23rd Chicago International Film Festival | Festival | Chicago Reader

23rd Chicago International Film Festival 

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The Chicago International Film Festival, now into its last days, will be holding repeat screenings of its prizewinning films at the Music Box Theatre (3733 N. Southport). Tickets are $6.50 ($5 for Cinema/Chicago members); they're on sale at the theater box office and the film festival stores (1419 N. Wells, 1157 N. State). For further information, call 644-3400. The winning films are reviewed by Pat Aufderheide (PA), Nancy. Robinson (NR), Jonathan Rosenbaum (JR), Ronnie Scheib (RS), and Laura Thielen (LT).

FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 6

BOY SOLDIER Many soldier movies retail military life as a package deal for male adulthood. "Join the Army" evokes an image as familiar and accessible as "a pair of 501s." Fortunately films like this first feature from Karl Francis resist and challenge the cipher of infantry green. His boy soldier is Wil Thomas, a teenager who joined the British army because it promised the job and future his native Wales could not provide. Private Thomas's hopes of an honorable career are shaken when he is posted in occupied Belfast. Entering a world where anything--language, rank, gesture--may provoke hatred and violence, the young Welshman reels between abusive COs and taunting civilians. Brief furloughs with friends and an abruptly terminated romance with a Catholic girl only increase his bewilderment and anger. The plot is simple, even predictable. But documentarist-turned-dramatist Francis does the typical BBC "issues" feature-with-a-regional-twist one better. Manipulating, a dense (and sometimes confusingly muddled) series of flashbacks, he achieves an effect akin to memory under trauma--a chaos of recollected images, mundane yet potent, crescendo in realization. These fragmented scenes are held together by the emotionally raw performance of Richard Lynch. A far cry from the suavely square-jawed Brat Pack prototype, Lynch plays Private Thomas as moody, awkward, insecure, tenacious--believable. Worlds away from the pyrotechnics of "epic" men, Boy Soldier feels honest and timely in its appraisal. (LT) (6:00)

REPENTANCE Even if this once-banned allegory of Stalinism by one of the Soviet Union's most important directors weren't very good, you'd want to see it for its political impact at home (where it packed houses when released last year) and abroad (where it won the Critics Prize at Cannes). But it will probably stand up after the political dust settles. Georgian director Tengiz Abuladze sneaked past Soviet censors in 1984, making this film for Georgian TV in a hurry. The plot was inflammatory enough: the town tyrant has finally died, and despite sycophantic funerary exercises, mysteriously refuses to stay buried; the confession of the woman who keeps unearthing him reveals the ugly story of his brutal regime. No one could miss the reference to the Stalin era. But Abuladze's style added fuel to the fire. The town tyrant's features make him look part Hitler, part Beria (head of secret police under Stalin), part Stalin, and part Mussolini. The martyred hero looks part Stakhanovite stereotype, part Christ-image. Abuladze turns buried history into black comedy and then passion play. Repentance is a healthy antidote to the social-realist stereotype of Soviet cinema. If it occasionally seems overstated and, by the end, overlong, it's still an exceptional film that surfaced at an exceptional moment for Soviet cinema and society. (PA) (8:00)

SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 7

TRAIN OF DREAMS Longtime documentarian John N. Smith's feature-length Sitting in Limbo solidified his reputation as a film artist who works from life. Like that earlier feature, also made through Canada's National Film Board, Train of Dreams concerns young people, and is performed by nonprofessional actors working in improvisational situations from a guideline script. Tony (non-pro Jason St. Amour does an astonishing job) is a chip on the shoulder of society, a kid who takes his attitude with him to reform school. His passage there and back is a trip inside the minds of kids robbed of dreams and through the agencies whose embattled staffs are trying to give their dreams back. Free of cant or moralizing, the film's integrity and interest are drawn from the documentarylike look at character in crisis, which documentary itself could never catch. (PA) (10:30)

ANIMATION A wide-ranging selection of shorts from Brazil, Czechoslovakia, Great Britain, Hungary, Sweden, the U.S., and the USSR. (5:00)

