The Reader's Guide to the 34th Annual Chicago International Film Festival 

Friday, October 9

The Mighty

Peter Chelsom is a talented filmmaker, but his third feature indulges in the most manipulative impulses of middlebrow art. From the opening shot the tone is one of oppression and coercion, of desperation for validation and approval. Displaying an uncanny resemblance to the recent Simon Birch, this adaptation of Rodman Philbrick's novel Freak the Mighty portrays the friendship of two social outcasts, the hulking, uneasy Max (Elden Henson) and the physically limited but intelligent Kevin (Kieran Culkin). Chelsom and screenwriter Charles Leavitt also steal shamelessly from Terry Gilliam's The Fisher King, which only makes the movie feel patched together. The secondary cast--Harry Dean Stanton, Gena Rowlands, James Gandolfini--is strong, and Sharon Stone is convincing as Kevin's patient, suffering mother, though she doesn't register with her normal ferocity. But the movie doesn't have a single scene that feels honest or believable. Nonetheless, it received a 15-minute standing ovation at its Cannes premiere--a frightening indication of where the industry stands. (PM) (600 N. Michigan, 7:00)

The Celebration

On balance, "Dogma 95"--a Danish manifesto signed by Lars von Trier, Thomas Vinterberg, and others that calls for location shooting, handheld cameras, direct sound, and an avoidance of special effects--probably has more significance as a publicity stunt than as an ideological breakthrough, judging from the first two features to emerge under its ground rules, von Trier's The Idiots and Vinterberg's The Celebration. Both films are apparent acts of rebellion and daring that are virtually defined by their middle-class assumptions and dogged apoliticism, though von Trier's movie boasts one good scene surrounded by a lot of ersatz Cassavetes. Yet Vinterberg's work, which is even more conventional in inspiration--think Ibsen, Strindberg, Bergman--is genuinely explosive because it's so powerfully executed. Shot with the smallest and lightest digital video camera available, The Celebration chronicles the acrimonious and violent family battles that ensue at a country manor house where the 60th birthday of the family patriarch is being observed, not long after the eldest son's twin sister has committed suicide. The extreme forms of aggressive behavior that emerge from the onset and Vinterberg's jagged style of crosscutting disguise the fact that this is basically a very well written, acted, and directed piece of psychodrama rather than the revolutionary experiment it pretends to be--the sheer power of the gradual unveiling of family secrets eventually won me over. (JR) (600 N. Michigan, 7:00)

Pleasantville

Twins (Tobey Maguire and Reece Witherspoon) from a broken family in the present find themselves in a "perfect" fictional town of the 50s--presumably something like the one in The Truman Show, though this one's in black and white until the twins bring in color. This fantasy is the directorial debut of Gary Ross, the screenwriter of Big and Dave; he also wrote and coproduced. With Jeff Daniels, Joan Allen, William H. Macy, and the late J.T. Walsh. This will soon be opening commercially. (600 N. Michigan, 7:00)

Welcome Back, Mr. McDonald

This entertaining and spirited film by Koki Mitani--who adapted a play by his avant-garde theater collective--focuses on the frantic backstage drama surrounding a radio production, which suggests a collage of Orson Welles and Preston Sturges: screwball farce overlying deft social satire. A prim young Tokyo housewife wins a contest that will allow her script about a rural fisherman's wife to be performed on Tokyo's leading radio station. The lead actress wants wholesale changes for her character, setting in motion a succession of last-second changes and hilarious improvisations. The characters, with their raging insecurities, are superbly drawn, including the author's husband, who finds some uncomfortable autobiographical truth in the script; producers caught between satisfying the sponsors and satisfying the talent; and a retired sound-effects virtuoso, now working as a security guard, who helps out an overtaxed producer. The product plugs (the source of the title) are amusingly woven in, a dismaying indication of how much the material has been Americanized. Mitani doesn't qualify as a stylist, and he can't always sustain the freneticism. But his movie is immensely enjoyable. (PM) (Music Box, 7:00)

Leo the Last

Perhaps the most neglected of John Boorman's films, and certainly one of the strangest, this 1969 feature stars Marcello Mastroianni as a withdrawn Italian aristocrat who has a voyeuristic relationship with the residents of the black London ghetto where he lives, until he eventually emerges from his cocoon. Written by Boorman and William Stair, the film also features Billie Whitelaw and Calvin Lockhart. Steeped in the syntax of the swinging 60s even more than Boorman's previous Having a Wild Weekend and Point Blank, the film looks dated today, but interestingly and revealingly; and it shows a kind of originality and verve that has been Boorman's stock-in-trade from the beginning. (JR) (Music Box, 7:15)

Friendly Fire

This lean thriller examines issues of guilt, remorse, and complicity while attempting to gauge the psychological repercussions of political violence. Miguel, an aide to a left-wing congressman, discovers irrefutable evidence that the policeman who killed his lover and brutally tortured himself and three comrades staged his own death and is living a quiet, unremarkable life in a remote Brazilian village. Miguel concocts a plan for revenge, and his three aging friends reluctantly take part. This second feature by the gifted young Brazilian director Beto Brant vividly conjures up the reign of terror under the military junta in the 70s and the insurmountable odds confronting the young radicals who opposed it. Running just 76 minutes, it has a taut, economic expositional style, though this doesn't allow for much character development and leaves open too many unexplored possibilities. Worse, a major plot reversal is revealed so late it creates an imbalance, denying any psychological or dramatic complexity. Still, Brant is a director to watch. The way he uses the frame and imparts information visually is controlled and alert, and the acting is uniformly strong. Though it doesn't explore the more difficult and ambiguous issues it suggests, this remains a good, strong genre movie with a bleakly ironic ending. (PM) (600 N. Michigan, 7:30)

Saving Grace

A seemingly well-meaning film about "saving" a tough street kid from homelessness and junk food, Saving Grace is anything but graceful. The dialogue is bathetic, the staging arch, and the acting less than mesmerizing. But when one of the main characters declares he's Jesus Christ and actually means it, Saving Grace transmutes itself from an earnest social-problem movie to a somewhat creepy parable of Christ returned to earth--and things at least begin to get interestingly messy. Transposing Duncan Sarkies's play to the screen, New Zealand director Costa Botes (codirector with Peter Jackson of the mockumentary Forgotten Silver) infuses the theatrically symbolic acting out with a corporeal realism that's more than a little unsettling--as long as it stays within the realm of the highly unlikely. For it's far easier to accept the deification of a Maori carpenter--able to walk on water and flip coins so they land on their edges--than the demonization of the "unsaved" homeless, depicted here as the kind of soulless, scuzzy freaks that generally populate cheapo postapocalyptic action flicks. Saving Grace aspires to the tension of a millennial film like The Rapture, succeeding less in its cutesy updatings (Christ coming out on a radio talk show, a refrigerator full of loaves and fishes) than in its anguished vision of a modern-day Christ in whom salvation and exploitation are inexplicably intertwined. (RS) (600 N. Michigan, 9:15)

