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Monday, September 24, 2018

Ecstasy on film: Nathaniel Dorsky discusses The Arboretum Cycle, his latest work of devotional cinema, which he'd prefer you watch alone

Posted By on 09.24.18 at 06:00 AM

Nathaniel Dorsky shooting The Arboretum Cycle - DANIEL BOGDANIC
  • Daniel Bogdanic
  • Nathaniel Dorsky shooting The Arboretum Cycle

This Friday at 7 PM, Northwestern University’s Block Cinema will host one of the major cinematic events of the year with the local premiere of The Arboretum Cycle (2017), a collection of seven interconnected short works by veteran avant-garde filmmaker Nathaniel Dorsky. One of the country's most important living film artists, Dorsky has been making meditative, generally rapturous movies since the early 1960s. He has described his practice as "devotional cinema" (he also wrote a book with that title in 2003), referring to the potential of movies to engender spiritual experiences. The Arboretum Cycle is doubtless one such experience. Shot in the San Francisco Arboretum over the course of a year, the work consists of silent shots of plant life, skies, and other natural phenomena. Dorsky's compositions are consistently inspired; eschewing wide shots, he forces viewers to lose themselves in minutiae. Last week I telephoned the filmmaker (who will attend Friday’s screening) to discuss the cycle. Our far-ranging conversation came to touch upon spirituality, the ethics of editing, and what it’s like to be a plant.

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Monday, September 18, 2017

‘The Serenity of Madness’ showcases the brilliance and wonder of Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s art

Posted By on 09.18.17 at 04:47 PM

Sakda (Rousseau) (2012)
  • Sakda (Rousseau) (2012)
"Apichatpong Weerasethakul: The Serenity of Madness," an exhibition currently on display at the School of the Art Institute's Sullivan Galleries, not only is a beautiful collection of video installations and still images, but provides new insight into the career of one of the most important filmmakers working today. The content of "Serenity" might be described as the interstices of Weerasethakul's filmmaking career, with video diaries, short films, and photographs that meditate on themes and images elaborated on in the Thai director's features. Meditate is the operative word—like Weerasethakul's movies, "Serenity" offers a calm, immersive space where one can contemplate notions of spirituality, romance, war, and death. The exhibit covers 22 years of output and more than three hours of audiovisual material, yet "Serenity" doesn't feel overwhelming, thanks to the cool reflection the works engender.

In conjunction with "Serenity," Weerasethakul will deliver a lecture tomorrow night at 6 PM at SAIC's Rubloff Auditorium, and next month the Gene Siskel Film Center will revive four of the director's features (all of them worth seeing or revisiting): Tropical Malady (2004), Syndromes and a Century (2006), Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010), and Cemetery of Splendor (2015).

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Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The Portuguese movie The Ornithologist is a strange and beautiful journey into the unknown

Posted By on 06.28.17 at 02:15 PM

The Ornithologist
  • The Ornithologist
Easier to admire than it is to describe, João Pedro Rodrigues's The Ornithologist (which opens Friday at the Music Box) dances around motifs of faith, death, and transfiguration without quite asserting what it's all about. The film recognizes its ambiguity, however, and has fun with it, shifting its shape whenever it seems like it's about to settle on a particular message.

It's a wry work. Rodrigues toys with his audience with the deadpan playfulness of Luis Buñuel, whose films The Ornithologist sometimes recalls in its tricky approach to religious themes. It's also full of incidental pleasures, featuring a dense soundtrack (rich in sounds like birdsong, wind, and animal bleating) and beautiful images of the mountains and forests of western Portugal. In fact the movie renders its natural setting so vividly that it practically feels like a character, and this anthropomorphic quality adds to the overall sense of mystery. This is a feature one can get lost in, which is appropriate, as the main character is lost for most of the running time.

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Wednesday, June 7, 2017

You can now see Mimosas, the subject of a great making-of documentary

Posted By on 06.07.17 at 03:10 PM

  • Mimosas
If Chicago's film culture were more sensible, Oliver Laxe's rapturously beautiful second feature, Mimosas, wouldn't be playing at Facets Multimedia (where it screens for two more nights), but on every IMAX screen in the city. The chief pleasure of Laxe's film is how it makes use of monumental locations in Morocco, setting the story against the grand splendors of mountains and wide-open deserts. The story of Mimosas is relatively simple, but the landscapes give it an epic sweep; they also make the story seem to exist outside of time, the eternal majesty of the setting overwhelming any momentary concerns. The imagery in Mimosas will be familiar to anyone who saw Ben Rivers's experimental feature The Sky Trembles and the Earth Is Afraid and the Two Eyes Are Not Brothers, which played in Chicago last year. That movie began as a moody making-of documentary about Mimosas before branching off into its own strange territory, telling a nightmarish story in which Laxe gets kidnapped by desert nomads who force him to be their jester. (Come to think of it, The Sky Trembles would look great on an IMAX screen too.) Mimosas elucidates some of the more elusive ideas of Rivers's film while standing firmly on its own feet. It really should have screened in Chicago first, but considering how good both films are, this is a minor complaint.

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Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Immerse yourself in the work of Jean-Pierre Melville, master of the French crime film

Posted By on 05.31.17 at 02:54 PM

Le Cercle Rouge (1970) screens in the Film Center's Melville retrospective on June 3 and June 8.
  • Le Cercle Rouge (1970) screens in the Film Center's Melville retrospective on June 3 and June 8.

