The Chicago International Film Festival Week 2: Simon Says | Festival | Chicago Reader

The Chicago International Film Festival Week 2: Simon Says 

The Movies

Sign up for our newsletters Subscribe

Friday, October 20

The Apartment: I wouldn't call this 1960 picture one of Billy Wilder's best comedies--it's drab, sappy, and overlong at 125 minutes. But all its Oscars--for best picture, direction, script, editing, and art direction--indicate that many disagree with me (including the Coen brothers, who seem to have studied it for The Hudsucker Proxy just as Wilder studied Vidor's silent The Crowd). Jack Lemmon at his most hyperventilated plays an ambitious clerk who tries to get ahead by lending his apartment to executives for one-night stands and falls in love with a lady (Shirley MacLaine) who's mistreated by his boss (Fred MacMurray). Wilder cohort I.A.L. Diamond collaborated on the script of this black-and-white 'Scope movie; Ray Walston and Edie Adams are among the stars. (JR) (Fine Arts, 2:00)

The Owner: Jorge Rocca's period film, an Argentinean-Uruguayan coproduction, is simultaneously too hysterical and too underdeveloped dramatically to make much of an impression. Set in the 1930s, the story concerns Antenor--a wealthy, aging, tyrannical "patron," or landowner--who coerces an illiterate peasant girl, Paula, into marrying him for the express purpose of providing a male heir. The film's one interesting moment comes during their wedding, when a dance sequence lays open Antenor's machismo and vanity. The rest of the film is unpleasant and pointless, mostly involving Antenor's repeated, wholly disdainful sexual violation of Paula. Rocca can't stem to get a handle on her--she shifts back and forth between working-class toughness and willful naivete--and that dulls our emotional connection to the young woman. Antenor is all surface, his actions and motives calibrated to evoke loathing. And because everything's upfront--there's no mystery or excitement--the third-act reversal carries no charge. Rocca's aesthetic choices seem arbitrary or ill conceived despite a strong and at times exciting use of landscape and some striking overhead camera placements. Much of the film is shot in black and white, and the color shifts in the opening and at the end aren't used expressively. Rocca seems incapable of employing physical locations to establish context, mood, or a sense of place. In the end there's only one way to respond to this film, and that's with an uncomfortable pity for the characters. (PM) (Fine Arts, 5:00)

Fallout: A melodrama about four executives trapped in an abandoned fallout shelter after an explosion in their company office and the racial and sexual tensions between them. This Amerlcan independent feature was directed and cowritten by Robert Palumbo. (Music Box, 5:00)

Les rendez-vous de Paris: Eric Rohmer returns to 16-millimeter for three sketches about "false appearances and the paradox of truth--true falsehood and false truth," working with a cast of unknowns in Paris locations. (Fine Arts, 5:15)

L'enfant d'eau: Billed by the festival as a "controversial twist on The Blue Lagoon," Robert Menard's L'enfant d'eau didn't strike me as especially controversial and will surely disappoint anyone hoping for some cheap thrills. It's actually a reasonably thoughtful tale about two survivors of a plane crash, a 20-year-old retarded man and a 12-year-old girl, who wash up on a deserted, and of course beautiful, Caribbean island. The two find an empty vacation cabin, set up shop there, and predictably grow closer as they rely on each other to survive. All of this is told in flashbacks as the boy's father, in a hospital watching over the rescued couple, reads the diary the girl kept on the island. The movie flirts with the sexual interest between the two kids, but never descends to the juvenile salaciousness of The Blue Lagoon. It can't be said that the material is very original, but the performances are strong, and the script is intelligent enough to keep things interesting. This would make an amusing pairing with Lina Wertmuller's Swept Away, which is showing in the festival's retrospective of her work. (RP) (Fine Arts, 6:00)

*Persuasion: I've never read Jane Austen's last novel (1818), and I'm not generally attracted to film adaptations of classic English literature--most of which, even at their best, seem like Cliffs Notes versions. But Roger Michell's first feature, scripted by Nick Dear, is a lot fresher and more engaging than the usual department-store windows of Merchant-Ivory; for one thing, it makes us care about the characters rather than admire the sets and costumes. Set in 1814, with the British navy just back from the Napoleonic wars, it concerns the gradual reunion of Captain Frederick Wentworth (Ciaran Hinds) and Anne Elliot (Amanda Root), engaged seven years earlier when Anne broke things off. The secondary cast--including Simon Russell Beale, Sophie Thompson, Corin Redgrave, Susan Fleetwood, and Fiona Shaw--is especially effective. (JR) (Fine Arts, 7:00)

*Antonia's Line: Dutch writer-director Marleen Gorris has mellowed. Known in this country for A Question of Silence and Broken Mirrors, hard-hitting dramas about abusive power relationships between men and women, Gorris sends a more hopeful message with Antonia's Line, a delightful, lovingly crafted feminist fable that's sure to be one of the most popular films in the festival. It's a family chronicle set in the Dutch countryside, covering the lives of Antonia, her daughter Danielle, granddaughter Therese, and greatgranddaughter Sarah through the last half of the 20th century. Wise and strong, they make their way in the world with their humanity, dignity, and self-respect intact, fulfilling their intellectual and creative passions. They're women to be reckoned with, fierce in the face of injustice and swift to protect their own. They speak their minds rather than submit to convention. When Antonia turns down a marriage proposal from a neighboring farmer he pleads, "My five sons need a mother." "But I don't need your sons," she responds with a smile. The female characters are also played by actresses with the bulges and curves of real women. This is a landmark film, a powerful and empowering contribution to world cinema. (AS) (Music Box, 7:00)

Seven Beauties: The most snidely misanthropic film since A Clockwork Orange. Giancarlo Giannini wades through Lina Wertmuller's fashionably distended mise-en-scene as a small-time hood who slaughters a pimp to protect his sister's honor, gets sent to a mental hospital for his trouble, escapes by joining Mussolini's army, and ends up in a German concentration camp, where he seduces the female commandant (Shirley Stoler, all 250 pounds of her). Cheap, ugly, pointless, and finally nauseating. (DK) (Fine Arts, 7:15)