Those Who Love Me

Can Take the Train

At the dazzling beginning of this film we're thrown together with an oddly assorted group of mourners taking the train from Paris to attend the funeral of an artist friend in Limoges, and we're forced to figure out the complicated relationships for ourselves from bits and pieces of information. Director Patrice Chereau, a renowned director of theater and opera as well as films, doesn't waste any time on exposition as he explores love and death in this Altman-esque nonromp. Several of France's best actors strut their stuff for a couple of hours. Vincent Perez, who appears to have grown a couple of pretty little breasts for his glamorous role as a chick with a dick, is a standout; Jean-Louis Trintignant is opaque in a dual role as the deceased artist and his twin brother, a businessman. Alas, all is not explained, and you may feel vaguely dissatisfied. (MB) (600 N. Michigan, 9:15)

1999

Xenophobic and awkwardly staged, this feature about the intersecting fortunes of a group of twentysomething professionals at a New Year's Eve party at the end of the millennium is also dull and vapid, though it continually strains for insight and profundity. First-time writer and director Nick Davis can't animate his uncharismatic characters in a fresh or compelling way, and the crosscutting of the individual stories is mechanical and uninspired. The film's nominal hero, a good-looking though callow kid (Dan Futterman), must choose between two astonishingly attractive, accomplished women--the girlfriend (Jennifer Garner) he can't commit to and the colleague (Amanda Peet) he lusts after. Most of the other characters are either pathetic or shrill. Davis tries to jazz up the material with technique, video interpolations, and black-and-white flashbacks, but these devices can't disguise the hollowness of the movie's ideas. There's one strong scene--an emotionally bruising moment when a young man discovers a hard truth about his father (well played by Buck Henry)--but Davis can't give it any lasting resonance. (PM) (600 N. Michigan, 9:15)

Hold You Tight

Less polished and controlled than many of Stanley Kwan's previous films, Hold You Tight has a peculiar spacey charm as it wanders dazedly in and out of its setups. It begins with a clear-cut duality: two very similar-looking women (both played by Hong Kong sex kitten Chingmy Yau) are at the airport about to board a plane--one gets on and is killed when the plane crashes; the other has forgotten her passport and is saved. But almost all of the film is structured around the woman who does board the aircraft, crosscutting between her life before she took off and the lives of those she has left behind. On the eve of the fateful trip, love and desire had been rekindled between her and her computer-absorbed, cute-but-repressed husband. Circling around him now are a chubby gay real estate agent, whose interest in his body and apartment is curiously nondemanding, and the wife's sometime lover, a young lifeguard from Taiwan who gravitates toward the husband for reasons unknown even to himself. Hold You Tight is about free-floating desire--every encounter is sexually charged. Bit players such as a pregnant video-store clerk are as likely as the leads to act as lodestars in the featureless urban sprawl. For the film's real protagonist is Hong Kong, particularly Hong Kong at night. Kwan contrasts the intensely interpersonal nature of inside spaces--gyms, malls, swimming pools, bars, apartments--with the fluid neon limbo outside, where characters are apt to zoom out into nothingness if they have no one to hold tight. (RS) (Music Box, 9:20)

Of Freaks and Men

Alexei Balabanov's extraordinary follow-up to last year's Brother is as utterly compelling as it is beyond-the-pale weird. Life in sepia-toned turn-of-the-century Saint Petersburg is as cheap as it was in the vividly contemporary Moscow of Brother, though whether that's a by-product of the corruption of capitalism or a sickness of the psyche is moot. Of Freaks and Men is about pornography--its buyers and its sellers. Not surprisingly, it's a business that attracts the soulless, the sadistic, and the sold out, all marked by traumas in the past or present ("And so Lisa became a woman," a title card announces). It's not a pretty picture. The only characters displaying emotions other than untrammeled greed or sadistic joy soon become addicted to their victimization or flutter around helplessly like butterflies waiting to be impaled. The film owes much to silent cinema--personality and destiny are defined more by the way figures stride or creep or scurry (to the stirring strains of Prokofiev) through streets and hallways on their dirty-postcard rounds than by their often static dramatic confrontations. Indeed, Of Freaks and Men heralds the incorporation of technical and artistic discoveries into prefilm structures of exploitation: here the invention of cinema is marked by the passage from still photos of naked women being beaten with switches to moving pictures of naked women being beaten with switches. (RS) (600 N. Michigan, 9:30)

Donald Cammell: The Ultimate Performance

One of the most promising film debuts of the 70s was Donald Cammell's Performance, codirected by cinematographer Nicolas Roeg and starring James Fox and Mick Jagger--a nominal gangster film that explored sexual androgyny, drugs, and suicide. In the next two decades Cammell managed to direct only three more films (Demon Seed, White of the Eye, and The Wild Side, from which he removed his name), all of which explore the themes of Performance. The same themes turned up in his private life--his suicide by gunshot eerily duplicates the suicide in Performance. Documentary filmmakers Kevin McDonald and Chris Rodley have assembled an engrossing, witty, and affecting look at Cammell's life and times, from his privileged upper-class youth as a fashionable painter in swinging London and bohemian Paris to the final frustrating years of unmade projects in Los Angeles. Interviews with Jagger, Fox, Roeg, Barbara Steele, and many others are interspersed with film clips and footage of Cammell to make a document that's nearly as disturbing as Performance. (MB) (Music Box, 9:30)

Saturday,

October 10

Deliverance

John Boorman's film of James Dickey's novel has a beautiful visual style that balances the film's machismo message. Four men on a canoe trip down one of Georgia's last unspoiled rivers meet violence and death; Burt Reynolds is the compulsive outdoorsman and Jon Voight is the quiet city man out of his element. The best scene occurs early in the film when one of the men plays a strange banjo-guitar duet with a half-witted backwoods boy. Be sure to be on time. (DD) (Music Box, 12:15)

Angel on My Shoulder

Cult actress Gwen Welles had a dazzling debut at 19 as the vulnerable aspiring country singer forced to strip for an unappreciative audience in Robert Altman's Nashville. In the years that followed, she led a glamorous life of sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll but never fulfilled the promise of her debut. She became friends with director Donna Deitch and acted in her film Desert Hearts. When Welles was diagnosed with terminal colon cancer at 42, Deitch agreed to make a film about the end of her life. Welles is amazingly touching and inspirational as she unflinchingly examines her physical deterioration and reactions to her eventual death, though her vanity--she refuses a possibly life-saving colostomy operation because it might disfigure her--pop spirituality, and overwhelming narcissism make her annoying and exasperating. This movie should move anybody interested in the issues that surround love and friendship and the mystery and cruelty of death. (MB) (Music Box, 2:00)

The Interview

Eddie, scared and confused, is sitting in the darkened interrogation room of a Melbourne police station, having been unceremoniously dumped there after the cops broke into his house and arrested him on suspicion of stealing a car. Opposite him are a veteran detective with ice in his veins and the smiling muscle man who spells him; their brutal style is familiar from TV police dramas. But why such a circus over a stolen car? Feeling increasingly manipulated, Eddie finds a way to play with the truth and turn the tables. Australian Craig Monahan is the director of this assured and remarkable first feature, which flip-flops unpredictably as it weighs truth and lies, power and intimidation (Kafka may come to mind, but Monahan says he never read The Trial). Hugo Weaving as Eddie and Tony Martin as the detective play magnificently off each other. (AM) (Music Box, 2:20)

