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Friday, October 11

The Best Years of Our Lives

Perceived in 1946 (to the tune of nine Academy Awards) as a sign that the movies had finally "grown up," William Wyler's study of a group of men returning to civilian life after the war was a tremendous commercial success and helped to create Hollywood's postwar highbrow style of pseudorealism and social concern. The film is very proud of itself, exuding a stifling piety at times, but it works as well as this sort of thing can, thanks to accomplished performances by Fredric March, Myrna Loy, and Dana Andrews, who keep the human element afloat. But Gregg Toland's deep-focus photography remains the primary source of interest for today's audiences. (DK) (Music Box, 3:30)

Mrs. Miniver

The most famous and perhaps most effective propaganda film of World War II, with Greer Garson as a suburban British housewife gallantly going about her tasks as her husband (Walter Pidgeon) is called to war. The film (and Garson's stiff-backed Academy Award-winning performance in particular) has dated very badly; it's difficult now to see the qualities that wartime audiences found so assuring. William Wyler directed; with Teresa Wright, Richard Ney, Dame May Whitty, and Henry Travers (a sequel, The Miniver Story, was released in 1950). (DK) (Music Box, 4:30)

Breaking the Waves

A breakthrough feature by Lars von Trier--the postmodernist Danish director of Element of Crime, Zentropa, and The Kingdom--this all-stops-out melodrama, set on the remote north coast of Scotland in the early 70s, has been picked up for distribution and is bound to produce some waves of its own. The plot concerns a naive young woman (a galvanizing performance by Emily Watson) who falls in love with and marries a worldly oil-rig worker (Stellan Skarsgard), despite some opposition from her tightly knit Calvinist community. When the husband is paralyzed by an explosion, he persuades her to find a lover and describe her sexual experiences to him. Shot by the great Robby Muller, the film shifts powerfully between dizzying handheld footage recounting the harrowing story (given an unusual texture by having been transferred to video and then back to film) and gorgeous, digitally doctored "chapter headings" that linger meditatively over landscapes to the accompaniment of pop songs of the period. Improbably combining elements from Carl Dreyer and Federico Fellini, this 159-minute feature shamelessly pushes the audience's emotions to the breaking point--you won't come out of it indifferent. (JR) (Pipers Alley, 7:00)

The Eighth Day

My candidate for the most disgusting feature at Cannes this year, this French-Belgian film by Jaco van Dormael is so shameless it's bound to make millions when it hits the U.S. market. The obvious precedent is Rain Man, but that film's opportunism hinged on the decision of a famous star, Dustin Hoffman, to play an idiot savant alongside Tom Cruise. Here the recipe consists of casting a star, Daniel Auteuil, alongside a person who really has Down's syndrome, Pascal Duquenne. The danger of such calculation is that the pseudoreality of the star and the hyperreality of his costar might clash, a possibility cleverly avoided through the use of an expanding magical realism that turns both characters into animated cartoon figures, so that the best reference may be neither Rain Man nor the lachrymose Zorba the Greek but the overblown child's landscape of the tear-jerking Dumbo. In awarding the actor's prize jointly to both leads, the Cannes jury took the bait, and the tearful standing ovation in the Palais seemed to express a self-congratulatory recognition that a handicapped person is just as lovable as a movie star, that a movie star is just as real as a handicapped person, and that genuine innocence can't survive in the world--except that it does, because this film exploits it. (JR) (Pipers Alley, 7:00)

Adosados

A feeble suspense yarn by Spanish director Mario Camus about a man whose small lie winds up wrecking his life. Andres decides to have the family dog put to sleep when the vet tells him that the dog has inoperable cancer. After burying him in a vacant construction site with the help of a friendly Russian security guard named Yuri, he feels guilty and tells his family that the dog was run over by a car. Feeling still worse, he lies again, telling them that the dog actually ran away and that he just hasn't been able to find him. Inexplicably, he keeps changing his story, becoming so depressed that at one point he just sits at his window having gloomy existential conversations with himself in what could almost pass as a parody of an Ingmar Bergman movie. When Yuri is arrested in connection with the disappearance and possible murder of a young girl, Andres also becomes a suspect, thanks to witnesses who saw him digging the hole with Yuri. The premise of this film, which telegraphs every move well in advance, collapses within the first ten minutes, since it's never clear why Andres gets so worked up about his decision to begin with or why he feels the need to change his story every 30 seconds. It almost becomes entertaining to see just how long the movie is willing to stretch out its preposterous scheme. (RP) (Music Box, 7:15)

Men, Women: A User's Manual

First there was A Man and a Woman, then A Man and a Woman: 20 Years Later, and now Men, Women: A User's Manual, Claude Lelouch's fin de siecle epic about star-crossed lovers. Bernard Tapie--France's favorite rogue entrepreneur-politician, who's been convicted of fraud and embezzlement--makes his screen debut and is a natural as a bullying, lying lawyer. The eternally bemused Fabrice Luchini plays an actor, Alessandra Martines (Madame Lelouch) an infuriated ex-mistress, and Salome Lelouch (the director's daughter) a 15-year-old in the throes of first love. They and their extended family run wild through a batch of subplots. The movie opens with Tapie at the controls of a helicopter and Martines screaming to get out. When they meet again she's a doctor who tells him crisply that his ulcer is actually cancer--she too can be a bully. Francis Lelai's score surges with no relief in sight, and Lelouch lifts scenes from every movie since My Night at Maud's. Snubbed by the New Wave, Lelouch says he's just a popular director who believes in love, life, and God. He seems to identify with his vilified star, making the point that the last will ultimately be first--at the box office anyway. (JD) (Pipers Alley, 7:15)

The Quiet Room

The latest feature from Rolf de Heer, a Dutch-born director who's worked principally in Australia, is a frequently daring work that exists almost exclusively within the confused and tormented consciousness of its seven-year-old protagonist (astonishingly and on the whole unsentimentally played by Chloe Ferguson). In response to her parents' rapidly deteriorating marriage, the girl retreats into a silent world and refuses to talk, though she angrily makes drawings the parents, whose voices are muffled and virtually incomprehensible, can't understand. A work of remarkable emotional intensity and tonal shifts, The Quiet Room is a torrent of words and ideas, of unformed, inarticulate feelings with virtually no release. But that intensity can't be sustained, and the film begins to seem repetitive. The ending is also a disappointment, at once too conventional and emotionally unbelievable. Yet in spite of its considerable flaws The Quiet Room demands serious attention. (PM) (Music Box, 9:15)