Les miserables: Not an adaptation of Victor Hugo's book, but a 20th-century story, nearly three hours long, "inspired" by this literary touchstone. The corny and flamboyant Claude Lelouch (A Man and a Woman) is the writer-director, and Jean-Paul Belmondo plays the replacement for Hugo's Jean Valjean--an illiterate fellow named Henri Fortin who befriends a Jewish family fleeing Nazi persecution. The family reads the Hugo novel aloud to him while they travel together, and apparently they all come to realize how much their lives are like great literature. With Annie Girardot, Philippe Leotard, and Clementine Celarie. (JR) (Fine Arts, 8:00)

Low: Mean Streets meets Midnight Cowboy meets Raging Bull in this low-budget independent film by Lise Raven. Unfortunately, Lott, lacks the narrative intensity of those other films and has no sense of place (New York City is virtually unpopulated here). The story revolves around a sniveling loser named Speck whose life is devoted to pleasing his brother-in-law, "Lullaby" Fairlaine, a small-time hood who has just been released from prison. To prove his bravado and friendship, Speck attempts to kidnap Fairlaine's ex-girlfriend, who has refused to see Fairlaine since his release, and present her to him as a gift. But he bungles the act by kidnapping the wrong woman. The rest of the movie involves the high jinks of the two lowlifes as they try to undo the mess they've created. Given its budgetary constraints, a film like Low needs strong, memorable characters to succeed, but Low provides neither. The characters are too thinly drawn to hold one's interest. The actor who plays Speck looks (and acts) like an unfortunate cross between Richard Gere, Eric Roberts, and Ratso Rizzo. There's lots of macho swaggering and bluster between the two men, but none of it comes across as very authentic. To be fair, there are glimmers of a good story waiting to break out, but they only fizzle in the end. (RP) (Music Box, 9:00)

*Midaq Alley: An inspired adaptation of Egyptian Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz's novel of the same name, Midaq Alley transfers the action from 40s Cairo to a seedy section of present-day Mexico City while keeping intact its universal themes and concerns. The densely populated working-class neighborhood it depicts is home to assorted shopkeepers and tradesmen, as well as a criminal underworld. Most of the local men socialize nightly at a bar owned by Rutilio, a middle-aged tyrant with an extremely short fuse. His sudden passion for a handsome youth provokes an unpleasant confrontation with his wife and his son, Chava. Meanwhile Chava's best friend, the gentle barber Abel, is wooing the beautiful and willful Alma, and Alma's widowed mother is reading romance in the tarot cards for Susanita, their tight-fisted spinster landlady. Director Jorge Fons and screenwriter Vincente Lenero adopt a compelling structure, dividing the film into four episodes. The first three-"Rutilio," "Alma," and "Susanita"--begin on the same day in the same way, and all three are resolved in the final section, set two years later. The title characters provide the focus for their episodes, witnessing some of the same events, but from different perspectives--a tactic that gives viewers a deeper understanding of the aspirations and tragedies of the alley's inhabitants. Winner of a record number of Mexican academy awards. (AS) (Fine Arts, 9:15)

Moon Shadow: First-time director Alberto Simone's heart may be in the right place, but his camera seldom is. A scientist obsessed with black holes returns home to sell off his ancestral digs, and in the process uproots a tree that has taken over the interior. The repair work proceeds at its own odd rhythm in the hands of an old man and his strange helpers, denizens of a nearby center for the mentally ill. We're in familiar, if thuddingly symbolic, movie-of-the-week territory here, The script doesn't miss an oppositional cliche. Ya got your science versus emotion, your north versus south (a biggie in Italian cinema), your city versus country all rendered with flawless pedestrian earnestness (even the tree manages to look like an overzealous houseplant). Mental illness is treated with a measure of intelligence and compassion, probably due to Simone's past experience in psychiatry. Yet the moment any real tension, ambiguity, or emotion is allowed to enter the film, it's absorbed into a "therapeutic" framework. Thus the scientist's sexual attraction to a young female patient who comes on to him, bare-breasted in the moonlight, winds up as a perfect opportunity for him to help her practice for a piano recital! (RS) (Fine Arts, 9:30)

Not Bad for a Girl: A U.S. documentary by Lisa-Rose Apramian about four all-female rock bands--Hole, L7, Babes in Toyland, and the Lunachicks--and their experiences as performers. (Music Box, 11:00)

Saturday, October 21

Sabrina: Billy Wilder's 1954 version of the Samuel Taylor staple was a perfect vehicle for Audrey Hepburn, though the cut is too tight for her costars, Humphrey Bogart and William Holden. She's the chauffeur's daughter; they're her brotherly suitors. It isn't major Wilder by any stretch, and the old problem of taste pops up again, but it might be worth another look in the light of Fedora: Wilder's tastelessness now seems like his major artistic strength. With John Williams and Martha Hyer. (DK) (Fine Arts, noon)

Seven Beauties: See listing under Friday, October 20. (Fine Arts, noon)

*Vacant Possession: Set in the exurbs of Sydney, this story chronicles a woman's painful return home after her mother's death. Having fled at 16, pregnant by an aboriginal neighbor, Tessa now desires to come to terms with her turbulent past. The film begins with a dream montage that contains vivid close-ups of assorted night images and is accompanied by Tessa's literate, intelligently rendered voiceover narration. This is a film of deeply lyrical imagery and subtle personal discovery. Writer-director Margot Nash proves to be another strong female voice from the film community down under, which includes fellow Australian Gillian Armstrong and New Zealander Jane Campion. The narrative's strength lies in its unflinching look at a family torn apart by poorly defined personal boundaries, willful reactive behavior, and mental illness. But it also shows the resiliency and regenerative possibilities of the surviving family members: Tessa, her older sister, and her deeply troubled father. Nash deftly intersperses scenes from Tessa's past--memories of her troubled childhood and adolescence--with the present. She also plangently dramatizes the persistence of memory by showing Tessa interacting with younger visions of herself as well as reaching out to her deceased mother. At one point Tessa holds and comforts a crying vision of herself at 16 in a poignant image of self-preservation. This is a haunting, highly accomplished film by a talent to watch. UK) (Music Box, noon)

