The 24th Chicago International Film Festival, now into its top-heavy second week, is offering 60-odd programs this week, reviews and descriptions of which can be found below. It’s particularly pleasing that the festival has managed to squeeze in filmmakers as important as Jean-Luc Godard and Raul Ruiz this week (although the latter is represented only by a half-hour sketch, which follows an hour of dull travelogue by two other filmmakers–one of them, alas, the great Jean Rouch–in Ice Breaker). Last-minute schedule and film changes are always a distinct possibility at this festival, but we’ve tried to keep things as up-to-date as possible; Jean-Claude Tacchella’s touching ode to postwar French cinephilia, for instance, will be playing at 10:30 PM at the Music Box on Thursday, November 3, and not at 10:00 as listed on the festival schedule; and Herz Frank’s The Highest Court will be showing at the Music Box on October 30 at 1:00 rather than the day before.

A few specifics: Screenings are at the Biograph, 2433 N. Lincoln; the Three Penny, 2424 N. Lincoln; the Music Box, 3733 N. Southport; and Ida Noyes Hall on the University of Chicago campus, 59th and Woodlawn. Tickets can be purchased at the theater box office starting one hour prior to the first screening of the day, at the Film Festival store at 2476 N. Lincoln, or by calling 281-2433 (credit cards only). General admission to each program, with some exceptions, is $6.50, $5 for Cinema/Chicago members. All weekend matinees (3:00 and 5:00 on Saturday; 1:00, 3:00, and 5:00 on Sunday) are $4 general admission, $3 for Cinema/Chicago members.

For further information, call 281-2433 (questions) or 644-3456 (24-hour recorded update/hotline), listen to radio station WBEZ FM (91.5), or watch WMAQ TV (channel five) for updates and coverage. Let’s hope you manage to see a few good movies. –Jonathan Rosenbaum

Friday October 28

Landscape in the Mist

Theo Angelopoulos’s Greek film about a voyage of discovery for two Greek children en route to Germany. A review appears in last week’s Reader under Thursday, October 27. (Biograph, 6:00)

God’s Will

The directorial debut of Chicagoan Julia Cameron–who also serves here as writer and producer–shot on location in Chicago, is a romantic comedy about two self-absorbed actors who are in heaven with a lady golfer named God. They find themselves still in love and are upset that their only child is in the custody of their ex-spouses on earth. (Music Box, 6:00)


This is Fernando Solanas’s first movie made in Argentina after ten years in exile, and his pleasure and emotion at filming in his beloved streets of Buenos Aires again are obvious in every shot. Like the best of Latin American literature and cinema, South is a lyrical blend of surrealism and acute political comment. After five years in jail for “subversive” activities under the military junta, a very lonely Floreal (Miguel Angel Sola) is on his way home. On his way, in a dark street at night, he is quite surprised to meet a man who, years ago, had been shot dead by the chief of police on the same corner. This good-natured ghost will take him on a difficult emotional journey through the past–calling up images of dictatorship, militant struggle, and hideous repression, and memories of companions dead or “gone south”–back to his wife and the uncertain present.

The main story line, intercut like a Garcia Marquez novel with a series of short vignettes–tender, violent, or grotesque (like a Kafkaesque “book-burning” sequence)–concerns a couple torn apart by the dictatorship. When Floreal disappears, his wife (Susu Pecoraro) enlists the help of the couple’s best friend, a gentle, emotional French Corsican in exile (Philippe Leotard), to try to get information from the police. Meanwhile, Floreal is taken from jail to jail, stripped, tortured, and humiliated. His wife and daughter move south to be near him and Floreal is forced to undergo a mock execution in the prison yard before being allowed to see them. When they meet, Floreal’s family is faced with a changed, sullen, angry man, who, having guessed that the Corsican is having a timid romance with her, has decided never to see his wife again.

Plunged into a maelstrom of images and memories (accompanied on the sound track by Astor Piazzolla’s sentimental tangos), Floreal finds himself at an uncertain point between night and dawn, love and hate, nostalgia and disgust. Oblivious of the commotion around them, young lovers kiss in the streets; the ghosts of martyred friends recede; and more desirable–but also more distant–after five harrowing years of despair, a woman waits for Floreal. Enhanced by Felix Monti’s superb cinematography and stunningly composed long shots (in spite of some “coded” effects, such as an abundance of studio “fog”), South is a mature, moving, and generous story of amour fou, which must be reinvented in the difficult times when the dictatorships fade away. (BR) (Univ. of Chicago, 7:00)


Timothy Mo’s source novel is a striking piece of cross-cultural criticism, the Anglo-Chinese equivalent of a V.S. Naipaul story. Mo identifies vestiges of premodern values in the heritage of his working-class Chinese characters, who are extremely wary and even contemptuous of their new neighbors in London. This feeling of a culture with a black hole at the center that can reach up and casually obliterate people isn’t duplicated in this pallid adaptation, written by Ian McEwan and directed by Mike Newell, the auteur of The Good Father and Amazing Grace and Chuck. The Triad gangsters who are Mo’s emblems of the dark heart of China have been stripped of their solemnly ritualized secret-society qualities and are depicted as ordinary dull mobsters. Also, somebody handed down a disastrous decree that all the Chinese characters would speak English even with each other–where Mo’s point was precisely that the Chinese are vulnerable partly because they stubbornly remain aloof and culturally exclusive. The sour-sweet balance in all the characters has been tipped toward the sweet, as well, although Hong Kong director-actress Sylvia Chang does some wonderful things with her role as Lily, a stubborn, temperamental, bigoted charmer. Danny Dun, as the doomed Chen, the man who is “disappeared,” never conveys a feeling that malign forces are closing in on him. He’s just a standard urban sad sack, Chinese division. (DC) (Music Box, 8:00)


Hark Bohm’s West German film is an updating of the Romeo and Juliet story focusing on the difficulties of the Turks in West Germany. Ayse Romey and Uwe Bohm (the director’s son) are among the cast members. (Biograph, 8:30)

Little Vera

Vassili Pitchul’s Soviet film about family feuds. A fuller description appears in last week’s Reader under Tuesday, October 25. (Univ. of Chicago, 9:00)

A Taxing Woman’s Return

If Juzo Itami’s wonderful first two features, The Funeral and Tampopo, suggested the work of a Japanese Frank Tashlin at his funniest and brightest, A Taxing Woman and now its even slicker sequel suggest that he has settled for being, at best, the Japanese Blake Edwards. His second feature about the machinations of tax inspector Ryoko Itakura (Nobuko Miyamoto, Itami’s wife) as she takes off after gangsters and corrupt politicians has been the biggest box-office draw in Japan to date, which has a certain sociological interest, but it doesn’t make this movie any more than what it is: a conventional and not very exciting or interesting comedy-thriller. Enter at your own risk; if you’re not expecting anything, you’ll probably be diverted. (JR) (Music Box, 10:00)

Sound and Fury

Jean-Claude Brisseau’s French film, De bruit et de fureur, about two youths who grow up in a housing project and become involved with gangs. (Biograph, 10:30)

Because the Dawn

A playful reworking of the vampire movie, this beautifully shot flick also has feminist overtones. Men are eliminated from its erotic economy, since elegant, aloof vampire Marie, who haunts the streets of Manhattan, has an unnatural taste for women’s blood. She meets a young fashion photographer, Ariel, who, soon seduced by Marie’s mystery, takes her picture and becomes completely obsessed when her new friend disappears. Complications arise when a well-meaning friend of Arlel’s, not having heard from her for days, breaks into her studio, then takes to an ad agency a particularly alluring black-and-white portrait of Marie in full regalia. The image will become the logo for a chic perfume. Will the vampire be mad at having been used as a symbol of consumerism? Never fear, more consumption will take place, to the satisfaction of both parties, on the very, very red lips of the two heroines. (BR) To be shown with Forbidden to Forbid. (Univ. of Chicago, 11:30)

