* = recommended

Friday October 13


Idrissa Ouedraogo’s first feature film, The Choice, chronicling the long trek of a family forced by drought to leave their home, was a film about displacement. His second, Yaaba, on the other hand, is about having a place in the world. A young boy and girl, playing on the outskirts of their small Burkina Faso village, encounter an old woman who is for no apparent reason treated by the villagers as a witch and blamed for all the evils that befall them. The boy is openly drawn to the old woman, first by curiosity, then by admiration, and finally by love (as expressed by the film’s title, which means “grandmother” in Moorea). Their relationship, frowned upon by the entire village, soon becomes the axis of his changing perspective as he begins to see the familiar components of his life from without.

This view is of necessity also that of the audience. But due to the disconcerting directness of Ouedraogo’s story telling and that of the villagers themselves, the boy’s questioning of the conventional wisdom of his society takes place within a calm acceptance that neither demands nor precludes change.

This directness also breeds an intimacy, a sense of familiarity. By the film’s end we know every mudbricked courtyard and intersection of the tiny village, we know who lives or might appear there, we know the shape and texture of each water jug and wooden bowl, the walk, habits, and gestures of each villager, as we might know the faces and contours of our own hometown. And since this ambivalence of familiarity and strangeness reflects the boy’s coming to consciousness, our view from without belongs not to ethnology but to memory. (RS) (Music Box, 7:00)

Ivan and Alexandra

There could be no gentler, friendlier introduction to the Bulgarian cinema than veteran director Ivan Nitschev’s childhood memoir of life under Stalin. His 11-year-old protagonist Ivan, the boyish voice of Marxist revolution on Sofia radio, becomes totally disillusioned when the girl of his dreams, tall and lanky Alexandra, is ostracized at school because her father is labeled a traitor to communism. When she is expelled from the Young Pioneers, young Ivan chooses to stick by her. “I feel I owe it to myself to understand what happened during the Stalinist period,” Nitschev has said. “Sadness, humor, creative spirit–all are equally important elements. The film is dedicated to all our children, with the hope that such things will never recur.” The film is simple, touching, humane. Its best sequences, like the chorus of guitar strumming local studs singing “Sofia! Oh, Sofia!” in homage to Bulgaria’s metropolis, are as poetic as the early, small-town Fellini of I vitelloni. (GP) (Village, 7:00)

*Jesus of Montreal

Denys Arcand had his first worldwide hit in 1986, with the intellectual sex comedy The Decline of the American Empire, although this smart and witty Quebec director is no novice. A well-known name in Canadian film since a notorious banned sociopolitical documentary in 1970, Arcand turned to fiction features and has become one of the sharpest and most irreverent observers of North American culture and middle-class values working today. In Jesus of Montreal, Daniel, a young unemployed actor, is hired by a priest with patron-of-the-arts pretensions to revive a wheezy 50s passion play for performance on a mountainside above Montreal. What the priest doesn’t anticipate is the obsession with the project that Daniel develops. Recruiting a disparate band of actors, he discards the old script and creates a multimedia performance piece grounded in the latest Middle Eastern research and awash in modern doubts concerning faith and divinity. Enraged church officials try to shut the show down, while trend-sniffing critics and talk-show hosts hail it as the city’s hottest ticket in avant-garde theater, making Daniel, who portrays Jesus, an instant celebrity. Arcand presents this as satire, and it can be read in any number of ways–as a battle between the sacred and the profane, the personal and the commercial, or censorship and freedom. There are some truly hilarious moments, including a wicked deadpan parody of auditions for a beer commercial, and a sequence in which Daniel’s actors scandalize their patron with an improvised string of mocking skits, the most memorable being “Kabuki Passion Play.” However, underlying this story with its obvious parallels between Daniel’s newfound career and the public life of Jesus is the director’s serious questioning of the nature of belief in contemporary life. It’s a risky move for Arcand commercially: the hip, upwardly mobile audience that has adored his earlier japes at modern sex may be less comfortable with an unabashed acknowledgment of spiritual conflict. The actual performance of the play goes on long enough to border on the polemical, but it’s not a terrible price to pay for the film’s melodramatic and quite powerful ending. (BS) (Univ. of Chicago, 7:00)

The Moonchild

The second feature of Spanish director Agustin Villaronga (In a Glass Cage) concerns a European orphan in north Africa convinced that he has psychic powers; he is adopted by a secret fascist organization that is interested in breeding a perfect human being. (Univ. of Chicago, 9:15)


Yuri Mamin, the director of this witty and all-too-true satire of Gorbachev’s “new order,” likes to quote the Russian author Lermontov: “All this would have been funny were it not so sad.” The time is now, the place is Leningrad, and the story is constructed around a doomed apartment building and its varied residents–a microcosm, of course, of Soviet culture. Mamin juggles a wild cast of nutty inhabitants ranging from an avant-garde composer who periodically dons mechanical wings in an attempt to fly to a couple who have turned their cramped apartment into an illegal greenhouse. In an effort to keep the roof from literally caving in, residents try to prop up the beams with signs bearing pre-Gorbachev slogans that no longer apply. Needless to say, the roof continues to collapse. Mamin and screenwriter Vladimir Vardunas’s sympathetic satire captures both the humor and hardship of daily Soviet life with a blend of neorealism and metaphor much like the late 1960s work of Milos Forman. The title comes from the framing metaphor: the film opens in a central Asian desert where an old Kazakh herdsman patiently waits for a trickling fountain to fill his vessel. When a Russian truck rolls up, young men pour out, examine the fountain, plant dynamite, and blow it up, producing a sudden gush of water too strong to be tapped. They drive off when the water just as suddenly disappears altogether. The Kazakhs must then move on since their age-old source of water has been destroyed. Soviet audiences this spring laughed at this true and sad and apt image. (AH) (Music Box, 9:30)