Hold You Tight

See listing under Friday, October 9. (600 N. Michigan, 2:30)

Those Who Love Me Can Take the Train

See listing under Friday, October 9. (600 N. Michigan, 2:30)

Of Freaks and Men

See listing under Friday, October 9. (600 N. Michigan, 3:00)

1999

See listing under Friday, October 9. (600 N. Michigan, 3:00)

Short Works by John Boorman

The world premiere of a video documentary by Boorman, A Personal Portrait of Lee Marvin, about the actor who starred in Boorman's Point Blank and Hell in the Pacific; it will turn up on television on American Movie Classics in mid-November. On the same program, Boorman's Two Nudes Bathing (1995), a short film starring John Hurt and inspired by an unsigned painting in the Louvre. (Music Box, 3:45)

For Sale

Laetitia Masson's second feature, after To Have (Or Not), is an absolute knockout. The setup is pure film noir: a PI is hired by a lovelorn friend to find the woman who's absconded with a suitcase full of money just before they're to be married. Inevitably, the detective is drawn to the missing woman and embarks on a Laura-like obsessional quest. As he painstakingly puts together the pieces of her life in a collage of flashbacks, the fascinating, complex, and ambiguous portrait that emerges mirrors his own ex-wife's "faithlessness" and his own personal male search for truth--the sad-sack gumshoe becomes a kind of noir Oedipus, seeking to fix truth or blame. Yet the film quite deliberately fails to answer him one way or the other: is the mysterious "France" a gold-digging prostitute or a more-sinned-against-than-sinning free spirit? The reductiveness of this money-love opposition is completely blown away by Sandrine Kiberlain's intransigent, incredibly lived-in performance, leaving the quandary posed by the title: who or what is for sale, and what will it cost? France's insistence on bringing money into each equation--demanding money for sex, offering money for sex, paying back her parents to the last penny for the cost of her upbringing--at first seems like a character quirk or a sign that's she's alienated or has been misused, but in fact it's at the heart of her peculiar, subversive honesty. It's the one thing capable of throwing everything and everyone she encounters into disarray, calling into question the nature of love, work, and any form of interpersonal exchange. This film is a far more intimate manifesto than Jean-Luc Godard's 1966 Two or Three Things I Know About Her, reminding us how long it's been since anyone's really asked about the link between love and money. (RS) (Music Box, 4:30)

Green Fish

The directorial debut of screenwriter Lee Chang-dong (To the Starry Island), this is one of the finer, more nuanced Korean gangster films of recent years, though it's often brutally violent. The screenplay is complex yet straightforward, with all threads leading back to the theme of family and ultimately reconciliation. Makdong gets his army discharge and returns home to a distinctly unwelcoming family in a Seoul suburb. At loose ends and with an affinity for trouble, he falls into a gang after making a pass at a mobster's addicted girlfriend. Standard plot conventions come into play--Makdong wins the trust of his gang boss while nursing an obsession with the much-abused girlfriend, underworld rivalries decimate the gang. Yet the performances have integrity, and the quiet beauty of the ending, though tinged with sentimentalism, is profoundly satisfying. (BS) (600 N. Michigan, 4:45)

Girls' Night

Reportedly an example of English kitchen-sink realism, the film stars Brenda Blethyn (Secrets & Lies) and Julie Walters as a factory worker and her best-friend sister-in-law (though it's not clear who plays which). One of them wins 100,000 quid at bingo shortly before she discovers she has cancer, and they both decide to fly to Las Vegas. Directed by Nick Hurran. (600 N. Michigan, 5:00)

Once We Were Strangers

A romantic comedy from the U.S., written and directed by Emanuele Crialese, about an Indian emigre in New York coping with a prearranged marriage and an Italian (Vincenzo Amato) in love with a radio talk-show host who's looking for a green card. (600 N. Michigan, 5:00)

The 92 Minutes of Mr. Baum

Mickey Baum, an Israeli who imports purple sunglasses from China, has just been told by his doctor that he has 92 minutes to live. Devastated and baffled, he swiftly but calmly decides to try to settle his affairs as best he can. Assi Dayan, son of the former defense minister Moshe Dayan, directed this cruelly funny movie about life's ironies and imponderables, the third part of a trilogy that also includes Life According to Agfa (1992) and Electric Blanket (1994). Dayan, who's also a novelist and an actor, won his country's equivalent of an Oscar for his performance in the lead role. Before writing the script, Dayan says, "I asked several people what they would do if they were informed they only had 92 minutes left, and the answer was, in most cases, simply silence. Because 92 minutes is too short a time to commit suicide, take a tour round the world, make love, or waste time in traffic jams on the way to emergency rooms. However--and this is the point of the movie--it makes no difference whether you've got 92 minutes or 92 years." (AM) (600 N. Michigan, 5:00)

Life at Any Cost

This 1997 Swedish documentary is a loving tribute to the late film director Bo Widerberg (best known for Elvira Madigan), directed by his friend and sometime colleague Stefan Jarl and featuring the star of many of Widerberg's films, Thommy Berggren. The opening shot is of Berggren looking into the distance, signaling that the film won't pretend to capture much of Widerberg's life or art. Yet it does succeed in giving a sense of the diversity of his interests, of his humanity, and of his modesty (he criticizes directors who "work out exactly what actors should think"). But Life at Any Cost is most likely to interest those who know Widerberg's work well; there's little footage of him and, worse, little footage from his films, so the elaborate descriptions we hear of scenes we don't see are awkward and don't quite come alive. (FC) (Music Box, 5:45)

Apt Pupil

Bryan Singer's intentions in this deeply misguided film, his second feature, may have been good. Adapted from a short story by Stephen King, Apt Pupil tells the tale of an overachieving high schooler named Todd (Brad Renfro) who becomes fascinated with the Holocaust and then discovers a former Nazi camp guard named Arthur Denker (Ian McKellen) living secretly in his neighborhood. Rather than turn Denker over to authorities, as he knows he should, Todd forces him to dress up in an old SS uniform and recount, in grisly detail, all the horrors of the camps. As a thriller the film is never more than half convincing, since the superb McKellen massively outclasses Renfro. Moreover, the motivation of Renfro's character is never explored; at a couple of points the film seems to be going in the direction of exploring latent anti-Semitism, but it veers away. Most offensive is the use of Holocaust imagery as plot points. When Denker gets annoyed by a stray cat, for example, he takes him straight to the oven; Singer dwells on the gas flames so long no one in the audience could miss the point. (PB) (600 N. Michigan, 7:00)

Down in the Delta

The directorial debut of poet Maya Angelou, working with a script by Myron Goble about a Chicago ghetto family that moves to the Mississippi Delta; the cast includes Alfre Woodard, Wesley Snipes, and Mary Alice. (600 N. Michigan, 7:00)

