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Friday 13 October

The Captive

A considerable departure for Chantal Akerman: not only her first truly literary film but perhaps the one that works best in narrative terms. Inspired by the Albertine story that consumes two volumes of Remembrance of Things Past, and coscripted by Dutch filmmaker Eric de Kuyper, this is ultimately a better Proust adaptation than Raul Ruiz's playful Time Regained, despite--or perhaps because of--the fact that it's much freer, even to the point of altering plot. Essentially a feminist critique of the original, this film takes as its subject unlimited male jealousy. Stanislas Merhar plays Simon (Proust's Marcel), a wealthy asthmatic who lives with his grandmother and keeps his cherished mistress Ariane (Sylvie Testund as Albertine) as a mostly willing captive. The settings are all upper-class and elegant. In one characteristic scene, Simon and Ariane bathe in two tubs separated by frosted glass while intoning erotic endearments to each other. Ariane's deceptions and lesbian betrayals--the extent of which is never clarified--make her an unlikely heroine, yet the moral weight of the narrative eventually falls on her side, a feat accomplished mainly through dialogue, mise en scene, and carefully calibrated performances. Beginning like Vertigo (a conscious reference) and at times evoking Les dames du Bois de Boulogne in its crafty handling of period (the look is contemporary but evokes the past), The Captive is gorgeous but less painterly than most of Akerman's films. I consider it her greatest work since D'est and a welcome return to form after the lapse of Sud, but it's slow and obsessive in the classic Akerman manner and at times incantatory--which is to say it isn't for everyone. Neither, for that matter, is Proust. 112 min. (JR) (600 N. Michigan, 3:30)

The Debt

The Polish businessmen dress in white shirts, it's a snowy winter, and several scenes take place in a hospital full of white sheets and white walls--so I had a hell of a time reading many of the subtitles when I previewed this picture on video, which made it hard to keep up with some of the plot details. It's a crime melodrama, reportedly based on a true story, about yuppie entrepreneurs who find themselves owing money to the mob. The acting is better than average, and some of the handheld camera work enhances the docu-drama aspects and inflects the scenes involving violence. I wasn't blown away by any of this, but director Krzysztof Krauze managed to hold my interest most of the time--a lot more than Christopher McQuarrie managed with Way of the Gun, in which everything from characters to settings hinges on generic cliches from other movies. Here the people and situations seem within hailing distance of a recognizable world. 107 min. (JR) (600 N. Michigan, 3:45)

Clouds of May

The acclaim for Iranian directors Abbas Kiarostami and Mohsen Makhmalbaf has brought seriously overdue attention to other filmmakers from Iran as well as Iraq and Turkey, though some second-rate filmmakers from this part of the world have gained exposure by mimicking the deceptively simple and straightforward approaches of the two renowned directors. Turkish filmmaker Nuri Bilge Ceylan--whose stunning debut feature, Kasaba, showed at the film festival in 1998--deserves whatever attention he gets. Though strongly influenced by Kiarostami, he still manages to bring a mostly original voice to his storytelling. In Clouds of May Muzaffer (Muzaffer Ozdemir), essentially a stand-in for Ceylan, plays a filmmaker living in Istanbul who returns to his hometown to persuade his parents to play themselves in a narrative film he plans to shoot there. The complications that ensue are both dramatic and comic. Muzaffer's father, Emin (M. Emin Ceylan, the director's real-life father), is preoccupied with petitioning officials to prevent their cutting down a picturesque grove of trees that borders his beloved land. After halfheartedly agreeing to be in his son's film, he blows take after take of the simplest monologue while Muzaffer frets about the amount of film they're using. Like Kiarostami and Makhmalbaf, Ceylan keeps the line between what's apparently cinema verite and what's scripted narrative intentionally blurred, which gives the action a fascinating tension. He also shot the film himself, creating some astonishingly poetic, elegiac shots of nature and people that are reminiscent of Terrence Malick or Alexander Sokurov. 120 min. (JK) (600 N. Michigan, 6:00)

Faithless

Liv Ullmann's fourth film as a director is her second, after Private Confessions, to be based on an Ingmar Bergman script about marital infidelity. Bergman's parents' faithlessness dominated Private Confessions, and it's apparently Bergman's own past role as the other man that haunts him here. The framing device has an elderly writer named Bergman (played by Erland Josephson, Ullmann's costar in the maestro's Scenes From a Marriage) summon a luminous actress (Lena Endre) to create/reenact his story--the tale of an actress, her orchestra-conductor husband, their best friend/betrayer, and the triangle's designated victim, the couple's little girl. Ullmann constantly switches back and forth between the contemplative spaces of creation (the writer and his muse conferring in his study, by a window, next to a lake) and the overcharged locations of the main narrative. This alternation slows down the film's momentum, but also anchors the story and creates some space around it--aerating the angst, so to speak. Hence the fascination of Faithless: the tension between the script's dour puritanism--the craving of suffering, the wallowing in abstract guilt--and the earthy plenitude and innate sensuality of Ullmann's austere compositions. Given Endre's mature, glowing, eminently nonneurotic sexuality and Ullmann's delectation of color, texture, and light, the doom-ridden pronouncements of the characters sound less like the voices of experience and more like self-fulfilling prophecies. 155 min. (RS) This film was selected for the critic's choice section of the festival by Michael Wilmington, who will introduce it and lead a discussion afterward. (600 N. Michigan, 6:00)

Life Is to Whistle

A risky combination of humor, politics, spirituality, and metaphor defines a magic-realist Cuba as the lives of three people who've grown up in the same orphanage are encapsulated in bittersweet fairy tales told by a fourth, who both empathizes with and lightly judges the others. A music lover who's also a thief is afraid that falling in love will undermine his devotion to a mother figure. A dancer whose performance is both enhanced and diminished by her relationship to sex makes a bargain with a higher power to secure a career-building role. And a nursing-home employee who faints whenever she hears words whose meanings overwhelm her encounters a psychiatrist who tries to cure her by showing her she's not alone (1998). Directed by Fernando Perez; with music by Bola de Nieve and Benny Moré. 110 min. (LA) (600 N. Michigan, 6:15)

A Belly Full

The original French title of Melvin Van Peebles's crudely overblown farce means "The Tale of the Full Belly," referring both to the name of the provincial bistro (Le Ventre Plein) run by a middle-aged couple (Andrea Ferreol and Jacques Boudet) with an unmarried, pregnant daughter and to the faked pregnancy of the poor black woman (Meiji U. Tum'Si) they hire as a waitress. That hoax eventually allows the couple, posing as racially tolerant liberal employers, to pass off their daughter's baby as hers. The flamboyant manner of this feature puts it in the category of the cinema of vulgar excess favored by Chicago festival director Michael Kutza (whose favorite directors include Claude Lelouch, Alan Parker, Ken Russell, and Lina Wertmuller), and the highly eclectic visual style (leering wide-angle close-ups, fast action in the manner of silent slapstick, arbitrary superimpositions) seems to reflect Van Peebles's boredom with the material. I'm not clear why the story is set in 1967; one possible reason is that Van Peebles wrote it back then and had to wait 30-odd years to find financing for it. 102 min. (JR) (Doc Films, 6:30)