The first feature from the talented cinematographer Shaji N. Kuran plays like an Indian Tarkovsky. It’s a dense, somewhat lyrical tale that speculates on the fate of a student who vanished in the late 70s after singing a protest song. It’s a difficult, extremely demanding work that frequently taxes your patience and understanding, but if you allow its unforced, fluent rhythms a chance to breathe, they’ll knock you out. The breathtaking green cliffs and tropics of India’s southern coast and the often haunting use of weather, water, and hills are seamlessly integrated into the narrative. As Nestor Almendros once pointed out, any mediocre cinematographer can replicate a stunning landscape, but the real challenge of lighting, shaping, and framing is the human face. And Shaji’s photography of these faces is extraordinary. When a young student fails to show up at home for the holidays, his father begins to investigate the disappearance. The story is naturally simple, and when the boy’s sister ultimately discovers his fate, it’s devastating. This film could never make it commercially (even on the art-house circuit); it’s not driven by plot or narrative, but by symbolism and ritual. But for the theoretically more discerning film festival audience, it’s likely to leave a strong, deep impression. Unfortunately, when the scenes move to the city, Shaji loses his grip on the material; when the action is set indoors, with limited space to play with, the scenes lack imagination and drive. But G. Aravindan’s spare, provocative music obscures the weaker points, and establishes a tone and mood completely its own. This isn’t a great film, but it’s one that announces a bold, fresh perspective in Indian cinema, which is enough to recommend it. (PZM) (Village, 9:30)

Women on the Roof

This is the feature-film debut of director Carl-Gustav Nykvist, son of the famous Swedish cinematographer Sven Nykvist, longtime associate of Ingmar Bergman. In the case of Carl-Gustav, apprenticeship at home has paid off well: as far as pure visuals are concerned, this intimate turn-of-the-century drama can more than match any of the other festival entries. Set mainly in the attic of a Stockholm boardinghouse, the space there divided into a plain living room and a spacious photographer’s studio, the thin story concerns two young women, one a professional photographer, the other a simple girl with an artist’s soul who needs a little persuasion before she can take up the field. There are boyfriends, studio sessions, a theft, a mystery, a distant war, even a gruesome death–all providing vehicles for seemingly endless visual inventiveness. Nykvist and his cameramen (Ulf Brantas and Jorgen Persson) have a field day exploring the changing luminosity in the attic. The film begins with the preponderance of dark hues, primarily browns and blues, then changes to warmer yellows and reds. Through a superb use of filters and reflected light, the filmmakers manage to define a wide range of tones and moods, often changing them abruptly. Especially stunning are scenes shot under a giant skylight in the studio and on the roof itself. About the only thing that young Nykvist forgot to do before commencing his work on Women on the Roof was to get in touch with the children of Ingmar Bergman to see if there weren’t any good screenwriters among them. (ZB) (Univ. of Chicago, 11:00)

Saturday, October 14

By the Will of God

Subtitled “A European Prince on the Stages of Half a Century,” this 1988 effort from Hungary has as its subject the last Hungarian crown prince, Dr. Otto von Hapsburg, whose family was swept from power in the wake of World War I. Unfortunately what might have been a middle-European “last emperor” story becomes an utter bore in the unimaginative hands of longtime documentary filmmaker Peter Bokor. His absolutely static camera during his interview with the former prince mirrors the film’s lack of any irony or perspective in its treatment of Hapsburg’s life and career. In contrast to the interview (excerpts from which make up most of the film’s running time), the intercut archival footage–scenes from royal weddings and funerals in the balmy days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Nazi Anschluss with Austria, etc–are not only engrossing in themselves, but are further enhanced by some decent editing and musical accompaniment. Perhaps the most interesting thing about the film is simply that it offers such an uncritical portrayal of a member of the European hereditary aristocracy–part of a world one had thought irredeemably shattered and discredited by the Great War. It seems that the bankruptcy of Eastern bloc “communism” and the loosening Soviet grip have given free rein to all forms of nationalism. (JS) (Univ. of Chicago, 2:00)