Forbidden to Forbid

From the Federal Republic of Germany comes another low-budget, low-key extravaganza from Lothar Lambert. Shot in black and white, this 60-minute omnibus is a collection of eight loosely related, mostly comic sketches shot in and around Berlin. The opening and closing sketches are centered around reactions to the closing of a porno peep show to help clean up Berlin for the celebration of its 750th birthday. Lambert (Fraulein Berlin, Drama in Blond), a former film critic and editor of the newspaper Der Abend, not only directs, writes, produces, edits, and performs in his underground films, he also records the sound and photographs the pictures. In one of the more memorable segments Lambert plays a transvestite trying to spark the interest of a rugged Turkish immigrant with surprising results. Another details the possible consequences of editing adult films in a small room with a friend. The cast includes former Chicago Film Festival jury member Dorothea Moritz, as well as Dagmar Bertsdorf, Ingrid Caven, Slavko Hitrov, and Dieter Schidor, to whom the film is dedicated. Schidor, a director and producer who appears in the last segment of the film, killed himself last September when he learned he had AIDS. Lambert has assembled a very personal and relatively upbeat collage that reflects the realities of personal sexual satisfaction in the 80s. He also deals in his own off-center way with loneliness, death, and gentrification. (DP) To be shown with Because the Dawn. (Univ. of Chicago, 11:30)

Saturday October 29

In Keeping With the Law . . .

Talmas Almasi’s three-hour Hungarian documentary reconstructs the fate of former deportees sent to Hungarian labor camps in the early 50s. (Note: The Highest Court, which was originally scheduled to show at this time, has been rescheduled for Sunday, October 30.) (Music Box, 2:00)

Journey to Spirit Island

Journey to Spirit Island is marred by a shallow allegory about the economic exploitation of Native Americans. One Indian character, who has persuaded his tribe to consent to the development of a spiritually significant island into a vacation resort, is blamed for the exploitation of his tribe. The film therefore conveniently absolves capitalism and big business from any wrongdoing. Indeed, when the white businessman who has proposed the development learns that his Indian partner is accused of attempting to murder the four child protagonists of the film (a foursome made up of two Native Americans and two white children), he withdraws from the deal, commenting that “Good business depends on trust” and that he doesn’t work with anyone whose response to criminal allegations is that “you can’t prove anything.” Thus Journey to Spirit Island works to erase or deny the spectator’s knowledge of the systematic nature of the exploitation of Native Americans. What real pleasure there is in the film is found in the beauty of the northwest-coast sea-and-island landscape, and in the strength and courage seen in the actors’ faces, especially those of the Native Americans as captured by renowned cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond. It is tempting but pointless to imagine that the film might have achieved a greater vision had its director (Laszlo Pal) been of the same caliber as its cinematographer. However, given the film’s subject matter, it is perhaps surprising that it could be produced at all. It is rare enough for contemporary Native Americans and Native American traditions to receive a sympathetic portrayal, and this at least represents a starting point for the general family audience that the film seeks to attract. (PF) (Biograph, 3:00)

Hard Times

I discovered Joao Botelho in 1986, through his second feature, A Portuguese Farewell, an inspired remake of Ozu’s Tokyo Story. Far from being gratuitous, the Portuguese reference to the Japanese master was used to convey a similar kind of malaise: in Lisbon as in Tokyo, the generation gap is affected by a dead body offscreen–that of a son killed in a lost war. But while Ozu barely mentioned and never showed the fatal event, Botelho’s contemporary Portugal (shot in color) was intercut with black-and-white images from the past, of a soldier lost in a senseless colonial fight. With Hard Times, the filmmaker enters the filmic space thus open–the black-and-white footage is the space of memory, but also the space of discontent. Like the best filmmakers of his generation, Botelho is aware that the elusive present can only be understood through the past. To express the ambiguous situation of today’s Portugal (when the hopes raised by the 1975 revolution have been somewhat thwarted by the emergence of a new moneymaking class) he has chosen to illustrate Dickens’s Victorian novel using conventions of early cinema–namely those of D.W. Griffith. Shot in breathtaking black and white in an industrial suburb of Lisbon, the film shows, with sparse dialogue and rigorous mise-en-scene, how the lives of weaker, more sensitive, or more confused people are destroyed by the greed of the self-satisfied bourgeoisie. The true villain of the film, Gradgrind, a schoolteacher with political ambitions, is first shown trying to instill his belief in “facts” in the minds of his pupils. He spots a potential rebel in little Cecilia, the daughter of a circus-horse trainer, and when her father disappears, he decides to adopt her. Later, now a prominent politician, Gradgrind persuades his 20-year-old daughter, Louisa, to marry a 50-year-old industrialist, Bounderby. It takes Botelho only one shot (a close-up of Louisa’s face when her husband kisses her foot on their wedding night) to convey the unhappiness of this marriage. Meanwhile, a worker, Stephen, trapped in a marriage to a drunken hag, is accused of a theft (actually committed by young Thomas Gradgrind). First fleeing to escape punishment, he then decides to return to town to clear his name and is accidentally killed by a truck. Despite their social differences, Louisa and Stephen’s fates are clearly parallels: they are both “innocent souls” crushed because of their inability to speak up about and live out their desires. The last shot, another enigmatic close-up of Louisa’s face (then unable to answer Cecilia’s question “Are you happy?”) becomes a symbol for the entire film. The British actress Julia Britton was cast as Louisa because of her resemblance to Griffith’s virginal heroines. But, in Botelho’s elliptic masterpiece, innocence loses the game and an entire country is searching for its soul. (BR) (Univ. of Chicago, 3:00)

The Music Teacher

Gerard Corbiau’s La maitre de musique, set around the turn of the century, is about an opera dropout turned teacher who prepares two students for a singing competition with his archenemy. Mozart, Schubert, and Mahler are among the composers heard. (Biograph, 5:00)

Heat and Sunlight

Rob Nilsson’s Heat and Sunlight is the kind of independent feature we see too seldom in an era dominated by broadcast standards and narrative conventions. More reminiscent of the rough-edged, low-budget experimental features of the 1960s, the film stars director Nilsson (Signal 7, On the Edge, Northern Lights) as a photojournalist undergoing an emotional breakdown during the last hours of his obsessive, hot-blooded affair with a dancer (Consuelo Faust). Shot on Beta videotape and transferred to 35-millimeter black and white, its highly improvised scenes are complemented by a unique look, and the combination of film and video technology achieves both an intense immediacy and a real aesthetic texture. Filmmaker-protagonist Nilsson takes many risks, not the least of which is near self-indulgence in both his roles, and while some of the improvised scenes wobble under the burden, the film’s aggressive mating of method and purpose has unexpected power and a consistency of tone. Sensual, humorous (Ernie Fosselius is especially funny), and sometimes overwrought, Heat and Sunlight manages to merge its flaws with its virtues, and its confrontational stance is undeniably refreshing in comparison to more homogenized independent films. (RP) (Music Box, 5:00)

Rouge of the North

Fred Tan’s Taiwanese film, which spans 20 years in a woman’s life. A review appears in last week’s Reader under Thursday, October 27. (Univ. of Chicago, 5:00)