The Debt

See listing above under this date. (600 N. Michigan, 6:30)

One 4 All

As far as I can tell, the closest the Chicago International Film Festival comes to having a particular taste in directors--what the French call a politique--is its willingness or determination to show all the films of Claude Lelouch (A Man and a Woman). This one, a comedy called Une pour toutes in French and featuring both Anne Parillaud and Anouk Aimee, is about three actresses and an airline attendant who hatch a plan to separate wealthy men from their money. 123 min. (JR) (Music Box, 7:00)

Tales of an Island

Two leading Iranian directors, the gifted Darhius Mehrjui and the sublime Mohsen Makhmalbaf, made the two short films, both unfolding on Kish Island, that comprise this work. Mehrjui's film, "Lost Cousin," opens with a virtuoso image--a beautiful young woman in a white, diaphanous wedding gown being swallowed by the sea. Her fiance, guided by her voice, attempts to retrieve her soul. Mehrjui works in two forms that are distinctly at odds with each other--magic realism and an intimate, reflexive Iranian hypernaturalism--and the result is flat and emotionally disjointed. Worse, the central visual idea, the woman's soul materializing in the sky above the frantic man, seems borrowed from Woody Allen's segment of New York Stories. Makhmalbaf's "Testing Democracy," shot on video and made in collaboration with his friend Shahabodin Farokh-yar, is a loose, rambling essay about the struggle against the rigid social and political order of Iran, a struggle for human rights and the right of personal expression. Makhmalbaf and Farokh-yar have a wonderful feel for sensory and spontaneous expression--unconventional political demonstrations, young women collecting voting ballots in the sea--and their humanist, emotionally direct inquiries provide a fresh point of view. If you've seen Makhmalbaf's "The Door"--his suberb contribution to Tales of Kish, a 1999 triptych also set on Kish Island--you'll better understand the frustration and revelation Makhmalbaf experiences working with his lead "actor," a local tribesman who fights with the director over the physical demands of his role. But it's not crucial to have seen the previous film, for this remains a deft portrait that captures the distress and anxiety of a culture adrift and uncertain of itself. Essential viewing. 76 min. (PZM) (Music Box, 7:00)

To Die (or Not)

This playful omnibus film by Spanish director Ventura Pons (Beloved/Friend) presents itself as a meditation on fate and mortality, yet the only real conviction evident is in its glee in permuting the crazy-quilt narrative. The film's first half, "To Die," strings together a series of short comic episodes related only by the demise of a central character in each; the second half, "Or Not," retells the same stories, altering them so that the characters survive and revealing surprising connections among the episodes in the process. Pons is above all an entertainer, and he takes care never to let our attention wander, peppering us with comic flourishes and farcical plot twists. But total showmanship is reductive: one can't imagine Pons sacrificing a laugh to make a character more complex or a theme sharper. The effect is of a very elaborate sitcom. 92 min. (DS) (600 N. Michigan, 8:30)

Bus Riders Union

Haskell Wexler is one of Hollywood's premier cinematographers (Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Bound for Glory), but he's also a radical film director whose independent feature Medium Cool (1969), shot with his actors thrust among Mayor Daley's rioting Chicago police, remains an essential document of the 60s. Fortunately he's never cooled, and now he's back with this rousing agitprop documentary, which he directed and photographed on video. It traces the heroic four-year struggle in LA to make the Metropolitan Transit Authority respond to the needs of the city's "public transportation dependent"--the overwhelmingly poor and minority people who ride the buses. Or try to ride the buses--if they don't break down, if they ever come, if they aren't overcrowded. Organizers from the multicultural Bus Riders Union leaflet LA buses and march on MTA meetings with their demands: lower fares, nighttime buses, seats for everyone. They also want to force the city to stop transferring the bulk of the bus system's funding to the spiffy new rail system for suburban commuters, who are overwhelmingly white and wealthy. Is there a management side to the story? Not when it's being told by the unapologetically power-to-the-people Wexler. 86 min. (GP) (Music Box, 8:45)

South Side Story

An Italian musical set in Palermo that retells the story of Romeo and Juliet in farcical terms; Roberta Torre directed. 87 min. (600 N. Michigan, 8:45)

Monday

Sabu's frenetic chase films resemble Rube Goldberg constructs where knocking over one domino activates a complex series of improbable events that build with uninterrupted momentum. But in Monday, his most recent outing, all the dominoes have already collapsed around our hero, Tagaki, a clueless company man who, waking up in a hotel room he doesn't recognize, must reconstruct his lost weekend. After much reflection, and with the aid of a pack of "purification salts" he finds in his pocket, he's able to flash back to a day that started with an exploding corpse and went downhill from there. All of his many misfortunes can be traced to his prodigious consumption of alcohol and a chance encounter with guns. This has caused many critics to laud the film's antialcohol, antigun message (a message the film occasionally, and very sardonically, espouses), giving Sabu's scattershot action a "meaningful" context. But far more interesting than any sociological agenda are the changes in tone and tempo created by a chronologically split point of view. Darkly comic scenes of violence Tagaki remembers from the recent past--a roomful of thugs paralyzed with wonder as he, giggling madly, accidentally blows away the heir apparent to a yakuza clan--alternate with his appalled, hungover reactions in the present. Things get further complicated when he learns he didn't wake up after the action but in the middle of it, and film's time sense now includes not only the future but the conditional. By far Sabu's most ambitious film, this is also the only one that doesn't exhaust its own possibilities. 100 min. (RS) On the same program, Nathalie Percillier's short Sticky Dough. (600 N. Michigan, 9:00)

Of Women and Magic

Claude Miller's small-scale TV drama, made for the French-German series "Les petites cameras," won the international critics' jury prize at this year's Berlin film festival, which says less about this movie than about the mediocrity of the competition. There's nothing wrong with this movie, but there's nothing monumental about it either. Based on Siri Hustvedt's novel The Blindfold, it tells the appealing story of Claire (Anne Brochet), a perennial graduate student beset by family problems, her failed relationship with a married man, and her inability to finish her anthropology dissertation. After falling ill from migraine headaches she lands in a neurological clinic, and through the winter months she begins to heal, aided by the young paralyzed woman who shares her room (Mathilde Seigner) and the odd, senile old woman who roams the hospital at will (Annie Noel). The film is salutary and quietly spiritual, and Miller has the good sense to keep the sentimentality in check. 80 min. (GP) On the same program, Thomas Francois and Bernard Declercq's short L'Hotel des Thermes. (Doc Films, 9:30)

