he was just a 35-year-old man who had had experiences in and outside his native country when he picked up a camera and created the greatly fictionalized version of his own story that is PERFUMED NIGHTMARE. A character named Kidlat Tahimik introduces us in voiceover to the small jungle village in which he was born and lives. He makes special note of the fact that there is only one bridge by which people enter and leave the village, filming activities on the bridge, such as parades and funeral processions, and charting his growth by pulling increasingly larger vehicles on a rope to that bridge. As a grown man, Kidlat drives a jeepney, a taxi made from the parts of discarded military jeeps, noting that the villagers throw nothing away. He longs for more, however, as he listens to Voice of America broadcasts and becomes so obsessed with space travel that he forms a Werner von Braun Fan Club. When he leaves his village to work in Paris, however, his initial excitement about moving walkways, stone buildings that are 500 years old, and the plethora of bridges of all kinds transforms into horror at the excess of the modern world. Tahimik is associated with the Third Cinema movement for his criticism of neocolonialism, but he approaches his subject with a humorous, affectionate touch. The American businessman who takes Kidlat away from his village is stereotyped as both a bubble-gum vendor and a blue jeans manufacturer. Kidlat’s enthusiasm for flight leads him to give free rides to the richest woman in the village in exchange for her descriptions of what it was like to fly on an airplane. Wisdom comes from a craftsman with a large butterfly tattooed across his chest and the bemused voice of the Virgin Mary, to whom Kidlat prays. In a paean to the death of personal craftsmanship, he films the last handmade copper “onion” dome being placed on a church in von Braun’s homeland of Germany, incidentally sneaking in a storyline of a pregnant German woman played by his wife, Katarina. Special kudos are due to sound editor Billie Zöckler, who manipulates ambient sounds, voiceovers, vintage VOA broadcasts, and Neil Armstrong’s moonwalk speech to great effect. PERFUMED NIGHTMARE is an exuberant ethnographic film (unsurprisingly issued by Les Blank Films) with the underlying theme of the human need for freedom and preservation in an increasingly homogenized, throwaway world. This one is not to be missed. (1977, 93 min, Digital Projection) MF
Abbas Kiarostami’s FELLOW CITIZEN (Iranian Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center - Saturday, 5pm
As with much of Abbas Kiarostami’s filmic material, the subject of his 1983 documentary FELLOW CITIZEN comes from life. One Kiarostami’s early jobs, before turning to filmmaking in 1970, was as a traffic officer—much like the one at the center of this film, so often yelling “You can’t, sir! It’s the law.” For fifty-plus minutes of surprisingly fascinating psychological and sociological observation, we see the officer combat the endless pleas and negotiations of Tehran’s motorists trying to argue their way into a newly restricted zone closed off by lawmakers to regular the flow of traffic. Rather than install a “Do Not Enter” sign, they assign an individual to enforce the seemingly arbitrary regulations. Anecdotally, Kiarostami said that this project came from his own experience as a driver pleading with a traffic cop one morning on his way into work at Kanoon (the Institute for the Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults, where his filmmaking career started) and all of the implicit violence that he later reflected upon within that interaction. Initially intended for television, FELLOW CITIZEN was swiftly banned in Iran for its documentation of unveiled women on the street during a time of transition toward the hijab as mandatory public attire. With a telephoto lens from a fixed position, Kiarostami captures an array of citizen-drivers framed tightly within their cars as they haggle for permission to cross into the officer’s domain in what becomes a nearly comedic symphony of urban commotion. The element of repetition in the creation of an image as well as the auto-critique of the filmmaker’s distance from his subjects figures prominently in both FELLOW CITIZEN and his earlier 1981 short ORDERLY OR DISORDERLY (15 min), also on this program. While Kiarostami was assigned to make educational films for and with children throughout the 70s—including BREAKTIME (1972) and TWO SOLUTIONS FOR ONE PROBLEM (1975), shown in other programs within this retrospective—other subjects swelled within his deceptively simple ethical tales. By the 80s, Kiarostami’s documentaries found ways to profoundly question power in post-Revolutionary Iran, with these critiques woven within more overt, curious premises. Also showing is Kiarostami’s 1982 short THE CHORUS (18 min). (1983, 52 min, DCP Digital) MHS
REELING: THE CHICAGO LGBTQ+ INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
Reeling: The Chicago LGBTQ+ International Film Festival continues through Sunday, September 29 at Landmark’s Century Centre Cinema and Chicago Filmmakers. Below is a selection of some recommended programs showing this week.