Swingers

If all the obnoxious buddy movies from around the world were assembled there would be more than enough for a complete festival. Swingers, a recent addition to the genre by first-time director Doug Liman, was considered a hot discovery at the Sundance film festival--the American film industry's preferred spot for finding new talent, i.e. people who've proved they work cheap and just might have their finger on the pulse of the all-important youth market. Swingers was made on a pittance and sold to Miramax for a small fortune. How well you like it will depend a lot on how well you like cliches and TV humor. Two doltish guys head for Las Vegas in an open convertible in search of women, or "babies," as Trent, the allegedly sharper of the two, calls them. Mike, the dumb but allegedly sensitive one, is pining away for his girlfriend, who defected, and his friends just want to help him get over it. This is a post-frat-house movie about the male bonding that happens over pizza, video games, and lots of beer. It's the kind of movie where the guys make all the wrong moves, but the stunning young cocktail waitresses can't wait to take them home to bed anyway. Bring your barf bag. (BS) (Music Box, 9:30)

A Hot Roof

Lee Min-yong's first film represents a step forward for Korean cinema, but the average Westerner may need to understand a few conventions to both enjoy it and understand why it's different. This is a comedy, though with some startlingly grim aspects, about a spontaneous revolt among women living in a large Seoul apartment complex; a man who beats his wife in public dies at the hands of a vigilante mob of neighbor women, who then barricade themselves on the roof of their high-rise for a four-day standoff against their families and the authorities. At first the film may seem frantic and shrieky, but that's a function of the broad emotional approach its Asian audience would expect, even in a comedy. Violence against women is a staple of Korean cinema, offered with some degree of lip-smacking prurience in almost every movie, but A Hot Roof manages to subvert that violence much as Roger Corman exploitation films did in the 70s--by providing the spectacle but revoking its payoff by changing the meaning.

(BS) (Pipers Alley, 9:45)

Regular Guys

Housing must be extraordinarily difficult to come by in Germany. The heroes of both last year's hetero-among-the-homos comedy Pretty Baby, aka Maybe . . . Maybe Not, and this year's version, Regular Guys, find themselves reluctantly rooming with gays when their girlfriends kick them out. But Regular Guys, ostensibly a cops-and-robbers pic, is a far gentler and funnier film. Where Pretty Baby was garish and strident in both decor and characters, Regular Guys manages to make a stakeout in abandoned rooms over an unsoundproofed porn theater seem positively homey. Its comedy--lightweight and occasionally sophomoric, rarely forced or overstated--flows consistently, and its characters are genuinely likable in a laid-back kind of way. When the hero joins his roommate in his oversize bathtub the seduction isn't sexual in nature. Rather it's one of those moments that sometimes occur in screwball comedies, where the protagonist, tired of being buffeted by a seemingly endless series of misunderstandings, stops resisting the absurdity and goes with the flow. We're hardly at a Bringing Up Baby level here, but as a comic lesson in cooling out, this has its moments. (RS) (Pipers Alley, 10:00)

Saturday, October 12

Ben-Hur

William Wyler's 1959 version of the Lew Wallace warhorse--212 minutes of dull, expensive spectacle, and an equally uninspiring Charlton Heston. Of course it was Oscars all around. If you must, bring your lunch. (DK) (Music Box, 1:00)

Dodsworth

William Wyler's 1936 rendition of Sinclair Lewis's story of innocents abroad, with Walter Huston and Ruth Chatterton as a staid American businessman and his impressionable wife resisting the seductions of Europe with varying degrees of success. By far the most sensitive, restrained, and effective piece of direction Wyler ever turned in, the film achieves a measure of greatness through the dignity and depth of Huston's superb interpretation of the plainspoken Yankee. (DK) (Music Box, 1:15)

One More Kiss and He Is Dead!

A witty and enjoyable fictionalized account of the career of Reinhold Schunzel, one of the German film industry's most successful comedic directors during the 1930s. A Jew whose films were adored by Hitler, Schunzel (played with great gusto by Peter Fitz) continued making films under the Nazis, long after many of his colleagues had fled the country, until his contempt for Hitler became increasingly obvious in his parodies. Writer-director Hans-Christoph Blumenberg includes footage from some of these films, some of it very funny. After fleeing Germany in 1937 Schunzel went to Hollywood, where he failed as a director thanks in part to his arrogance and the perception among his better-known German colleagues that he'd turned a blind eye to Hitler for personal gain. The movie features some terrific performances from the supporting cast, many of whom appear in multiple roles. I was definitely entertained, and the footage from Schunzel's films left me eager to see more. (RP) (Pipers Alley, 2:45)

Autumn Sun

In preparation for a visit of her traditional brother, a Jewish woman living in Buenos Aires places a classified ad to find a Jewish man who can pretend to be the boyfriend she's been claiming to have and winds up with a gentile man instead. An Argentinean feature directed by Eduardo Mignogna. (Pipers Alley, 3:00)

Helicopter String Quartet

A Dutch documentary in English and subtitled German by Frank Scheffer chronicling the first performance (June 1995) of one of composer Karlheinz Stockhausen's strangest conceptual works--a string quartet in which each musician performs in a separate helicopter in flight, with the music and ambient sounds transmitted to the composer for the final mix. The complications of preparing such a stunt and then bringing it off are such that one can easily see how a documentary feature could be devoted to them, and I wasn't bored by any of the details, which include interviews with Stockhausen, the musicians, and the planners. But I don't recall the music nearly as well as the logistics of the event. I saw this on projected video and can't vouch for how it looks transferred to film. (JR) (Music Box, 3:15)

Vaska Easoff

A conceptual and visual tour de force from renowned Hungarian director Peter Gothar, Vaska Easoff is a modern fairy tale filled with political overtones. Set in Soviet-era Leningrad with Russian dialogue (except for deadpan commentary by an offscreen Hungarian narrator), the film ostensibly follows the misadventures of two petty thieves in a series of confrontations with the authorities, but the playful plot, which is replete with surreal oddities, overlies a much darker vision. The real heart of the story is conveyed by means of an allegory concerning quintessentially Eastern European themes--torment deeply rooted in vodka, debauchery, and the ever-present specter of totalitarianism. Much of the film's power comes from its stunning visual texture, defined by monochromatic tints and an abundance of light, even to the point of overexposure. Some of the most effective sequences resemble old black-and-white documentary films, complete with scratches and splices, the images artificially decolorized except for striking patches of symbolic red. Vaska Easoff confirms Gothar's reputation as one of Eastern Europe's most original and serious cinematic voices. (ZB) (Pipers Alley, 4:45)