Chronically Unfeasible

Writer-director Sergio Bianchi is an incendiary sociopolitical figure in his native Brazil, which has produced more than its share of highly outspoken filmmakers. In his latest work a pessimistic outlook pervades virtually every human transaction, creating a discomfiting and at times claustrophobic sense of reality. Bianchi's restless camera traverses disparate regions of the country as it follows the exploits of six principal characters, including Luis, the owner of a trendy restaurant in Sao Paulo; Alfredo, a well-known writer who's on a quixotic journey around the country, trying to understand why Brazil has deteriorated into a cruel, exploitative social experiment; and Adam, a Polish emigre with a jaundiced outlook on labor-management relations. To Bianchi's credit, everyone's fair game as he meticulously itemizes the failings of his country--liberals and members of the labor movement are no less foolish in their cultural myopia than their right-wing counterparts. But he never takes the easy way out by resorting to hopelessness; rather he somehow hangs on to the possibility of rebirth, as witnessed in the breathtaking final scene. This tough, thought-provoking film should not be missed. 101 min. (JK) (600 N. Michigan, 9:45)

A Paradise Under the Stars

In a timely twist on the ever popular Latin-American "life is a cabaret" genre--or to quote the film, "Life is not a dream; life is a show!"--Gerardo Chijona has fashioned a brightly colored extravaganza equally at home on the streets of Havana or the stage of the Tropicana. For it's the legendary Tropicana--venue of the biggest showbiz names at the height of Batistan decadence and still a popular nightspot under Castro--that's the central axis of the film. Spilling over with the requisite exuberance and theatricality of such a venture, Paradise also manages to connect to another popular Latin-American genre that's become very in of late, namely the coincidence pileup. Here the most disparate and far-fetched destinies cross and intertwine, with the help of plenty of hysteria and soap-operatic improbability (hereditary star-shaped birthmarks on buttocks play a key role). Paradise handles its whimsy well: in moments of exasperation the heroine is given to self-flagellation with a flyswatter, and zombies in stretch sateen and showgirls in towering headdresses strut their stuff in sync. But in the end this kind of sustained high energy can be fatiguing. Chijona might have done well to insert a touch of the semidocumentarian, behind-the-scenes rawness that characterized his first film, Adorable Liars. 90 min. (RS) (Music Box, 9:45)

Supersonic Shorts 2: Adventures in Outer Space

Ten international shorts, including one by Canadian eccentric Guy Maddin (the four-minute Hospital Fragment), as well as others from Germany, New Zealand, Belgium, Norway, the U.S., and the UK. 86 min. (Doc Films, 11:45)

saturday 14 October

Minerva's Quest

Minerva, a middle-aged failed novelist who's consumed with bitterness and anger toward her father and her lover, returns to her hometown in Mexico to try to understand why her life hasn't worked out the way she thought it might. She has always cherished the memory of her adoring ne'er-do-well Uncle Alberto, whose sporadic visits were an antidote to her father's stern coldness. But as she examines her childhood, it becomes clear that all was not as it appeared to be. Director Oscar Blancarte shows a lot of compassion for his main character, but compassion alone doesn't necessarily make for an interesting story. To up the dramatic ante, he reveals a big, dark family secret in the final act--a secret that's entirely predictable. He also tries to integrate elements of Greek drama--always risky because it invites comparison with the genuine article and can obfuscate themes. Some of the glimpses of the Pacific coast are spellbinding, but Blancarte hasn't managed to incorporate the character of the region in a way that has any relevance to the story. With Angelica Aragon and Francisco Gattorno. 115 min. (JK) (600 N. Michigan, 1:00)

The Marcorelle Affair

I'm sure I missed a good many political nuances in this French black comedy about an uneasy former radical of May 1968, now a district attorney with a taste for horror movies. But a meaty performance by Jean-Pierre Leaud, a suggestive one by Irene Jacob as a seductive Polish waitress, and a creepy recurring nightmare in a movie house involving the two of them kept me absorbed throughout. The writer-director, Serge Le Peron, wrote criticism for Cahiers du Cinema between 1976 and 1984, initially under the editorship of the great Serge Daney, and the politics of the preceding period is part of what makes this movie so generationally specific: it brings into play Leaud's history as a New Wave icon--in Truffaut's Antoine Doinel films, Godard's Masculine-Feminine and La chinoise, Rivette's Out 1, and Eustache's The Mother and the Whore. Also intriguing is the apparent nod in the title to the late, unjustly neglected Louis Marcorelles, ironically one of the only leftist critics writing for Cahiers du Cinema in the 50s and 60s--the New Wave era itself. I haven't seen Le Peron's previous features, but this low-key yet memorable effort suggests that maybe I should. 94 min. (JR) (600 N. Michigan, 2:00)

Tales of an Island

See listing under Friday, October 13. (Music Box, 2:00)

Supersonic Shorts 4: Animation Nations

Thirteen animated shorts from Switzerland, the U.S., Australia, Wales, Germany, Canada, and New Zealand. 89 min. (Music Box, 2:15)

Song of Tibet

Tibet is the real star of this old-fashioned melodrama, a riveting tale of fiery love and betrayal and Buddhist principles from veteran Chinese director Fei Xie (Black Snow, Women From the Lake of Scented Souls). A young woman returns to her hometown of Lhasa to visit and hears her grandmother tell the story of her youth as a serf in the 1950s and of the three men who shaped her life: the landowner's son in her outpost village who seduced her, the cocky herdsman she married, and the lama who enlightened her. Xie juxtaposes her flashbacks with scenes in the present that show the ancient bustling city still dominated by the palace of the Dalai Lama yet infiltrated by emblems of global culture such as a cybercafe, but these cutaways only disrupt the old woman's reminiscences. Still, everything is played out against a magnificent vista of high mountains, vast grasslands, and clear blue lakes--a visual feast that's neatly conveyed by Fu Jingshen's cinematography. 104 min. (TS) (600 N. Michigan, 3:30)

Caesar's Park

Shortly after she moved into Caesar's Park, a working-class section of Milwaukee, filmmaker Sarah Price began to interview her neighbors. The people who ended up in her engaging but forcedly ironic and rambling documentary are ordinary folks, though colorfully quirky and opinionated in their own ways. Included are two spinster sisters and their frail mother, a tone-deaf black bluesman, a voyeur who takes photos of his surroundings, and a cranky, foulmouthed Polish immigrant woman. Price, who coproduced the cult hit American Movie, can be seen taping her subjects, prodding them to chat about their daily life, preoccupations, and prejudices as she attempts to find out why Caesar's Park has become a less friendly place than it once was. Ultimately her editing tends to accentuate their eccentricities and not the ways they relate to one another. 65 min. (TS) On the same program, Anne Delaney and Brett Evans's 15-minute No Mess. (Music Box, 3:45)