Lucio Castro’s END OF THE CENTURY (New Argentinean)
Landmark’s Century Centre Cinema – Friday, 9pm
A sly, elusive art-film brain-teaser with echoes of LAST YEAR AT MARIENBAD and CERTIFIED COPY, Lucio Castro’s END OF THE CENTURY unfolds like a dream growing increasingly less lucid, each successive section in its subtle three-part structure confounding the last until everything seems to slip away from one’s grasp. It starts straightforwardly enough, though. Arriving in Barcelona for work, the withdrawn, forty-something Ocho (Juan Barberini) spends his time reading, hanging out at the beach, and people-watching from the balcony of his third-story Airbnb. It’s a solitary, taciturn routine Castro captures in an extended, exquisitely wordless opening passage. At about twelve minutes in, the first spoken word breaks the silence. “KISS!,” Ocho hollers to the man in the KISS shirt walking past his window, the same guy he spotted earlier at the beach. Ocho invites him up, the two introduce themselves (his name is Javi, played by Ramón Pujol), and they have sex. Their personalities and histories are astutely conveyed in the following scenes as they walk-and-talk about the city. Javi, a Spaniard living in Berlin, is in a relatively new, open marriage with his husband, and has a little daughter. Ocho, an Argentine poet living in New York, is enjoying his independence after coming off an exhausting twenty-year relationship. Then, in the midst of this deepening connection, Javi drops a bombshell: this isn’t the first time they’ve met. A set-up that seems redolent of BEFORE SUNRISE or WEEKEND is thus abruptly subverted as END OF THE CENTURY sends us imperceptibly back in time, to when Ocho first(?) arrived in Barcelona and had his first(?) fling with Javi. Because both men look exactly the same, and because the flashback contains imagery similar to what we’ve already seen, it takes a while for one to realize the timeframe has shifted; adding to the confusion is the notion that anyone, no matter how drunk or ill, could forget a person with whom they spent so much time. By the time the film gets to its even more enigmatic coda, it has seemingly compressed decades of experiences real and imagined onto one nebulous temporal plane, and the spectator has become furnished with enough ambiguous information to make all interpretations seem at least somewhat possible. What is the nature of this relationship? How much of it is actually taking place, and when? To what degree are its elisions, feints, and erasures subjective manifestations of Ocho’s anxieties around commitment? Castro doesn’t give us answers. His film suggests a poetic, nearly cubist rendering of what a relationship can feel like, how its memories become liable to revision and replacement, how it can reconfigure one’s sense of time. END OF THE CENTURY gets its name from a documentary Javi had planned to make prior to 2000, but never got around to. Rejecting Y2K fears, he believed the world would keep on spinning long past that date. The film itself displays something of that disbelief in endings, creating a perpetual cycle of drift and indeterminacy that even love can’t resolve. (2019, 84 min, Digital Projection) JL
Dreams of Another Body (Shorts Program)
Landmark's Century Centre Cinema — Friday, 9:15 pm
My life as a trans person has been defined, for better or worse, by my relationship with my own flesh. Our bodies can be the source of great pain or euphoria, we can change them or leave them be, they can be assimilating or othering—and our relationships with our bodies can change over time and without reason. It’s something we probably spend too much of our lives fixated on, which is why Reeling’s trans-centered short film program Dreams of Another Body is so refreshing. The shorts encompass various styles, themes, and levels of political significance all from—and for—the trans gaze. Aubree Bernier-Clarke’s A NORMAL GIRL puts intersex justice to the front, while Rati Tsiteladze’s PRISONER OF SOCIETY looks at the personal and political ramifications of being an out trans woman in Georgia. But the real standout is Marion Renard’s SWITCH, a genderqueer manifesto that’s drenched in magical realism and teenage lust. SWITCH not only champions the trans body—it also understands it as a deeply nuanced and complicated superpower. The trans body is not always a prison: sometimes it's just blood and organs and bones and inconveniences. Dreams of Another Body showcases the tip of the iceberg of trans stories just waiting to be told—all of which challenge social and artistic norms and propel queer cinema to a new, diverse future. Also showing is I AM MACKENZIE by Artemis Anastasiadou, BODIES by Morvarid Kashiyan, and OUR TRANSITION by Connor O’Keefe. (2019, 90 min total, Digital Projection) CC