*A House for Two

A visually imposing work on the contrasting fates of two brothers, this Czech feature from Milos Zabransky is clearly influenced by the early surreal fantasies of Vera Chytilova (in particular About Something Else). Dan (Ondrej Vetchy) is reckless and irresponsible, a joker and womanizer out for a good time (he orders his girlfriend to do a striptease to pay off his bar bill). His older brother Boza (Jiri Schmitzer) is orderly and timid. He can’t stand Dan’s behavior, but he’s at a loss to do anything about it. The brothers, who share a run-down home with their mother, are both employed by a print shop, and when a beautiful and passionate press operator named Magda (Ivana Velichova) turns up, naturally Boza falls for her. She’s won over instead by Dan, but complications ensue when, in this order, Magda learns she’s pregnant, Dan is drafted into the army, and Boza agrees to marry her. Zabransky’s style i’s swift and clean (the film only runs 78 minutes); the sex scenes have an unexpected erotic charge, and his view of city life is sharply observed. His Czechoslovakia is a gray and brown wasteland of poverty and despair, of crowded buses and ineffectiveness. Stylistically he traffics in Christian symbolism and still-camera moves, which aren’t wholly successful but build toward a mournful resolution. What the film lacks is any real depth or substance. Some of the incidental pleasures found in longer films are blocked out entirely (there aren’t any secondary characters of real value and neither Magda nor Boza is drawn out). The introduction of the mother (Jirina Trebicka), who clearly favors Dan (we find out why near the end), isn’t particularly revealing. Despite all of this, the movie is still worth seeing for its dazzling visual effects and its fervently subversive notion of making Dan the film’s moral guardian and most sympathetic character. If it lacks the freewheeling inventiveness found in the best of the Czech New Wave, it’s still a significant improvement over anything Jiri Menzel has done recently. (PZM) (Music Box, 3:00)

Fallada–The Last Chapter

It’s a sure sign of a classy production these days when you hear the strains of Sibelius’s Valse Triste on the soundtrack, as in East German director Roland Graf’s film based on the last, drug- and alcohol-ridden years of socialist novelist Hans Fallada. Not that there’s anything wrong with being classy, but a film such as this, a period piece carefully crafted for international festival viewing and television sales, so often has the juice drained from its subject, leaving a husk of meticulous research and superb set decoration. The centerpiece of this film is a dedicated and nuanced performance by Jorg Gudzuhn in a role that often requires him to communicate moods nonverbally and to do what a novelist does, namely sit around writing. The story is set in the late 30s, when Fallada has removed himself along with his wife and family to a remote village to avoid engagement with the Nazis, although he does a brief jail term for socialist activities. Careful is the word for this film, and while that works to its advantage in the evident pains taken with the recreation of the details of Fallada’s life, it is a disadvantage in the opaque view that it provides, offering few insights into what fueled Fallada personally or professionally. Beautifully photographed in muted light (and in color, contrary to the festival schedule listing), it gives the feeling of peering into the past. (BS) (Village, 3:00)

The Guests of the Hotel Astoria

Iranian writer-director Reza Allamehzadeh began his career producing documentaries and short children’s films in prerevolutionary Iran. A political prisoner from 1973 to ’79, he was released when the Islamic regime came to power. During the next four years he made other films, but most were banned by the government. Learning that his life was in danger he fled the country, crossing the Turkish mountains on foot and eventually settling in the Netherlands. The Guests of the Hotel Astoria draws on personal experience, charting the plight of a group of Iranian refugees as they wait fearfully in a small Istanbul guest house, hoping and scheming to acquire precious visas. Given this premise, the film had the potential to be a gripping political melodrama, but Allamehzadeh falls to score a major emotional impact. The weak cast and extensive dubbing account for part of the problem. The direction is also to blame. Important plot points are dismissed with a line of dialogue or left unaccountably vague. What should have been an emblematic story of a people facing a completely foreign world is ultimately simply the misadventures of a few unfortunates. (AS) (Univ. of Chicago, 4:00)

The Girlfriend

A rather difficult film to categorize, The Girlfriend is a mutation of Missing and The Turning Point that regrettably overwhelms some interesting subtexts and visual themes developed by director Jeanine Meerapfel. It’s not gainful to watch, only inert and shapeless. A West German-Argentine coproduction, it demands accuracy and the ring of truth to sustain our interest, and that’s botched in the casting of Bergman regular Liv Ullmann in the lead. She plays Maria, a working-class Buenos Aires housewife who becomes politicized in 1978 following the disappearance of her older son. Her impeccable Spanish notwithstanding, the luminous, refined Ullmann can’t pull the role off; in fact she’s a distraction. What’s more Meerapfel isn’t content with the primary story line, but also pursues Maria’s complicated relationship with her childhood friend Raquel (Cipe Lindcovsky), who has become a famous stage actress. Meerapfel’s story construction is ambitious; she’s attempting nothing less than to trace the political, sexual, and social upheavals of Argentina from within. Early on, there’s a great deal to admire. Meerapfel has an eye for expressive camera movements, with particular emphasis on high, overhead shots that capture and shape the events. But the pacing is way off; it lacks the compression, the tightness of a good thriller. Scenes that are meant to evoke sharp, precise impressions (a woman gunned down, a theater under siege) lack speed and intensity. Too many key scenes come off as staged or choreographed. Meerapfel can’t impart any fear or disorientation. The second half of the film, when religious persecution forces Raquel (she’s Jewish) to relocate to Berlin, verges on the ridiculous. The talented Polish emigre Agnieszka Holland (A Woman Alone, Angry Harvest) is credited with contributing to the script. Unfortunately her input, and the fascinating role of women in effecting change, is lost in the quagmire of melodrama. The fascinating premise, how women suffer from oppression and brutality, is never treated to any satisfaction. What a pity. (PZM) (Music Box, 4:30)