Closed Eyes: A competent if rather bland film from Italy, written and directed by Francesca Archibugi, and coproduced by Martin Scorsese. The young son of a wealthy landowner falls in love with the daughter of a local farmer. When their attempt to keep the courtship a secret from the boy's tyrannical and abusive father falls, the girl is banished from the town and winds up in a nearby city, where she becomes a prostitute. Years later the two are reunited and resume their relationship. The man still tries to keep it a secret from his father, and the woman tries to keep her profession a secret from the man. This isn't a bad film by any means, but it's not particularly inspired either--much of the material seems tired, and its occasional descent into melodramatic histrionics doesn't help. There are vague intimations of a feminist ideology present, but not enough to turn it into something really interesting. Incidentally, Closed Eyes must hold the record for the most animals castrated, crushed, beheaded, or otherwise mutilated in one film! (RP) (Fine Arts, 1:00)

It's a Long Way to the Sea: An Indian feature directed by Jahnu Barua about a ferry captain on the Dihing River who loses his livelihood when the government builds a bridge. (Fine Arts, 2:00)

Korea: Set in 1952 in a small village in Ireland, this low-budget film tells the story of a headstrong fisherman, John Doyle--who has fallen into a state of embittered reticence as a result of several major losses in his life--and his sensitive, intelligent teenage son, Eamon. Complications develop when Eamon falls in love with Una, the daughter of the man whom John Doyle blames for many of his troubles. Director Cathal Black's theatrical film debut is a breathtakingly beautiful took at rural Ireland--lyrically rendered in a series of verdant tableaux by cameraman Nic Morris (Black is one of Ireland's greatest cameramen himself)--and features uniformly fine performances by Donal Donnelly as John Doyle and Andrew Scott and Fiona Molony as the young lovers. To his credit, Black refrains from melodrama in portraying the relationships between father and son and between the two families. Instead he depicts a series of incidents that gradually escalate the tension without ever overwhelming the simple, winsome love story of Eamon and Una. Not very original, perhaps, and not too profound, but Black's strong command of all the formal elements--cinematography, screenplay, editing, and acting--makes this a satisfying if modest effort. (JK) (Music Box, 2:00)

*Midaq Alley: See listing under Friday, October 20. (Fine Arts, 2:30)

The Wormkillers' Last Spring: Male bonding and discord on a softball team of amiable yuppies about to hit middle age. This American independent directed by Thomas Dempsey takes place on the first night of "spring training," a ritualistic event for a group of longtime friends who realize that increasing family and professional obligations might mean this will be their last season together. The guys chase fly balls between jokes and arguments as their wives sit in the bleachers swapping stories of their own. While fairly routine and predictable--there's no dearth of stories about white, middle-aged male angst these days-the script is at times amusing, and the humor is self-deprecating

enough to keep the story from becoming maudlin. The characters are enjoyable, though some seem more like caricatures dropped in, unsuccessfully, for comedic effect. Still, if you're not expecting much, you might be entertained. There's also a swell sound track by guitarist Roy Bookbinder. (RP) (Fine Arts, 3:30)

Kristin Lavransdatter: There are plastic pleasures--handsome sets and scenery populated by attractive actors, all beautifully shot by Sven Nykvist--in Liv Ullmann's second feature, which is based on Nobel Prize winner Sigrid Undset's trilogy about the ordeals Kristin and her knight-seducer Erlend have to go through before they can be united in more-or-less holy matrimony. But for those of us not brought up on this national epic, the basic story is disturbingly reminiscent of a bodice ripper: everything leads up to the wedding, as though all the insurmountable problems have been, well, surmounted. One amazing scene stands out: Kristin's confrontation with the mother of Erlend's children, who left her own husband for him and whose kittenish sexuality makes Kristin seem drab and rigid--a visual reminder that there's no accounting for taste. (MB) (Music Box, 4:00)

Les miserables: See listing under Friday, October 20. (Fine Arts, 4:15)

Mannekin Pis: This delightfully offbeat romantic comedy from Belgium arrives with a host of festival awards. The first feature film by its 30-year-old director, Frank Van Passel, Mannekin Pis (referring to a famous Brussels statue of a little boy urinating) both relies on and transcends the conventions of its genre. The principal characters are homely, even downright ugly (Harry, the young boy who grows up to become the romantic lead, sports a shaved head), but they're all the more endearing--and convincing--for that. The dialogue is often grossly hilarious, as when Harry lands a job as a dishwasher in a restaurant you wouldn't want to eat in; and Van Passel has a real talent for creating scenes and situations that are at once surreal and completely believable. (PB) (Fine Arts, 5:15)

My Mother's Courage: The talented German writer-director Michael Verhoeven returns to the subject of the Holocaust, the history of which he explored to powerful effect in The White Rose and The Nasty Girl. Unfortunately My Mother's Courage lacks their emotional impact. It's the story of Elsa Tabori, who, through a quirk of fate, survives the deportation of Budapest's Jews. Years later her son George recounts her experience in a novel, the inspiration for this film. George, now a charismatic 80-year-old, acts as the film's narrator. As he tells it, the Taboris lived quite comfortably in Budapest, where his intellectual father was a newspaper editor. Elsa was an optimist whose faith in God and people's essential goodness persisted even after her husband was imprisoned in 1944. When she was arrested on the street by two elderly neighbors she refused to panic or make a scene. When she had a chance to escape she let it pass. Soon she was crammed into a cattle car. The courage of the title does not involve organizing a collective act of resistance or helping others escape, but something that seems insignificant in the context of the Holocaust, though it may have been monumental in terms of Elsa's personal code of etiquette. Ultimately her story is too slight to carry the film, and Verhoeven's attempt to explore the irony of her survival seems grotesque, mixing uneasily with his re-creation of the terrifying journey to the death camps. (AS) (Fine Arts, 5:30)

The End of the World in Our Usual Bed in a Night Full of Rain: Another long title by Lina Wertmuller, this one for a 1978 feature starring Candice Bergen as an American feminist who becomes involved in 1968 with a radical Italian journalist (Giancarlo Giannini). He follows her to LA and persuades her to marry him, but ten years later their marriage falls apart. (Fine Arts, 7:15)

Moon Shadow: See listing under Friday, October 20. (Fine Arts, 7:30)