Minerva's Quest

See listing above under this date. (600 N. Michigan, 3:45)

To Die (or Not)

See listing under Friday, October 13. (600 N. Michigan, 4:00)

One 4 All

See listing under Friday, October 13. (Music Box, 4:15)

Clouds of May

See listing under Friday, October 13. (600 N. Michigan, 4:15)

Song of Tibet

See listing above under this date. (600 N. Michigan, 6:00)

Bread and Roses

Ken Loach's new feature, his first made in the U.S., fictionalizes the recent janitors' strike in Los Angeles, and while nobody can question the sincerity of the British director's fervent leftism (a constant since his 1967 feature debut, Poor Cow), Bread and Roses suffers from clumsy acting (mainly Hispanic amateurs), an obvious screenplay by Paul Laverty, and a simplistic view of the characters, who are mostly pawns in Loach's chess game between the workers and their exploiters. Adrien Brody is excellent as Sam, a brash Jewish organizer who romances a young Mexican illegal (Pilar Padilla) as he teaches her about politics, though their patriarchal relationship will be familiar to anyone who's seen Norma Rae. Loach should know better--is there a phonier scene in any movie this year than his ersatz verite opening, in which a shaky handheld camera tracks the young woman as she slips across the border toward the American dream? 110 min. (GP) (Doc Films, 6:15)

A Breakfast Chronicle

A Breakfast Chronicle isn't the worst film ever made--it's not even close. But it may well be the most annoying. Meandering in and out of what's got to be the longest morning repast on record are the downbeat members of a most unappetizing family. There's a 12-year-old boy whose whiny voice makes the squeal of nails on a blackboard sound good; a punchy older brother too dumb to pull off even macho posturing; a nubile, yearning sister who's wandered in from a Tennessee Williams play and seems doomed to wait eternally, suitcase in hand; and the longest-suffering mother ever, who's given to marathon bouts of hysterical laughter and tears, sometimes alternately, sometimes simultaneously. That this family is meant to be monumentally awful doesn't make theater director Benjamin Cann's first feature any easier to watch. The film is full of the kind of "distancing techniques" that sound great on paper but seem stagy on-screen--a newspaper comic strip that mysteriously features what's transpiring or about to transpire in the family drama, an audience that magically materializes just beyond the window at a character's key soliloquizing moment. There are more sensational goings-on at the neighbors'--a castrated transvestite searches for his severed parts--but their dreary kvetching brings them to the same mind-numbing intimations of eternity. A case could be made for the film as a Mexican No Exit. Indeed, if you sat people down and told them that hell was watching A Breakfast Chronicle 24-7, they would probably sin no more. 120 min. (RS) (600 N. Michigan, 6:15)

Gaea Girls

Documentarian Kim Longinotto (Divorce Iranian Style) has teamed up with Jano Williams to portray the clandestine world of Japanese female wrestling. Allowed into a training compound run by seasoned professional wrestler Chigusa Nagayo, one of the top stars in Japan, Longinotto and Williams chronicle in excruciating detail the rigorous physical regimen endured by trainees completing a one-year program. If they're successful--and few are--they'll join one of Japan's more rarefied subcultures. The filmmakers build their story in a way that's more compelling and suspenseful than many narrative films. Will the driven Takeuchi pass the test? Will Wakabayashi, who ran away once before, be able to stay with the program? Is Nagayo, the autocratic yet benevolent leader, teaching tough out of necessity or because she was emotionally wounded by her bullying father? Longinotto and Williams's ability to penetrate facades is remarkable. 106 min. (JK) (Music Box, 6:30)

This I Wish and Nothing More

Kornel Mundruczo's first feature, from Hungary, is about a conventional husband living in the countryside who goes into the city to have gay adventures and pull off petty thefts. 80 min. (600 N. Michigan, 6:45)

A Belly Full

See listing under Friday, October 13. (600 N. Michigan, 7:00)

Amores perros

This solidly engaging, supersized (153 minutes) Mexican drama by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu provides a look at the dog days of love through three separate stories linked by a calamitous car crash and some recurring canine characters. The feral rage and ugly aggressiveness of dogfighting (all simulated) characterize the first story, about a battered teenage wife's on-again, off-again attraction to her gentle, utterly infatuated brother-in-law. Obsessive love for a cuddly mutt proves highly symbolic in the second story, which chronicles a middle-aged married man's new start in life with a model half his age. In the third story, compassion for a dying dog becomes a turning point for an aging contract killer. The second story, with its soap opera characters and some surreal silliness about a dog trapped under a floor, is the weakest. The first and third--with their strong casting and ability to convey the flavor of Mexican lifestyles, high and low--carry the film. (BS) (Music Box, 7:00)

Werckmeister Harmonies

A chilling, mesmerizing account of ethnic cleansing (in spirit if not letter) from Hungarian master Bela Tarr, set in virtually the same overcast, rural black-and-white world as his Damnation and Satantango, both also cowritten by Laszlo Krasznahorkai. As in the latter, Krasznahorkai and Tarr adapted Krasznahorkai's novel--here The Melancholy of Resistance, his first novel translated into English--elaborately restructuring narrative sequence and viewpoint so that the film is mainly limited to the experience of a simpleminded messenger-artist figure. A decrepit "circus" (actually a huge truck) in an impoverished town displays the stuffed body of "the largest whale in the world" while rumors are spread about the arrival of a foreign "prince" who never materializes. Eventually the unemployed males of the village head for the local hospital like a lynch mob and proceed to pull patients from their beds and devastate the premises. The parallels with southern gothic fiction are as striking in Krasznahorkai's work as the eastern European allegories, and he writes cadenced prose as monotonously grim as Thomas Bernhard's. The long takes following characters--the stylistic equivalent of the novel's Faulknerian sentences, though the content recalls Beckett's comedy of inertia--underline our easy complicity with these monsters, and the actors, including Hanna Schygulla in a welcome comeback, are riveting. I miss the sarcasm and sweep of Satantango, but this is essential viewing, especially for anyone new to Tarr's cinema. 145 min. (JR) (Doc Films, 8:30)

Donovan Quick

It's always dicey to adapt a classic story by trying to make it conform to the very specific peculiarities of the present, though some such adaptations are truly inspired, including Dashiell Hammett's great detective novel Red Harvest and Akira Kurosawa's great film Throne of Blood, both adapted from Shakespeare's Macbeth. Director David Blair and Evanston native Donna Franceschild cowrote this adaptation of Don Quixote, which is neither an ingenious retelling of an old warhorse nor an empty academic exercise. Colin Firth is appropriately comic and quixotic as Donovan Quick, a mysterious stranger who rents a room in the town of Clydeside from Lucy Pannick (Katy Murphy) and almost immediately locks horns with the evil multinational Windmill Transport Bus Company by setting up a competing operation. Blair does a nice job of depicting life in working-class suburban Scotland, populating the film with a coterie of charming eccentrics--though much of this seems familiar from other British films. And several snatches of dialogue too conveniently explain things that have happened offscreen. But overall this is a pleasantly told moral tale. 104 min. (JK) (600 N. Michigan, 8:30)