Venus Peter

Ian Sellar’s English film about a young boy named Peter, his absent father, the sea, and a fishing boat called Venus, which belongs to his grandfather. (Village, 5:00)

*Painted Faces

This first feature by Alex Law (Law Kai-yui) leaves an almost perfect memory as a film that inspires deep emotion yet avoids sentimentality. It is both romantic and painful, yet does not romanticize its subject. Set in 1962 in the crumbling Peking Opera School, last bastion of a dying art, a small boy is enrolled by his mother for ten years of harsh, spartan living and rigorous training. The film is based on a true story, one by now almost legend in Asia, for the boy became the great martial-arts comedian Jackie Chan, and his classmates included present-day Hong Kong superstars Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao. In the school he meets other boys who, like himself, have become all but orphans in the service of a demanding art taught by the school’s sole master, a heavy, taciturn bachelor whose exacting rules and great rages are symptomatic of his passion for the tradition he is dedicated to teaching them. Directing a script by Mabel Chung, Law deftly reveals the spirit of rollicking fun that often holds the school in its sway, despite the master’s intentions, but balances it with a depiction of the agony, cruelty, and social ostracism that turn a band of children into disciplined artists. Law has a delicate touch with pathos, never manipulating scenes excessively. Instead, he allows the low-key script and fine performances to carry the story, letting emotions fall where they may. The film takes its major characters from the age of eight to adolescence, when they realize the dilemma of having spent most of their young lives training to perform an art that no one wants to see. The physical resemblance of the child actors to the adults Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, and Yuen Biao is remarkable, making the film all the more poignant for those who know the careers of these stars. Sammo Hung himself plays the role of the master in his best serious dramatic performance to date. (BS) (Univ. of Chicago, 6:00)

Irwin Winkler Tribute

A tribute to the producer of They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, New’ York, New York, Rocky, Raging Bull, The Right Stuff, and Round Midnight. Martin Scorsese will host the event and many clips will be shown. In either a lunatic typo or a touch of self-irony, the festival lists Elvis Presley along with Robert De Niro, Sylvester Stallone, Jane Fonda, Sidney Pollack, and Dennis Quaid as the invited guests for this event; if it’s the latter, the apparent assumption is that Presley is at least as likely to turn up as De Niro or Fonda. (Music Box, 7:00)

The Official Story

A middle-class Argentine woman (Norma Aleandro) discovers that her beloved adopted daughter may actually be the child of desaparecidos–political activists spirited away by Argentina’s military dictatorship. Luis Puenzo’s film leaves audiences sobbing, and it does have a few genuinely powerful moments (as when the heroine’s old school friend suddenly breaks into a description of her experiences as a political prisoner). But Puenzo’s methods are so crudely manipulative (Aleandro is dangled as a blatant identity figure for the liberal art-house audience; a political subject is transformed into shameless melodrama via some plot mechanisms that would have brought a blush to the cheeks of Stanley Kramer) that the film quickly uses up the credit of its good intentions. With Hector Alterio. (DK) (Village, 7:00)


This lush panoramic historical epic, set in 11th-century China and directed by Junya Sato (The Go Masters), features picturesque battles, a mysterious woman bought and freed, a beautiful princess saved from death only to kill herself, a rough-hewn warrior, a handsome hero who must undergo many changes of fortune–and that’s only the first hour out of 143 minutes. The product of no less than five Japanese production companies, this behemoth although very much a Japanese film also featured cooperation by the Chinese army as well as cofinancing, marking the first time China has invested in a foreign film. All the romance and action is framed by a narrator who appears at the beginning and end, telling us of the great store of 11th-century scrolls discovered 100 years ago near the central-Chinese city of Dun Huang, once a nexus of the silk-trading routes between Europe and Asia, and relating a fictional account of how the scrolls came to be there. (My guess is that this odd framing device, with its emphasis on the great historical value of these documents, was inserted at the request of the film’s Chinese sponsors.) Given all this, what more could you ask for? Well, art and real passion, maybe. But then, who needs these when you’ve got noble warriors, cruel rulers, treacherous traders, secret treasures, hidden scrolls, doomed love, and male bonding, all wrapped up in a really big sand-and-sword production. (JS) (Univ. of Chicago, 8:00)

An Empty Bed

The conceptual side of An Empty Bed is quite interesting: An old gay New Yorker spends a day walking around the city, trying to get a grasp on his lonely life by recalling his past. While the possibility of comparing the original reasons behind the man’s actions with his current views on them holds a lot of promise, the film proves far from satisfying. If the hope of the filmmaker (Mark Gasper) was to create a coherent character by showing a fragmented selection of scenes from the man’s past, it did not materialize. While the flashback sequence is nicely diverse–in terms of both the tonality and the characters involved–it fails to shed light on the old man’s motivations, fears, and aspirations. In most of the pivotal scenes, his role is reduced to reacting rather than initiating action. The film’s most serious flaw lies in its inadequate exploration of his psychological depth. It is the old man, and he alone, who stands at the center of the film and his inner self should be defined beyond a quiet sense of desperation, the only emotion apparent in the (all too frequent) close-ups of his face. The best that can be said of An Empty Bed is that its incompleteness reflects, to some degree, the many voids in both the protagonist’s life and his own understanding of it. This is hardly something that can make a film great, and it is quite an accomplishment–due to the stronger elements of the basic concept, the acting, and the photography–that the end result is palatable at all. (ZB) Screening with Looking for Langston. (Music Box, 9:30)