Welcome to Germany

Welcome to Germany is a very elliptical, occasionally revelatory, ofttimes self-serving, but always problematic film within a film within a film. Cornfield, a hack Hollywood director (whose credits include films featuring talking mammals), has come to Germany to make a film about a German director, Korner, who in 1942 was asked by Goebbels to make a feature using concentration camp prisoners who have been promised liberation in exchange for their acting. Cornfield’s film, which in a sense is also Korner’s, then unfolds in a thickening atmosphere of impossible choice (an old Jew in the camp arbitrarily forced to select from the many the few with a chance at survival), built-in betrayals (victims whose only hope of salvation lies in playing out the fable of their guilt), burgeoning bad faith (Korner’s growing doubts about the value of the film he’s making and the validity of the promises he’s extending), and strange insights (the plot within the plot of two ill-assorted concentration camp companions and their plans for escape). As the shooting continues, so also does the mystery of the real identity of this “Cornfield” (helped along to no small extent by the casting of Tony Curtis, ne Bernie Schwartz, in the role), whose knowledge far exceeds any stateside briefing, and whose role in the events of 40 years ago begins to beg a lot of questions. Director Thomas Brasch’s modernist distance, flashy overstated sets, and excessive use of the director analogy act both as an alibi for and as an admission of complicity in the moral ambivalence that’s at the film’s center. At times uneven, at times annoying, Welcome to Germany, as much in its failures as in its successes, measures the distorted and shifting parameters of a guilty truth yet to be assimilated. (RS) (Biograph, 7:00)

A Few Days With Me

It’s hard to believe someone would willingly swap enigmatic knockout Sandrine Bonnaire for a roomful of broad caricatures, but that’s exactly what director Claude Sautet and hero Daniel Auteuil do in this farce reminiscent of such masters of overwrought narrative as Bertrand Blier and JeanJacques Beineix. The premise is austere and evocative enough: Auteuil plays Martial Pasquier, heir to a department-store fortune, who has recently been released from an institution for the terminally indifferent. But his anomie, and the film’s, are enkindled by Bonnaire, the maid of a provincial store manager. The erotic tension and plot potential seethe, but Sautet inexplicably dumps it all for forced wackiness and contrived melodrama. The beginning is elegant in its irony and shimmering in its staging, but the scene is quickly cluttered with cutups about bourgeois hypocrisy, gibes at official corruption, and guys in funny ties with names like Rocky. (PK) (Music Box, 7:00)


Mike Newell’s English film about a Chinese family living in a London suburb. A review appears under Friday, October 28. (Univ. of Chicago, 7:00)


A bittersweet British terminal-illness buddy road movie from Robert Ellis Miller, the director of The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter and Reuben, Reuben, as well as the unreleased Brenda Starr, starring Brooke Shields. Hawks is more than a tad overly sentimental and only sporadically amusing. It concerns two terminal cases who decide they are going to deal with death on their own terms and not wait patiently in their hospital beds for the Grim Reaper. Anthony Edwards (Top Gun) plays an American football player on tour in Europe when he discovers his bones ache more than usual and his muscles are turning to mush. He is placed in an English hospital in the same room as Timothy Dalton (the new James Bond), who is suffering from the same malady, which the gruff nurse assures the pajamaed men is not necessarily fatal. Dalton plays an obstinate and once-distinguished lawyer who has been totally abandoned by his former circle of influential friends as well as by his bride-to-be. He is determined to keep up a brave front by annoying the nurses and pulling pranks and practical jokes. He distracts the melancholy American from his immediate problems by suggesting during a remission that they take off for one last fling. Edwards wants to go to Amsterdam to enjoy a notorious brothel in the infamous Disney World of European red-light districts. So they borrow an ambulance and head for Holland. After all a hawk requires no permission from the pigeons. Along the way they pick up a pair of troubled English women (Janet McTeer, Camille Coduri) who alter the game plan for the fun-loving runaways. Bee Gee Barry Gibb wrote the songs for the film as well as contributed the original story, which might explain the conflict in the script as far as tone. On one hand there are two men striving not to go gentle into that good night, and on the other two wild and crazy guys stopping to smell the flowers on a wacky road trip. At the Toronto film festival Anthony Edwards told the audience that he didn’t know he was supposed to have made a comedy. That misunderstanding is apparent in the deadly serious performance. As Hazel, the tall and gawky chambermaid with a heart as big as she is tall, screen newcomer Janet McTeer is quite good, holding her own against Dalton’s angry and irreverent barrister. Hawks doesn’t soar to the heights to which it aspires, but it is likely to provide Amsterdam with additional tourists. (DP) (Biograph, 9:30)


Fernando Solanas’s new film about the Argentinean past. A review appears under Friday, October 28. (Music Box, 9:30)


Hark Bohm’s updating of Romeo and Juliet, about the plight of Turks in West Germany. A fuller description appears under Friday, October 28. (Univ. of Chicago, 9:30)


A young woman returns to her mother’s home after a long absence, summoned by a mysterious letter from the father who long ago deserted her–or did he? Is that dear old Dad hiding up in the attic, or just his corpse? This good-looking, competently made, not uninteresting, but only middlingly suspenseful psychological thriller is a first feature by San Francisco filmmaker Doug Adams. It’s coproduced and written by Joseph Stefano, who wrote the screenplay for Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, and seeks to emulate late 50s/early 60s Hitchcock; but the effect is more like the lower-brow efforts of Robert Aldrich (Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte) and William Castle (The Night Walker). Like those films, it features lots of slow, winding camera movement through a rambling old house, and stars a still-attractive, middle-aged former ingenue (Carol Lynley) as a mysterious woman who may or may not be a psychopathic killer. (Adultery, incest, and child molestation figure prominently, too.) The minimal use of violence and gore will strike some viewers as a welcome change from the current crop of horror flicks, but the script’s frequently silly dialogue and all-too-obvious resolution detract from Blackout’s intended emphasis on its characters’ psychology. (AW) (Music Box, 11:30)

Flesheating Mothers

One can’t exactly call it escapist entertainment, since social critique of a sort does operate in this, a low-budget horror film about sexually active women who eat their young. As a horror film, Flesheating Mothers could be characterized as part of a tradition in which the monster emerges from within the bourgeois family–indeed, represents that family in crisis. But Flesheating Mothers would indicate that the apocalyptic tradition, as evidenced in movies like Night of the Living Dead and Texas Chainsaw Massacre, is not alive and well in the 80s–that things have changed since the 60s and 70s, those more optimistic decades during which it was still possible to think that crisis or breakdown itself represented revolutionary possibility. Flesheating Mothers substitutes the pathology of a sexually transmitted disease for the revolutionary breakdown–explosion of the repressed or dispossessed. According to its logic, cannibalism is “a strange-looking virus,” and the best that can be said about it is that, unlike the AIDS virus, it responds to penicillin. Here utopian fantasy is reduced to a past when salvation from the worst disease, which is itself punishment for sexual promiscuity, can be only an injection away. At the very least, Flesheating Mothers offers a different, more postmodern model of late corporate capitalism, where crisis is ongoing and typical–and ordinary rather than apocalyptic. While it thus refrains from depicting the monstrous cannibal mothers as altogether evil or nonhuman in order to justify ruthlessly destroying them, it compensates for this by reducing horror to the cyclic recurrence of the everyday, where Mom is no sooner cured of her cannibalistic eating disorder than she is reinfected by Dad and devours him. (PF) (Univ. of Chicago, 11:30)

Sunday October 30

A Taxing Woman’s Return

The sequel to Juzo Itami’s A Taxing Woman. A review appears under Friday, October 28. (Univ. of Chicago, noon)

The Secret

Luis Armando Roche’s El secreto from Venezuela is about ten days in the life of Gaspar, a quiet young man who suddenly finds himself implicated in a smuggling ring. (Biograph, 1:00)