Microcosmos

This film is the work of Claude Nuridsany and Marie Perennou, a team of French biologists who've worked together since 1969. In the course of their research they've developed special award-winning equipment and techniques for scientific photography that make the imagery in this film flat-out spectacular. Two horned beetles fight it out for supremacy; a pair of mating white snails slither sinuously around each other; spiders spin their cricket victims into neat bundles; ants scurry around building complex cities; Jesus bugs walk, run, die, and are born again on water; a conga line of furry caterpillars marches to a different drummer; the moon is reflected in a bullfrog's eye; a solitary drop of water trembles, shrinks, and dries on a narrow leaf. This is the stuff of quiet epiphanies, and the absence of any narration should add to the enchantment. Unfortunately there's the music. Lots of it--all by Bruno Coulais, and all of it godawful. Under its inexorable sway everything begins to seem contrived, banal, and cutesy. In their attempt to translate the scientific into the popular and their decision to eschew voice-over explanation, the filmmakers may have gone too far toward the self-explanatory and the anthropomorphic, but it's hard to separate the montage from the relentless Disney-esque score. (RS) (Music Box, 5:00)

Student Shorts 1

The Case of the Stolen Watch!, directed by students at the Boys and Girls Club at Henry Horner Homes; A Corner in Gold, directed by Jordan Melamed; and, from Poland, Jonathan Richardson's Two Minus One. (Music Box, 5:15)

Sleeping Man

A slow, physically beautiful, and highly distanced Japanese rural drama by Kohei Oguri about the apparent death of a boy from an accident in the mountains--winner of the special jury prize at this year's Montreal film festival. The ceremonial pacing and long-shot compositions certainly make this something to mull over, though whether you'll get into it on a dramatic level will depend largely on your patience. Overall I found it difficult but rewarding. (JR) (Pipers Alley, 5:15)

The Eighth Day

See listing under Friday, October 11. (Pipers Alley, 7:00)

Shine

This Australian indie was the object of an obstreperous bidding war at Sundance between Fine Line and Miramax, who finally split the pie. It's not hard to figure out why. Intelligent feel-good movies are hard to come by, and Mr. Holland's Opus seems to have paved the way at the box office for uplifting musical biopics. Shine recounts in vivid vignettes the story of Australian pianist David Helfgott, a child prodigy whose brilliant career was sidetracked by 15 years in and out of mental institutions. Director Scott Hicks's solid and well-made, if somewhat old-fashioned, film has all the failings and virtues born of respectful true-life inspiration. Noah Taylor as Helfgott the adolescent and Geoffrey Rush as the grown-up manage to create a believable continuum in the space the film leaves blank between the artist as eager neophyte and the asylum survivor as potty older genius. Armin Mueller-Stahl is equally adept at making Helfgott's father's contradictions comprehensible, and John Gielgud and Lynn Redgrave have a high old time in key supporting roles. But it's a glowing Googie Withers as a thoughtful writer-mentor who steals the show. Shine carefully avoids most of the biopic pitfalls--there are no pregnant hints of things to come, or buildups to inevitable victories, or psychodramas as "explanations" of mental illness. Yet in the loving care with which things are tucked in and patted down some real spontaneity is lost, and all the naked jumping up and down of its hero can't disguise that. (RS) (Music Box, 7:00)

Jude

Thomas Hardy's big, rich, yet ultimately bleak novels have provided fertile soil for John Schlesinger (Far From the Madding Crowd), Roman Polanski (Tess), and now Michael Winterbottom, the facile young English director of Butterfly Kiss and Go Now who's given us a surprisingly passionate and engrossing adaptation of Jude the Obscure. Kate Winslet (Sense and Sensibility) and Christopher Eccleston (Shallow Grave) incarnate Hardy's star-crossed lovers, cousins who meet in the picturesque university town of Christminster, which refuses to allow Jude to challenge England's class structure by becoming a scholar. The two flee to an equally chilly, inhospitable London, which disapproves of their uncompromising passion. The inexorable playing out of their doom results in one of the most shocking denouements imaginable (a friend calls this "the feel-bad movie of the year"). It's handsomely mounted, beautifully shot, and deeply moving, with a panoramic sweep that transcends all Masterpiece Theatre cliches and is ideally suited to the big screen. (MB) (Pipers Alley, 7:30)

Whims of a River

Bernard Giraudeau is a member of the swelling ranks of actors turned "liberal" directors that includes Robert Redford, Mel Gibson, and Kevin Costner. Indeed, Whims of a River is a French Dances With Wolves, with Africans as the resident natives. On the eve of the French Revolution an artistocrat composer, played by Giraudeau (he didn't really want to star, but Harvey Keitel and William Hurt don't speak French), is exiled to an obscure governorship in Africa for having killed the king's friend in a duel. The camera pans around drawing rooms and dinner tables at Versailles or in Cap Saint Louis, laying out a smorgasbord of characters representing the different racial attitudes of the time so we can understand what our hero is evolving out of and admire the breadth of his transformation. Through a young girl slave who's given to him as a gift and whom he first protects, then educates, then beds, he learns to love Africa and modestly produces a child and a new music. The piece de resistance: Giraudeau on harpsichord, with a trio of unnamed native musicians on drums. The monstrous egotism of this conceit is by no means unusual: for the humanistic actor-director the discovery of anyone outside himself is an event of earth-shattering importance that has to be alibied as the discovery of a whole other culture--Jews for Redford, Indians for Costner, scar- or blue-faced people for Gibson, and Africans for Giraudeau. (RS) (Music Box, 7:30)

Men, Women: A User's Manual

See listing under Friday, October 11. (Music Box, 9:15)

Trees Lounge

The first film written and directed by Steve Buscemi--a fine character actor who's one of the icons of the independent American cinema, here playing Tommy, a forlorn garage mechanic who loses his job for stealing from his boss and winds up driving an ice cream truck. The thin narrative hovers around a bar where Tommy spends the bulk of his time strapped to a bar stool, imagining the life that has constantly eluded him; a drunken exchange between him and a local woman is brilliantly underplayed, evoking his sense of defeat and hopelessness all the more powerfully. The film is jolted to life by the appearance of Chloe Sevigny, who plays the niece of Tommy's former girlfriend--a pure, free-spirited young woman whose furtive relationship with Tommy is gracefully handled; the film also showcases Buscemi's unpredictability and unmannered quirkiness as he interprets the central role without condescension or pity, finding the desperate rhythms and acute longing the part requires and suggesting that even lowlifes have complexity and range. Cinematographer Lisa Rinzler works magic on a small budget by photographing only what matters--glances and expressions, the hidden and unmentioned. Like most independent American directors, Buscemi was inspired by the work of John Cassavetes; he can't come close to the master, but this film has charm, grace, and the ring of truth. (PM) (Pipers Alley, 9:30)

Broken Silence

A sincere if not particularly inspired adventure story written and directed by Wolfgang Panzer, about a naive Swiss monk (Martin Huber) who breaks his vow of silence. The monk's Carthusian superiors have sent him to renegotiate the lease on their monastery, which is owned by a reclusive woman who lives in Indonesia. Terrified by his first plane ride, he refuses to get back on board during a stopover in New Delhi, and soon discovers that his wallet has been stolen. The thief is a young African-American woman (Ameenah Kaplan) who takes pity on her victim and, without telling him that she has his money, agrees to accompany him on his journey. This is simply a variation on the "odd couple on the road" tale, and it's as predictable as they come, complete with arguments, wacky characters, and the inevitable recognition by the couple that they need each other despite their differences. The film also suffers from some wooden dialogue, though this is often compensated for by beautiful location shooting. (RP) (Music Box, 9:45)