Looking for Langston

Sankofa, a London-based filmmaking and video collective founded in 1983, has paved the way for black artists to move beyond pure social realism to theoretically sophisticated ways of making political art: incorporating both Brechtian antirealist entertainment and recent film theory concepts of voyeurism and “the gaze.” Sankofa’s stated objective: “To explore the differing relations around black experiences outside the realms of the Exotic, the Victim, and the Threat.” The Langston of the title is the gay and black Harlem renaissance poet Langston Hughes. “Looking for” should really be “looking at,” because the film is a stylized meditation about looking at male bodies–at black male bodies–made by Isaac Julien, who stated at the Toronto Festival of Festivals that he is trying to find space for a black gay film perspective. The beautiful images–some Genet-like, some Weimar-like, of black and white men dancing together somnolently–are punctuated by readings from gay black writers, including Countee Cullen, James Baldwin, and Essex Hemphill. Best of all, there’s a quick kinescope glance at the late Langston Hughes himself, reading a kicky jazz poem, soloing before a trumpet-and-sax-led quintet. (GP) Screening with An Empty Bed. (Music Box, 9:30)

Who’s That Knocking at My Door?

Martin Scorsese’s first feature, starring Harvey Keitel in his first role and set in Little Italy, can be read as a rough draft of Mean Streets, even down to the use of rock and Catholic guilt; with Zina Bethune and Anne Collette. The film was originally called Bring on the Dancing Girls when it was started in 1965, shortly after Scorsese left NYU’s film school; it was retitled I Call First when it showed at the Chicago film festival in 1967, and then was worked on some more before it was completed with its present title in 1968 or 1969. (Leonard Maltin reports it has also gone under the title J.R.) For reasons best known to itself, the 1989 Chicago festival is calling it both I Call First and Who’s That Knocking?, a brand-new title to add to the other four. (JR) (Village, 9:30)

The Decline of the American Empire

Unlike the fall of Rome the decline of the American Empire will be preceded not by sexual degeneracy, but by endless conversations about it. This seems to be the thesis of Canadian Denys Arcand’s essay on politics. and morals and talking dirty. A group of Quebecois academics retire for a holiday by a lake. The girls run off to a health club where they tell bawdy tales about men; the boys stay home to cook a fish and tell smutty stories about women. When the groups join for dinner, shocking disclosures fly, but all is resolved by dawn when the sundered couples join hands and traditional heterosexuality is vindicated–only the token homosexual, who has been spending most of the film peeing blood into a toilet, is left in the lurch. The laughs come easy but also a bit guiltily when you recognize that this hip sex comedy is actually a reactionary tract. With Dominique Michel, Dorothee Berryman, Louise Portal, Pierre Curzi, Remy Girard, Genevieve Rioux, and Gabriel Arcand. (PK) (Univ. of Chicago, 10:30)

Sunday October 15

A Quite Ordinary Life

A surprise hit at the 1978 Chicago film festival, A Quite Ordinary Life is an unpretentious Hungarian documentary about Veronika Kiss, an elderly peasant woman. Directors Imre Gyongyossy and Barna Kabay maintain a hands-off attitude toward their subject, letting the camera follow Kiss quietly as she goes about her daily chores and reminisces about her life. The emerging portrait effectively blends grainy black-and-white images of Kiss’s harmonious coexistence with her environment with the frequently tragic verbal account of some of the memorable events in her life. There is little bitterness or sorrow in Kiss’s voice even when she recalls the deaths of her brother in World War I, her son in World War II, and her father after the fall of the Hungarian Communist Republic–all are seen as natural byproducts of history’s turbulent course. In fact, there is nothing that seems to faze this remarkable woman: not the eye of the camera, not even a trip to England, which she takes alone to visit her only other son. Veronika Kiss comes across as anything but ordinary in this moving tribute to the endurance of the human spirit. (ZB) (Village, 1:00)

Who’s That Knocking at My Door?

Martin Scorsese’s first feature, also known as I Call First. A review appears under Saturday, October 14. (Univ. of Chicago, 2:00)

Mon oncle Antoine

Claude Jutra’s 1971 French Canadian film concerns a 14-year-old boy who spends Christmas with his uncle in a small mining town in Quebec. (Village, 3:00)

Family Life

Poland’s leading actress, Maja Komorowska, in a 1971 film directed by Krzysztof Zanussi–the team responsible for A Woman’s Decision. (DK) (Univ. of Chicago, 4:00)

An Enemy of the People

Any new film by Satyajit Ray is an event, of course, although his latest is more of a mini-event. Ibsen’s play has been effectively and thoroughly Indianized: the drinking water of the play has become the holy water at a local temple. The characters have always been universal enough to inhabit any small city. Ray’s direction of actors and his sense of the pacing of moral drama have not diminished. However, the film seems bare and minimalist by necessity rather than intent, as if the director’s failing health rather than the material dictated the closeness of shots and the enclosed atmosphere. (DO) (Music Box, 5:00)