Megan Rossman’s THE ARCHIVETTES (New Documentary)
Landmark’s Century Centre Cinema – Sunday, 3:15pm
Fittingly precise, Megan Rossman’s THE ARCHIVETTES does justice to both the documentary form and its subject—the Lesbian Herstory Archives—eschewing unnecessary frills in favor of a cheerfully forthright depiction of its venerable subject matter. Started in 1972 (its original space being its founders’ apartments), the Lesbian Herstory Archives has its own herstory and a decidedly eminent mission, Rossman’s film encapsulating both in its hour-long running time. THE ARCHIVETTES opens on a young woman whose partner has recently passed away; she’s donating some of the latter’s belongings to the archives, the film hinting here that the organization’s contained histories surpass that of the culture’s most famous denizens. It then traverses the archive’s nearly fifty-year history, largely as told by its archivists (called Archivettes), who support the organization and its purpose—"to gather and preserve records of Lesbian lives and activities so that future generations will have ready access to materials relevant to their lives," according to the Archives' website—on an almost entirely volunteer basis. Perhaps most interesting are the glimmers of insight into the subjects contained within the archives, from a black woman who came out in the 1920s to a woman in the 1950s who was in love with her best friend, all while assuming the facade of straightness. The film’s tone is at once joyful and resolute, which reflects how the archive stands for the very stuff that fills it, indomitable and ceaseless. (2019, 61 min, Digital Projection) KS
Marco Berger’s THE BLONDE ONE (New Argentinean)
Landmark’s Century Centre Cinema – Wednesday, 7pm
Furtive looks, lingering touches, the bristling tension of being close—in THE BLONDE ONE, signs of romantic attraction become formal devices, utilized expertly by Argentine writer-director Marco Berger (whose other films include the similarly measured TAEKWONDO, HAWAII, and ABSENT) to subtly tell the story of two men, coworkers and roommates, who discover their attraction to each other and enter into an ardent, if tentative, affair. Gabriel (Gaston Re), called Gabo, is quiet, almost conspicuously so; the film begins with him moving into his coworker’s apartment in a Buenos Aires suburb. Juan (Alfonso Barón) isn’t necessarily more loquacious than Gabo (the titular “blonde one”), but he’s more assured, exuding an effortless sensuality. At first any kind of attraction seems unlikely, as Juan’s bedroom is a revolving door of beautiful women, and Gabo himself has a girlfriend, though he doesn’t spend a significant amount of time with her or even seem particularly excited about their relationship. He also has a young daughter, the girl’s mother having died when she was young; she lives with his parents, Gabo working elsewhere to save money. Berger conveys details of Gabo and Juan’s lives as subtly as he does their budding romance—everything about the film is subtle, if not ambiguous, though not in such a way that begets speculation. Much is left unsaid or unshown, Berger often cutting to the middle of important conversations or even suggesting discussions that aren’t presented. The passage of time is also undefined, the film jumping forward—or perhaps not—with no explanation. Beguilingly, it doesn’t seem conducive to surmise what wasn’t said or didn’t happen onscreen. I’ve read several reviews of the film that take pains to suggest things for which the background simply isn’t provided, from the exact parameters of the characters’ sexuality to the dynamic between them—these details feel unnecessary in light of the film’s sedate inscrutability. The compositions are surprisingly nuanced considering its naturalistic cinematography (by Nahuel Berger—it’s unclear if he and Marco are connected), a mix of medium shots, tantalizing close-ups, shots in which the subject or subjects are foregrounded, and shots in doorways or behind door frames standing in for narrative contextualization. The acting, whether from the leads or the supporting cast, is exceptional; Re and Barón convey more with their faces and bodies than they do with words. It’s not hyperbolic to say that their performances might be some of the best of the year, so masterful are their portrayals, relying mostly on their physical attributes and doing what seems near impossible to non-performers, suggesting thoughts and feelings the contents of which we have no