Intimate Relations

Subtlety is not the watchword of Philip Goodhew's black comedy of manners. Set in 1950s England, it's the story of a young lad fresh out of the navy come to look up the family he's never known. His brother is a nice enough twit, but his pretentious prune of a sister-in-law isn't exactly the welcoming sort, so he takes a room as a lodger and finds the loving family he's been searching for. But the family turns out to be just a bit too loving. Both the respectable 50-ish mother and pubescent daughter share the hero's bed and jockey for his affections, leading to rounds of sex, blackmail, and escalating violence. The film is meant to be a seriocomic exploration of the consequences of an almost pathological pattern of hypocrisy and denial (the mother is capable of acting out the most outrageous sexual scenarios yet incapable of discussing her daughter's first period), but it comes off more as an overblown nasty joke about the idea of family togetherness. Putting this thoroughly unappealing lot through these would-be shocking paces is a lot like shooting fish in a barrel, and Goodhew's arch close-ups of Julie Walters (Educating Rita), playing the nightmarish lower-middle-class "mum- sy," give her no room to be anything but grotesque. (RS) (Pipers Alley, 9:45)

Sunday, October 13

The Second Time

In its own quiet way Mimmo Calopresti's The Second Time is an extraordinarily compelling film. A professor spots a woman in a crowd, the same woman who tried to kill him several years before, when he was a Fiat executive and she a fledgling terrorist. He follows and then befriends her. Though he remembers her--he still carries her bullet in his head--she doesn't remember him. Their shifting relationship is at the center of the film, played out as permutations on the tram trajectory from the prison where she spends her nights to the office where she works, as he follows her, accompanies her, stalks her, confronts her. The professor (Nanni Moretti, who also produced) is self-possessed to the point of opacity, and the ex-terrorist (an unusually toned down Valeria Bruni Tedeschi) has retreated to a muted half life. There are no flashbacks. Instead these two characters whose pasts are intertwined continue to turn around each other, moved by a compulsion all the stronger because they've never come to terms with that past. In Italy the terrorist period of the 70s continues to be a hot topic. This film is cool, unwavering, and utterly fascinating. On the same program, Moretti's short The Day of the Premiere of Close-up. (RS) (Music Box, 2:30)

Twelfth Night

By just about anybody's account, Twelfth Night is one of the Bard's best comedies, so one wonders why Trevor Nunn works so hard to make it more than it is. Ben Kingsley's Feste is every fool in every Shakespearean play ever written, and Mel Smith's Sir Toby Belch might as well be Falstaff. Each and every scene of drunken revelry must have its lugubrious aftermath, as inevitable as a hangover, and Malvolio's cross-gartered comeuppance is blown up into tragedy. This isn't to deny the play's somber side, but in the attempt to make sure modern audiences "get" the finer nuances, everything is underlined and reiterated. Nunn also often goes overboard (quite literally in the extended underwater sequences of the opening shipwreck) in making the play "cinematic", i.e. full of stuff you can't do onstage. Yet the cast without exception is magnificent, which makes the one cinematic conceit that does work pay off in spades. There's a wonderful sense of tension-fraught intimacy here, created not only by the characters' closeness to the camera but, far more inventively, by their proximity to one another. Thus the mix of desire, frustration, embarassment, and empathy Imogen Stubbs's Viola experiences in her masculine disguise finds perfect expression in the flurry of advances and retreats she's forced into by a giddily overamorous Olivia (Helena Bonham Carter) and a back-slapping Orsino (Toby Stephens). (RS) (Pipers Alley, 2:30)

Warshots

To a professional photographer war can be just a series of images: some depicting situations that are destructive, others that are merely threatening, others that are deceptively tranquil. The particular place and time seem to matter little, for the similarities of military engagements, including the journalistic coverage, far outweigh the differences. But there's an important question that journalists assigned to report on wartime activities often face, namely when and how observation turns into participation, even exploitation. This is precisely the issue addressed by Heiner Stadler's Warshots, filmed in quasi-documentary fashion in Northern Ireland, Somalia, and Lebanon. The story follows the tribulations of an award-winning German photographer who crosses the line. The film is reasonably successful in suggesting some of the dilemmas he has to resolve, but the diffused and languid narration dilutes their moral gravity. Furthermore, the photographer's indecisiveness appears to be more the result of his personal shortcomings than of the complexity of the situation, making generalizations difficult if not impossible. Perhaps it's not surprising then that the most interesting observations made in Warshots take place far away from the main story line: on the streets and inside empty building shells, where local people operate on the strength of genuine convictions. (ZB) (Music Box, 2:45)

Margaret's Museum

This lushly photographed historical drama from Canadian writer-director Mort Ransen (whose sappy comedy Falling Over Backwards screened at the festival six years ago) suffers from an inconsistent tone. Movie cliches mix with grotesqueries, undercutting the few truly affecting moments. Opening with a scene that alerts audiences that the memories preserved in Margaret's museum are not for the fainthearted, the film then moves back in time to show the origins of her artifacts. Strong-willed Margaret lives in Cape Breton's isolated Glace Bay, where the economic circumstances of the late 40s force most of the inhabitants to work in dangerous coal mines. Her father and older brother met their death in the pits, her grandfather has black lung, and her embittered mother finds it difficult to cope. Margaret, yearning to break free from this cycle of suffering, swears never to marry a miner, then falls for Neil, a bagpipe-playing newcomer with communist sympathies. But when Neil's political views cause him to lose his restaurant job, he and Margaret's younger brother head underground. Helena Bonham Carter is cast against type as Margaret, and she gives a performance of surprising passion and earthiness. She and gentle giant Clive Russell as Neil display a real screen chemistry. Unfortunately, the film's misery, trite dialogue, and hackneyed situations mitigate viewer compassion. (AS) (Pipers Alley, 3:00)

Holy Week

This film by Andrzej Wajda is well worth seeing if only because minor Wajda has more to say than the best work of most others, though longtime fans will miss the narrative drive and heightened urgency of Ashes and Diamonds and Man of Iron. For some time Wajda has been examining the Polish national conscience on the question of the Holocaust through his films, and Holy Week places the story of one Jewish woman seeking refuge against the larger story of the annihilation of the Warsaw ghetto in the few days leading up to Easter. Just when Irena, a terrified young intellectual, thinks all is lost, she's recognized on the street by her former fiance. He takes her home to his pregnant wife, who conspires with him to hide and protect her, though their neighbors instantly suspect her. Wajda periodically provides searing glimpses of the inferno from which Irena is only tenuously safe, but the progress of the evil in his foreground is plodding and mundane. Despite the subject, a good script, and evocative performances, Holy Week is curiously flat and often lacking in tension. It's as if once the elements of the project came together Wajda turned his attention elsewhere. (BS) (Music Box, 4:30)