The Marcorelle Affair

See listing above under this date. (600 N. Michigan, 8:45)

Postman Blues

Sabu's second film takes us on another of his signature wild rides, here led by a postman on a red bicycle who blithely pedals his way through finger-chopping yakuza, trigger-happy cops, and existential hit men. Postman Blues was made in 1997, the same year as Norwegian Pal Sletaune's Junk Mail and a couple of years after Chinese He Jianjun's Postman--proof that the letter carrier as disaffected functionary gone postal is a universal figure. When they aren't dumping the mail in abandoned railroad yards or reading letters in drunken ennui, the postmen heroes of these films are drawn like flies to suicidal or terminally ill women who seem to represent something vastly better than what they've got, though whether it's love or death isn't immediately apparent. Here the woman is a beautiful young cancer patient who adds a lyrical splash to the film's absurdist palette. For, characteristically, Sabu's focus remains on the runaway logic of genre. There's the police procedural: detectives "discover" in our innocent hero's innocuous rounds shocking proof that he's a sadistic serial-killer terrorist and mobilize half the city to catch him. Then there's the saga of the philosophical assassin in a dark suit and dark glasses, whose failing health may cost him a coveted "hit man of the year" victory over his similarly outfitted brethren. But unlike Sabu's earlier Non-stop or later Unlucky Monkey, Postman Blues creates real tension between the idiotic juggernaut of events and the genuinely interesting oddball characters caught in its path. 110 min. (RS) (600 N. Michigan, 9:00)

Caesar's Park

See listing above under this date. (Music Box, 9:00)

Envy of Gods

Vladimir Menshov (Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears) sets this corny, bittersweet romance in Moscow a few years before the collapse of the Soviet Union. Sonya is a repressed, middle-aged news editor at the state-run television station who lives an unfulfilled life with her journalist husband and teenage son. Her personal and professional worlds are thrown into turmoil when she meets a French translator, who courts her relentlessly until she finally gives in and begins a passionate romance that she tries to hide from her husband and the KGB. Menshov's tale of doomed love seems awfully stale, and it's not helped by his penchant for outright hokum. The backdrop of political and social repression competes with scenes of impromptu dancing and lovemaking, accompanied by a lot of jaunty accordion music. I half expected someone on-screen to sigh, "C'est l'amour." 132 min. (RP) (600 N. Michigan, 9:15)

Supersonic Shorts 2: Adventures in Outer Space

See listing under Friday, October 13. (Music Box, 10:00)

Monday

See listing under Friday, October 13. (Doc Films, 11:45)

sunday 15 October

A Breakfast Chronicle

See listing under Saturday, October 14. (600 N. Michigan, 1:15)

Chronically Unfeasible

See listing under Friday, October 13. (600 N. Michigan, 1:30)

Supersonic Shorts

3: Scottish Shorts

Five short films from Scotland. 76 min. (600 N. Michigan, 1:45)

Envy of Gods

See listing under Saturday, October 14. (Music Box, 1:45)

Postman Blues

See listing under Saturday, October 14. (600 N. Michigan, 2:00)

Supersonic Shorts 4: Animation Nations

See listing under Saturday, October 14. (Doc Films, 2:00)

Whatever

Described as a French variant of In the Company of Men, this feature directed by Philippe Harel is called Extension du domaine de la lutte ("Extension of the Domain of the Struggle") in French. 118 min. (Music Box, 3:00)

Fleeing by Night

Echoes of Farewell My Concubine abound in this tearjerker about a love triangle in the 1930s set against the backdrop of the Chinese-opera demimonde. Shaodung, the cello-playing son of a banker, returns to Tianjin, a port city near Beijing, to see his betrothed, Ing-er, whose father runs an opera theater. Then both fall for Lin, a star of the Kun Opera famous for his eloquent voice and his interpretation of "Fleeing by Night," an aria about loyalty and love. Directors Li-kong Hsu (who produced The Wedding Banquet) and Yin Chi coyly make homosexuality both taboo (the two men never consummate their relationship) and dangerous (Lin is involved with a jealous, sadistic businessman), though everyone's attracted to Lin's stage persona, not himself. The film never surges in emotional intensity, and it has a confusing narrative frame--the elderly Shaodung recalls past events through a series of letters between him and his fiancee, who eventually married him in New York. The acting is typical of Chinese melodramas--by turns hyperventilating, precious, and sentimental--though Rene Liu gives a knowing, tender performance as Ing-er. 123 min. (TS) (600 N. Michigan, 3:30)

Clouds of May

See listing under Friday, October 13. (600 N. Michigan, 3:45)

Donovan Quick

See listing under Saturday, October 14. (600 N. Michigan, 4:00)

To Die (or Not)

See listing under Friday, October 13. (600 N. Michigan, 4:15)

Tales of an Island

See listing under Friday, October 13. (Music Box, 4:30)

The Captive

See listing under Friday, October 13. (Music Box, 5:30)

The Marcorelle Affair

See listing under Saturday, October 14. (600 N. Michigan, 6:00)

Song of Tibet

See listing under Saturday, October 14. (600 N. Michigan, 6:15)

No Place to Go

This is a film that grows on you. At its center--and to its right and left, for that matter--is the figure of "Hanna Flanders," a transparent pseudonym for writer Gisela Elsner, real-life mother of the film's writer-director, Oskar Roehler. Neither homage nor exposé, the film traces, in high-contrast black and white and laconically distanced melodramatic vignettes, the last two and a half years of Elsner's life--one long prelude to her suicide in 1992. Roehler doesn't give us much to work with. His Gisela Elsner (a tour de force performance by Hannelore Elsner, no relation) is a pathetic, over-the-hill lush who spends most of the film tottering around in stiletto heels, draped in haute couture, and sporting a very black, very big wig. Deeply mired in self-pity, she blunders from confrontation to confrontation. Of her life's work we know nothing, except that its day has come and gone. Her lifestyle is, on the surface at least, pure West German capitalism, but her political and artistic allegiances apparently lie to the east. The film opens with her umpteenth suicide attempt, interrupted by televised images of the fall of the Berlin Wall; she most emphatically does not share the widespread jubilation. For as long as the country was divided, her internal contradictions could coexist in the world, but under reunification she has no place to go. Moving freely between west and east, she must drag her contradictions along with her. As the film progresses it seems amazing that she--and her country--have lived with them so long. 100 min. (RS) (600 N. Michigan, 6:30)