way of knowing. Something charming about the film is how Berger realizes even the supporting characters in much the same way. In one scene, a friend of Juan’s is complaining to Gabo about something or other. Gabo leaves to get another beer, and Berger’s camera remains on the friend’s face in a perturbed expression. As with Gabo and Juan’s relationship, I didn’t feel compelled to ruminate over the reason behind the friend’s dissatisfaction; rather, I reveled in the beauty of the moment, as small and indecipherable as it was. The film’s most beautiful moment, however, which occurs at the end, between Gabo and his daughter, is, ironically, its most straightforward. I won’t spoil it here, but one ends up feeling as if everything that came before it was leading to this moment, rather than to any sort of romantic fulfillment, which is ultimately denied to both men. It’s a confounding film, as sublime in its faint intricacies as it is effulgent in its ultimate truth. (2019, 108 min, Digital Projection) KS
Samuel Van Grinsven’s SEQUIN IN A BLUE ROOM (New Australian)
Landmark's Century Centre Cinema – Thursday, 7pm
Solicited by an invite on a hook-up app, 16-year-old twink Sequin (Conor Leach) arrives at the titular Blue Room looking to continue his run of quick, anonymous sexual encounters with older men. In slow motion he saunters through the labyrinthine, cobalt-drenched space, moving between trepidation and excitement as writhing bodies grasp at walls of translucent plastic around him. A heady electronic beat reverberates on the soundtrack. Finally, a young black man beckons him into an adjoining room, and the two become intertwined in an ecstatic carnal embrace. This pivotal sequence in Samuel Van Grinsven’s highly skilled feature debut (a film school project, if you can believe it!), sets up both SEQUIN IN A BLUE ROOM’s narrative catalyst—Sequin will spend the rest of the film obsessed with finding this unforgettable boy—and its supple sensuality, its haptic, frequently intoxicating play with surface and sound. As in a number of very recent films, Van Grinsven is concerned here with how young people conduct relationships in the age of social media, frequently transforming the screen into a simulated digital interface populated by the profile pictures and scrolling messages of a Grindr-esque app. It’s in this virtual space that Sequin (named after the sparkly halter top he wears to dates) spends most of his time, hitting up random guys in the Sydney area in a speedy succession of no-strings-attached dalliances. The one fling he finds himself unable to let go of, however, is the one from the Blue Room. Unfortunately, he only knows the guy’s handle, “F,” and even worse, he’s being continually tailed by a domineering married man with whom he hooked up the night before, and whose phone he snatched in a fit of rage. As Sequin desperately searches for F while attempting to evade his stalker, the film enters into palm-moistening thriller territory, with Van Grinsven milking considerable suspense out of the texts and notifications that slowly accumulate at the side of the screen, often backed by a dense, eerily droning soundscape. The superimposition of the app’s interface both flattens and evocatively layers the image, a formal strategy Van Grinsven cleverly repeats with glass doors and mirrors. Each time, Sequin is placed on the other side of these transparent or reflective surfaces, a motif that shrewdly metaphorizes the dual access and physical distance created by digital media. SEQUIN IN A BLUE ROOM borders, at times, on the technophobic—the protagonist’s use of social media courts mostly danger, and why doesn’t he just put down that darn phone and go out with his smitten classmate?—but it ultimately seems less critical of technology itself than how obsessively and imprudently it’s used. More to the point, Sequin is a liberated, self-assured young queer person, one who has the agency to both royally screw up and redress his mistakes, free of judgment. Conor Leach is magnetic in his feature debut, and the film represents an equally auspicious start for his stylish director. (2019, 80 min, Digital Projection) JL
Fritz Lang’s M (German Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center - Friday, 3:45pm and Tuesday, 6pm