Student Shorts 2

Felicia Lansbury's Desert Snow from the U.S., Patrick Sisam's Love Child from the U.S., and Adam Blaiklock's Four Minute Festival, an enjoyable exercise in fast motion from Australia. (JR) (Music Box, 4:45)

Prisoner of the Mountains

Though he now spends most of his time in LA, Sergei Bodrov is probably the most important Russian director since Nikita Mikhalkov and potentially, if distributors only realized it, the most popular. What Bodrov does, so rare in the 1990s, is forge old-fashioned, well-crafted art films, giving us thoughtful stories that are related cinematically. Prisoner of the Mountains is no exception: it's a forceful contemporary political tale similar to Jean Renoir's Grand Illusion, about two Russian soldiers taken prisoner in a mountain town in the Caucasus. Read Chechnya. Bodrov makes a stirring antiwar declaration, for there's no doubt that the local people are portrayed as far more humane than the callous, slightly caricatured Russian invaders. There are stalwart performances here: Burnt by the Sun's charismatic Oleg Menshikov as the cynical vet soldier and Bodrov's son, Sergei Bodrov Jr., as the naive, kindly recruit. And cinematographer Pavel Lebeshev's pastel shots of the Caucasus are extraordinary. (GP) (Pipers Alley, 5:00)

Guys Like Us

This uneven comedy-drama tells the story of a couple of handicapped men who decide to enter a whitewater raft race on the dangerous Rogue River in Oregon. Starring Vincent D'Onofrio as Tony "Ole" Olezniak, a self-pitying ex-pro-football player blinded by a freak spinal injury, and Gregory Hines as Bernard "Lem" Lemley, a wheelchair-bound dental technician, the film plays much of the time like a television movie of the week, though writer Bob Comfort (Dogfight) and director Richard LaBrie give short shrift to the actual race, which would seem to be the obvious climax of the story. There are also some genuinely touching scenes, as when Ole matter-of-factly reveals to Lem how he used to get laid by a different groupie virtually every night of the week, and Lem balefully confides that he's had sex only five or six times in the nine years since his injury. Both actors shine brightly in their roles. Overall not a bad go at this sort of thing, but there's still too much of the corny against-all-odds reverence that renders inspirational films indistinguishable from one another. (JK) (Pipers Alley, 5:15)

Ridicule

Sadily lacking in the very quality it celebrates--the coruscating wit of Louis XVI's court--this beautifully mounted, lavishly costumed period piece by Patrice Leconte drapes its would-be epigrams and bon mots around the story of an earnest provincial engineer who travels to the court of Versailles to plead for funds to drain a malarial swamp in his village, only to learn that gain Louis' ear you must have something terribly amusing to whisper into it. Along the way he falls into bed with a charming, scheming noblewoman and in love with a winsome young girl. But the actor chosen to be this Candide-like figure is so curiously unattractive and uncompelling that one fails to see what charms he holds for either the worldly Fanny Ardant or the pert Judith Godreche--a serious and inescapable flaw. Dangerous Liaisons it's not. (MB) (Music Box, 6:30)

Vaska Easoff

See listing under Saturday, October 12. (Music Box, 6:45)

Adosados

See listing under Friday, October 11. (Pipers Alley, 7:00)

In Full Gallop

The adjective "joyous" is the last one any sane person would apply to a Krzysztof Zanussi film, but In Full Gallop is nothing if not joyous. It takes place in a most unjoyous time and place--communist Poland in the 1950s. A young boy, suspect because his father stayed in England after the war, refuses to toe the party line and is sent for his safety to live with his aunt in the city. The city offers little escape from the betrayals and revisionism of Stalinist conformity, but his aunt, played by the incomparable Maja Komorowska, does. A survivor with a vivid imagination, an unquenchable thirst for life, and a passionate love of horses, she opposes the lies and denunciations of his classroom lessons with makeshift improvisations and improbable double-dealings--passing herself off as twin sisters, for example, to multiply her work, her rations, and her options. The usually broody Zanussi pondering the nature of truth pales before the reckless vitality of her persona. Her wild, exhilarating gallop through a military training field sets panicked platoons of soldiers in frantic and fruitless pursuit of presumed enemy agents--a marvelously absurdist finale. And in the almost Felliniesque coda Zanussi himself appears with the cast to tip his hat to his past and his craft. (RS) (Pipers Alley, 7:15)

Trinity and Beyond (The Atomic Bomb Movie)

This American independent documentary by special-effects artist Peter Kuran (the Star Wars trilogy, The Abyss) charts aboveground nuclear testing between 1945 and 1962, including footage of explosions in the Soviet Union and China as well as the U.S.--much of it never seen before, and some of it restored to great effect. Extended interviews with scientists Edward Teller and Frank Shelton provide some history and context, but the major interest is the disturbing beauty of the blasts themselves, set to the accompaniment of a score by William Stromberg performed by the Moscow Symphony Orchestra. What emerges is neither irresponsible nor unduly moralistic; the aesthetic impact never gets in the way of somber reflection about what we're watching. William Shatner narrates; Scott Narrie and Don Pugsley are the credited writers. (JR) (Music Box, 8:45)

Different for Girls

Karl has become Kim, thanks to a sex-change operation, and Prentice is confused because he's attracted to her. One of the strengths of this pleasant British comedy-drama is that it never gets preachy, steering clear of the political jargon that usually sabotages such efforts. Director Richard Spence lets the story unfold straightforwardly, though he gives it a nice twist: Prentice used to protect Karl from teasing bullies back when the two were school chums. Some 20 years later it's important to Kim that she lead a neat, ordered life, forgetting as much about her troubled past as possible. Her reacquaintance with Prentice is initially fraught with ambivalence, but he eventually wins her confidence and a friendship is formed. Thanks to writer Tony Marchant's naturalistic dialogue and Spence's credible mise-en-scene, this film goes a long way toward avoiding what could easily become sensationalistic twaddle. But the attempts to build tension within individual scenes come off more often than not as contrived, and the whole affair lacks real grit. (JK) (Pipers Alley, 9:00)

Looking for Richard

A labor of love that's indeed laborious. In this overlong documentary exploring his obsession with Richard III, Al Pacino has patched together man-in-the-street interviews; chats with Vanessa Redgrave, Kenneth Branagh, and Sir John Gielgud; visits to the newly reconstructed Globe Theatre and Shakespeare's birthplace; and chunks of Richard III itself, performed in bits and pieces by a team that includes Winona Ryder, Aidan Quinn, and Estelle Parsons in a variety of sets, styles, and locations. It's an earnest but slightly silly saga about Pacino's desire to understand and perform Shakespeare's tragedy, and ultimately his manic quest to demystify what's not such a difficult play is mystifying. His enthusiasm will prove most contagious to schoolchildren new to the Bard and open to being seduced by Pacino's glamour, though some of the performed play actually catches fire, especially when Kevin Spacey is on-screen. (MB) (Music Box, 9:00)