Come Back to the 5 & Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean

Dark secrets in the dust bowl, uncovered at the 20th-anniversary reunion of a small-town James Dean fan club. Robert Altman directed this low-budget adaptation of the play he staged on Broadway, and it’s a slow, heavy, trite affair. Presumably the outworn Albeeisms of the material were enlivened onstage, by the tricky double set Altman built, in which the flashbacks took place in an exact mirror duplicate of the main space. But the device is neutralized on film, where a simple dissolve can achieve the same tense-shuffling effect. The casting–Sandy Dennis, Cher, Karen Black–is offbeat without being provocative, though Dennis does good work within the limitations of her familiar mannerisms. (DK) (Village, 5:00)


Shaji N. Kuran’s tale of the fate of an Indian student who disappears after singing a protest song. A review appears under Friday, October 13. (Univ. of Chicago, 6:00)

Mack the Knife

In a monumentally dreadful adaptation of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s The Threepenny Opera, Menahem Golan bastardizes the source material in pursuit of his spectacularly wrongheaded notions of art. It’s difficult to know where to begin cataloging the mistakes: every gesture, movement, and line reading is exaggerated for high camp, and the murky, ungainly visuals appear to have been processed underwater. What’s worse, Golan’s method of operation–the succession of painful close-ups and broad, grossly comic acting styles–absolutely defeats the material. There’s no sense of sweep or balance; Golan doesn’t have the first notion of stagecraft, and he’s absolutely incapable of imparting any formal or expressive structure. The London conjured up is a gallery of the grotesque teeming with dwarfs, thieves, and prostitutes that aspires to social criticism and ends up embarrassingly superficial and vague. There’s an overwhelming sensation of deadening closure, but the crowded locations and claustrophobic interiors aren’t worked toward any aesthetic sensibility. Golan’s hand is heavy and forced; the musical numbers are staged so badly the performers aren’t allowed a chance to breathe much less move (and most of them are cut off at the waist). Needless to say Golan has no sense of timing or pace. The cast is studded with names, none of whom register with any conviction (with the possible exception of Julia Migenes, of Francesco Rosi’s Carmen; she’s the only redeeming facet). Raul Julia as MacHeath, the vain, nasty antihero, shows no life or edge. The other significant players are Richard Harris, Clive Revill, and Rachel Robertson. The maiden effort of the 21st Century Film Corporation, born in the wake of the Cannon Films debacle, it tests your patience and tolerance, offering at least three too many views of Roger Daltrey’s blackened teeth and Julie Walters’s scarred face. Daltrey is the ostensible narrator and soloist whose unfortunate fate is to sing the title song, which will probably always link him to this grand, excessive failure. (PZM) (Chicago, 7:00)

Fallada–The Last Chapter

The last years in the life of socialist novelist Hans Fallada. A review appears under Saturday, October 14. (Music Box, 7:00)

El sur

On the surface, despite the presence of a different fictional source (a story by Adelaida Garcia Morales) and scriptwriter (Jose Luis Lopez Linares), Victor Erice’s second feature brings back some of the haunting obsessions of his first, the wonderful Spirit of the Beehive (1973): the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War, the magical spell exerted by movies over childhood, and a little girl’s preoccupation with her father and the past. But as English critic Tim Pulleine has observed, a reference to Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt in El sur points to an elaborate system of doubling and duplication that underlies the film’s structure as a whole, operating on the level of shots and sequences as well as themes (north and South, father and daughter, real and imaginary). Although this subtle spellbinder ends somewhat abruptly, reportedly because the film’s budget ran out, it seems to form a nearly perfect whole as it is: a brooding tale about an intense father-daughter relationship and the unknowable past, mysterious and resonant, with the poetic ambience of a story by Faulkner. Omero Antonutti (Padre padrone) plays the father; Sonsoles Aranguren is the daughter. (JR) (Village, 7:00)


Cross Bunuel, Kafka, Gogol, and, yes, Elvis, and what do you get? Zerograd! Soviet director Karen Shakhnazarov has used glasnost to etch sharp satirical dramas and black comedies, especially his popular The Messenger Boy (1987) and his earlier lark about the first Soviet jazz band, Jazzman (1983). Zerograd picks up where Ryzanov’s Forgotten Melody for a Flute left off several years ago as an absurdist-surrealistic satire of perestroika. Here we focus on Varakin, a middle-management Soviet bureaucrat who arrives on assignment to check on a factory in an undesignated town. All seems mundanely normal until he realizes that the factory manager’s secretary is completely naked, and that no one else seems to notice. Varakin falls into a Wonderland that, in exaggerated form, mirrors the contradictions of Soviet life in the 80s (though no time frame is mentioned). Plot is not the point in Shakhnazarov’s inventive dark farce. It is enough to know that Varakin is both the hero and victim of various narrative strands as he is served his own head shaped from custard in one scene and, in another, led through a bizarre museum of living waxworks that cover all of Soviet and world history up to and including Brezhnev’s Period of Stagnation. Leonid Filatov (also the star of Forgotten Melody) is marvelous as the straight-faced and puzzled Varakin, who discovers that you can check in but not out of–Zerograd. (AH) (Univ. of Chicago, 8:30)

Women on the Roof

Carl-Gustav Nykvist’s first feature. A review appears under Friday, October 13. (Music Box, 9:30)