Jonathan Rosenbaum regularly cites Fritz Lang’s M as one of the greatest films ever made. One of the film’s more remarkable qualities is how it masters the conventions of silent movies while creating new ones for sound cinema. The way that Peter Lorre’s unforgettable child murderer often whistles the same melody from Peer Gynt, for instance, makes his character as instantly recognizable as a visual cue would in a silent (think of Chaplin’s walk), but Lorre’s haunting monologue at the movie’s climax maximizes the actor’s voice as an expressive instrument. When he wrote about the film in 1997, Rosenbaum highlighted the social awareness behind Lang’s aesthetic inventions, noting that “[a]rguably, no other thriller has so effectively combined exposition and suspense with a portrait of an entire society, and M does this through a dazzling system of visual rhymes and aural continuities, spatial leaps and thematic repetitions that virtually reinvents the art of movie storytelling.” Critic and artist Fred Camper lectures at the Tuesday screening. (1931, 99 min, DCP Digital) BS
Alex Holmes’ MAIDEN (New Documentary)
Gene Siskel Film Center — Check Venue website for showtimes
There is probably not a woman alive who hasn’t encountered skepticism and ridicule for wanting to do something women aren’t supposed to want to do. Some women wither under the pressure, but many simply become more determined than ever. So it was with Tracy Edwards, an English sailor who was tired of being shoved into the galley to cook for the “real” boatmen and decided to skipper an all-woman team in the 1989-90 Whitbread Round the World Race. Alex Holmes’ documentary, MAIDEN, after the name of the racing yacht Edwards and crew sailed in the race, gloriously relies mainly on footage shot by crew member Jo Gooding and archival news coverage, giving viewers an exciting, firsthand account of the trials and triumphs of living at close quarters for some nine months piloting a 58-foot aluminum sailboat through rough waters, bad weather, and frustratingly windless doldrums to cross the finish line in Southampton, England. Younger viewers may be nonplussed by the condescension of sexist journalists Bob Fisher and Barry Pickthall, Edwards’ initial insistence that she was not a feminist, and the fuss about the women pulling into port after one leg of the race wearing one-piece bathing suits. Others may be surprised by the crucial role Jordan’s King Hussein played in Maiden’s voyage. In talking-head interviews with Holmes some 30 years later, the women who made this historic passage are honest about their experience—confessing their fears, airing their conflicts, and affirming the strong friendship they developed on the way. Most impressive is the exhilaration all of them still feel about doing exactly what they set out to do despite the opposition they faced. (2019, 97 min, DCP Digital) MF
Issa López’s TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID (New Mexican)
Music Box Theatre – Friday, Midnight, and Saturday, 11:15am and Midnight
After ten-year-old Estrella accidentally summons the ghost of her murdered mother using a piece of magical wishing chalk her teacher gave her as their class huddled on the ground during a shootout—no, wait. Let me back up. Mexican director Issa López is a huge success in her native land but is mostly unknown in the US. This is likely going to change with the critical and popular reception of her third feature, TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID, which has garnered several festival awards and enthusiastic tweets from horror luminaries including Stephen King and Guillermo del Toro (the latter is producing Lopez’s next film). Those two are good touchstones for an understanding of approximately what you’re getting into with this film, a story of the bonds of childhood friendship tested by horrific human and supernatural events. Set against the very real horrors of the drug wars in Mexico, which have orphaned tens of thousands of children, the film follows a group of orphans—Lost Boys (and a girl) who never grow up because their parents have been murdered—on the run from drug dealers and vengeful ghosts through a hellish Neverland of industrial decay. The film careens between whimsy (graffiti that comes alive), gotcha moments punctuated by instrumental blasts, moments of wonder (the kids exploring an abandoned luxury apartment complex), and both mundane and supernatural threats as the gang members close in and the wishes of the undead become clearer. Narrative and thematic cohesion aren’t prominently featured on the menu, but there are frights aplenty, perhaps the biggest of which is that apart from the supernatural elements, the film probably doesn’t stray too far from reality for some kids. (2017, 83 min, DCP Digital) MWP
Michael Glover Smith's RENDEZVOUS IN CHICAGO (New American)
6740Micro (6740 N. Sheridan Rd.) - Wednesday, 7pm