Unlucky Monkey

Propelled by one delicious, darkly funny accident of fate after another, Japanese director Sabu's Unlucky Monkey (1998) is a refreshing deadpan comedy. The characters, starting with the inept bank robber Yamazaki, seem destined to be in the wrong place at the wrong time again and again. After accidentally murdering a hairdresser, whom he belatedly fantasizes was the woman of his dreams, Yamazaki meets up with an equally inept clutch of gangsters, and together they try to end their run of monumental bad luck. The scene in which the gangsters accidentally whack the leader of a rival yakuza family during peace negotiations and their subsequent attempt at a cover-up are hilarious. The film doesn't quite maintain its comic brilliance in the second half, but that's a minor gripe. 106 min. (BS) (600 N. Michigan, 6:30)

Caesar's Park

See listing under Saturday, October 14. (Music Box, 6:30)

Werckmeister Harmonies

See listing under Saturday, October 14. (Music Box, 8:00)

One 4 All

See listing under Friday, October 13. (600 N. Michigan, 8:15)

Envy of Gods

See listing under Saturday, October 14. (Music Box, 8:15)

A Breakfast Chronicle

See listing under Saturday, October 14. (600 N. Michigan, 8:30)

The Goddess of 1967

The title of Clara Law's oddball Australian feature refers to the vintage salmon-colored Citroen DS driven cross-country by a young Tokyo snake collector and a blind young woman to its original owner, the woman's insane, abusive grandfather. I found the film's plot, including its scattershot time structure and ambivalent take on countercultural attitudes, both difficult to follow and needlessly pretentious. But the lighting, splashy colors, solarized impressions of Tokyo, and spacious outback skyscapes of Dion Beebe's cinematography are so breathtakingly beautiful that I never came close to losing interest. Rose Byrne as the blind girl won the best-actress prize in Venice, but I'm not sure why. Much worthier of attention are the looniness of the script--by Law and Eddie L.C. Fong (another Hong Kong emigre), who also worked with Beebe on Floating Life--and Law's highly inventive direction of this eclectic film. The Citroen DS, incidentally, is the subject of an essay in Roland Barthes' Mythologies, a book acknowledged in the closing credits. 118 min. (JR) (600 N. Michigan, 8:45)

Monday

See listing under Friday, October 13. (600 N. Michigan, 8:45)

monday 16 October

The Season of Men

Fans of Tunisian writer-director Moufida Tlati's compelling debut, The Silences of the Palace, will find her second feature, The Season of Men, something of a disappointment. The first brilliantly merged the personal and the political as it told the story of a rebellious servant girl finding her voice at the dawn of Tunisia's independence. The second also uses the theme of women combating tradition, but its plot and characters quickly become tedious and bogged down in cliche. The story unfolds primarily on the island of Djerba, most of whose men leave their families to seek their fortune in Tunis, returning home for one month a year to be treated like kings. Their wives prepare for their return as if for another honeymoon, and women without husbands are thoroughly marginalized. In this oppressive culture, the independent-minded Aicha marries her cousin Said. She wants to accompany him to the city, but he refuses to take her, leaving her under the thumb of his overbearing mother. The stress of this environment and their marriage has consequences for their children, particularly their daughters. In The Silences of the Palace flashbacks and music provided narrative momentum and emotional resonance. Here the flashback structure feels unmotivated and negates any suspense the story might have had, and the music isn't well integrated into the plot. Compared to its more nuanced and complex predecessor, The Season of Men seems shrill and soap operatic. 122 min. (AS) (600 N. Michigan, 3:00)

Fleeing by Night

See listing under Sunday, October 15. (600 N. Michigan, 3:45)

The Season of Men

See listing above under this date. (600 N. Michigan, 6:00)

Backlash

Australian filmmaker Bill Bennett's second feature follows two Sydney police officers (David Argue and Gia Carides) as they escort to trial a beautiful young aborigine (Lydia Miller) who's accused of killing her employer by castrating him with garden shears. Made on a minuscule budget and with improvised dialogue, this is the feature that introduced Bennett to an international audience (1986). 89 min. (JR) This film was selected for the critic's choice section of the festival by Ray Pride, who will introduce the screening and lead a discussion afterward. (600 N. Michigan, 6:30)

Of Women and Magic

See listing under Friday, October 13. (Music Box, 6:30)

Whatever

See listing under Sunday, October 15. (600 N. Michigan, 6:30)

Dark Days

This documentary by Marc Singer about the homeless people who live in the tunnels under New York's Penn Station has been one of the biggest buzz items of the year since it won three major prizes at Sundance. Singer spent two years making it, and there are few films in this festival I'm more curious to see. 84 min. (JR) (600 N. Michigan, 6:45)

Supersonic Shorts

3: Scottish Shorts

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

Best of Fest: Awards Night

A prizewinning feature from this year's festival (to be announced) and a presentation of awards. (Music Box, 8:30)

This I Wish and Nothing More

See listing under Saturday, October 14. (600 N. Michigan, 8:30)

The Goddess of 1967

See listing under Sunday, October 15. (600 N. Michigan, 8:40)

Dropping Out

You might think that satires about Hollywood's cravenness and the public's insatiable appetite for lurid voyeurism as entertainment would have exhausted themselves by now, but along comes Dropping Out to take yet another whack at the obvious. Mark Osborne directed this scattershot black comedy about an amiable, television-obsessed schlepper named Emile (played by the director's brother, Kent Osborne, who also wrote the screenplay) who sees the world through TV-tinted lenses. Increasingly depressed about his uneventful life, Emile decides to kill himself and asks one of his coworkers (David Koechner) to videotape the suicide and deliver the tape to an ex-girlfriend. The project becomes ridiculously involved, until it blossoms into a studio-financed event, complete with an enormous film crew, product placements, and an advertising campaign. The Osbornes were clearly striving for something original, and a terrific movie does keep threatening to break out. But the filmmakers just can't settle on a comedic tone--they start out with a compelling absurdist fantasy, make several turns through juvenile shtick, then slide into all-too-obvious satire. Still, Osborne and Koechner are perfect in their roles, and there are some amusing cameos by Adam Arkin, John Stamos, and Fred Willard. 109 min. (RP) (Music Box, 8:45)