The General

Critically acclaimed at Cannes as a return to form by writer-director John Boorman--though it flopped in London, allegedly because English teenagers couldn't countenance a film in black and white--this is an extremely competent docudrama in 'Scope (Boorman's best screen format) about the contemporary Irish gangster Martin Cahill. It kept me absorbed but failed to win me over, because it relies on a standby of Anglo-American crime pictures that I can no longer stomach--the premise that mavericks are admirable simply because they're mavericks. Cahill's proud defiance of authority of every kind, the basis of his legendary reputation, is proffered like an axiom meant to fill us with uneasy awe. But for all of Boorman's wit and polish in filling out this design-- grandly assisted by Brendan Gleeson as Cahill, the even better Jon Voight as his favorite adversary, and Maria Doyle Kennedy and Angeline Ball as his wife and her sister (whom Cahill managed to romance simultaneously)--I still felt I was being sold a very old suit of clothes. I'm told that Boorman objected to the jokey handling of violence in GoodFellas, and there's reason to suspect that one of the reasons he undertook this project was to express more moral ambiguity about similar material. But the same lesson is delivered far more effectively in 30s pictures such as Scarface and The Public Enemy--not to mention Boorman's own Point Blank (1967), which gives a surreal spin to that ambivalence. (JR) (Music Box, 7:00)

Wind With the Gone

Alejandro Agresti's Argentinean feature, set in a small town in Patagonia in the 70s, sounds intriguing. It's about the strange cultural life that develops at the small local cinema, where films that have outlived their usefulness elsewhere are shown with their reels scrambled. The locals form a cult around a French actor whose films are especially incoherent, and after receiving a lot of fan mail from these admirers the actor, now retired and living in Paris, decides to pay them a visit. (JR) (600 N. Michigan, 7:15)

Friendly Fire

See listing under Friday, October 9. (600 N. Michigan, 7:15)

The 11th Commandment

A French thriller directed by Mama Keita about a man who emerges from 20 years in prison with a mission. Apparently you shouldn't miss the beginning if you want to follow the film's puzzlelike construction. (Music Box, 7:45)

Class Trip

This is a highly interesting if not totally successful work by French director Claude Miller (best known in the U.S. for the quirky The Accompanist). It's the story of a nervous and highly suggestible young boy (played with nuanced conviction by Clement Van Den Bergh) whose overcautious father (chillingly rendered with just the right amount of strangeness by Francois Roy) is afraid to let him go with his classmates on a bus to a ski resort. Instead the father drives him there, and complications ensue. A true son of French master Claude Chabrol, Miller knows how to build Hitchcockian suspense and a sense of dread, but he also manages to evoke an ethereal, ultimately inexplicable weirdness, moving this film beyond its thriller origins. Class Trip may ultimately go off in too many directions at once, but it's a noble failure, one bred of an excess of imagination rather than, as is all too common, a paucity of it. (PB) (600 N. Michigan, 9:00)

Steam--The Turkish Bath

Interior designer Francesco (Alessandro Gassman, son of Vittorio) has a thriving business in Rome, but one day he receives a letter from the Turkish embassy that his aunt has died and left him some property in Istanbul. He decides to travel to Turkey and oversee the disposition of the estate, leaving his wife behind--their marriage is on the rocks anyway. Once in Istanbul, he's surprised to discover that the property is actually a large traditional Turkish bath, one of the few still in operation. It stirs up fond memories of his aunt, and as he warms to the bath's custodian and his exuberant wife and family, he decides to remain in Turkey and restore the bath. It's around this time that his unfaithful wife, now repentant, shows up. This is Turkish director Ferzan Ozpetek's first feature, and it has taken several major festival prizes. The Istanbul color is also a plus. (AM) (600 N. Michigan, 9:30)

Hi-Life

No doubt writer-director Roger Hedden was able to attract an all-star cast for his latest feature because of his reputation as a playwright with an ear for the wry and dry throwaway line. There's plenty of witty repartee in this whimsical slice of Manhattan life, but it falls far short of the boulevard farce and comic roundelay it wants to be. Jimmy (Eric Stoltz)--an unemployed actor, inveterate liar, and all-around weasel--has recently lost $500 on a football bet to bartender-bookie Fatty (Charles Durning). Jimmy tells his girlfriend Susan (Moira Kelly) that he needs the money so that his sister Maggie (Daryl Hannah) can get an abortion, then asks Susan to tell her bartender brother (Campbell Scott), who's been recently dumped by Maggie, that she's the one who needs the abortion. The actors seem to be enjoying the myriad plot twists and turns, but many of the devices seem forced and mechanical--there's very little of the light and graceful touch this sort of comedy requires. (JK) (600 N. Michigan, 9:30)

Unlucky Monkey

Propelled by one delicious, darkly funny accident of fate after another, Japanese director Sabu's Unlucky Monkey 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. (BS) (Music Box, 9:30)

Mondo Bizarro Shorts

Nine short films from the U.S., Canada, and Great Britain. (Music Box, 10:00)

Sunday, October 11

Vietnam--Long Time Coming

Chicago's Kartemquin Films coproduced this documentary about a 1,200-mile bicycle trip undertaken by a group of mostly American veterans, from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City. The tour, which included abled and disabled veterans and several North and South Vietnamese veterans, was conceived as a way to bridge formidable physical, cultural, and emotional gaps, and the film does a nice job of capturing the veterans' struggle to come to terms with their experiences on the road. Though often moving, the numerous emotional breakdowns shown in the film become somewhat numbing after a while, and there's something disconcertingly ironic about American vets riding through the Vietnamese countryside festooned with the logos of their American corporate sponsors. The documentary is most compelling when it drops the voice-over narration and simply witnesses the powerful, often contradictory feelings experienced by the veterans (especially during their stop at the My Lai massacre memorial) and when it captures the voices of participants we don't often hear from, such as the American women who served as nurses and the Vietnamese veterans. (RP) (Music Box, 11:30 AM)

Moment of Impact

This is a formally brilliant, intellectually unsparing documentary by Julia Loktev about the devastating consequences for her family after her father, a gifted Russian emigre scientist living with his wife in Colorado, suffers irreversible brain damage in a car crash and virtually loses his ability to speak. The movie--a meditation on masculinity, social disruption, and personal sacrifice--is notable for its daring implications and remarkable depth of feeling. With devastating precision, Loktev invades her parents' sanctum to record the full aftermath of the accident, including the decision her mother--a talented, complicated computer programmer and market analyst--makes to give up her career to care for her husband. Loktev has made Brechtian formal choices--high-contrast black-and-white imagery, mostly Russian dialogue, inventive use of Barbie dolls to re-create the crash--as she invites the viewer to fully consider the vitality and originality that has been extinguished. This is a brave, uncompromising film. (PM) (Music Box, noon)

Wind With the Gone

See listing under Saturday, October 10. (600 N. Michigan, 2:00)