At a time when our leaders prey on, and feed off, the worst parts of ourselves, it couldn't be a more necessary time for an homage to Éric Rohmer. That's just what my friend, Cine-File's own Mike Smith, has given us with his third feature, the sweet, delightful, humanistic rom-com RENDEZVOUS IN CHICAGO. It celebrates love and intelligence—that is to say, the best in us. Smith has taken the basic form of Rohmer's RENDEZVOUS IN PARIS—three sketches united by their setting in one of the world's great cities—and added his own original agenda, which encompasses feminism and a pro-gay vision. He's even shot the movie in Rohmer's favored boxy Academy aspect ratio. Smith's script, based on stories he dreamed up with Jill McKeown (his wife and also a friend), shows his knack for the simple yet elegant structure: the three chapters correspond to the beginning, middle, and end of love, respectively, with the end cycling back into the beginning. Coming out of acting retirement after 37 years, Haydée Politoff, from Rohmer's touchstone LA COLLECTIONNEUSE (1967), performs a place-setting Hyde Park prologue. She's the faculty adviser to U of C doctoral candidate Delaney, wittily played by Clare Cooney. The first vignette, The Brothers Karamazov, takes place in a little candlelit wine bar. If I say it's a bit of a Kubrickian/Lynchian antechamber, that belies how cozy it actually is. It's a lonely Sunday night and whip-smart Delaney is working on her thesis. Suddenly, she finds herself being hit on, not entirely unwelcomed, by the only other patron: none other than Paul, the likably pretentious aspiring writer from COOL APOCALYPSE, Smith's debut. (Amusingly, when we get a glimpse of what Paul's writing, it's the end of MERCURY IN RETROGRADE, Smith's second feature.) Once again, Paul is played by the funny Kevin Wehby, who's emerging as Smith's Jean-Pierre Léaud, or Kyle MacLachlan. Delaney proposes a naughty little game, which quickly hoists Paul with his own male petard. The second sketch, Cats and Dogs, is my favorite. Achieving an effortless Linklater-ian tone, it follows a gay couple, Andy and Rob, as they walk from their Rogers Park home to the shores of Lake Michigan. Smith sets the scene with glimpses of the Essanay and Selig Polyscope buildings, nods to Chicago's rich film history, a subject on which he literally wrote the book. We know, but Andy doesn't, that Rob has a question to pop, but look out—as they meet the neighborhood's dogs, it emerges that Andy's more of a cat person, whereas Rob's a dog guy! As Andy and Rob, respectively, Rashaad Hall and Matthew Sherbach are so natural, charming, and funny that I not only wanted them to be a real couple, I wanted to be their friend. They run into Tess from COOL APOCALYPSE (Chelsea David), who's out walking Sophie the Shih Tzu, playing herself in a flawless method performance. When the gents get to the beach, there's a moving homage to the immortal "Lake Shore Drive" by the late Skip Haynes, to whom the film is dedicated. The third sketch, The End Is the Beginning, is the most minimalist. It features Nina Ganet, back as Julie from COOL APOCALYPSE. After a sudden, tumultuous rom-com breakup with Wyatt from MERCURY IN RETROGRADE (Shane Simmons), Julie finds herself alone again, but for us. Warming to us, she begins to fall in love with the camera itself: that is to say, with you and me. Since she's played by the sunny, freckle-faced Ganet, how can we resist falling in love back, at least a little? It's a remarkably benign, even celebratory, view of "the gaze." As Julie takes us in her arms to dance, we spin round and round, dizzy on the cusp of new love. As an Ohio boy who's lived in Chicago for 25 years now, I love the idea of doing for my adopted city what Rohmer did for Paris. My personal feeling is that the magic is always there in Chicago: you just need to know how to look. Perhaps the most valuable thing RENDEZVOUS IN CHICAGO did for me is to renew that feeling, after all these years. It's a vision to treasure: heaven might just be a beach on the shores of Lake Michigan, lolling away the afternoon with someone you love, in Chicago, Illinois. Smith and selected cast and crew in person. (2018, 69 min, Digital Projection) SP
David Schalliol’s THE AREA (New Documentary)
Comfort Film at Comfort Station Logan Square (2579 N. Milwaukee Ave.) – Thursday, 7pm (Free Admission)
