Call Me Madam | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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In addition to being a good many other things, Francoise Romand's first three feature-length films are poetic and highly original meditations about personal identity. Neither as dense nor as inventive as Mix-Up (1985), the film that preceded it, and without the degree of experimentation and lyricism that makes Past Imperfect (1994) such a haunting experience, Call Me Madam (1986) is nonetheless a provocative and memorable work. (Starting with this one, the Film Center is showing all three films with Romand in attendance, offering an invaluable introduction to a major filmmaker.) It's a multifaceted portrait of Ovida Delect--a communist poet and novelist living near Rouen who's published close to 40 books. Tortured by the Gestapo at 17 as a member of the French underground and honored by Paul Eluard, she's a 60-year-old who had a sex-change operation at the age of 55. Formerly known as Jean-Pierre Voidies, she continues to live with her former wife and 20-year-old son, both of whom reveal some of the difficulties they've encountered living with such a singular and egocentric individual. As with Mix-Up, Romand labels this film a "fictional documentary" because its subject and style relate to Delect's self-image as well as her objective reality. Indeed Delect controls Call Me Madam just as she controls her own persona, depriving the film of the free-ranging imagination of Romand's other two features. But it's still a subversive and subtle statement that you'll think about for days afterwards. Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Thursday, March 2, 6:00, 443-3737.

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