The Highest Court

Perhaps most accessible of the so-called “Young Soviet Cinema” that has leaped out of hiding with glasnost is solid documentary work. One of the more controversial of the recent documentaries, produced by veteran filmmaker Herz Frank, is The Highest Court. The studio-produced, hourlong film from Riga is largely an interview, filmed in deadpan cinema verite style, with a man condemned to die for murdering his girlfriend during a domestic quarrel. Intercut are police film, photos introduced as evidence during the trial, and additional documentary footage that lets the viewer visit the criminal’s grimy little world. Both the accused and his girlfriend were part of the virtually above-ground underground economy of Riga. The interview not only serves as indictment of a parallel and cynical way of life for the Soviet young, but also as a criticism of the death penalty. For Western viewers, it’s also a glimpse of Soviet criminal justice. Frank says that he himself was surprised at the military’s approval of the film, given the condemned criminal’s harsh statements about the brutality of the militia; and he was impressed that in making this recent film–under the new glasnost era–he faced no censorship, either in filming or editing. If the film didn’t fascinate for its subject matter alone, it would be worth watching for its camera-aided peeling away of the young criminal’s emotional defenses. (PA) (Music Box, 1:00)

Little Dorrit (parts one and two)

Christine Edzard’s six-hour English adaptation of the Dickens novel. A review appeared in last weeks Reader under Wednesday, October 26. (Univ. of Chicago, part one: 2:00, part two: 6:00; there will be a one-hour break for dinner)

The Squamish Five

Who says you can’t learn something even from bad movies? This one proves conclusively that Canadian TV movies can be every bit as unbearable as ours. There isn’t a single plausible characterization in this CBC docudrama about a real-life band of radical terrorist bombers who blew apart munitions plants and porno-peddling video stores around the turn of the 80s. It’s told from the point of view of a young confederate (Robyn Stevan) who later felt victimized by the others, but there’s no sense of menace or potential violence. The director, Paul Donovan, made a skillfully executed low-budget science fiction film, Def-Con 4, in 1984, but the acting and staging here are amateurish and overwrought, and the politics of the participants are indecipherable. The politics in Paul Schrader’s recent Patty Hearst are fuzzy, too, but at least the passions behind them felt authentic. In this movie, nothing does. (DC) (Biograph, 3:00)

Ice Breaker

The best reason to see this, a film made up of three half-hour segments on the same subject by directors Jean Rouch, Titte Tornroth, and Raul Ruiz, is for the comparatively off-the-wall treatment by the prolific Chilean-exile filmmaker Ruiz. The film was made on and around a working ice-breaking ship during a Scandinavian winter. Veteran French documentary director Rouch and the Swede Tornroth each turn in a well-crafted if somewhat scholarly piece of work, faithfully recording in different ways the harshness, loneliness, and beauty of life aboard the ship. All this well-intentioned detail had crowds rushing the candy stand in the lobby at the Berlin film festival, where many waited and munched until the Ruiz episode came on. Anyone already familiar with the eclectic adventure and high fantasy of Ruiz’s work will know a bit what to expect. All others will wonder, with some delight, whether the film’s producers forgot to let him in on the lumbering geography-text concept. Ruiz sees the icebreaker as a spooky ghost ship. The atmosphere is electric with expectation and dread, and Ruiz employs many of his favorite formal devices, using colored filters, unusual framing, and a colorful and ominous fictional voice-over to devise a story that has nothing whatsoever to do with a day in the life of a working icebreaker. (BS) (Music Box, 3:00)

A Matter of Honor

In a tiny Colombian backwater two erstwhile political allies, a martinetish teacher (Frank Ramirez) and a stubborn, somber butcher (Humberto Dorrado), delight their reactionary enemies and terrify each other when a petty personal dispute escalates into a duel to the death at high noon in the village plaza. Director Sergio Cabrera tries to portray how two excessively honorable men–who really ought to know better–get caught and struggle miserably within the coils of a lunatic macho cultural code, and the deadly childishness of their plight does hit home. Before the travesty reaches a predictable anticlimax, the doleful duelists have been forced willy-nilly to bribe the corrupt local officials they most despise in order to secure the opportunity to knock each other off. Clearly there is a rich harvest of irony here; unfortunately director Cabrera lacks the tools and perhaps the talent to reap it. The direction is awfully amateurish, the pacing sluggish, and the acting barely passable. Every comic and dramatic ploy seems to misfire. Call it Macho Duel About Nothing despite everything ending well. (KJ) (Biograph, 5:00)


Compelled by love and desperation, a young father sets off for a remote alpine resort where, disregarding the opinions of doctors and an estranged wife, he attempts to penetrate the silent universe of Sebastian, his autistic son. Considering the premise, one might easily dismiss Summer as a “medical” film for “specialized” tastes. Yet nothing could be further from the realm of clinical treatise than this meditative evocation of mood and atmosphere, where little disturbs the vigil of isolation and waiting. Through long takes and minimal dialogue, West German director Philip Groning establishes the quiet rhythm and texture of an intimately lonely world that pits a father’s patient cajolings against his six-year-old’s equally determined obstinacy. Forever trying to fathom the roots of Sebastian’s disturbed condition, the father postulates: “Maybe it’s like an illness of the will. [Sebastian] wants nothing. . . . Only everything must stay as it is. Any change frightens him. Change means life–and he hates that.” Meanwhile Sebastian remains profoundly transfixed by a separate reality, be “it the constellation of marbles lying on the floorboards or the train across the lake, rolling mournfully past. Into this fragile and increasingly despairing situation steps a young woman whose presence signifies change for all. In his feature debut, Groning displays not only a tremendous feeling for his subject but for the film medium as well. Beautifully shot in black and white with an absolutely absorbing performance by Philipp Rankl as Sebastian, Summer weds story and form to achieve an effect that is deceptively simple and simply special. (LT) (Music Box, 5:00)


Dusan Makavejev’s new comedy, his first film to be shot in his native Yugoslavia in 18 years, is easily his most pleasurable work since WR: Mysteries of the Organism, although one shouldn’t go expecting a film with the intellectual ambitions of that or any of his earlier Yugoslav works. The major premise here is that the Eastern Europe of the 20s is not so much the one that we know from history as the one that we know from Hollywood–specifically the imaginary countries of Lubitsch and Million Dollar Legs during the 30s. The influence of Lubitsch (who once pointedly remarked that he preferred Paris, Paramount, to Paris, France) is apparent from the opening intertitle, and if the plot of Manifesto remains pretty inconsequential–a network of sexual and political intrigues involving murders, numerous sexual liaisons, an insane asylum, assassination attempts, and garden parties that never leads to any satisfactory conclusion–the sexiness, wit, lush rural settings, and style keep this bubbling throughout. Camilla Soeberg (Twist and Shout) is especially good as a wealthy and promiscuous political schemer; others in the cast include Eric Stoltz (Mask), Alfred Molina (Prick Up Your Ears), Simon Callow (A Room With a View), and Lindsay Duncan. (JR) (Biograph, 7:00)

My Uncle’s Legacy

As far as Eastern European filmmakers are concerned, a serious theme means a political theme, and the most serious one of late has been the morally corrupt autocracy of the Stalinist period. Even Yugoslavia, which for years had touted the superiority of its independent, Tito-led path to socialism over the Soviet system, now seems ready to join the crowd in a self-condemning reevaluation of the early 1950s. Krsto Papic’s My Uncle’s Legacy is being billed as the most controversial film in the history of Yugoslav cinema–and for a good reason. Using the setting of a small-town teachers’ college, Papic offers an uncompromisingly bleak depiction of the early years of the Communist rule in Yugoslavia, replete with opportunistic morons grabbing the positions of power and punishing indiscriminately those who stick out of the crowd. In a sign of cinematic maturity, Papic avoids overzealous preachiness, concentrating instead on the often surreal (if only they weren’t all too real) effects of the Communists’ meandering justice on an independent-minded student. While My Uncle’s Legacy is not a comprehensive film about the dark pages of Communist-created history, it is among the best made to date on the subject, achieving a delicate balance between its solid dramatic structure and a powerful political impact. Davor Janjic, who plays the pivotal role of the student, received a well-deserved top acting prize at this year’s Montreal film festival. (ZB) (Music Box, 7:00)