Marianne and Juliane

Also known as The German Sisters, and The Leaden Years, Margarethe von Trotta’s film won the top prize at the 1981 Chicago film festival. Juliane (Jutta Lampe) is a leftist who believes in working within the system; her sister Marianne (Barbara Sukowa, of Fassbinder’s Lola) is a clenched-jawed terrorist who rejects everything Juliane stands for but still comes to her for help. The film never quite transcends the sterile atmosphere of allegory, though von Trotta’s psychological insights–developed largely through flashbacks to the sisters’ girlhood–add some human density to her didactic fable. With Rudiger Vogler. (DK) (Village, 9:30)

Monday October 16

King Lear

Grigori Kozintsev’s adaptation of the Shakespeare play is based on a Russian translation by Boris Pasternak, and features a score by Dmitri Shostakovich (1972). (Village, 6:00)

An Unremarkable Life

Amin Q. Chaudri’s U.S. feature stars Shelley Winters and Patricia Neal as elderly sisters whose lives are changed when one of them starts dating a Korean American. We don’t have a review of this film, but word of mouth from colleagues hasn’t been good. (JR) (Music Box, 7:00)

Venus Peter

Ian Sellar’s English film about a young boy named Peter, his absent father, the sea, and a fishing boat called Venus, which belongs to his grandfather. (Univ. of Chicago, 7:00)

The Green Wall

This Peruvian back-to-the-land (or, more accurately, back-to-the-jungle) drama became a minor cult item after its exposure at the 1970 Chicago film festival. The director, Armando Robles-Godoy, is entirely innocent of technique, but his sincere fumblings give the cliche themes some charm. (DK) (Village, 8:30)

Waller’s Last Trip

Much of the haunting quality of Christian Wagner’s film would seem to be due to the work of director of photography Thomas Mauch, a former Fassbinder collaborator and one of the finest cameramen of the New German Cinema. The film is skeletal in structure and somewhat contrived in concept, hanging of necessity on the quality of the visual realization to flesh it out. Waller, an elderly railroad-track inspector in a rural valley, walks the tracks and checks the signals on what is to be his last day on the job. The sights and landmarks along the way spark reveries, both happy and traumatic, of his past, and he experiences a nonlinear hallucinatory interweaving of past and present throughout the course of the day, which will end with the railroad line’s closing. The flashbacks are sepia-tinted to distinguish them from present-day scenes. They are also dramatically engrossing, making the film’s principal weakness its periodic returns to the comparative flatness of the present, which is sustained often by the luminous beauty of the color photography. Wagner cites Antonioni as an influence, and Waller’s Last Trip has been compared with the work of Tarkovsky. While talented, Wagner has a long way to go to live up to those models. Waller’s Last Trip is thoughtful and relatively satisfying entertainment that leaves an aftertaste of mild disappointment for its lack of depth. (BS) (Univ. of Chicago, 9:15)

*Santa sangre

Chilean emigre Alejandro Jodorowsky is best known in this country for his 1967 feature El topo. The jury is still out on El topo, especially since most of its late-60s audience saw it under the influence of one illegal substance or another. I was never a Jodorowsky fan, and remember the film as a work of high kitsch and monumental pretension, which means that I saw Santa sangre in an unreceptive frame of mind. To my great surprise, the film won me over from the very beginning with its over-the-edge surrealism, colorful excess, and twisted passion. In feeling it has the macabre yet wildly celebratory qualities of a Mexican Day of the Dead feast, inseparably linking the spiritual and the carnal. The child Fenix works as a magician in a circus in Mexico City with his parents. His hulking, violent American father is a knife thrower in a sequined leotard. His mother is a high-wire performer who presides over a shrine and religious cult dedicated to an armless virgin saint. Watching his father hack his mother’s arms off and kill himself after she has castrated him with acid, Fenix goes mad. The film jumps ahead to Fenix at the age of 20, when he is led from a mental institution by his armless mother, who mysteriously reappears to save and enslave him. Mother and son travel the world performing a strange pantomime act, and live like Siamese twins in a relationship of utter dependency. Fenix occasionally feels the urge to stray, but his mother’s power is such that she impels him to kill every woman who attracts him. Jodorowsky relentlessly uses gore and sexual violence as metaphors, constructing a cinematic poetry of shock. Santa sangre may not be for those looking for a genteel evening out, but it is strong, memorable, and rewarding in the way it engages the mind and works the imagination. (BS) (Music Box, 9:30)

Family Life

Poland’s leading actress, Maja Komorowska, in a 1971 film directed by Krzysztof Zanussi–the team responsible for A Woman’s Decision. (DK) (Village, 10:15)