THE BELLY OF AN ARCHITECT On the face of it, Peter Greenaway's newest film seems a far cry from The Draughtsman's Contract, but his Belly of an Architect is also an intricate piece of work, a film in which the schemes and deceits of the characters are more complex than even Greenaway's settings. A somewhat celebrated American architect from Chicago journeys with his much younger wife to curate a major retrospective of his inspiration, the obscure 18th-century French architect Boullee. Kracklite (Brian Dennehy) loses track of everything other than the escalating demands of the exhibition and a gnawing stomach ailment. Through his obsession and pain, Kracklite manages to see the secret siphoning of funds from the extensive tribute to Boullee going instead to restore Mussolini's tomb--a project for which it is difficult, apparently, to raise funds. His wife, successfully pursued by a much younger and more aggressive Italian associate, leaves Kracklite just prior to both the exhibition's opening and the impending birth of their child. At times woefully weighed down with overt metaphor, Belly is stylized and fascinating and Dennehy impressive as the doomed American. Chloe Webb as his bored wife fares well while making do with a lot less. OK, so the ending makes The Graduate seem tame by comparison. There is still plenty in Belly to satisfy. (NR) (7:00)

SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 8

A TAXING WOMAN Another audacious comedy by the director of The Funeral and Tampopo, about the adventures of a dedicated lady tax inspector (Nobuku Miyamoto) and a crazy-legged czar of state-of-the-art "adult" hotels (Tsutomu Yamazaki), her chosen target. The two stars of Tampopo are in top form here--Miyamoto's snub-nosed, freckle-faced innocence gives a peculiar tilt to her calm knowledge of every conceivable tax dodge, while Yamazaki's sardonic charm makes his manic cripple/cook well-nigh irresistible. Yet what is amazing in A Taxing Woman, as in all Juzo Itami's films, is the boundless energy of all his characters--major and minor. Whether it's a dessicated old man's fevered sucking of his young nurse's tits, the attempted intimidation of the entire tax bureau by a self-important gangster with attendant minions, or the theatrical, tearful ravings of a caught-out pachinko parlor owner, each character throws himself into whatever he's doing with a zest that's nothing short of inspirational. Morality, of course, barely enters into it. No dour Eliot Ness-type raids on iniquity here--the inspectors dig up gardens, discover loot-filled strong rooms behind bookcases, and take apart lipsticks to find corporate seals with the zealous glee of children on a Faberge Easter-egg hunt. And the crooks seem equally dependent on their conspiratorial whisperings, paper-shredding orgies, money-laundering machinations, and secret hiding places for amusement. In this symbiotic cops-and-robbers relationship, each respects and even admires the other for the stick-to-itiveness and ingenuity that push them to further effort, as if at any minute they might switch sides and start the game anew. The IRS was never like this. (RS) (9:30)

SHORT SUBJECT WINNERS A screening of the prizewinning shorts. (3:00)

WHEN THE WIND BLOWS The project of director Jimmy Murakami and screenwriter Raymond Briggs's rather original English animated feature is to get us to think the unthinkable--to imagine the aftereffects of a nuclear holocaust. But rather than force this on us as a bitter pill to swallow, they create a very funny and believable elderly English couple, Jim and Hilda Bloggs, still mired in memories of World War II, but, when nuclear war hits, eager to do all the proper things and follow the instructions in the government booklets correctly. And rather than stretch this fable out to a global scale, the filmmakers make all their essential points by sticking to this isolated couple in their country cottage, following them step-by-step through the experience. Aided by a realistic style of animation that incorporates some live action, and occasional stylistic changes that allow for more abstraction in certain fantasy interludes, as well as the expert speaking voices of John Mills and Peggy Ashcroft, the movie succeeds impressively. It's rare that a cartoon carries the impact of a live-action feature without sacrificing the imaginative freedom of the pen and brush, but this one does it--and does it so well that it even persuades us to accept the didactic framework. Comedy and horror intertwine in this domestic, kitchen-sink version of Dr. Strangelove, and our involvement in the two characters keeps us glued helplessly to the screen. (JR) (5:00)