The Pear Tree

Prolific and controversial, writer-director Dariush Mehrjui (who will receive a career retrospective at the Film Center in January) is one of very few Iranian filmmakers to have had a successful career before and after the Islamic revolution--ironically, his films have been censored by governments before and after too. Mehrjui has moved from realistic portraits of poor people that contain explicit and implicit social criticism to popular comedy to sophisticated, adult-centered dramas dealing with gender issues. The Pear Tree marks another change of direction. An intensely personal film, it focuses on a writer who feels he can no longer create. When he returns to his family estate, a pear tree that no longer bears fruit inspires memories of a time when his life and his talent seemed limitless. Burdened by the self-involvement of the protagonist and the slow unfolding of the story in flashback, the film is less engrossing than Mehrjui's other work. But it's still worth seeing for the world of privilege beautifully evoked by the golden-hued cinematography of Mahmud Kalari. (AS) (Music Box, 2:00)

For Sale

See listing under Saturday, October 10. (600 N. Michigan, 2:15)

Unlucky Monkey

See listing under Saturday, October 10. (600 N. Michigan, 2:15)

The Mighty

See listing under Friday, October 9. (600 N. Michigan, 2:30)

Divorce Iranian Style

Because of the continuing isolation of Iran, we have little information about everyday life in Iranian society. Two British filmmakers, Kim Longinotto and Ziba Mir-Hosseini, attempt to fill a part of this void with Divorce Iranian Style, a fascinating documentary set in the chambers of a Tehran family court dealing with marital disputes. A real eye-opener, it follows six different cases, making all kinds of observations about Islamic law, from the significant to the minute. The common thread in the stories is the resilience of Iranian women in the face of legal adversities and bureaucratic indifference. They're an outspoken bunch, vociferously articulating their positions and banking their hopes on the compassion of a stoic judge. The judge does listen carefully to each presented statement, but the laws, oppressive by Western standards, prove inflexible. Perhaps the most compelling case is that of one despondent woman who's forced to relinquish custody of her children to her former husband because she chose to remarry. Another poignant case concerns a teenage girl who entered into an arranged marriage and now seeks a divorce so she can continue her education. The filmmakers rely on a cinema verite approach, filming the court's proceedings with a single camera and adding only a minimal amount of commentary. This works well most of the time, giving a sense of immediacy to the stories, but it doesn't address the issue of what restrictions were placed on the filmmakers--the scope and format of the material clearly indicate that the directors, like their subjects, must have depended at least to some degree on the kindness of the judge. But even if a compromise was made, this is still a revealing image of Iranian society. (ZB) (Music Box, 2:30)

Those Who Love Me Can Take the Train

See listing under Friday, October 9. (600 N. Michigan, 4:00).

Anxiety

Now pushing 90, Portuguese writer-director Manoel de Oliveira is our oldest living film master, which makes it all the more astonishing that he's averaged one feature a year for the past decade. He's best known in the U.S. for his recent star vehicles (The Convent, Journey to the Beginning of the World). But his finest work tends to be bound to literature and theater, and this eccentric triptych--easily his best since No, or the Vainglory of Command (1989)--is no exception. In keeping with what might be termed de Oliveira's 19th-century modernism, Inquietude, the original title of this French-Portuguese production, contains three episodes. It begins with a curious one-act play (Prista Monteiro's The Immortals), then proceeds to a story (Antonio Patricio's "Suzy") concerning four characters who attend the play, one of whom recounts to another a third story, Agustina Bessa-Luis's "The Mother of the River," which is the strangest of all. The play is about old age, but the theme linking the three episodes is existential identity, played out in each by two characters--a father and son (both respected doctors and writers), a playboy and a prostitute, a young village woman and an ancient witch. (The witch is played by Irene Papas, and de Oliveira can be seen dancing with his wife in a restaurant in the middle episode.) The stately, reflective tempo of this masterpiece of displacement gave it a deceptive, almost artless simplicity the first time I saw it; on a second viewing, the poetic mirror structure took hold, and the three sections began to resonate together in rich and exquisite harmony. This is the best new European film I've seen this year. (JR) (Music Box, 4:15)

Loves

A Brazilian romantic comedy directed by Domingos Oliveira that's said to recall Woody Allen movies. (600 N. Michigan, 4:30)

My Son the Fanatic

Among the most provocative works about the intersection of British and Muslim culture in contemporary England is "My Son the Fanatic," a short story by Hanif Kureishi that describes generational, religious, and ethical conflicts in a depressed northern town. Kureishi adapted his story for this feature, though he later clashed with director Udayan Prasad over the production. The film focuses on emigre cabdriver Parvez, whose love and respect for most things in his adopted country put him at loggerheads with his newly fundamentalist Muslim son. Unfortunately Prasad, a veteran BBC television director, never finds the right tone for the story. He gives the film a garish, cartoonish quality (exemplified by Stellan Skarsgard's shameless overacting as a hedonistic German businessman) that undermines the tale's intrinsic interest. (AS) (600 N. Michigan, 4:45)

The Celebration

See listing under Friday, October 9. (600 N. Michigan, 4:45)

Angel on My Shoulder

See listing under Saturday, October 10. (Music Box, 4:45)

Hold You Tight

See listing under Friday, October 9. (600 N. Michigan, 6:30)

Once We Were Strangers

See listing under Saturday, October 10. (600 N. Michigan, 6:30)

Sada

Nobuhiko Obayashi's Sada pulls out every stylistic trick in the book in retelling the life of Sada Abe, the woman whose sensational crime of passion (it's not every day that a woman strangles her lover and cuts off his penis for love) was chronicled in Oshima's equally notorious In the Realm of the Senses. The movie constantly moves from black and white to color and back again: it unexpectedly introduces color into a black-and-white field, then does the opposite, so that a raped virgin's blood runs black. There's little or no slow motion--Obayashi revels in all forms of fast motion, from sped-up Keystone Kop chases to outright pixilation. Characters declaim melodramatic farewells against glaringly fake backdrops, they fuck amid whirling-dervish pans (while in the closet voyeurs rapidly jerk off their popsicles in farcical overkill), and they're apt to address the audience directly, with elbow-nudging complicity. This grab bag of antisentimental affects might seem to be in the service of a willfully distancing aesthetic, as if the very familiarity with the story created a need to escape the cloying determinism that often plagues the biopic genre, with leprosy or doughnuts filling in for character development. Yet the only part of Sada's life that's really well-known (and the only part covered in Oshima's film) is given an unbroken, linear, and straight-ahead romantic treatment. For those who enjoy narratus interruptus for its own sake, Sada offers a cornucopia of self-conscious gimmickry, but for those seeking a measure of visual or intellectual rigor, it never adds up to more than the sum of its disparate parts. (RS) (Music Box, 6:30)

Leo the Last

See listing under Friday, October 9. (Music Box, 6:30)

Of Freaks and Men

See listing under Friday, October 9. (600 N. Michigan, 7:00)