*Good Men, Good Women: Like its predecessors, the concluding feature in Hou Hsiao-hsien's epic trilogy about the history of Taiwan in the 20th century--one of two landmarks in Taiwanese cinema to date, along with Edward Yang's A Brighter Summer Day--focuses on both a specific period and a specific art form. City of Sadness (1989) covers the end of World War II through the retreat of the Kuomintang to Taiwan in 1949 and concentrates on still photography; The Puppet Master (1993) covers the first 36 years (1909-'45) in the life of puppet master Li Tien-lu and showcases his own art. This film, whose art form is cinema itself, intercuts material from 1949 to the present. In the present a young film actress preparing to play the real-life Chiang Bi-yu--an anti-Japanese guerrilla in 40s China who, along with her husband, was arrested as a subversive when she returned to Taiwan during the paranoid, anticommunist "White Terror" of the 50s--is harassed by an anonymous caller who's stolen her diary and is faxing her pages from it. Images evoked by her diary from her past as a drug-addicted barmaid involved with a gangster alternate with her imaginative projections of the film she's about to shoot, seen in black and white. Despite the complexity of this haunting structure, which suggests three interwoven tenses in the manner of Alain Resnais--present, past, and a curious blend of future conditional and speculative past--this is the most direct as well as the shortest (108 minutes) of the films in the trilogy, and the visual mastery is often stunning. A long static take showing the barmaid with her gangster boyfriend as she puts on makeup at a mirrored dressing table is one of the most ravishingly beautiful shots I've ever seen, with pockets of light in the surrounding room comprising a vast universe of possibilities for endless contemplation. This film doesn't even have a distributor, but it's probably the most artistically accomplished new feature I've seen this year. (JR) (Fine Arts, 7:30)

*Stonewall: The drag-queen-led riots that erupted outside the Stonewall Inn during the summer of 1969 marked the turning point in the struggle for gay rights. That pivotal moment provides the climax of this exuberant fictional account of a group of gay New Yorkers in the days leading up to the riots. The story unfolds as the reminiscences of LaMiranda, a young transvestite streetwalker who meets Matty Dean, an idealistic midwesterner newly arrived in the city to help organize the era's first gay-rights demonstrations, when they're both arrested during a raid on the club (laws that prohibited the sale of alcohol to gays and required those being served to wear gender-appropriate clothing made drag clubs tempting targets for the police). Mixing the personal and the political, the film offers two love stories. The first involves LaMiranda and Matty, while the second brings together Bostonia, the Stonewall's most imperious queen, and Skinny Vinnie, the bar's mafioso manager. Hilarious commentary on the progression of these relationships comes via narrative-stopping production numbers, in which LaMiranda and Bostonia lead trios of transvestites who lip-synch to 60s songs. Although made for a mere $2 million (financed in full by the BBC), the film is art-directed to the max: the detailed costumes and sets capture the look of that "summer of love" and do justice to the fabulousness the drag queens aspire to. Stonewall may not tell the whole story of the legendary event it celebrates, but it's full of warmth, humor, and compassion. Director Nigel Finch (The Lost Language of Cranes) died of AIDS shortly after guiding the film to a fine cut. (AS) (Music Box, 7:30)

*Red Rose White Rose: Stanley Kwan's cinema is haunted by another time and another place: Shanghai in the 1930s, the treaty port where East met West and a new type of modernity was being coined. His award-winning Actress (1991) was an homage to the golden era of the Shanghai studios, and the sensual Red Rose White Rose explores the redefining of romantic relationships within the cosmopolitan Shanghai bourgeoisie. The film is a faithful adaptation of a book by a famous Shanghai novelist of the time, Eileen Chang, to the point of quoting Whole sentences as "intertitles" on the screen. While the intertitles have been criticized by some as "anticinematic," they act as subtle reminders of Chang's irony and concerns: the discrepancies between what the characters feel and what they do, the vagaries of the heart and the emotional entanglements that result. Red Rose White Rose unfolds the sentimental education of Zhen-bao, a "perfect Chinese man of his time." Enthralled, then frightened by a passionate romance with a friend's wife (Joan Chen, in her best performance to date), he marries a young "white rose," sweet but dull. His emotional stillness sharply contrasts with the two women's wide range of feelings. Sumptuously shot and directed with a light, precise touch, Red Rose White Rose confirms Kwan's talent as Hong Kong's George Cukor: a superb director of actresses, he's a master at re-creating the interior space of a domestic drama and displays a sharp ear for the subtlety of romantic dialogues. (BR) (Fine Arts, 9:15)

Last Summer in the Hamptons: Henry Jaglom would be more tolerable if he didn't appropriate stylistic and thematic frameworks from more accomplished directors such as John Cassavetes, Eric Rohmer, and Woody Allen. His new film plays like something from Paul Bartel, but without the lacerating, outrageous humor often found in Bartel's work it's static. The film Is also so solipsistic and hermetic that it seems idealized and unrealistic. Set in late August, the story concerns a Hollywood actress named Oona (cowriter Victoria Foyt) who turns up at a bohemian actors' colony at the East Hamptons estate that belongs to matriarch Helena Mora (Viveca Lindfors). A popular actress who has just appeared in a hit movie based on a comic-book character, Oona signifies the vacuity and crass commercialism of popular culture. Her appearance in the midst of various sexual entanglements and brutal rejections at the colony unleashes other characters' resentments and darker, unresolved grievances. The plot centers on a highly coveted play written by Helena's grandson Jake (played by the gifted playwright Jon Robin Baitz) and the feeding frenzy the work inspires. The serious issues the film introduces--incest, despair, alienation--are quickly dispatched without exploring their emotional consequences. Jaglom's cutting, framing, and abrupt camera movements are jejune and too frequently invoke television aesthetics--indicative of his greater failure to find a means of expression that represents his own sensibility. The movie is so narcissistic and narrowly drawn it becomes suffocating. Occasionally the talented cast (including Andre Gregory, Martha Plimpton, Brooke Smith, and Ron Rifkin) transcend the ludicrous material. The one glimmer of originality is when Helena watches the movies she made opposite Errol Flynn and Ronald Reagan. But overall Jaglom's art has always been imitative. In the closing credits the dlrector has the gall to link his work with that of Anton Chekhov, James Joyce, and Jean Renoir. (PM) (Fine Arts, 9:30)