Divided We Fall

From populist Czech director Jan Hrebejk and screenwriter Petr Jarchovsky (who looked back at the Prague Spring in Cosy Dens) comes an amiable black comedy set in a small Czechoslovakian town occupied by German forces during the last years of World War II. Josef and Marie are a childless couple desperate for a baby--an impossibility because Josef is sterile. One day Josef's old boss David, a Jew on the run from a concentration camp, appears on the street; against Josef's better judgment, they hide him in their attic, even though a gestapo rat keeps dropping by for dinner. Based on a true story of simple heroism, Hrebejk's alternately tense and ironic movie is about how ordinary citizens react during extraordinary times--with dignity, self-interest, or a mixture of both. This situation is well captured dramatically as the film moves from a series of harsh oppositions (initially manifested in differing visual styles for inside and outside) to a dissolution of sentiments and allegiances. Divided We Fall is most notable for being the first post-cold war Czech film to deal with that country's Nazi past head-on--which explains the feeling that one's watching something deliberately constructed. It's a skillful representative of the segment of current-day Czech cinema that seeks to tackle political issues in an entertaining fashion. 117 min. (MP) (600 N. Michigan, 8:45)

Non-stop

The first feature of writer-director Sabu is a sharp and often funny film about three losers fate brings together with disastrous results. A would-be bank robber forgets his mask on his first big heist, then screws up his attempt to shoplift one from a convenience store. The store's clerk, a washed-up rock star, begins to chase the thief and literally runs into a thug from the Japanese mob he owes money to. This starts a three-way foot chase through the streets of Tokyo that lasts through the night and into the next day, eventually dragging in the yakuza and the Tokyo police. The relationships between the characters are gradually revealed by flashbacks interspersed throughout the chase, and Sabu's economical style keeps the story moving along at a lively clip, with much of the humor supplied by the script's trenchant take on the male ego. Only toward the very end, when the film succumbs to some trendy nihilism, does the story falter. Still, Non-stop (also known as D.A.N.G.A.N. Runner) is definitely worth checking out (1996). 92 min. (RP) (600 N. Michigan, 9:00)

tuesday 17 October

Divided We Fall

See listing under Monday, October 16. (600 N. Michigan, 3:15)

Captain Pantoja and the Special Service

Francisco J. Lombardi's adaptation of a Mario Vargas Llosa novel reminds me of some of the duller John Ford hagiographies of the 50s about military men, such as The Wings of Eagles. A rather stiff captain in the Peruvian army, happily married and regarded as a moral exemplar, is ordered to put together a unit of young prostitutes to service soldiers stationed in remote parts of the Amazon jungle, once the higher-ups decide that rapes will be fewer if the men are less sexually frustrated. The captain loses his cool after falling for one of the women, and he fails to bribe a corrupt radio journalist, leading to a potential scandal. This is nicely put together as storytelling, but the prostitutes are sentimentally patronized by the film, and the army officials are defended even when they're hypocritical--which smacks of the worst kind of complacency. 137 min. (JR) (600 N. Michigan, 3:30)

Thomas in Love

If you're intrigued by notions of virtual sex in cyberspace, this Belgian-French SF effort by Pierre-Paul Renders seems calculated to exhaust that fascination. The eponymous, agoraphobic hero in the not-so-distant future hasn't left his home in eight years, and after his on-line psychoanalyst signs him up with a dating service and his insurance broker hooks him up with specialized prostitutes, a procession of real or virtual potential sex partners appears on his computer screen. The minimalist conceit of this movie is that Thomas is heard but never seen; his subjective stand-in--as in Robert Montgomery's 1946 Lady in the Lake and in Orson Welles's unrealized screenplay adapting Heart of Darkness--is the movie camera. Such a gimmick--camera eye equals "I"--becomes particularly monotonous when the camera doesn't move: Thomas is a couch potato as well as a recluse, and a terminal bore to boot. The women, real and simulated, are only slightly more interesting, and then only when they talk back. 97 min. (JR) (600 N. Michigan, 4:00)

Life as a Fatal Sexually Transmitted Disease

Fans of Woody Allen's noncomic features might well go for this glum spiritual study of a physician adjusting--mainly with dignity and common sense--to his own death from inoperable cancer. Despite the jokey title, this has only a modicum of wisecracks, and its mordant Polish wisdom, while genuine, mainly seems all too familiar. It begins with a medieval-looking film-within-the-film about a horse thief and the religious guide who prepares him offscreen for death by hanging, then shifts to the doctor on the movie's location; he remains the focus thereafter, as he gradually learns about his terminal illness. I've never seen any of Krzysztof Zanussi's most famous films, which are highly respected, and perhaps I approached this picture with the wrong kind of expectations. It certainly isn't a bad film, but it doesn't hold a candle to Leo Tolstoy's "The Death of Ivan Ilyich." Zbigniew Zapasiewicz is commanding as the hero; Krystyna Janda costars. 99 min. (JR) (600 N. Michigan, 6:00)

The Goddess of 1967

See listing under Sunday, October 15. (600 N. Michigan, 6:15)

Little Darling

Director Anne Villaceque could be described as a disciple of Catherine Breillat, who creates bleak portraits of alienated female angst--certainly the murderously vengeful conclusion of this film is reminiscent of Romance's explosive climax. Breillat is obsessed with quirky sexuality; Villaceque offers a vision of repression and sexual misery that's equally masochistic and equally dour--neither director seems to be able to find any joy in sex. The eponymous heroine--"petite cherie," or "little darling," is her parents' nickname for her--is a painfully shy, introverted 30-year-old bank clerk who lives with her well-meaning but clueless father and mother in bleak suburban anomie (the action is set in the present but has a stultifying 50s atmosphere). She falls for the first man who looks at her, a penniless smooth operator who turns out to be as much a victim as the people he preys on. Theirs is a life of quiet desperation at its quietest and most despairing. Villaceque is so good at creating and sustaining malaise-inducing situations, and her performers are so convincing, that one leaves the film thankful not to be trapped in their dead-end world. 106 min. (JPC) (600 N. Michigan, 6:30)

Hotel Splendide

Toni Collette stars in an English "gothic" comedy about a dilapidated hotel with permanent guests on a remote island; Terence Gross directed. 99 min. On the same program, Enda Hughes's three-minute Irish short Comm-Raid on the Potemkin. (Music Box, 6:30)

The Yards

A disappointing follow-up to Little Odessa, James Gray's second feature is one more sluggish, artfully framed thriller with Rembrandt lighting set in a New York borough--the kind of picture that's awfully hard to do in a fresh manner. Gray coaxes strong performances out of his older actors (James Caan, Ellen Burstyn, and Faye Dunaway in a smaller part), much as he did with Vanessa Redgrave and Maximilian Schell in Little Odessa. He doesn't do as well with his three leads (Mark Wahlberg, Charlize Theron, and Joaquin Phoenix), who can't manage to sustain much interest as characters or even as presences--the lugubrious art-movie ambience seems to swamp them. 108 min. (JR) (600 N. Michigan, 6:30)

Bread and Roses

See listing under Saturday, October 14. (Music Box, 6:45)

Fleeing by Night

See listing under Sunday, October 15. (600 N. Michigan, 8:15)

The Season of Men

See listing under Monday, October 16. (600 N. Michigan, 8:45)

Captain Pantoja and the Special Service

See listing above under this date. (600 N. Michigan, 9:00)