The Swimmer

In the USSR, Georgian filmmaking is famous for adventurous cinema that also has wide and international audience appeal. The relatively permissive Georgian studio has long been a resort of filmmakers from throughout the Soviet Union, but native Georgians have produced some of its most exciting work, among them the veteran director Irakli Quiricadze. This bold allegory about three generations of Georgians (made in 1981 but only released last year) is told through the vehicle of successive attempts to complete an awesome challenge in long-distance swimming. The challenge–faced differently by the men of each generation–becomes a metaphor for the political and social challenges of the day. Its symbolic references and the different periods of the film are evoked with a heady collection of cinematic tricks, including tinting of footage, speeding up sound and image, and surrealistic fancy. Quiricadze seems to be practicing a Soviet magical realism. (PA) (Biograph, 9:30)

The Lair of the White Worm

More delirious than gothic, but much more fun than Gothic, Ken Russell’s The Lair of the White Worm is the kinkiest and most hilarious horror parody since Re-Animator. In fact, it’s funnier. Adapting and updating a story by Bram Stoker (Dracula), Russell performs a pagan-snake-cult variation on the British vampire movie, and the entertaining results are equally scary and silly, gory and whimsical, thanks in large part to an intelligent cast. Amanda Donohoe is cheerfully caustic and seductive as Lady Sylvia Marsh, aristocratic vampire/snake lady whose taste in fashion runs from new wave to vintage Maria Montez. Her young foes–Peter Capaldi, Sammi Davis, Hugh Grant, Catherine Oxenberg–have their moments, but none match Grant’s reserved telephone chat after a violent vampire attack or Scottish science student Capaldi facing the climactic confrontation with bagpipes and a sedated mongoose under his kilt. Sprinting into Roger Corman and Terence Fisher territory with an armful of quasi-religious kitsch tableaux, Russell produces a bizarre horror film that manages to charm by its very excess. Not for every taste, it will make a great midnight movie–but see it with a large and lively audience. (RP) (Music Box, 9:30)

Himmo, King of Jerusalem

Amos Gutman–better known for contemporary melodramas such as Bar 51–has based his latest film on a patriotic best-seller celebrating one of the most heroic–and painful–moments of the creation of the Israeli state, namely the siege of Jerusalem in 1948. In this claustrophobic movie, though, the Enemy is never seen, and, the struggle between good and evil takes place within the narrow confines of the Holy Cross monastery, transformed into a makeshift hospital, emergency OR, and morgue. Food, medicine, and water are sorely wanting, wounded men scream at night and have to be operated on without anesthesia. Into the middle of this explosive situation walks blond, innocent Hamutal Horowitz, whose fiance has been killed in action, volunteering her services as a nurse. While she immediately becomes the prey of the not-too-subtle advances of her patients, she falls in love with Himmo, once the most handsome lover in Jerusalem, now blind and mutilated. From the callous surgeon to Himmo’s pimp brother, Hamutal’s inner grace gradually touches the hearts of the “wolves” around her, while Himmo keeps screaming “Kill me! Kill me!” I do not share the admiration expressed by some of my colleagues (such as the London Times’s David Robinson) for the film, being quite irritated by its heavy melodramatic aspects, Alona Kimhi’s performance as Hamutal, and the droning chords that gloomily punctuate the action. I also wonder why such a movie–produced with the assistance of the Israel Fund for the Promotion of Quality Films–was chosen to represent Israel in a number of film festivals in Europe and America, while more interesting, innovative, and controversial works (in terms of form as well as content) such as Rafi Bukay’s Avanti Popolo, Orna Ben-Dor Niv’s Because of That War, or Ram Loevy’s Bread have yet to be shown. (BR) (Univ. of Chicago, 10:00)

Monday October 31


To better prepare our children for reality, psychologist Bruno Bettelheim suggests undiluted fairy tales, which afford a child exposure to life’s twists and turns while safe in the arms of a parent. Paperhouse is a fairy tale for adults, a child’s-eye view of a world run by bigger people. A young girl, disenchanted with the everyday frailties of her parents, realizes a psychic connection with a seriously ill boy through her crayon drawings. This first feature by English music-video maker Bernard Rose combines strong performances, imaginative sets, and a particularly effective sound track to illuminate the dark corners of childhood. (NR) (Biograph, 6:00)


Chicago’s Kartemquin Films and New York painter Leon Golub are perfectly matched in this biographical documentary. Kartemquin (Taylor Chain I and II; The Last Pullman Car) is noted for social-issue documentary that draws its strength from a careful respect for its subjects and a style that puts its subjects’ voices in their own context. Golub is noted for awkward, sometimes terrifying, gigantic portrayals of the violence of our times. His subject’s are mercenaries, death squads, and other agents of state violence and their victims. His intent, in paintings that closely document personal gesture, is to “represent power relationships in the modern world,” as he says to an art audience in this film. The hour-long film tracks the development of a painting with the jovial and down-to-earth artist, in combination with reactions of museumgoers and intercut with news and documentary footage from the situations he portrays (South Africa; the contras; Ollie North). A haunting musical score underlies the portrait of the artist as a seasoned but not pessimistic man. (PA) To be shown with Horowitz Plays Mozart, a documentary about the great pianist. (Music Box, 6:00)


A West German film about a father spending a vacation at a resort with his autistic son. A review appears under Sunday, October 30. (Univ. of Chicago, 6:00)

Open From Six to Midnight

Two bored spinsters give dance lessons every night in their home until someone named Julio comes into their life. Victor Dinenzon directed this Argentinean feature. (Three Penny, 7:00)

The Storms of August

The fledgling Welsh cinema doesn’t aspire to become the world leader; it merely wants to be noticed among the industry giants. With Endaf Emlyn’s The Storms of August, a quirky comedy that offers refreshing twists on the familiar growing-up-in-a-small-town theme, it has every chance of being noticed–at least on the film-festival circuit. The film is set in 1957 in Aberheli, a normally quiet Welsh seaside town experiencing a sudden jolt thanks to the arrival of television. The impact of the gadget proves significant enough to divide the townsfolk into two bickering camps and to turn the editor of the local paper into a pirate of the airwaves, crusading against the evil of TV. In the middle of the squabble is the editor’s son, a talented musician who rebels against the town’s claustrophobic atmosphere by spilling the beans on every petty hypocrite in Aberheli. Needless to say, he is ostracized by the community, though not before he exposes a myriad of delightfully oddball characters, including an anything-but-saintly school principal, and a middle-aged matron who caters to the sexual needs of every able male in town. Nothing grandiose here, but there are no pretensions of grandeur, either. The Storms of August is a small-scale film offering small-scale pleasures–precisely what we should expect from a top-notch Welsh production. (ZB) (Music Box, 8:00)

Himmo, King of Jerusalem

Amos Gutman’s Israeli film, set in a monastery during the 1948 conflict. A review appears under Sunday, October 30. (Biograph, 8:30)

A Few Days With Me

Claude Sautet’s French film with Daniel Auteuil, Sandrine Bonnaire, and Danielle Darrieux. A review appears under Saturday, October 29. (Univ. of Chicago, 8:30)

Birds of Prey

A year after the overthrow of Marcos, a woman from the Philippines who has been living abroad for 13 years learns about the death of her husband, and returns to her country in search of her daughter; Gil Portes directs. (Three Penny, 9:30)