Menmaniacs: The Legacy of Leather: Jochen Hick's German documentary travels from Chicago to New York to San Francisco to chronicle two major events on the international leather circult--the International Mr. Leather and Mr. Drummer contests. Beneath all the leather, handcuffs, tattoos, swastikas, nipple rings, and police regalia, the film discovers exactly what it's looking for: a community. Through interviews in hotel rooms and hand-held filming on the contest floor, we meet people as earnest and enthusiastic as any group of aficionados at a convention, though it's doubtful that stamp collecting would yield as many striking images as the fantasies enacted onstage at the Mr. Drummer runoffs. The film does have its darker moments, traveling down endless corridors with pioneer S and M film actor and producer Thomas Karasch (a former International Mr. Leather) as he discusses his struggle with AIDS. (Karasch and another of the movie's major subjects, Hans-Gerd Mehrtens, died shortly before the film was released.) The quality of the 16-millimeter image leaves a lot to be desired, but the openness and spontaneity of the participants gives the proceedings an appropriately funky "home movie" intimacy. Thus the duties of a slave are enumerated with chirping zeal by a chained-up devotee in full faith that his interlocutor will understand. (RS) (Fine Arts, 9:30)

*Rhythm Thief: The parts of Matthew Harrison's Rhythm Thief that click are so impressive that most viewers will believe they've discovered a true talent in the making. A downbeat comedy about downtown New York, the film centers on the travails of Simon, a furiously out-of-sorts loner who lives in a Lower East Side apartment straight out of Kafka, survives by peddling bootleg music purloined from artists who eventually threaten to kill him, and has an uncanny knack for attracting the attention of losers and misfits. While the story turns on Simon's frustrated desire to break out of his circle in hell, much of the film's appeal comes from its quirky way of documenting his tawdry milieu. It bristles with visual wit and inventiveness (its polished black-and-white look was achieved on a budget of $11,000) and has some memorable performances, especially Kevin Corrigan's striking, hilarious turn as a street kid named Fuller. As Simon, Jason Andrews has Kerouac's dark intensity and enough headaches for a year's worth of Excedrin commercials. (GC) (Music Box, 9:30)

Sunday, October 22

It's a Long Way to the Sea: See listing under Saturday, October 21. (Fine Arts, noon)

Short Films 3: Five shorts from the U.S., the UK, and Ireland. (Music Box, noon)

The Seven Year Itch: Although it was directed and written (with George Axelrod, who adapted and bowdlerized his own play to appease the censors) by Billy Wilder, this Marilyn Monroe 'Scope classic appears at times to be presided over by Frank Tashlin--partly because of the satire on 50s puritanism and the use of wimpy Tom Ewell as the married and harried book editor, driven to dreams and distraction by his upstairs neighbor (Monroe) while his wife and son are away on holiday. There's a memorable use of Rachmaninoff's Second Piano Concerto; with Sonny Tufts, Evelyn Keyes, and Robert Strauss. (JR) (Fine Arts, 1:00)

Revenge: Sophia Loren, Marcello Mastroianni, and Giancarlo Giannini star in a 1978 Lina Wertmuller movie (also known as Blood Feud) about a Sicilian widow who sells coal during the fascist 20s and dreams of avenging her husband's murder. Incidentally, though in English this film's title is Wertmuller's shortest, in Italian it's her longest: Fatto di sangue fra due uomini per cause di una vedova, si sospettano moventi politici. (Fine Arts, 1:30)

Closed Eyes: See listing under Saturday, October 21. (Music Box, 2:00)

Throwing Down: A couple of thieves reroute a shipment of drugs to the Virginia house of a previous crime victim in this movie directed by U.S. independent Lawrence O'Neil. (Fine Arts, 2:15)

Les rendez-vous de Paris: See listing under Friday, October 20. (Fine Arts, 3:00)

*Midaq Alley See listing under Friday, October 20. (Fine Arts, 4:00)

Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision: The 1995 Academy Award winner for best documentary, this feature by Freida Lee Mock is about the architect of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. (Fine Arts, 4:30)

Kristin Lavransdatter See listing under Saturday, October 21. (Fine Arts, 5:00)

The First 100 Years: A Celebration of American Movies: Chuck Workman--the Oscar ceremony's honored clipmeister, called upon annually to furnish montages of favorite Hollywood moments--made this 91 minute English compilatlon of Hollywood tidbits. (Music Box, 5:00)

*Antonia's Line: See listing under Friday, October 20. (Fine Arts, 6:30)

L'enfant d'eau: See listing under Friday, October 20. (Fine Arts, 7:00)

Mannekin Pis: See listing under Saturday, October 21. (Music Box, 7:00)

Passover Fever: This gentle comedy, nicely acted by a roster of Israel's most popular stars, finds humor in the misunderstandings that result when an extended family gathers to celebrate Passover. Yona (Gila Almagor) and Michael (Yossef Shiloah) play host to their children and grandchildren and their problems. Oldest son Nathanel arrives with a sexy girlfriend in tow and proceeds to argue with his former wife about their son. Daughter Dorona and her charming musician husband discuss their financial worries, which have been exacerbated by medical costs incurred when their child inexplicably stopped speaking. Middle son Elhanan seems oblivious to the tensions family gatherings create for his overweight and overly sensitive wife. Gaunt and unhappy, Shai, the youngest son, secretly mourns his twin brother, who was killed during an army drill. As Yona's children eat, laugh, fight, and share news, she suddenly confides a secret of her own. Though the plot is rather contrived, first-time writer-director Shemi Zarhin displays a keen understanding of family dynamics and the problems of communication we all experience. (AS) (Fine Arts, 8:30)

Low: See listing under Friday, October 20. (Fine Arts, 9:00)

Pretty Baby: Sonke Wortmann's tale of love and lust between gays and straights suffers a bit from that relentless, somewhat manic Teutonic cheeriness that affects much German comedy. A young hunk is caught by his girlfriend screwing another woman in the john of a restaurant where they work, and suddenly finds himself without a job, apartment, and fiancee. Hitting on a series of ex-girlfriends for a place to crash only serves to inventory his history of screwed-up relationships and his signal lack of tact (sensitivity is-not his strong point). He has better luck with a group of gays who are drawn to his perfect physique. In a film filled with cheap shots, the gays in their defiant self-parody definitely come off better than the straights, whose aggressive lack of personality is mitigated only by their bewilderment at a world far more complicated than advertised. In a "men's group" discussion of clitoral versus vaginal orgasms, for instance, a gay guest is the only one to realize he doesn't have a clue. Ultimately, this obvious bedroom farce is saved from sheer oompah-pah vulgarity by the charm of Joachim Krol's Norbert, an unassuming gay man with a wry acceptance of human imperfection and a controllable yen for our hero's body. Unfortunately one performance, as good as this one is, does not a movie make. (RS) (Music Box, 9:00)

The Owner: See listing under Friday, October 20. (Fine Arts, 9:15)

Monday, October 23

A Joke of Destiny, Lying in Wait Around the Corner Like a Street Bandit: Ugo Tognazzi plays a politician trapped in his limousine and subjected to a series of socially significant humiliations in a 1983 film by Lina Wertmuller. (Fine Arts, 5:00).