Brave New Shorts

These films, offering "new frontiers in cinematic storytelling," include Michael Almereyda's wonderfully original The Rocking Horse Winner, based on a D.H. Lawrence story about a young boy who can pick winners at the track. Shot on video in low-resolution black-and-white Pixelvision, then transferred to film, it has a quality of light--supple, sensual, suggestive--appropriate to the tale. Danny Leo's An Open Movie to Film Audiences is an autobiographical whimsy whose meditations on humans and primates straddle the line between serious and silly. A panoply of impressive effects in Rosemary Hesp's Relative Strangers convey the instability of identity as a man discovers that his "sister" is really his mother. Neil Burns's Grace Eternal, based on a news story about a woman whose death went undiscovered for two years, posits that our digital world has almost superseded death; Genevieve Anderson's Boxed is an overly slick puppet film. Also showing: Tom E. Brown's Rubber Gloves and Eva Ilona Brzeski's 24 Girls. (FC) (Music Box, 8:30)

The 92 Minutes of Mr. Baum

See listing under Saturday, October 10. (600 N. Michigan, 8:45)

Saving Grace

See listing under Friday, October 9. (600 N. Michigan, 8:45)

The Sleepwalker

Argentinean SF from Fernando Spiner, set in Buenos Aires in the year 2010, when an anarchic population is manipulated by totalitarian mind control. Hundreds of thousands of people get their memories erased and are assigned fake home and work environments until a resistance movement grows out of their troubled dreams. (600 N. Michigan, 9:00)

The 11th Commandment

See listing under Saturday, October 10. (600 N. Michigan, 9:00)

Sitcom

In Francois Ozon's calculatedly outrageous black comedy, a father who seldom knows best brings home a pet white rat, and inexplicably each member of his happy clan is mysteriously transformed by it. Not that the family is particularly normal to begin with, unless being stereotypical to the point of self-parody can be considered the norm. The depressive father uses maddeningly vapid aphorisms to avoid all involvement, while the maniacally cheerful mother can adapt to almost anything. When guests fail to show for dinner, she invites the Spanish maid, who appears in evening gown and ermine, black husband in tow; almost immediately the mother is ready to embrace both as part of the family. The daughter (Marina de Van, almost as disquieting a presence here as she was in Ozon's See the Sea) is the first to succumb to the rat's psychic energy, quickly falling prey to every psychological disorder known to womankind, from melancholia to hysterical paralysis to sadomasochism, and her stalwart fiance is as ready with whips and chains as he'd been with candy and flowers. Next the son metamorphoses from uptight, studious nerd into gay, orgy-throwing gadfly. Unfortunately, the film's strength--its vision of the bourgeoisie as the class that can smilingly incorporate any contradiction--is a self-fulfilling prophecy, and the film loses its ability to shock long before the final fade-out. None of the other characters are as dead-on as the mother, and their permutations don't elicit the same gleeful recognition. Yet Ozon's focus and timing are such that nothing lasts too long--everything is trotted on and off with commendable economy. After all, sitcom, not soap opera, was his inspiration. (RS) (Music Box, 9:10)

Monday, October 12

Sada

See listing under Sunday, October 11. (600 N. Michigan, 3:30)

The Pear Tree

See listing under Sunday, October 11. (600 N. Michigan, 3:45)

Vietnam--Long Time Coming

See listing under Sunday, October 11. (600 N. Michigan, 4:00)

Anxiety

See listing under Sunday, October 11. (600 N. Michigan, 4:30)

Passion

Yet another screen adaptation of James M. Cain's The Postman Always Rings Twice, this film has an avant-garde sensibility that points to director Gyorgy Feher's apprenticeship with the great Bela Tarr. Feher had the black-and-white film stock "antiqued" to evoke the 30s, though the setting in remote rural Hungary is so stark and stripped of identifying characteristics as to be timeless. Long, long takes, little dialogue, and spare, dreamlike action give the otherwise familiar story of adultery, intrigue, and torturous guilt a new twist. Feher doesn't always succeed in maintaining tension in the first half of the film, and the story sometimes goes flaccid. But the dramatic high point is well worth waiting for--a long, thoroughly gripping monologue on guilt, delivered in close-up by a prosecutor who visits the lover in jail. This is a flawed but rewarding film. (BS) (600 N. Michigan, 6:00)

Out of Range

This disturbing and provocative thriller is the feature-film debut of Julian Vrebos, who has worked as a photographer and television director. The plot would seem far-fetched if it weren't based on real events: the still-unsolved murders of 34 people in Belgium in the 1980s, apparently by the Nivelles gang. Vrebos and three other writers portray a stark scenario of extreme right-wing forces and their neo-fascist henchmen creating social chaos with a terrifying series of seemingly random acts of violence and blackmail in an attempt to take control of the Belgian political and economic power structure. The alternating extreme close-ups and long shots are dizzying--one reason it's hard at first to figure out what's going on. But Vrebos is intentionally mirroring the fragmented bits of information the police initially have to work with, holding the viewer at bay, only gradually filling in his canvas as the police start to uncover the depth and complexity of the conspiracy. The imaginative use of sound, tour de force camera work, and extremely tight editing make for an original police drama that's unsettling both thematically and visually. Many of Vrebos' images will linger long after the film ends, especially the haunting final shot. (JK) (600 N. Michigan, 6:15)

Moment of Impact

See listing under Sunday, October 11. (Music Box, 6:15)

For Sale

See listing under Saturday, October 10. (600 N. Michigan, 6:30)

Green Fish

See listing under Saturday, October 10. (600 N. Michigan, 6:45)

Gods and Monsters

One of the unexpected delights at the Sundance film festival last January, stuck in at the last minute with little fanfare, was Bill Condon's Gods and Monsters, a strange and lovely combination of cinematic nostalgia and offbeat love story. It's based on the last years of James Whale, a British director working in Hollywood who was responsible for two of the greatest commercial movies of the 1930s--Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein--and opens some 20 years after these triumphs. Whale, still vigorous but without studio work, finds himself enormously attracted to his new gardener. Ian McKellen, who looks as though he's having loads of fun with the part, plays Whale in a deliciously campy and fey way. The smoldering Brendan Fraser plays the macho gardener as struggling inarticulately to come to grips with a kind of man and a kind of flirting he's never encountered before. The scenes in which Whale's sophisticated, worldly intellect envelopes the gardener are a triumph of nuance and playfulness, while an opening scene in which he tries to seduce a graduate student is played strictly for laughs. Even better are clips from Whale's films, whose monstrous, deeply wounded characters seem like metaphors for Whale. (PB) (Music Box, 7:00)

Girls' Night

See listing under Saturday, October 10. (600 N. Michigan, 8:30)

Loves

See listing under Sunday, October 11. (600 N. Michigan, 8:45)

Life at Any Cost

See listing under Saturday, October 10. (Music Box, 8:45)

Hi-Life

See listing under Saturday, October 10. (600 N. Michigan, 9:00)

The Sleepwalker

See listing under Sunday, October 11. (600 N. Michigan, 9:00)

Welcome Back, Mr. McDonald

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

Tuesday, October 13

Passion

See listing under Monday, October 12. (600 N. Michigan, 3:00)

Out of Range

See listing under Monday, October 12. (600 N. Michigan, 3:30)