A taut, obsessive psychological drama of a woman whose agoraphobia imprisons her in a lifeless marriage is devoid of the typical hysteria attendant on this sort of work. An impressive construction of enclosure and release, writer-director John Dingwall’s first feature moves with authority and cool, precise rhythms that coalesce in a dangerous and daring climax. Not one to choose sides or assign blame, Dingwall knows how to modulate performance and tone. Most impressive is his treatment of Renata (Gosia Dobrowolska) in his trenchant juxtaposition of her need to escape against her fear of the outside. Her husband David (former Disney prodigy Sean Scully) is abusive and dictatorial; in a chillingly evocative scene his attempted rape recalls a similar incident that happened years ago, which the audience reviews on a videotape. In retrospect Renata’s reversal from victim to warrior (fully realized in a stunning montage three-quarters in, when Renata finally asserts her autonomy) betrays the psychological and emotional verisimilitude Dingwall has worked hard to establish. What’s more troubling is that the director’s restraint almost fatally undermines the skill of his craft; Dingwall seems reined in through the entire film, opting for a cautious style that favors a succession of medium close-ups and two-shots that denies an alternative vantage point or perspective. He shoots as if strapped in a straitjacket, rarely pushing the limits of the medium to his advantage. Still Dingwall has a forceful facility with actors, with Dobrowolska and Scully delivering ferocious, strong performances. In the end it lacks the passsion and exhilaration of Godard’s similarly themed Contempt or Roger Donaldson’s Smash Palace, but it is an undeniably strong first impression.

(PZM). (Music Box, 10:00)

The Innocent

The Innocent is extremely well directed–by Andre Techine (French Provincial, Scene of the Crime); extremely well written–by Techine and Cahiers du Cinema critic-turned-screenwriter Pascal Bonitzer; extremely well acted–by, among others, Sandrine Bonnaire, the French cinema’s most accomplished young actress, and nouvelle vague veteran Jean-Claude Brialy; extremely well shot–by Renato Berta, one of the best European cinematographers; and it is a very irresponsible movie. Techine’s avowed intentions were “to find tragedy within melodrama” (hence the final quotation from Sophocles’ Antigone) and to tackle the problem of evil. Unfortunately, having refused to anchor his movie more solidly in current French sociopolitical realities, he fails at both. As in a bad melodrama where everybody turns out in the third act to be the son, daughter, or long-lost-husband of everybody else, all of the five characters in The Innocent are connected by various links of desire, sex, and murder. What I find highly problematic in the film is the quasi-systematic reduction of the “other” to the “same.” The sexual other, the woman, Jeanne, ends up, in spite of Sandrine Bonnaire’s immense talent, being nothing other than a means of exchange between two men, Stephane and Said. The ethnic other, Said, the Arab, desired by both father and son, as well as by Jeanne and her younger brother, will eventually die side by side with the man he once tried to kill, his “enemy brother,” Stephane. The political other (in the eyes of Techine, as well as of his target audience) is constituted by the right-wing commando, who takes pleasure in murdering Arabs; unfortunately, the thug’s presence in the plot seems to serve no other purpose than allowing young Stephane to act out his oedipal rage (his father loves to sleep with Arab boys) and handsome Said to knife Stephane (oh, the phallic symbolism). Racial violence–often with sexual overtones–may be one of the major problems faced by contemporary France (where the Howard Beach incident in Queens was considered “minor”), and is certainly one of the purest forms of evil that country has had to face since the Barbie trial–or the end of the Algerian war. On the other hand, the controversial history of the sexual relationship between French men and Arab boys is still to be written–the late Jean Genet contributed a few unconventional, honest insights on the question. But the subject has to be taken seriously, within the context of a history of French colonialism as well as North African immigration. Granted, Techine didn’t want to make “a sociological film.” Nobody does. Still, some movies manage to be socially relevant without being tedious, academic, or boring. Some don’t. And those that don’t, finally, are nothing but fluff. Talented fluff if you care. (BR) (Biograph, 10:15)

The Lair of the White Worm

Archaeologist meets snake woman in Ken Russell’s campy new feature with Sammi Davis and Amanda Donohoe. A review appears under Sunday, October 30. (Univ. of Chicago, 10:15)

Tuesday November 1

TV Commercials

Does it mean something that this is always the festival’s most popular program? Two hours’ worth of 30- and 60-second spots from around the world. (Biograph, 6:00)


John Dingwall’s Austrailian drama chronicles the final hours of a nine-year marriage. A review appears under Monday, October 31. (Music Box, 6:00)


A documentary by Chicago’s Gordon Quinn and Jerry Blumenthal of the Kartemquin Collective about the life and methods of the famous painter. A review appears under Monday, October 31. On the same program, Albert Maysles, Susan Froemke, and Charlotte Zwerin’s Horowitz Plays Mozart, a documentary about the famous pianist. (Univ. of Chicago, 6:00)


Sergei Soloviev’s Soviet film is a gangster story involving various romantic rivals, four Soviet rock bands, and reportedly a bit of comedy. (Three Penny, 7:00)


Dusan Makavejev’s romp about political and sexual intrigues, set in Eastern Europe in the 20s. A review appears under Sunday, October 30. (Music Box, 8:00)


Prizewinning entries from the festival’s video categories, including student works, experimental shorts, and music videos. (Biograph, 8:30)


The drawings of a young girl come alive in Bernard Rose’s English film. A review appears under Monday, October 31. (Univ. of Chicago, 8:30)

Not Since Casanova

A spectacularly unsuccessful attempt to weld Hollywood slickness onto the regionalist sensibility of its American Film Institute backing, this embarrassing work hasn’t an original thought to speak of. Writer-director Brett Thompson has appropriated plot movements and visual motifs straight out of The Seventh Seal, Hannah and Her Sisters, Annie Hall, 9 1/2 Weeks, All That Jazz, and the combined efforts of Jonathan Demme and John Waters that signify neither satire nor hommage. This isn’t moviemaking, this is xeroxing. What there is for narrative is a brazenly simplistic and innocuous tale of a callow young man named Prepski Morris (!), a nasal-voiced postadolescent whose dopey eyelids and blank expressions nevertheless make him irresistible to the full complement of antifeminists, hippies, spinsters, and aerobics instructors. The acting is sub-high school; execution is flaccid. With his crude juxtapositions of phallic imagery, disingenuous sexual politics, and outrageously overreaching “profundity” (Thompson compares his protagonist to Homer’s Odysseus), the film comes off as a primitive, obsolete, and boring exercise of over-the-top narcissism. The women are stick figures, shorn of taste or judgment, skill or intellectual valor; you’d be hard pressed to find another such ugly, corrosive portrait in this or any other year. What Variety called “a film school filigree” struck me as outright plagiarism, only Thompson lacks even the most perfunctory skills needed to do these more talented directors justice. (PZM) (Three Penny, 9:30)

Drowning by Numbers

As usual, Peter Greenaway, helped again by Sacha Vierny’s cinematography, offers a lush eyeful, as well as series of conceptual brain teasers in this odd tale about three women–grandmother, mother, and granddaughter–who are all named Cissy Colpitts, and who drown their husbands in succession. But beyond a certain point, this systems-happy English black comedy becomes so reductive and predictable that it might as well be called “Filming by Numbers.” Greenaway’s fascination with numbers and his obsession with sagging male middle-aged flesh proceed as if by rote, and not even the talents of actors Joan Plowright, Bernard Hill, Juliet Stevenson, Joely Richardson, and Jason Edwards can breathe life into its smarmy conceits, informed here by a whiff of misogyny that makes the banter seem even more heartless, if no more interesting. (JR) (Music Box, 10:00)

My Uncle’s Legacy

Krsto Papic’s reportedly subversive Yugoslavian film revolves around a love story. A review appears under Sunday, October 30. (Univ. of Chicago, 10:15)

Wednesday November 2

TV Commercials

A repeat of the program of Tuesday, November 1. (Biograph, 6:00)

The Debt

At a time when most films seem to throw everything they’ve got into the first 20 minutes, only to run out of gas, lock into the plot, and coast to an agonizingly slow finish for the next hour or so, Miguel Pereira’s The Debt builds magisterially, inexorably, in ever-widening ripples, and without missing a beat. A film of understated but indisputable power, paradoxically likely to please both lovers of imported “little” art films about “real” people from another continent, and the more rigorous seekers after a truly alternative cinema. Pereira’s feature-film debut gives new hope that third-world cinema may be alive and well–and living in Argentina.