Fire

Men don't fare well in Deepa Mehta's Fire, and women don't fare much better in a New Delhi household of arranged marriages. A selfless wife (Shabana Azmi) is pitted against a tradition-bound husband (Kulbushan Kharbanda); a selfish husband (Jaaved Jaaferi) ignores his charming virgin (Nandita Das) and runs around with his vulgar Chinese girlfriend. The husbands are brothers; one practices religion and abstinence, the other traffics in porn videos. Left to their own devices, the neglected wives seek each other out, tenderly, then carnally, and the movie hinges on this paradox of pure women caught in an unholy liaison. Their discreet transgression--lit in shadowy long shots and blurred close-ups that reveal quite a bit of gauzy material and barely a breast

Monday, October 14

Margaret's Museum

See listing under Sunday, October 13. (Pipers Alley, 5:15)

Microcosmos

See listing under Saturday, October 12. (Pipers Alley, 5:30)

A Hot Roof

See listing under Friday, October 11. (Music Box, 7:00)

Johns

"Queer cinema" is fashionable, and particularly this year, films about young male hustlers in Hollywood. Bruce LaBruce and Rick Castro (Hustler White) and Everett Lewis (Skin and Bone) have an inside knowledge of the gay milieu and enough flair to accurately represent it on-screen. But Scott Silver is an unoriginal imitator cashing in on gay chic. Take a cute actor from a well-known show-business family (David Arquette), a semisordid, semisexy subject (teenage gay prostitution on Santa Monica Boulevard), a love story (the hustler and his girl--of course he's not really gay; he just does it for the money), and a friendship (between two young hustlers), then add a few mobsters (the kids owe them money), some predictable stock characters (a crazy black dude on coke, a shy and repressed customer, a cool porter at a chic hotel, a homeless man), and a few shreds of a cheap dream (leave this urban hell to work as security guards in the middle of a safe nowhere). When the Arquette character has finally solved all his problems and bought bus tickets to leave town, he decides to turn one last trick. By this point you'll probably be thinking, "If this trick kills him I'll scream." But it's not worth screaming about. (BR) (Pipers Alley, 7:00)

One More Kiss and He Is Dead!

See listing under Saturday, October 12. (Music Box, 7:15)

In Full Gallop

See listing under Sunday, October 13. (Pipers Alley, 7:30)

Nostalgia for Countryland

One of Dang Nhat Minh's best films, Nostalgia for Countryland is not another coming-of-age story. Yes, its protagonist, Nham, is a 17-year-old country boy who's secretly writing poetry while waiting for his army papers and tilling the land with his widowed mother, his smart-ass little sister, and his sister-in-law, Ngu. His big brother is off making money somewhere and rumored to be living with another woman. A subtle intimacy and tension slowly grow between Nham and the lonely Ngu. Then Nham picks up a distant relative at the train station: Quyen, a beautiful 30-year-old who escaped Vietnam and wound up working as an accountant in New York. Of course Nham falls helplessly in love with her, a sentimental and sexual awakening that Dang treats with flair, humor, and tenderness. But the fate of these two people also parallels the fate of Vietnam. Quyen has lost her country, and her sensual rediscovery of the beauty of nature, her nude baths in the river, her enthusiasm for an exquisite puppet show (alone worth the price of the ticket) just underline that loss. She's no peasant, she doesn't belong, she upsets the balance. Nham is rooted, even trapped in his own country, but his sense of loss and alienation is no less acute. A dreamer without a boat, he's condemned to stare at the horizon and to experience furtive and forbidden emotions for his sister-in-law. Sensitively and precisely crafted, Nostalgia for Countryland is a rare jewel of a film. (BR) (Music Box, 9:00)

Autumn Sun

See listing under Saturday, October 12. (Music Box, 9:15)

Goodbye South, Goodbye

For many filmgoers Hou Hsiao-hsien's cinema is represented by a haunting image from his film Dust in the Wind (1986): a boy and a girl on a motorcycle, cruising the Taiwanese countryside. This was the past of the island, and Hou's films were exploring the pace of people moving about on foot or on bike. Goodbye South, Goodbye is a turning point, for to fictionalize modern Taiwan Hou has to show his characters using faster, louder, more efficient means of transportation: the film starts on a train and ends up with a long shot of a car that has jumped off the road. The real subject of the film is how this change of pace is affecting people's lives and intimate feelings and forcing the filmmaker to construct a story differently. The loose narrative follows the wanderings of Kao, a small-time gangster with big dreams, his sidekick Flathead, their girlfriends Ying and Pretzel, and a cast of ill-favored characters, from rural cop to crooked politician, as they try a variety of moneymaking schemes but mostly struggle to find a place of their own in the no-man's-land that the south of Taiwan has become. We're treated with splendid, almost meditative shots of the countryside, whose beauty is lost on the protagonists: the land they love is a stagnant backwater of urbanized Taipei--a swamp despoiled by modernization that keeps them trapped. Using small, intimate vignettes--floating moments of daily life--and keeping most of the violence offscreen, concentrating instead on the mystery, the poignant presence of the faces and bodies, Hou offers a splendid version of Taiwanese modernity. (BR) (Pipers Alley, 9:15)

Nerolio

Aurelio Grimaldi's black-and-white feature offers a fictionalized view of the life of the late poet and filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini and his homosexual lifestyle. (Pipers Alley, 9:30)

Tuesday, October 15

The Little Foxes

Lillian Hellman's play about family intrigue in the postbellum south, slickly mounted by William Wyler (1941). Working with cameraman Gregg Toland (who shot Citizen Kane), Wyler fashioned a deep-focus style that profoundly impressed French theorist Andre Bazin, who thought Wyler was the pioneer of a new school of realism. Bazin was wrong--about Wyler and about realism--but the film is still worth study as an illustration of Bazin's influential ideas. Considered in itself, the picture has power and superb performances, if not heart or depth. With Bette Davis, Herbert Marshall, Teresa Wright, Dan Duryea, and Patricia Collinge. (DK) (Music Box, 4:30)

Sleeping Man

See listing under Saturday, October 12. (Music Box, 6:45)