WHOOPING COUGH It is October 1956, and the Hungarian revolt has just begun. Somewhat predictably, this historical event is viewed through the eyes of a ten-year-old boy who understands only slightly less than his elders about what's going on. Nevertheless, Peter Gardos's Whooping Cough works quite well--probably because the engaging lunacy of the protagonist's family under the strain of their shut-in uncertainty and general marginality in the political scheme of things only slowly becomes apparent. As they rush around playing out their fears and fantasies (the kid's mother turns out to have a lover living in a heavy fighting zone; his unassuming gray-haired father dreams of tap-dancing his way onto the American stage), they are far removed from the comforting authority figures one might expect and closer to the childhood spontaneity of the film's thoroughly confused prepubescent hero. If Whooping Cough confined itself to bittersweet recollection, it would still come across as a more than passable Eastern European political parable. But the anything-but-predictable presence of two female figures from a much older and a much younger generation--the scathing Cassandra-at-the-gates irony of a still-beautiful grandmother, survivor of a time that knows a lot more than it tells, and the extraordinary unbridled libido of a five-year-old sister, whose knowledge nothing and nobody can contain--raises Whooping Cough from the level of discovery into that of revelation. (RS) (7:00)

MELO With the exception of the equally passionate and exquisite Trouble in Paradise, this is probably the only film in the festival that can be regarded as an unqualified masterpiece. But it is bound to baffle spectators who insist on regarding Alain Resnais as an intellectual rather than an emotional director, simply because he shares the conviction of Carl Dreyer and Robert Bresson that form is the surest route to feelings. In his 11th feature, easily his best since Mon oncle d'Amerique, he adapts a 1929 boulevard melodrama by a forgotten playwright named Henry Bernstein, and holds so closely to this unremarkable play that theatrical space and decor--including the absence of a fourth wall--are rigorously respected, and shots of a painted curtain appear between the acts. None of this is done to strike an attitude or "make a statement": Resnais believes in the material, and simply wants to give it its due--to respect and realize it for what it is. Yet in the process of doing this, he not only invests the original meaning of "melodrama" (drama with music) with so much beauty and resonance that he reinvents the genre. He also proves that he is conceivably the greatest living director of actors in the French cinema, and offers a way of regarding the past that implicitly indicts our entire era for myopia. (Melo is certainly a film of 1987, and not an antique, but it may take us another 20 years to understand precisely how and why it is.) Using the same talented quartet that starred in his two previous films, La vie est un roman and L'amour a mort--Andre Dussollier as a gifted concert violinist, Pierre Arditi as his suburban friend, Sabine Azema as the latter's wife who falls in love with the violinist, and Fanny Ardant (in a smaller role) as her cousin--Resnais cuts and moves his camera with impeccable dramatic logic that helps to give their performances maximum voltage. But it is largely his special relation to the past that imbues his material with profundity. Insofar as the tragedy of the present period is its incapacity to perceive the past with any breadth or complexity--a narcissistic disability that usually translates itself into nostalgia, camp, or pious formaldehyde in movie terms--Melo's concentrated treatment of the 20s, while never less than modern, retrieves that era in all its mysterious density. After collaborating on all his previous films with contemporaries, Resnais joins forces here with an author of over half a century ago, and a genuine symbiosis takes place. For a comparable marriage between the minds of two periods equally far apart, one may have to go back to Dreyer's 1964 Gertrud, which adapted a play written in 1906--a film whose very lengthy takes, privileged musical interludes, and renderings of time and passion in a mode at once classic and avant-garde are periodically evoked here. I can think of no higher praise. (JR) (9:00)

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Agenda Teaser

Performing Arts
The Great Leap Steppenwolf Theatre Company, Upstairs Theatre
September 05
Performing Arts
Oslo Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place
September 10

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