David Schalliol’s THE AREA follows community matriarch-cum-activist Deborah Payne as she crusades to save her neighborhood from mass demolition at the hands of the Norfolk Southern Railway corporation. The title refers to an 85-acre residential pocket of Englewood surrounding Payne’s home near 57th and Normal that’s scheduled to be bulldozed for the purposes of an intermodal freight hub, i.e. a glorified parking lot for shipping containers. Schalliol, a photographer and sociologist by trade who possesses a canny eye for architectural portraiture, is careful to eschew the ruin porn aesthetic in which dilapidated structures are treated as pure spectacle devoid of any contextual information about the socioeconomic forces that led to their demise. In one of the film’s most poetic shots, two houses are juxtaposed side by side: one in sound condition, the other abandoned, shuttered, and in the midst of dismantlement. It’s a stark contrast that symbolizes the conflicting perceptions of Englewood itself—there’s the nightly news caricature of Englewood, reducible to poverty and gun violence, and there’s the actual Englewood that’s home to a community of people. Indeed, THE AREA is deeply rooted in a sense of place, so much so that we’re often told the precise intersection or address where a scene is unfolding, and, like THE INTERRUPTERS and 70 ACRES IN CHICAGO before it, this is an urgent and compelling documentary about a dimension of city that’s rarely seen on the big screen. Though the scope here is hyperlocal, the themes of political apathy, corporate avarice, and the disenfranchisement of a minority community extend well beyond the parameters of the Area. Faced with the encroachment of the railroad company, some residents enthusiastically take buyouts; others want to stay, but aren’t given much of a choice. In order to execute their land grab, Norfolk Southern employs dubious tactics like enacting eminent domain, which allows the government to acquire private property and transfer it to a third party, and persuading at least one homeowner not to pay her mortgage in order to facilitate a “short sale.” Moreover, as a result of the entire neighborhood getting razed, residents are exposed to a slew of environmental hazards, including increased diesel emissions and gas leaks, bringing to mind Chicago’s recent pet coke scandal, the Flint, MI, water crisis, and countless other instances of environmental racism. At a town hall meeting, a Norfolk Southern representative argues that, “What we have to do is we have to balance the business imperative with our desire for the environmental need,” unaware or indifferent to the fact that these are diametrically opposed agendas. What bothers Payne most isn’t the inevitable railroad takeover, but the lack of respect for the families being displaced. Despite the efforts of a collective bargaining coalition and help from community organizations, homes inside the Area, which total around 400 at the outset, continue to dwindle until the film reaches its tragic conclusion. What’s missing, perhaps, is an in-depth interview with Norfolk Southern or 20th Ward alderman Willie Cochran, who endorses the sale of land in an about-face, in which they are taken to task for the fallout from their actions; the documentary, however, is less concerned with hard-hitting investigative journalism and more with chronicling Payne’s personal struggle. On its surface, THE AREA might seem like a tale of defeat, but this is ultimately a story about resistance, resilience, and collectivism. As Payne reflects near the end, “I feel good that we stood up to people who thought they could do anything…I think that it made me a better person.” Payne and co-producer Brian Ashby in person. (2018, 93 min, Digital Projection) HS
MORE SCREENINGS AND EVENTS
The Chicago South Asian Film Festival continues through Sunday, September 22, with screenings at the ShowPlace ICON, Venue Six10, and DePaul University. More info and full schedule at www.csaff.org.
The Alder International Short Film Festival opens on Thursday and continues through Sunday, September 29. Screenings take place at the Repertorio Latino Theater Company (3622 S. Morgan Ave.). More info at www.alderfilmfestival.com.
The Conversations at the Edge series (at the Gene Siskel Film Center) presents Selina Trepp: I Work With What I Have on Thursday at 6pm, with Trepp in person. The program of works (2016-19, approx. 60 min, DCP Digital and live performance) includes a selection of recent films (featuring her new animation I WORK WITH WHAT I HAVE, with a live score), and a performance.
Block Cinema (Northwestern University) presents Chicagoland Shorts Vol. 5 (2017-19, approx. 78 min, Digital Projection and 35mm) on Thursday at 7pm. The curated program of local work includes films by Jennifer Boles, Jiayi Chen and Cameron Worden, Lonnie Edwards, Meredith Leich, Sebastián Pinzón Silva, Ashley Thompson, and Marisa Tolomeo. Select filmmakers and curators in person. Free admission.