Other Voices, Other Rooms

Adapting works of literature to the screen is inherently risky. Generally speaking, good books, with their special, fragile universes, should be left alone. But occasionally there's a curious aberration, a film that not only respects the spirit and integrity of the novel on which it's based, but also brings something of its own to the screen--and in doing so, carves out its own little niche in the pantheon of cinema. David Rocksavage's adaptation of Truman Capote's autobiographical first novel isn't quite on the level of, say, Steven Soderbergh's King of the Hill--another adaptation of a coming-of-age story told entirely from a child's perspective--but it's still moving and evocative, resonating long after it's ended. This is all the more remarkable when one considers that its source is one of the great first novels by one of the major figures in 20th-century American literature. Rocksavage's eyes and ears are well attuned to the mossy, decaying environment and lilting, quixotic utterances of southern aristocracy on the skids, and he gets wonderfully textured performances from Lothaire Bluteau and Anna Thomson as the doomed and debauched siblings 11-year-old Joel Sansom (David Speck) comes to stay with. Paul Ryan's handsome camera work renders the drama in varying tones of deep green, brown, and ochre that are appropriate for this drama of the swamps. (JK) (Music Box, 7:00)

The Proprietor

Director Ismail Merchant, of the Merchant-Ivory team that specializes in picturesque if vapid adaptations of novels from bygone eras, takes on a contemporary story: Adrienne Mark (Jeanne Moreau, giving her usual strong performance), a celebrated French Jewish novelist living in New York, is suffering from ennui. To recharge her batteries she decides to move back to Paris and deal with some formidable ghosts from the past, including her mother's persecution during World War II. Several friends and acquaintances have told her she's changed the way we look at women today, yet to her the world seems an increasingly hostile and incomprehensible place. The premise that an artist can foment profound changes in society only to have those changes leave her confused is a compelling one. One can imagine how this "woman's film" might have played out in the hands of Cukor or Cassavetes; in Merchant's hands it's postcard pretty but bland and plodding, with only occasional forays into camp to recommend it. (JK) (Pipers Alley, 7:00)

Prisoner of the Mountains

See listing under Sunday, October 13. (Pipers Alley, 7:15)

Vaska Easoff

See listing under Saturday, October 12 (Music Box, 9:00)

Lilies

One might suspect that Canadians have a hard time being naughty if John Greyson's Lilies is any example. Expanded from the director's theater piece Les fleurettes, the film simultaneously dissects a secret crime, a fraudulent career, and a transcendent love affair between two boys as it moves across space and time, from a penitentiary where an aged bishop is hearing an equally aged prisoner's confession to events in their shared past during one pivotal boyhood summer at a remote resort in Quebec. The film's multiple transformations and transitions are characterized by a staginess that repeatedly undermines its cinematic qualities, and there's an earnestness to the romanticism and a hint of fawning reverence toward the multiethnic cast of beautiful young men that seems out of sync with the intent to create a story that unmasks hypocrisy and its legacy of tragedy. Greyson's musical Zero Patience also suffered from bouts of staginess, but Lilies doesn't have its edge. (BS) (Pipers Alley, 9:15)

Little Sister

Dutch director Robert Jan Westdijk's first film has nothing to do with the Raymond Chandler book of the same name, though coincidentally is does recall Robert Montgomery's famed experiment in subjective camerawork for another Chandler opus, Lady in the Lake. "Little sister" Daantje's life--her friends, her parties, her boyfriend, her fashion studies--is beginning to take shape when her older brother Martijn unexpectedly shows up, camcorder on his shoulder, and proceeds to invade every second of her days and nights. Rapidly alienating everyone around her with his intrusive filming and even more intrusive presence, he repels all attempts to get rid of him, carting around old family secrets on Super-8 as leverage. Compared to other entries in the obsessive-guy-with-a-camera genre--from Peeping Tom to Coming Apart to Family Viewing to Benny's Video--Little Sister is pretty tame. It eschews visual layering and juxtaposed images from different sources in favor of a single unrelenting roving eye. Paradoxically, the act of filming everything in mostly handheld point-of-view shots tends to diffuse the creepy voyeuristic implications of the brother's project, concentrating our attention on the defensive reactions of the sister. Daantje's world starts to fall apart--but as much from its own fragility as from the infantile sibling aggression of Martijn's camera. (RS) (Music Box, 9:15)

Twelfth Night

See listing under Sunday, October 13. (Pipers Alley, 9:30)

Wednesday, October 16

The Second Time

See listing under Sunday, October 13. (Pipers Alley, 6:00)

Trinity and Beyond (The Atomic Bomb Movie)

See listing under Sunday, October 13. (Music Box, 6:00)

All Things Fair

After an extended absence from the cinema, Bo Widerberg (Elvira Madigan) returns to international prominence with this autobiographical World War II-era story about a bright, disaffected young student who boldly undertakes an open affair with his beautiful, neglected 37-year-old English teacher--a setup that may seem preposterous until you find out the woman's husband is a drunken, inept lingerie salesman. But there isn't a great deal to get worked up about. The cinematography is drab and virtually colorless, and Widerberg's visual patterns and editing rhythms are wholly conventional. The pacing is sluggish, and the thin material can't support the two-hour-and-ten-minute running time. Still, the period detail is impressive, and Widerberg remains a highly accomplished director of actors, coaxing a lot of natural, unmannered work from a diverse range of performers, including his own son, who plays the boy. Strongest is Marika Lagercrantz as the schoolteacher, with her plaintive eyes and tell-all face and emotional range. The film is liveliest at the margins, as when the plain, determined young girl who wants to seduce the hero is crushed to discover his attention is elsewhere. It's possible to admire this film--which won a special jury prize at the Berlin film festival--even if one is only rarely engaged. (PM) (Pipers Alley, 6:30)

Different for Girls

See listing under Sunday, October 13. (Music Box, 7:00)

Vertigo

One of the landmarks--not merely of the movies, but of our century's art. Alfred Hitchcock's 1958 film extends the theme of Rear Window--the relationship of creator and creation--into the realm of love and sexuality, focusing on an isolated, inspired romantic (James Stewart) who pursues the spirit of a woman (the powerfully carnal Kim Novak). The film's dynamics of chase, capture, and escape parallel the artist's struggle with his work; the enraptured gaze of the Stewart character before the phantom he has created parallels the spectator's position in front of the movie screen. The famous motif of the fall is presented in horizontal rather than vertical space, so that it becomes not a satanic fall from grace, but a modernist fall into the image, into the artwork--a total absorption of the creator by his creation, which in the end is shown as synonymous with death. But a thematic analysis can only scratch the surface of this extraordinarily dense and commanding film, perhaps the most intensely personal movie to emerge from the Hollywood cinema. (DK) A restoration, including the transfer of the original 35-millimeter image to 70-millimeter and a rerecording of sound effects in stereo, will be shown. (McClurg Court, 7:30; Cinema Chicago members only)

Holy Week

See listing under Sunday, October 13. (Pipers Alley, 7:45)