Short Films 5: Subtitled "People and Places," this program consists of three films: Nina Davenport's Hello Photo, from the U.S. (the places are in India); Margret Run's Laura of Albania, from Germany; and Randy Redroad's High Horse (the people are Native Americans). (Fine Arts, 5:00)

Not Bad for a Girl: See listing under Friday, October 20. (Music Box, 5:00)

Passover Fever: See listing under Sunday, October 22. (Fine Arts, 5:15)

*Anne Frank Remembered: A disturbing and moving film by Jon Blair. Even if you've read the Diary or seen plays or movies inspired by it, you know less than half the story that's assembled here. Meticulously researched, this film combines new interviews with Frank's contemporaries, vintage photos, documentary film dips, and eerily beautiful footage of the actual rooms in which the Franks hid (re-dressed for this movie with the cooperation of Anne Frank House, where visitors see the rooms quite bare). The familiar story is thus encased in the unfamiliar. Blair shows the entire arc of Anne Frank's life, from her comfortable haute-bourgeoisie origins to her life in hiding to the hideous ride in unheated cattle cars toward the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp and the death that awaited her. The second hour traces the lives of the separated Franks, including the deaths of the three women and the return of Otto Frank to Amsterdam, and concludes with the publication and afterlife of the Diary. The film is guaranteed to have you awash despite the curious choice of Waspish stars as narrators. Kenneth Branagh manages to infuse his voice-overs with some warmth, but Glenn Close's voice is too chilly for the diary excerpts she reads. Mercifully we're spared the diary's most famous line of all. Would Anne really have thought that people were "basically good" if she could have foreseen the horror that awaited her? (MB) (Fine Arts, 7:00)

Full Body Massage: Director Nicolas Roeg has had a long streak of uneven films that start off promising but end up succumbing to incoherence (e.g., Cold Heaven, Track 29, Insignificance). This time out, he's settled on a simple story of a successful art dealer (Mimi Rogers) who gets an exceptional massage from Fitch (Bryan Brown), an intense, spiritual masseur with a hidden, tragic past. This talky film would probably work much better as a staged play. Many of the film's conceits are specious: Western culture is bad, except for the Hopis; Eastern culture is good; we're spiritually bankrupt; modern art is bereft of ideas and originality. Roeg employs Fitch as an erudite, critical mouthpiece to recite a continuous litany of society's transgressions. This could have been interesting if it built to some sort of dramatic resolution, but ultimately there's not much going on here except for the waste of two fine performances by Rogers and Brown. Ironically, coming from a former cinematographer, the film is also a visual bore. (JK) (Fine Arts, 7:00)

Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead: Originally listed as the festival's "surprise" screening but, alas, both the surprise and the wit end with the title. Produced and distributed by Miramax, this looks like made-to-order imitation-Tarantino fodder without much point except stylishness (not to be confused with style). It's about a retired criminal (Andy Garcia) recruited by his former boss (Christopher Walken) to frighten the new boyfriend of his son's former girlfriend, a plan that goes awry when a borderline nutcase (Treat Williams) in the team of hoods gets carried away. Directed by first-timer Gary Fleder from a screenplay by Scott Rosenberg, the movie is so intellectually and spiritually arid that you may even find yourself forgetting the plot before it's half over. The remainder of the highly predictable cast includes Christopher Lloyd, William Forsythe, Bill Nunn, Jack Warden, Gabrielle Anwar, Fairuza Balk, and, yep, Steve Buscemi. (JR) (Music Box, 7:00)

The First 100 Years: A Celebration of American Movies: See listing under Sunday, October 22. (Fine Arts, 7:15)

A Complex Plot About Women, Alleys, and Crimes: Lina Wertmuller directs Harvey Keitel and Angela Molina in a 1985 murder mystery. (Fine Arts, 9:00)

*Carmen Miranda: Bananas Is My Business: To those who know Carmen Miranda only as a fruit-bedecked camp icon, the probing, sharply crafted portrait offered by Carmen Miranda: Bananas Is My Business should prove as revelatory as it is enthralling. Recalling her own childhood fascination with Miranda, filmmaker Helena Solberg sets a personal tone that continues as she uses film clips, recordings, and interviews to reconstruct the life of the Portugal-born samba singer, who rocketed to stardom in Brazil at age 20, made a splash on Broadway, then achieved worldwide fame in the movies. Miranda, who died at 46, comes across as talented, charismatic, and self-possessed, but always tossed by more powerful forces: the film's most riveting section recounts how she became America's "Good Neighbor Policy in person" when the Nelson Rockefeller-led Office of InterAmerican Affairs coaxed Hollywood into helping cement wartime alliances in Latin America by making Miranda the emblem of carefree, musical Hispanics. As Solberg shows, the patronizing nature of that image made Miranda an ambivalent figure, even to staunch fans. (GC) (Music Box, 9:00)

Eggs: A Norwegian feature written and directed by Bent Hamer about two aging brothers who share a house and discover one of them has an adult son who's coming to live with them. (Fine Arts, 9:15)

*Rhythm Thief See listing under Saturday, October 21. (Fine Arts, 9:30)

Tuesday, October 24

*Anne Frank Remembered See listing under Monday, October 23. (Fine Arts, 5:00)

The World of Animation: Ten animated short films from Australia, the U.S., Canada, and the UK. (Music Box, 5:00)