Beneath its deceptively simple story line–a shepherd boy educated, sheltered, and ultimately mourned by a young urban schoolteacher sent to his remote village in the Andes–The Debt is less a parable of history than a chronicle of its slow-dawning consequences. The ominous effects of Argentina’s repressive military junta filter slowly into the hinterlands (the true extent of the changes thus wrought are measured by a brief trip to the city in search of the shepherd boy’s father, a trip cut short by the realization of the ease with which those who venture out of obscurity tend to disappear). It is only after the Falklands war that the teacher, and with him the audience, realize how the everyday objects of schoolboy history–swashbuckling pirates parading through comic-book panels, intricate engravings of multisailed schooners, and seashells embedded in fields that were long ago the ocean floor–can become the indelible markers of a national tragedy. Winner of this year’s Silver Bear Award, Berlin film festival. (RS) (Music Box, 6:00)

Shoot and Cry

Helene Klodawsky’s French-Canadian Des armes et des larmes (literally, “Arms and Tears”) is a documentary focusing on a discussion between young Israelis and Palestinians in a Haifa suburb about the issue of occupied territories. On the same program, Anne Anderson’s Canadian documentary Holding Our Ground, concerning a grassroots women’s organization in a squatter community in the Phillipines that is trying to find shelter for itself and street children. (Univ. of ,Chicago, 6:00)

A Spring for the Thirsty

Deemed “anti-Soviet” and thus unshowable, Yuri Ilyenko’s Ukrainian “film parable” languished in the vault gulag for over 20 years. This bold avant-garde work, which eschews social realism for a more opaque lyricism, undoubtedly perplexed official censors. Ostensibly, A Spring for the Thirsty tells the story of an old man living beside a well at the edge of a desert. The years have left him grizzled and bitter, alone with only photographs and memories of the family, friends, and strangers whose thirst was quenched beside his well. Through his eyes an austere chronicle of a rural people is revealed. Ilyenko is known to audiences in the West for his direction of A White Bird With a Black Spot and his cinematography in Sergei Parajadnov’s Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors. In this collaboration with celebrated poet Ivan Dratch, Ilyenko continues in a vein immediately recognizable to anyone familiar with that Ukrainian master, Dovzhenko. Spring’s sensibility is that of a poem that refracts its narrative and emotional mood into a succession of frequently disparate images and sounds. Children riding the wings of a windmill. Soldiers marching. A woman crying. People dancing. The old man carrying a fruit-laden tree. If Spring is a poem, it is also a landscape where startlingly contrasted and overexposed black-and-white images bleed across the frame. The sound track’s percussive assemblage of natural sound and sparse dialogue echoes across this starkly surreal terrain of collective memory–birth, death, laughter, loss–the material of homeland. Much more than the story of one man, this stunning first feature expresses a spiritual reverie of the Ukrainian people. (LT) (Three Penny, 7:00)

Times to Come

Gustavo Mosquera’s Argentinean allegorical tale of the future with political overtones stars and features the rock music of Charly Garcia. (Music Box, 8:00)

Illinois Awards

Prizewinning entries from this year’s competition in the following categories: education, animation, documentary, short subject, and student films. Many or all of the filmmakers will be present. (Biograph, 8:30)

Private Access

Ornella Muti stars in Francesco Maselli’s Italian film involving a writer, a computer, and a broken love affair. (Univ. of Chicago, 8:30)

The Act

In his feature-film debut, Hector Faver, an Argentinean now residing in Spain, challenges the viewer’s cognitive skills with a complex psychological mystery. Andres (Juanjo Puigcorbe), one of two central characters in The Act, is a film director who willingly abandons his middle-class life-style and disappears. Prior to his departure, he sends a farewell note in the form of an unfinished movie to a close friend, Joaquin (Pedro Diez del Corral). Told primarily through first-person narration, The Act weaves a sketchy tale of Joaquin’s attempts to decipher Andres’s message. As conceived by Faver, Joaquin’s search for meaning is as hallucinatory as Andres’s movie. In the process of looking for parallels between fiction and reality in Andres’s life, Joaquin probes inquisitively into his own relationships, generating more questions along the way than he is able to answer. Highly personal in style (consistent slow pans, piercing musical score), The Act is an obsessive film about the nature of cinema, made by a man obsessed with cinema (plentiful references to specific films). It will likely appeal only to the most fearless cineasts, i.e., people who revel in oblique narratives, deliberate pacings, and insideronly cinematic clues. (ZB) (Three Penny, 9:30)


This rare treasure, a poisonous flower from Hungary, Bela Tarr’s latest feature is set in the grim, muddy industrial outskirts of Budapest, haunted by the ever-present noise of a freight conveyor whose monstrous shape fills the barren horizon, while an almost continuous rain pours over the low buildings, the tired faces of the people, and the stray dogs in the empty lots. A worker, desperately in love with a married woman, tries to make her share his passion. Not averse to going bed with him when her attractive husband is away, the woman will only give him her body–not her soul, not her life, not what he really wants. For him, this woman’s love would represent salvation. He knows, however, that he is himself incapable of unselfish love, and, during one of their intimate moments, chillingly tells her how his callousness once drove a girlfriend to a bloody suicide. Damnation is being trapped in his own, imperfect, maybe despicable feelings, trapped in this petty triangle of local adultery, trapped into thinking that, if he involves the husband in a shady black-market deal, maybe the latter will be caught by the police. Damnation is seeing her, desiring her (as in a beautiful sequence where the camera slowly, painfully glides over the woman’s face while she is singing nostalgic love songs in a makeshift cabaret), having sex with her, but never fully possessing her. The symbolic aspect of the story is beautifully rendered by the stunning black-and-white photography. Panning shots frontally sweep the action, which gives the visual composition a painterly quality, while the slow unveiling of a detail or character previously kept offscreen maintains a pure cinematic tension. Within this formal, carefully designed framework, violence sometimes bursts out like a shot; tired workers get drunk in a crowded cafe; dogs ominously bark; love painfully endures. The peculiar, haunting atmosphere of the film–enhanced by the careful composition of the sound track, rerecorded in a studio–has reminded some viewers of Tarkovsky’s work, in part because of the obsessional presence of the pouring rain. More specifically, I see the rain as a sort of biblical flood–it is not only the unhappy lover, it is humanity that is doomed. Paradoxically, this pervasive wetness also suggests the bodily fluids born out of human intercourse (tears, sweat, come), which, for the filmmaker, are the essence of doom, but also, as in the heroine’s songs of lost love, the essence of human poetry. (BR) (Music Box, 10:00)