Forgotten Silver

This entertaining made-for-television "mockumentary" by New Zealand director Peter Jackson (Heavenly Creatures) and Costa Botes purports to document the life and work of an early New Zealand auteur named Colin McKenzie, whose decomposing oeuvre suddenly turns up in a garden shed. The elaborate hoax is lent authenticity as international experts ranging from actor Sam Neill to film historian Leonard Maltin to thuggish Miramax topper Harvey Weinstein wax enthusiastic about the discovery. Jackson, who narrates, speaks so authoritatively about McKenzie's place in film history (crediting him with creating his own film stock out of raw eggs and adding color by crushing a rare "Tahititian berry") that Forgotten Silver drew hundreds of phone calls from credulous viewers when it aired down under. Featuring numerous in-jokes, a tip of the hat to an imaginary screen comic named Stan the Man, an over-the-top expedition to find the set where McKenzie struggled to shoot his biblical epic Salome, and a clever re-creation of deteoriating nitrate stock, this film lovingly salutes the centenary of cinema even as it satirizes it. On the same program, Annie Griffin's British short film Was She There. (AS) (Music Box, 8:00)

Looking for Richard

See listing under Sunday, October 13. (Pipers Alley, 9:00)

Sling Blade

Billy Bob Thornton--who collaborated on the scripts of One False Move and A Family Thing and has been appearing in a good many recent pictures (One False Move, Dead Man)--wrote, directed, and stars in this impressive first feature, a Faulknerian parable about a semiretarded misfit from a small southern town emerging from prison 25 years after killing his mother and her lover. Perhaps the most remarkable thing here is Thornton's nuanced performance, but the film has other rare virtues: all the characters are fully and richly fleshed out (with some unexpected turns by John Ritter and singer Dwight Yoakam), and the story's construction is carefully measured. Basically it's a movie about goodness, which makes it both old-fashioned and unexpected. The secondary cast includes M. Emmet Walsh and Robert Duvall. (JR) (Music Box, 9:00)

Detective Story

Hubris in the precinct house. Sidney Kingsley's Broadway hit, modeled a little too clearly on Greek tragedy, becomes a solid film d'art under William Wyler's supple, impersonal direction (1951). With Kirk Douglas as the cop who takes a fall, and Eleanor Parker, William Bendix, Gladys George, Lee Grant, and Joseph Wiseman. (DK) (Music Box, 9:30)

Intimate Relations

See listing under Saturday, October 12. (Pipers Alley, 9:30)

Thursday, October 17

The Westerner

Gregg Toland's inventive outdoor photography is the chief aesthetic interest of this 1940 comic western, which is otherwise marred by the condescending folksiness of William Wyler's direction. Walter Brennan dominates the picture as a demented Judge Roy Bean, nicely bridging wit and menace; Gary Cooper is the nominal hero, a rancher who escapes Bean's clutches by inventing a friendship with the judge's legendary inamorata, Lily Langtry. With Doris Davenport, Fred Stone, and Chill Wills. (DK) (Music Box, 5:00)

Forgotten Silver

See listing under Wednesday, October 16. (Pipers Alley, 5:45)

To Speak the Unspeakable: The Message of Elie Wiesel

The film opens with Elie Wiesel's speech at the dedication ceremonies of the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. It's boringly familiar territory--with Bill and Hillary looking suitably somber in the front row. Wiesel tells of a woman in the Carpathian Mountains who wondered why the Jews in the Warsaw ghetto didn't wait quietly for the end of the war. The woman was his mother, and a year later she was dead at Auschwitz, along with the rest of his family. This opening establishes the dichotomy that informs Judit Elek's understated documentary: banal images in the present, rich verbal evocations of a haunted past. Elek is herself a Holocaust survivor and a pretty mean evocator of the past in her own feature-film career (in Awakening the young heroine's dead mother appears to her with some regularity). Here Elek follows Wiesel as he retraces 50 years later his nightmarish journey from Transylvania through Auschwitz and Birkenau to Buchenwald. But it isn't what he sees, says, or does that's important. The voice-over lines of Wiesel's writing, well read by William Hurt, are where the true drama unfolds--the inevitable failure of a search for that which is gone. There are few of the usual concentration-camp shots. Instead the dead who've taken over Wiesel's life come vibrantly alive for long, flickering minutes in the silent footage of everyday life in the Jewish shtetl. (RS) (Pipers Alley, 6:00)

Lilies

See listing under Tuesday, October 15. (Music Box, 7:00)

A Single Spark

Korean cinema is rapidly becoming a force to be reckoned with, which is a mixed blessing, as businessmen are now producing more commercial films. But A Single Spark proves that the radical inspiration that was the source of some recent masterpieces hasn't died, only found new modes of expression. To recount the story of Jeon Tae-il, a young union activist who committed suicide to attract attention to working conditions in Korean sweatshops, director Park Kwang-su raised money through grassroots organizations and thousands of individual donations, and many textile workers agreed to act in the film. A Single Spark interweaves two periods: the last years of Jeon Tae-il's life (1965-'70), shot in black and white, as he evolves from lost teenager to charismatic activist, and the mid-70s, which marked the apex of the persecution of the left, a time when a writer researching a book on Jeon is hiding from the police. The black-and-white part is the most successful, showing not only the violence done to the workers but their resilience, solidarity, generosity, and solid political common sense--one's reminded of Soviet or Chinese cinema of the 30s and 40s. The second part is a bit more heavy-handed, but it has to be understood as marking the filmmaker's (and the audience's) presence in this historical recounting: the past is not dead, for generations feed one another. (BR) (Music Box, 7:15)

Nerolio

See listing under Monday, October 14 (Pipers Alley, 7:30)

Other Voices, Other Rooms

See listing under Tuesday, October 15. (Pipers Alley, 8:00)

All Things Fair

See listing under Wednesday, October 16. (Music Box, 9:00)

Sudden Manhattan

Adrienne Shelly first reached international fame as a smart, sassy, tough-as-nails, but slightly confused character in independent classics such as Hal Hartley's The Unbelievable Truth and Trust. When she wrote a semiautobiographical screenplay about the surrealistic and emotional wanderings of a young woman in Manhattan, she auditioned more than 80 actresses for the part before realizing that, no matter how difficult it would be to both act and direct, she was the only one who could pull it off. Sudden Manhattan is a brilliant, ironical, endearing portrait of a complex young woman whose idiosyncrasies and insecurities are matched by the absurdities of life (and male desire) around her: bearded killers, actors with libido trouble, obsessional landlords, fortune tellers. What saves Sudden Manhattan from being merely a female version of Martin Scorsese's After Hours is the delicate, almost tender, yet goofy humor with which Shelly the director and actor explores the mean streets of her beloved New York. Sudden Manhattan identifies Shelly as a filmmaker to watch. (BR) (Music Box, 9:15)

Swingers

See listing under Friday, October 11. (Pipers Alley, 9:30)

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