The Nightingale (1084 N. Milwaukee Ave.) presents Sam Bam’s The Tinder Trilogy on Wednesday at 7pm, with the artist in person. The program includes COOL LAWYER (2018), I OWE THE CHICAGO PUBLIC LIBRARY $367 AND THEY SHOULD FORGIVE ME (2019), #1 PARTY GUEST “THE LOST FILM” (2019), and EDDIE VEDDER’S GIRLFRIEND (2019).
The Logan Center for the Arts (915 E. 60th St., University of Chicago) screens Aviva Kempner’s 2015 documentary ROSENWALD (95 min, Digital Projection) on Wednesday at 7pm, with Kempner and Julius Rosenwald’s grandson and biographer Peter Ascoli in person. Free admission.
Instituto Cervantes (31 W. Ohio St.) screens Jorge Ramírez Suárez 2018 Mexican/German film GUTEN TAG, RAMON [Buen día, Ramón] (120 min, Digital Projection) on Tuesday at 6pm. Free admission.
Presented by Asian Pop-Up Cinema this week: Huang Huang’s 2018 Chinese film WUSHU ORPHAN (121 min, Digital Projection; Free Admission) is at the School of the Art Institute (116 S. Michigan Ave.) on Friday at 6pm; see the listing for the Gene Siskel Film Center below for info on MELANCHOLIC; and Shinobu Yaguchi’s 2019 Japanese film CAN’T STOP THE DANCING (103 min, Digital Projection) is on Thursday at 7pm at River East 21.
Also at the Gene Siskel Film Center this week: Stephen Wilkes' 2018 documentary JAY MYSELF (79 min, DCP Digital) and Claudio Giovanessi's 2019 Italian film PIRANHAS (112 min, DCP Digital) both play for a week; Abbas Kiarostami's 1992 Iranian film AND LIFE GOES ON (96 min, DCP Digital) is on Saturday at 3pm and Monday at 6pm; Seiji Tanaka’s 2019 Japanese film MELANCHOLIC (113 min, DCP Digital) is on Wednesday at 8pm, with Tanaka Seiji and producer/actor Yoji Minagawa in person (co-presented by Asian Pop-Up Cinema); and Jeanine Isabel Butler’s 2019 documentary AMERICAN HERETICS: THE POLITICS OF THE GOSPEL (85 min, DCP Digital) is on Saturday at 5pm.
Also at the Music Box Theatre this week: Alejandro Landes’ 2019 Columbian film MONOS (102 min, DCP Digital) opens, with Landes in person at the 7pm Friday screening; Kirill Mikhanovsky’s 2019 film GIVE ME LIBERTY (111 min, DCP Digital) continues; Charles Vidor’s 1955 film LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME (122 min, 35mm) is on Saturday and Sunday at 11:30am; The 48 Hour Film Project presents five competition screenings on Sunday and Monday, and the “best of”/awards screening on 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 Rodney Evans’ 2019 documentary VISION PORTRAITS (78 min, Video Projection) for a week-long run, with Evans in person at the 7pm Friday and Saturday screenings. Kartemquin Films co-founder and documentarian Gordon Quinn moderates the Friday discussion; Northwestern professor and filmmaker Kyle Henry moderates the Saturday discussion.
The Chicago Cultural Center hosts the Cinema/Chicago screening of Csaba M. Kiss and Gábor Rohonyi’s 2017 Hungarian film BRAZILIANS (105 min, Video Projection) on Wednesday at 6:30pm. Free admission.
CINE-LIST: September 20 - September 26, 2019
MANAGING EDITOR // Patrick Friel
ASSOCIATE EDITORS // Ben Sachs, Kathleen Sachs, Kyle A. Westphal
CONTRIBUTORS // Cody Corrall, Kyle Cubr, Marilyn Ferdinand, Malia Haines-Stewart, Jonathan Leithold-Patt, JB Mabe, Michael Metzger, Scott Pfeiffer, Michael W. Phillips, Jr., Harrison Sherrod