In the body of film history, the career of Jean-Pierre Melville represents a crucial piece of connective tissue. Melville may not have been the first French filmmaker to take inspiration from American crime films, but he did so more openly and with greater relish than any other before him. His 1950s crime tales, Bob le Flambeur (1956) and Two Men in Manhattan (1959) are madly cinephilic works that wear their influences on their sleeves. The characters are all but defined by their American cars and clothes, while the style of these movies is so ripe and self-aware that one never forgets that they're in the world of the Movies. With its low budget and movie-mad attitude, Bob le Flambeur was a key reference point for the directors of the French New Wave, who looked to Melville as a godfather. Melville turned in cameos in a couple of major New Wave films, Jean-Luc Godard's Breathless and Eric Rohmer's The Sign of Leo, and he reportedly provided Godard with advice when the younger director was editing his first feature; moreover, Francois Truffaut, Louis Malle, and Claude Chabrol turned to Melville's regular cinematographer, Henri Decaë, to shoot their early works.) His later, more austere crime works, among them Le Samouraï (1967) and Le Cercle Rouge (1970), were key influences on such Hong Kong directors as John Woo and Johnnie To, who were inspired by these works when developing their own style in the 1980s and '90s.

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Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Terrence Malick loves us—he just has a peculiar way of showing it

Posted By on 03.29.17 at 08:00 AM

Rooney Mara and Ryan Gosling in Song to Song
  • Rooney Mara and Ryan Gosling in Song to Song

Song to Song
may not be the best movie playing in town this week, but it's surely the most important. The film is the latest by Terrence Malick, one of the handful of working narrative directors who has created what critic and director Paul Schrader once termed a transcendental film style. Like Yasujro Ozu, Robert Bresson, and Carl Dreyer (the directors Schrader considered in his 1972 study of transcendental cinema), Malick operates in a unique cinematic language that evokes a spiritual presence in the material world. Song to Song is not explicitly concerned with spirituality, as other Malick films are, yet the spiritual force that animates virtually all his work is impossible to overlook. Whether the film succeeds as a whole is less important than the seriousness of its intent—it's worth experiencing and grappling with.

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Monday, October 17, 2016

A Hasidic rabbi outside Wrigley Field teaches Cubs fans how to bless their team

Posted By on 10.17.16 at 07:49 PM

Rabbi Dovid Kotlarsky and Cubs fans in Wrigleyville - COURTESY DOVID KOTLARSKY
  • courtesy Dovid Kotlarsky
  • Rabbi Dovid Kotlarsky and Cubs fans in Wrigleyville

The 2003 National League Championship Series coincided with the weeklong Jewish festival of Sukkot. During that week, Rabbi Boruch Hertz, an emissary of the Lubavitch Chabad, built a sukkah across the street from Wrigley Field and encouraged everyone, but especially Jews, to come in and pray with him.

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Street preacher Steve the Rebuker calls for Cubs fans to repent

Posted By on 10.17.16 at 07:16 PM

Outside Wrigley Field, a van driven by an acquaintance of Steve the Rebuker evangelized before game two of the NLCS. - AIMEE LEVITT
  • Aimee Levitt
  • Outside Wrigley Field, a van driven by an acquaintance of Steve the Rebuker evangelized before game two of the NLCS.

The crowd started gathering around Wrigley Field midafternoon on Sunday, approximately four hours before the Cubs were scheduled to face off against the Dodgers in game two of the National League Championship Series. And on the corner of Addison and Sheffield, amid the stream of fans, vendors, drinkers, gawkers, and wanderers all clad in blue, stood one lone stout, white-haired figure in red with a hands-free microphone over his ear and Bible in his back pocket.

His name, he said, was Steve the Rebuker. He rooted for neither the Cubs nor the Dodgers. "I'm on Team Jesus Christ," he said, though when pressed, he allowed that he is nominally a Baptist. His mission was to preach the word of God to people. There were a lot of people outside Wrigley Field.   

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Friday, February 12, 2016

Spertus's first Sunday Cinema series takes audiences on journeys

Posted By on 02.12.16 at 05:00 PM

Carvalho's Journey
  • Carvalho's Journey

Throughout history Jews have been on the move, often out of necessity. Ever since the Babylonian exile, the story of the Jewish diaspora has been by definition one of journeys, as Jews were either expelled or forced by circumstance to search for opportunity elsewhere. So it's fitting that Chicago's Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership has organized its first Sunday Cinema series around the theme of Jewish journeys. All four titles are distributed by The National Center for Jewish Film, and all have postshow events curated by Spertus.

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Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Christmas: You're doing it wrong

Posted By on 12.23.15 at 12:30 PM

As we learn from watching Miracle on 34th Street, Santa knows everything. - AP PHOTO/FOX HOME ENTERTAINMENT
  • AP Photo/Fox Home Entertainment
  • As we learn from watching Miracle on 34th Street, Santa knows everything.

Sometimes I think Christmas is wasted on the wrong people. On account of being Jewish, I have never gotten to celebrate a whole Christmas from start to finish—though I've gotten bits and pieces, thanks to friends and roommates and my boyfriend's mother who one year gave me my very own stocking—but because of years of exposure to movies and popular songs I know all about it. And if you do it wrong, I will judge you. I do this out of love. If Christmas is the best thing that has ever happened to humanity (and, having never celebrated it myself, I have no reason to doubt this is true), it should be done right! Here is a definitive list of how you should celebrate Christmas, with sources.

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