Vietnam--Long Time Coming

See listing under Sunday, October 11. (600 N. Michigan, 6:30)

Wind With the Gone

See listing under Saturday, October 10. (600 N. Michigan, 6:30)

The Pear Tree

See listing under Sunday, October 11. (600 N. Michigan, 6:45)

Divorce Iranian Style

See listing under Sunday, October 11. (Music Box, 6:45)

Killer

In many films careless driving is used simply to emphasize a character trait, but in Killer a small accident sparks dire consequences. Set in contemporary Kazakhstan, the story centers on Marat, a young chauffeur whose minor lapse of attention leads to a fender bender. Forced to borrow money to pay for the repairs, Marat finds himself at the mercy of forces outside his control. The naturalistic acting, sparse dialogue, and grim inevitability of the protagonist's fate are reminiscent of the work of Robert Bresson. But writer-director Darezhan Omirbaev makes this spare style his own, using it to create an unforgettable picture of a place where corruption is rampant, anarchy has replaced the rule of law, and the mafia lurk like sharks. (AS) (600 N. Michigan, 7:00)

My Name Is Joe

This is one of Ken Loach's most powerful films, even if it takes a wrong turn--a lamentable failure of imagination in Paul Laverty's script that foreshortens the leading female character about three-quarters of the way through to accommodate the deterministic plot machinery. A reformed alcoholic and volunteer soccer coach doing odd jobs in a Glasgow slum (played with charisma and nobility by Peter Mullan) meets and falls in love with a sensitive health worker (Louise Goodall) and gets a new lease on life. But the crippling deprivation and desperation of the world he inhabits begin to close in on him, and he finds his life spinning out of control. Loach's grasp of the infernal choices faced by the poor is so acute and precise that it prompts both recognition and rage, and the processes by which souls are found and lost are delineated with a passion that recalls Nicholas Ray. Despite the aforementioned script problem, which even an actress as fine as Goodall can't circumvent, this is a scorching look at how the contemporary world operates. (JR) (Music Box, 7:00)

Fiber Optics

A third-string reporter and a fifth-rate attorney are swept into a high-profile political intrigue by a mysterious unnamed agency in Francisco Athie's Mexican tale of power and conspiracy and those who rule via cell phone. As his characters are conscripted to investigate the assassination of a union leader, Athie concocts a witches' brew of differently textured images--sex via hidden cameras, drug-induced hallucinations, refracted reflections, home movies/Eisensteinian documentary, television news footage, and tiered monitors in mysterious spaces. This gallery of big-brother-is-watching paraphernalia is meant to add the latest high-tech paranoia to the political machinations, but Athie tries too hard--the strain is apparent in every frame. The film wallows in confusion, the visuals reading more like bad disco decor than a serious questioning of who's in control of what's seen. Still, the relationship between the reporter and his girlfriend is not without dry wit, and the images, when not oversaturated with color or overstuffed with symbols of power or corruption, take on some understated irony. Best is the scene where the reporter plucks $100 bills from a stack like daisy petals as he tries to ascertain whether his cheated-on girlfriend loves him or not. The film just doesn't have enough of those scenes. (RS) (600 N. Michigan, 8:30)

The Interview

See listing under Saturday, October 10. (600 N. Michigan, 8:45)

Unlucky Monkey

See listing under Saturday, October 10. (600 N. Michigan, 9:00)

Gods and Monsters

See listing under Monday, October 12. (600 N. Michigan, 9:00)

Donald Cammell: The Ultimate Performance

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

Anxiety

See listing under Sunday, October 11. (Music Box, 9:10)

Wednesday, October 14

Fiber Optics

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

Killer

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

The Quarry

Based on a novel by Damon Galgut, Marion Hansel's extremely Protestant parable of sin and redemption in South Africa has all of the elements of a postapartheid passion play--but no passion. An escaped convict hides out in a backwater township after killing its newly appointed pastor while fighting off his drunken sexual advances. The convict assumes the pastor's identity and is surprisingly good at the impersonation--his bleak readings from the more despairing pasages in Jeremiah are apparently a more apposite spiritual guide than anything the old pastor offered. When the old pastor's body is discovered in an abandoned quarry, guilt, remorse, and absolution are passed around among an impossibly Aryan head cop, a couple of black petty thieves, the gloomy pastor-hero, and the cop's black mistress (not coincidentally the pastor's housekeeper). For the most part, the film dryly crosscuts between white destiny and black, each in its own corner. The absence of a good way for people to interrelate, outside of hunting each other down or studiously avoiding one another, seems less a function of any political or existential human condition than of Hansel's inability to create tension in the spaces between things. For finally the film is madly underpopulated--the cluster of villagers representing the black community is trotted out only to tacitly validate the hero's sermons or to hear his final courtroom confession, making it awfully hard to believe that anyone really lives in this township. (RS) (600 N. Michigan, 6:15)

Class Trip

See listing under Saturday, October 10. (600 N. Michigan, 6:20)

Flowers of Shanghai

Since the early 1980s, Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-hsien has gathered a small but dedicated following for his impressionistic descriptions of societal changes in postwar Taiwan. Flowers of Shanghai covers a much earlier period, having been adapted from a famous 19th-century Chinese novel. It may seem odd to see well-known Asian actors wearing the queues of Manchu civil servants and donning the clothes and makeup of upper-class courtesans, but Hou's gaze is never exotic. Once again he uses long takes to watch the subtle changes in his characters' faces and gestures as they play the game of rich client versus expensive prostitute, smoke opium, argue about money, or indulge in witty, gossipy chatter (as in the brilliant seven-minute, one-shot sequence that opens the film). "In those days of arranged marriage the only possibility for Chinese men to experience romantic love was to patronize prostitutes," says Hou. Indeed, the confines of the brothel become a claustrophobic artificial paradise in which polite yet intoxicated shadows perform a play with arcane rules. If echoes of the "real world" make it inside, they are muffled, distorted, inconsistent. Reflecting that, the core of prostitution--sex and money--is kept offscreen, as Hou portrays a highly socialized and hierarchical setting in which patrons, escorted by their friends, meet girls surrounded by a retinue of madams, housekeepers, and maids; he never shows a moment of intimacy. Quickly repressed, the rare outbursts of jealous rage or despair become moving instances of a hidden emotional violence. The film's sensuality lies in the camera work, which glides with fluid, uninterrupted lightness over the bodies of the principals as they're enraptured by the fumes of opium. Surreal, mysterious, sumptuous, Flowers of Shanghai has the seductive power of a drug-induced dream in which love is given, bought, and lost. (BR) (600 N. Michigan, 6:30)

The Outskirts

Phillip Safronov is evicted from lands in the Urals that his forefathers tilled for more than 500 years by "entrepreneurs" taking advantage of the recent privatization in Russia. Armed with World War II rifles, he and his family and neighbors, who have also been dispossessed, set off to find the bureaucrats who've cheated them. This Russian western, shot in magnificent black and white, shows them traversing vast snowfields and mountain passes, camping under sheepskin tents to the cries of wolves, and planning their vigilante justice, despite their misgivings. The directorial debut of longtime scenarist Peter Lutsik, this won the critics' prize at an important Russian national festival in June. (AM) (600 N. Michigan, 6:30)