L'amore molesto: A better-than-average Italian feature in black and white, directed by Mario Martone, about a grown daughter investigating her mother's apparent suicide and discovering what her love life actually consisted of. It held my interest a couple of months ago, and some of the performances are strikingly lifelike. (JR) (Fine Arts, 7: 00)

Softly, Softly: A 1984 Lina Wertmuller feature about a man who, while making love to his wife, discovers that she's in love with someone else and then that the someone else is a woman. (Fine Arts, 7:00)

Last Call: Willem Bouwmeester (Rijk Gooijer), a lesser member of Holland's preeminent theatrical family, is given what. is certainly his last chance at greatness when he's cast as the lead in a new play. After some initial doubts from the director about whether he can do it, Willem begins to rise to the challenge of the role. In doing so he awakens from the dormancy of his own life, dredging up a number of unresolved issues, including his sexual identity, political affiliations, and understanding of an actor's creative impetus. Director Frans Weisz evinces a great degree of sensitivity in his depiction of an elderly man for whom profound change may prove elusive. Gooijer's understated performance as the flawed, vulnerable Willem is one of the finest recent portrayals of an elderly person. The flashback scenes of his life are a bit heavyhanded, however, and some of the film's conceits--the actor doesn't become the character, the character becomes the actor; an actor merely interprets the script but a true artist creates--are cliched. But the film has a touching, bittersweet tone that rings true, firmly abetted by the redoubtable Robbie Muller's evocative cinematography. (JK) (Music Box, 7:15)

The Haunted World of Edward D. Wood, Jr.: I've only sampled this documentary by Brett Thompson about the inept and personal grade-Z schlockmeister, a natural spin-off of Tim Burton's fanciful biopic, but loved every minute of what I saw. From the excerpt from Wood's fabled first film, Crossroads of Laredo (a 20-minute western--its sound track now lost--in which the horses keep getting in the way of the actors), to Vampira's scabrous account of her alleged affair with Orson Welles, this is disreputable fun all the way. Other talking heads include Conrad Brooks, Loretta King, the Reverend Dr. Lynn Lemon (the Baptist minister who helped to finance Plan 9 From Outer Space), Bela Lugosi Jr., and Lyle Talbot. Most of what I saw keeps a straight face, but that doesn't mean you have to. (JR) (Fine Arts, 7:30)

The Pompatus of Love: A group of men in their early 30s do the male bonding boogie in assorted Big Apple locales, including bars, strip clubs, and the street. Scripted by costars Jon Cryer and Adam Oliensis and director Richard Schenkman, the film contains a number of funny lines, mostly delivered in rapid-fire style by the ensemble cast. But much of the dialogue is verbose in an ostentatious way. And intentional or not, each one of these guys is about as likable as a car alarm at 3 AM: there's Phil, the macho plumber who guiltily contemplates cheating on his wife; Josh, the cute narcissist who's made a fine science out of bullshitting women; Mark, the sensitive psychiatrist who's a controlling pain in the ass; and Runyon, the wacky struggling writer who's embittered after a messy breakup with his girlfriend. There are any number of great at films on the subject of male dynamics--John Cassavetes's Husbands and Barry Levinson's Diner are two that come to mind. Both of these films also contain some characters who are less than likable, but unlike the ones in this film, they evoke sympathy. And they don't spend 99 minutes whining. (JK) (Fine Arts, 9:00)

*Good Men, Good Women See listing under Saturday, October 21. (Fine Arts, 9:15)

Summer Might With a Greek Profile, Almond Colored Eyes and the Scent of Basil: A Lina Wertmuller feature (1986) in which Mariangela Melato plays a wealthy woman who hires someone to kidnap a kidnapper but then falls in love with the man he kidnaps. (Fine Arts, 9:15)

Last Summer in the Hamptons: See listing under Saturday, October 21. (Music Box, 9:15)

Wednesday, October 25

The Pompatus of Love: See listing under Tuesday, October 24. (Fine Arts, 5:00)

The Maestro: King of the Cowboy Artists: Les Blank's documentary looks at the life and work of artist Gerald Gaxiola (aka the Maestro), who refuses to accept money for his creations. On the same program is Blank's short musical portrait Sworn to the Drum: A Tribute to Francisco Aguabella. (Music Box, 5:00)

The Haunted World of Edward D. Wood, Jr.: See listing under Tuesday, October 24. (Fine Arts, 5:15)

Once Upon a Time ... When We Were Colored: Tim Reid's film follows a boy's coming of age in a segregated town. With Phylicia Rashad, Richard Roundtree, Taj Mahal, and Al Freeman Jr. (Fine Arts, 6:30)

Saturday, Sunday, and Monday: Sophia Loren plays a faithful housewife whose husband mistrusts her in a 1990 feature by Lina Wertmuller. (Fine Arts, 7:00)

Lady Mary: Shot in Chicago, this gritty urban drama purports to tell the story of the pathetic downward spiral and subsequent rehabilitation of Mary, a longtime alcoholic. When we first meet her she's shambling in and out of crappy bars, passing out in alleys, trying to slip past the night manager of the sleazy transient hotel where she's staying because she owes him rent. The great films on alcoholism and other forms of substance abuse--Billy Wilder's The Lost Weekend, Blake Edwards's Days of Wine and Roses, Gus Van Sant's Drugstore Cowboy--are effective in large part because they don't spend much time attempting to explain what makes a person an addict. But Frank Micek, the producer, writer, and director of Lady Mary, is so intent on depicting the psychological reasons his characters have hit bottom that he ends up obscuring the complexity of their anguish--they're symbols of pain rather than characters who embody it. His film becomes a treatise on alcoholism, suggesting that with a little love and struggle virtually all hard-core boozers and dopers can get sober and find meaning in their lives. Wish it were so easy. (JK) (Music Box, 7:00)

Short Films 6: Five films from Canada, Ireland, the U.S., and the UK. (Fine Arts, 7:15)