No Place to Go

See listing under Sunday, October 15. (600 N. Michigan, 9:00)

Dark Days

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

Wattstax

Unlike most concert films--which have little to do with social and political reality--Wattstax is a vivid time capsule of black America in 1972. Having recently discovered the black audiences Hollywood had neglected for years and well aware of the popularity of rock movies, Columbia Pictures decided to film the annual Wattstax music festival, which that year drew a crowd of 100,000 to the Los Angeles Coliseum. Taking place seven years after the Watts riots brought "black power" into the public consciousness, the event was a daylong celebration of racial pride and progress; Jesse Jackson tells the audience, "We changed 'Burn, baby, burn' to 'Learn, baby, learn,'" and leads a rendition of "I am somebody." Wattstax is much more than a concert movie; it's a rich tapestry incorporating documentary footage--the '65 riots, interviews with Watts residents talking about being black in America--that puts its musical performances (staged by Melvin Van Peebles) in a broad social context. The music is plentiful, with great gospel (the Staple Singers, Jimmy Jones), R & B (Albert King, Carla Thomas, Luther Ingram), and funk (Rufus Thomas, the Bar-Kays). But the real star is Richard Pryor, doing his scathing stand-up routines ("How do the police accidentally shoot a nigger six times in the ass?"). 98 min. (DPS) (Music Box, 9:15)

wednesday 18 October

Dropping Out

See listing under Monday, October 16. (600 N. Michigan, 3:30)

Life as a Fatal Sexually Transmitted Disease

See listing under Tuesday, October 17. (600 N. Michigan, 3:45)

Divided We Fall

See listing under Monday, October 16. (600 N. Michigan, 6:00)

Hotel Splendide

See listing under Tuesday, October 17. (600 N. Michigan, 6:15)

Dropping Out

See listing under Monday, October 16. (600 N. Michigan, 6:30)

Little Darling

See listing under Tuesday, October 17. (Music Box, 6:45)

The Killing of a Chinese Bookie

John Cassavetes's first crime thriller, a postnoir masterpiece, failed miserably at the box office when first released in 1976, and a recut, shorter version released two years later (the one that's generally available today in prints and on video) didn't fare much better. I selected the first and longer version (135 min.), which I've seen only once before, for the critic's choice section of this festival, just as I did for the Denver film festival about a decade ago (I'll be introducing the film and leading a discussion afterward). Both versions were edited by Cassavetes, and I'm not sure which one I prefer; but this screening gives us a chance at least to see a cut we ordinarily can't. A personal, deeply felt character study rather than a routine action picture, this film follows Cosmo Vitelli (Ben Gazzara at his very best), the charismatic owner of an LA strip joint who recklessly gambles his way into debt and has to bump off a Chinese bookie to settle his accounts. In many respects the film serves as a personal testament; what makes the tragicomic character of Cosmo so moving is that he's something of an alter ego--the proud impresario and father figure in a tattered showbiz collective (read Cassavetes's actors and filmmaking crew) who must compromise his ethics to keep his little family afloat (read Cassavetes's career as a Hollywood actor). Peter Bogdanovich used Gazzara in a similar part in Saint Jack (1979), but as good as that film is, it doesn't catch the exquisite warmth and delicacy of feeling of Cassavetes's doom-ridden comedy-drama. With fine performances by Timothy Agoglia Carey, Seymour Cassel, Azizi Johari, Meade Roberts, and Alice Friedland. (JR) (600 N. Michigan, 7:00)

Supersonic Shorts 4: Animation Nations

See listing under Saturday, October 14. (Music Box, 7:30)

No Place to Go

See listing under Sunday, October 15. (600 N. Michigan, 8:30)

Life as a Fatal Sexually Transmitted Disease

See listing under Tuesday, October 17. (600 N. Michigan, 8:45)

Captain Pantoja and the Special Service

See listing under Tuesday, October 17. (Music Box, 9:00)

Thomas in Love

See listing under Tuesday, October 17. (600 N. Michigan, 9:00)

Supersonic Shorts

3: Scottish Shorts

See listing under Sunday, October 15. (Music Box, 9:30)

thursday 19 October

Best of Fest 2

A prizewinning feature from this year's festival; to be announced. (600 N. Michigan, 6:00)

Best of Fest 3

A prizewinning feature from this year's festival; to be announced. (600 N. Michigan, 6:00)

Best of Fest 4

A prizewinning feature from this year's festival; to be announced. (600 N. Michigan, 6:15)

The Legends of Rita

I've never much cared for the films of Volker Schlöndorff because I find their aesthetics uninteresting, more dutiful than inspiring. So I didn't have much hope for this original story, coscripted by Wolfgang Kohlhaase, about a young West German terrorist who decides to give up her violent life in the 80s and hide out as a member of the East German working class and who's helped by the East German secret police in exchange for information. I wasn't bowled over by the film--which has a wretched score--but I'm glad I saw it, because it clarifies many points about life in East Germany and the fate of West German terrorists. Neither the terrorists nor the East Germans are sentimentalized, and the reflections about the end of communism are unfashionably thoughtful. Bibiana Beglau does a good job of capturing the title character's ambivalences--political and sexual (she's briefly involved with another woman)--as she shifts from one incognito identity to another. 104 min. (JR) This film was selected for the critic's choice section of the festival by Zbigniew Banas, who will introduce the film and lead a discussion afterward. (Music Box, 6:00)

Best of Fest 5

A prizewinning feature from this year's festival; to be announced. (600 N. Michigan, 6:30)

Best of Fest 6

A prizewinning feature from this year's festival; to be announced. (Music Box, 7:00)

Shadow of the Vampire

What if legendary perfectionist F.W. Murnau entered into a Faustian pact to get an actual vampire for the role of Count Orlock in the 1922 horror classic Nosferatu? Skirting over what cineasts would find intriguing in a Murnau biopic, this odd and somewhat pointless question is posed in E. Elias Merhige's revisionist take on the golden age of German cinema. From day one, production on Nosferatu is shrouded in mystery. Murnau (the suitably effete ham bone John Malkovich) announces that dedicated Stanislavskian actor Max Schreck will appear only in full costume and makeup. Schreck's showstopping appearance reveals him to be barely human--gussied up in long fingernails that he clips furiously when disturbed. Willem Dafoe sinks into the role. Insidiously, Schreck/Dafoe takes over the troubled production, and it plunges into a bacchanalia of drugs, death, and cinematic anarchy, predictably building to a tense confrontation. Keenly accurate reproductions of scenes from Nosferatu aside, it's odd that a movie featuring a great classical director is notable for some extremely contemporary acting. I'm not exactly sure why this was made, especially by the director of the cult film Begotten, but it certainly wasn't out of love for Murnau. 93 min. (MP) (Music Box, 8:30)

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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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