Talking about the work of the collectives of black British filmmakers such as Sankofa, the Black Audio Film Collective, or Ceddo Film Video Workshop, critic Kobepa Mercer writes in Black Frames: “If such issues and changes within black filmmaking may be momentarily grasped as an accentuation of the expressive over the referential, or an emphasis on the complexity rather than the homogeneity of the black experience in Britain, what is at issue is not a categorical ‘break’ with the past but the embryonic articulation of something ‘new’ that does not fit a pre-given category.” In particular, filmmakers in the 80s have striven to retrieve, from the point of view of their experience as subjects of history, the repressed colonial past. What is critically important in their approach is that the level of “cinematic struggle” defined by their work deals directly with issues of representation (and not with “realism” as the previous generation of filmmakers). Testament is an ambitious film realized with very limited financial means, which makes imaginative use of the relationship between image and sound. At a narrative and formal level, the main tension is created between two women who meet again in contemporary Ghana. Abena, a former Nkrumah partisan who fled to England after her arrest by the military putschists in 1966, is back in Ghana, ironically, as a TV journalist documenting Werner Herzog’s shooting of Cobra Verde. Abena has learned to “speak the language of the oppressor” and unwillingly finds herself on the “wrong side” of the neocolonialist struggle. The film suggests that her dilemma is the result of a voluntary political amnesia, i.e., a refusal to face Ghana’s political failure to set up a Marxist regime. On the other hand, one of her friends from the time of Nkrumah’s Ideological School, who still lives in the Ghanaian countryside, has taken a vow of silence since the military coup. Between the woman–and the country–who has lost her voice and the savvy media reporter haunted by memories, between poetic images of the Ghanaian landscape and archival footage of the violent political “farce” undergone by the country, between a quasi-archaeological unearthing of the mythical past and the analysis of today’s difficult choices, between a chorus of African women and Abena’s thoughtful monologue, John Akomfrah draws the parameters of the black diaspora. Like Abena, the filmmaker was born in Ghana and lives in England; like her friend, something of her black experience has been reduced to silence, which the film, painstakingly, strives to articulate. (BR) (Univ. of Chicago, 10:15)

Thursday November 3


Cartoon shorts from the United States, the Netherlands, Poland, Australia, Switzerland, Canada, the United Kingdom, and elsewhere. (Biograph, 6:00)


Ine Schenkkan’s Dutch film, adapted from Inez van Dulleman’s novel, concerns the confrontation between a middle-aged writer and her own mortality when faced with the illness, senility, and death of her parents. (Music Box, 6:00)

The Debt

Miguel Pereira’s Argentinean feature about the Falkland Islands conflict, and winner of the Silver Bear at this year’s Berlin film festival. A review appears under Wednesday, November 2. (Univ. of Chicago, 6:00)

Cold Summer of ’53

This Soviet first feature by Alexander Proshkin covers a day in the summer of 1953, and describes the conflict between amnestied criminals after the death of Stalin and the inhabitants of a port village that they plunder. (Three Penny, 7:00)

Hanna’s War

The resistance of Jews to the Nazis in Eastern Europe is the subject of Menahem Golan’s new, nearly two-and-a-half-hour feature, starring Ellen Burstyn and Maruschka Detmers. (Music Box, 8:00)

Alan Parker Tribute

Considering the fact that the Chicago festival’s TV commercials program is generally the first to sell out, this evening of talk and clips with a British TV-commercial veteran whose features are mainly like TV commercials (e.g., Midnight Express, Fame, Pink Floyd–the Wall, Angel Heart) is likely to be popular as well; but if you can’t get in, you can always rent his films on video. (Biograph, 8:00)

Drowning by Numbers

Peter Greenaway’s latest formalist puzzle from England. A review appears under Tuesday, November (Univ. of Chicago, 8:30)

In the Mouth of the Wolf

Francisco Lombardi’s La boca del lobo is a fascinating Peruvian/Spanish coproduction that brings to the screen for the first time the little war between the Peruvian army and the Maoist guerrilla forces of the Sendero Luminoso (shining path), which for the past eight years has split Peru into two regions, the “emergency zone” in Ayacucho province and the rest of the country. It is a logical follow-up to Lombardi’s 1985 The City and the Dogs, based on the celebrated novel of Mario Vargas Llosa, which was an expose of the maniacal rigors of life in Lima military school. The story is seen through the eyes of Vitin (Tono Vega), a young soldier of no firm political convictions who at first is glad to have been sent to the zone, expecting to return to Lima as a hero and win an easy promotion. The soldiers are isolated in a remote Indian village and the marauding terrorists are never seen–the atmosphere is a bit similar to John Ford’s The Lost Patrol. The uncomprehending brutality of the outpost’s commanding officer results in a massacre of most of the local Indian population. This scene is all the more horrifying because of the majestic grandeur of the mountain landscape in which it occurs. The film is not without its faults. At more than two hours, it’s a bit long and ponderous. A Russian roulette sequence is contrived and unconvincing. And although even making such a film in Peru seems a courageous act, its courage is relative–the script lets the army off the hook by seeming to place the blame for military atrocities on one individual supermacho officer, clearly a psycho, whereas Chuspi, the fictional village of the film, stands in for Soccos, Accomarca, Pomabamba, and other places where similar massacres have actually occurred. The guerrillas are merely a murderous, invisible force. The film’s sympathies clearly go out to the Indians who are caught in the middle. In spite of its flaws, this powerful work deserves to be seen. It is one of the most substantial films made anywhere in South America in the last few years. (ES) (Three Penny, 9:30)

Keep Your Right Up


Godard’s last feature, Soigne ta droite. It’s been almost two years since I’ve seen this movie, and then it was without subtitles, so apart from saying that every new Godard film is worth seeing, the following should be regarded as tentative notes. Basically an episodic comedy, this French-Swiss coproduction features Godard himself as the comic lead, rehearsals of the Rita Mitsouko rock group, a good many gags (including ones involving golf and travel), and a lot of cameos from well-known French actors, including Jane Birkin, Bernadette Lafont, and Jacques Villeret. The biggest surprise here, in a way, is Godard’s modification of his own persona: in contrast to the grumpy, would-be sages of First Name: Carmen and King Lear, his benign and ethereal character is positively Keatonian, with echoes of Tati’s Monsieur Hulot as well. (Early in the film, he executes a Keaton-like gag of diving through a car window that is surprisingly deft.) The main comic inspiration here, though, by Godard’s own admission, is Jerry Lewis–specifically the airplane sequence in Lewis’s last feature, Cracking Up–although what Godard makes of this is even more quizzically eccentric than the work of his mentor. Godard is also seen grasping a copy of Dostoyevski’s The Idiot, which may also provide some clues about what he’s up to. (JR) (Biograph, 10:15)


Bela Tarr’s Hungarian film about a doomed love triangle. A review appears under Wednesday, November 2. (Univ. of Chicago, 10:15)

Travelling Avant

First of all, for those who are already salaciously anticipating Travelling Avant after reading the festival schedule, it’s my painful duty to inform you that there’s been a misprint. No, this is not an erotic Swiss film about three girls in the woods, “a story of sensuous pleasure and torturing fears.” Travelling Avant has its pleasures, but they are the gentler pleasures of shameless nostalgia and a charmingly told story. Jean-Charles Tacchella’s film takes place in Paris in the late 40s, and sets up a Jules and Jim-like love triangle involving Nino, Barbara, and Donald, three avid young film buffs hoping for a life in the movies. The cinematic references are no accident, for the film is trying to re-create the spirit of an era–the time when the men and women who were later to create the French New Wave must have been too-serious students falling in love with cinema and each other and treating it all with the reverence usually reserved for religion. It’s easy to fault Travelling Avant for its own straightforward earth-bound storytelling when it’s meant to be an ode to creativity and discovery, but it’s fun to watch nonetheless. There is considerable pretension in the three characters, the red-haired clod Nino, the handsome, slick, and ambitious Donald, and the ideologically purer-than-thou Barbara, but a genuine shred of innocence is conveyed as well. Anyone who discovered film at the same age as the characters in this film will probably entertain at least a few parallel memories while watching it. (BS) (Music Box, 10:30)