Under the Hula Moon: Buzzard Wall (Stephen Baldwin) and his wife Betty (Emily Lloyd) are a couple of cute li'l ol' countrified dimwits living in a trailer home in some jerkwater town in Arizona. Buzzard is one of those sorry goobers trying to hit it big with one pathetic get-rich-quick scheme after another. Of course Betty is about as feckless as her hubby, so she sticks by him, and together they spend a lot of time visualizing their move to Hawaii once the cash cow arrives and adorning their crappy abode with plastic palm trees and pink flamingos. But wouldn't you know it, Buzz's half brother Turk (Chris Penn)--short for Turkey, get it?--shows up. He's just broken out of jail, and happens to be one ornery, psychotic bugger. Director and cowriter Jeff Celentano is apparently striving to effect a perverse, quasi-alternative tone to this comedy thriller, including a Hawaiian god who talks inspirationally to Buzz, much like Elvis did to Christian Slater's character in the Quentin Tarantino-scripted True Romance. But everything about this film is so inept and offensive that to say he misses the mark is overgenerous. Baldwin is annoying and completely unbelievable employing a generic redneck southern accent, the overall mise-en-scene is static, the view of small-town America is patronizing, and the mix of romantic comedy and violence-laced drama is sloppily executed. (JK) (Fine Arts, 9:00)

End of an Era: Antonis Kokkinos's auspicious feature debut is one of a slew of recent films about adolescents in the 60s and 70s. Of course, 1969 in Greece under Papadopoulos is more like 1959 anywhere else. The music may be up-to-date (one of the main characters runs a small rock 'n' roll radio station from his house), but the sexual revolution is still aeons away (stag films and bordellos still rule the day). As for politics, the high school principal cancels a production of Ionesco's Rhinoceros, not because of its ideological message (he's never even heard of the play) but because the son of a political prisoner has a role in it. In this world of social isolationism, the group dynamics of a bunch of friends who hang out together begin to reflect more than the fulfillment or betrayal of adolescent promise. Thus the almost imperceptible shift in a charismatic member of the group from alienation to callousness resonates eerily. It's a compelling film, as much for the stark black-and-white poetry of its cityscapes, traversed by mournful saxophonists, as for the subtlety of its characters fulfilling their manifest destinies. It maps out roads taken and roads not taken in the senior year of high school, at the end of a decade but not yet at the end of a dictatorship. (RS) (Fine Arts, 9:00)

*Orson Welles: The One-Man Band: This is the third feature composed of unseen Welles material compiled since his death; the others were a slapdash Spanish feature put together from his sublime Don Quixote footage (shown once in New York, never here) and the more conscientious French-American documentary It's All True: Based on an Unfinished Film by Orson Welles. Like its predecessors, The One-Man Band is a commercial version of unfinished work that's been archived (Quixote went to the Filmoteca Espanola, "Four Men on a Raft" to UCLA, the material here to the Munich Film Archives); but in this case the footage comes from the last two decades of Welles's life, and the film is built around the recollections of Oja Kodar, his companion and principal collaborator during this period. The most exciting selections are two astonishing sequences from The Other Side of the Wind (a nearly completed 70s feature still tied up in legal and financial complications) and some lovely tests for The Dreamers (a cherished late project based on two Isak Dinesen stories). They're followed by excerpts from his 40-minute color adaptation of The Merchant of Venice, Welles's solo performance of monologues derived from Moby Dick, and undistributed trailers for The Deep and F for Fake. Also included are many tidbits from an unfinished 1969 TV special that reveal Welles's rarely shown taste for low comedy, ranging from the delightful title sequence to an unfunny piece of selfmockery involving tailors. The One-Man Band moves between Kodar's concrete, passionate memories and some vague musings from her Croatian collaborator on this film, Vassili Silovic, and writer Roland Zag: neither man is especially knowledgeable about Welles, and both seek to poeticize their remoteness from the subject, with mixed results. But the main dish--the footage from the Welles vaults, which Silovic is generally adept at interweaving with his own material--is essential viewing. (JR) (Music Box, 9:00)

Sex Is a Four Letter Word: Armed with a video camera, an advice-to-the-lovelorn columnist invites a bunch of her friends over for dinner to "research" her new book on love. They recount their stories in bickering bouts around the main course, or in drunken maudlin confessions as the evening disintegrates. Apparently these stories are based on real experiences, proving conclusively that truth can be far more boring than fiction. About the only reason to see Murray Fahey's film (aside from the title, which evidently exhausted all available wit) is to catch it on a big screen before it hits Mystery Science Theater 3000. It's not that the joys of instant camp--bad dialogue, atrocious acting, rampant pretentiousness--are to be sneezed at. A zero budget does not insure acting of such shrill monotony or predictability, even in Australia, and this film oozes petty-minded and quite gratuitous nastiness. Amazingly the nastiness has almost nothing to do with sex and everything to do with the pointless meanderings of people who have nothing to say for themselves. With friends like these . . . (RS) (Fine Arts, 9:15)

Thursday, October 26

*Orson Welles: The One-Man Band: See listing under Wednesday, October 25. (Fine Arts, 5:00)

Lady Mary: See listing under Wednesday, October 25. (Fine Arts, 5:00)

End of an Era: See listing under Wednesday, October 25. (Music Box, 5:00)

Throwing Down: See listing under Sunday, October 22. (Fine Arts, 7:00)

Ciao, Professore!: A kindhearted northern Italian schoolteacher is accidentally sent to a third-grade classroom in the south, leading to a series of cultural clashes, in a comedy directed by Lina Wertmuller. The executive producer was Italy's current prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi. Loosely based on a book by Marcello D'Orta; with Paolo Villaggio, Isa Daniell, Gigio Morra, and Sergio Solli. (Fine Arts, 7:00)

The World of Animation: See listing under Tuesday, October 24. (Music Box, 7:00)

Last Call: See listing under Tuesday, October 24. (Fine Arts, 7:15)

L'amore molesto: See listing under Tuesday, October 24. (Fine Arts, 9:00)

Sex Is a Four Letter Word: See listing under Wednesday, October 25. (Music Box, 9:00)

*Carmen Miranda: Bananas Is My Business: See listing under Monday, October 23. (Fine Arts, 9:15)

The Maestro: King of the Cowboy Artists: See listing under Wednesday, October 25. (Fine Arts, 9:15)

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Agenda Teaser

Performing Arts
Guards at the Taj Steppenwolf Theatre
June 13
Performing Arts
Top-Notch Tuesdays Laugh Out Loud
July 25 1

Tabbed Event Search

Popular Stories