Spring in My Hometown

For kids growing up in a South Korean village during the Korean war, American GIs were part of the scenery; the kids watched them riding around in jeeps and hung around the army bases, but they never got too close to the devastation of war. Lee Kwangmo's gloriously photographed new feature starts innocently enough in 1952, when the war is nearly over. His inquisitive young principals, Chang-hee and Sung-min, play in haystacks, tease their playmates about being commies, and get into the usual scrapes. Then one day Chang-hee discovers his mother selling herself to an American soldier while Sung-min's father stands guard. Lee keeps his distance as he portrays the tragic fallout of this war, the quiet disintegration of family relationships. (AS) (Music Box, 6:45)

Antonia's Line

I didn't much take to this humorless, Oscar-winning 1995 feminist fable from the Netherlands by Marleen Gorris (A Question of Silence, Broken Mirrors), set in the Dutch countryside and spanning four matriarchal generations of a single family over the second half of the 20th century. But if you're looking for a movie that expresses feminist rage--Gorris's specialty, to the exclusion of most other concerns--you shouldn't pass this up. With Willeke Van Ammelrooy, Jan Decleir, and Els Dottermans. (JR) (Music Box, 7:00)

Passion

See listing under Monday, October 12. (600 N. Michigan, 8:30)

Out of Range

See listing under Monday, October 12. (600 N. Michigan, 8:45)

Sada

See listing under Sunday, October 11. (600 N. Michigan, 8:45)

Sitcom

See listing under Sunday, October 11. (600 N. Michigan, 9:00)

The Brandon Teena Story

A U.S. documentary by Susan Musaka and Greta Olafsdottir about the life and brutal rape and murder in rural Nebraska of a woman who passed herself off as a man. (Music Box, 9:00)

Brave New Shorts

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

Thursday, October 15

Spring in My Hometown

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

The Outskirts

See listing under Wednesday, October 14. (600 N. Michigan, 4:30)

Flowers of Shanghai

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

The Freelancers

A French comedy about half a dozen musicians and the crises they encounter after being booked to perform a New Year's Eve concert in a castle in Normandy, directed by professional musician Denis Dercourt. (600 N. Michigan, 6:45)

The Cruise

An eccentric New York bus-tour guide is an encyclopedia of history and wisdom in this documentary and outsider character study by Bennett Miller. (600 N. Michigan, 7:00)

God Said, "Ha!"

In a one-woman show, Saturday Night Live's Julia Sweeney delivers a monologue about the death of her brother Michael from cancer and her own cervical cancer. Quentin Tarantino, who served as executive producer, funded this film and appears briefly at the end. (600 N. Michigan, 7:00)

China 9, Liberty 37

From anomie to spaghetti: Monte Hellman leaves his existential American west for Leone territory (the film was Italian financed and shot in Spain) in this story of a gunman (Fabio Testi) hired to kill a farmer obstructing the construction of a new railroad line; the gun backs off when he falls in love with the intended target's wife, but the wife decides to finish the job for him. Made at the end of the Italian spaghetti-western cycle, the film never achieved U.S. commercial booking, though some critics see it as the genre's final flowering. With Jenny Agutter and, in a small role, Mr. Western Machismo himself, Sam Peckinpah; the cinematography is by Fellini's Giuseppe Rotunno. (PG) (Music Box, 7:00)

The Stowaway

Options are limited for the title character of Ben van Lieshout's The Stowaway after his hometown fishing village in Uzbekistan is left high and dry by the receding waters of the Aral Sea. His father stubbornly refuses to give up his ship, now moored in the desert, and once he's helped the other young men junk their boats for salvage, there isn't a hell of a lot left to do. He soon stows away, intending to go to America, but winds up in Holland. There he's taken in by the wife and son of a rarely at home seaman. The Stowaway is yet another variation on that rich European genre, the immigrant movie, wherein a representative of a madly ethnic "other world" walks a tragicomic tightrope between alienation and assimilation. Yet what's so extraordinary about van Lieshout's quietly vibrant film is the absolute parity of the two cultures. The casual surrealism of the Uzbeki landscape--the village is like some weird naval ghost town--refuses to register as grungy underdevelopment and could as well foretell first-world rather than third-world disaster (unemployment by act of God rather than by economic fiat). And the facility with which our hero and his new Dutch family swap camels for tulips--in a joyous exchange of language, song, and favorite recipes--has less to do with the absorption of a more colorful "tribal" culture by a soulless modernist one than with the mutual adoption of alternative lifestyles (the son is ecstatic at having "two dads"). Rarely has human dignity come in so laid-back and disarming a guise. (RS) (600 N. Michigan, 7:15)

Fiber Optics

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

The Quarry

See listing under Wednesday, October 14. (600 N. Michigan, 9:00)

The Falling

This stylish first feature from Canadian actor-scriptwriter Raul Sanchez Inglis ingeniously draws inspiration from Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon. A noirish love triangle of shifting viewpoints, the story traces the destinies of Morgan, a jealous ex-husband and former cop; his rival Lars, a music-industry talent scout; and Karis, a smoldering brunette who doesn't like the prospect of being alone but can't make up her mind between the two men. Immediately drawn to each other when they meet in a nightclub, Karis and Lars have a passionate and frenzied liaison while Morgan secretly stalks them. What begins as a rather simple love story turns into a riveting game of shifting expectations about the multiple truths of each character's reality. (AM) (600 N. Michigan, 9:00)

Christmas in August

Films about death and dying are relatively rare, which leaves a lot of room for innovative cinematic approaches. In Christmas in August Korean director Hur Jin-ho tries to give the subject a new twist, though he's only partly successful. The story follows a photographer, the owner of a small studio, for a few months. A single man in his mid-30s, he's resigned to his daily routine and devoid of ambition. Upon receiving the news that he's terminally ill, he reevaluates his priorities and then develops closer ties with the people near him. The contrast between life's reality and what gets captured in a photograph is nicely handled, but otherwise this part of the film isn't particularly inventive. Many of the linearly developed situations are repetitive, the dialogue is stilted (at least as subtitled), a love-story subplot borders on cliche, and the visuals--lots of close-ups and medium shots--suggest a run-of-the-mill television drama. But Christmas in August almost completely redeems itself toward the end with a captivating 15-minute, almost silent compilation of images chronicling the protagonist's final days. There's no dialogue, no underlying sense of sorrow or pity, just a graceful, poetically powerful visual reflection on life's transience and the eternal tranquillity that follows. One only wishes that the filmmaker had gone boldly in this direction much earlier. (ZB) (Music Box, 9:00)

Horror of Dracula

The Hammer Films remake of 1958, which started a new school of self-conscious sexuality in horror movies. With Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee; Terence Fisher directed from Jimmy Sangster's screenplay. (DK) (Music Box, 9:15)

Killer

See listing under Tuesday, October 13. (600 N. Michigan, 9:20)

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