Tuesday October 17

Landscape in the Mist

Of all the indisputably major European directors, Theo Angelopoulos is probably the least known in this country. Outside of the occasional Greek film festival, where the other offerings discourage all but the most intrepid, his work remains virtually unseen in the U.S. Happily, Landscape in the Mist is not only vintage Angelopoulos, it’s also one of his most accessible films. Two children (a boy around 6 and his older sister who’s about 12) whose importune questions about their paternity have been answered by a myth about a father in Germany go to the train station every day awaiting his arrival. One day they board a train bound for Germany, embarking on an odyssey of discovery. Thrown off the myriad trains they board, repudiated by an uncle, and brutalized by a truck driver, they take temporary refuge with a bedraggled troupe of wandering players, tattered remnants of too many Greek tragedies, whose herald, a handsome young man on a motorcycle, befriends them. But the voyage is destined to be theirs alone. Through their adventures–some shared, some not–they are alternately protected and exploited (their one encounter with officialdom, in the form of the police, is mystically thwarted by a sudden snowfall); and their consciousnesses evolve, both separately and in tandem. Although the children are bound by a fierce, protective love, the difference in their ages and, increasingly, their sexual awareness creates a shifting matrix of vision through which the beauty and terror of the world are heightened. Light years away from any wide-eyed, idealized Spielbergian awe of the wonder of childhood, Angelopoulos’s young protagonists provide an unblinking look at a social reality that is neither oversimplified nor magically transformed–yet is withal more truly mythical. Effortlessly translating symbol into story, Landscape in the Mist is that rare, but by no means nonexistent, avis these days–a great film. (RS) (Village, 6:00)


Animated shorts from Brazil, the U.S., Great Britain, Hungary, Romania, Yugoslavia, Switzerland, Canada, Poland, and elsewhere. (Music Box, 7:00)

An Unremarkable Life

Amin Q. Chaudri’s U.S. feature stars Shelley Winters and Patricia Neal as elderly sisters whose lives are changed when one of them starts dating a Korean American. We don’t have a review of this film, but word of mouth from colleagues hasn’t been good. (JR) (Univ. of Chicago, 7:00)


This 1971 production from the Georgian Republic of the Soviet Union won the top prize at the 1974 Chicago film festival. The title character is a primitive painter who wanders the countryside in the late 19th century, trading his work for food and lodging. Georgy Shengelaya directed. (Village, 8:15)

*Santa sangre

Alejandro Jodorowsky’s surreal story of murder and sexual violence. A review appears under Monday, October 16. (Univ. of Chicago, 9:15)

*Speaking Parts

It seems inevitable that Atom Egoyan’s Speaking Parts, with its intricate mix of film and video, will be compared, favorably or otherwise, with Steven Soderbergh’s sleeper hit of the season, sex, lies, and videotape. Certainly Soderbergh’s title would fit Egoyan’s film perfectly. But whereas in Soderbergh’s safe little boxed-in therapeutic parable, videotape serves merely as the crossover point where the yuppie (traveling back to her feelings) meets the loner (traveling back to society), in Egoyan’s eclectic, richly layered walkabout, videotape becomes the ontological convergence point of all levels of imagery–from inner dream state to recorded memory to prepackaged commodity.

On a giant-screen video hookup, a man in a hotel conference room reveals to a woman in another space the painful lies and distortions a producer has introduced into her screenplay about the death of her brother, while his audition tape for the part as originally written unfolds on a small screen beside him. On the same video hookup, the same man and woman share a curious intimacy as they watch each other masturbate. A father, expertly prompted, sheds real video tears as he recounts his happiness over his daughter’s wedding, while a bride, confronted with some unexpectedly direct questions about her feelings toward the groom, bursts into hysterical sobbing at the very idea of thought. Sex, lies, and videotape indeed.

At the center of Egoyan’s evershifting, interpenetrating matrix of video and film, perception and distortion, change and interchangeability, struts and frets the poor androgynous player in his first “speaking part”–written, directed, projected upon, and pulled in all directions by the myriad personal and societal angels and demons of the image. (RS) (Music Box, 9:30)

Camera Buff

Cowinner of the grand prize at the 1979 Moscow film festival, this satirical feature by Krzysztof Kieslowski, whose remarkable Decalogue is showing elsewhere during this festival, describes what ensues when a Polish factory clerk buys a movie camera and meets with some artistic success. (Village, 10:15)

Wednesday October 18

The Last Supper

Political allegory from Cuba, directed by Tomas Gutierrez Alea. An 18th-century plantation owner invites 12 of his slaves to join him for a Good Friday dinner, stretching the bounds of unconscious irony to their absolute limit. Alea’s essay on Christian idealism undercut by capitalist reality isn’t up to his earlier Memories of Underdevelopment–it’s too schematic and a little too obvious at times. Still, it’s a very handsome production, photographed in lush capitalist color (1977). (DK) (Village, 6:00)

*Decalogue, One

Krzysztof Kieslowski is one of the few masters of cinema revealed in the 80s (Western audiences discovered his work with his second feature, Camera Buff, and retrospectives of his oeuvre have recently been organized in Venice, Toronto, and Paris), yet he is still virtually unknown in the United States. Coming from behind-the-iron-curtain Poland, sometimes made under (and about) martial law, his films uncompromisingly show the bleak realities of that country, where, until recently, there seemed to be no future. Yet, his films are not political; rather, they explore the moral ambiguity, the opacity, the mysteries of human beings, and, above all, the narrow margin of ethical choice still left beyond social determinations and constraints. Decalogue, an ambitious project made for television, is a loose variation on the theme of the Ten Commandments. It is often difficult to identify which commandment each episode illustrates, but this apparent obscurity has been carefully planned by Kieslowski. He did not intend to turn out morality tales or biblical allegories but rather to express, sometimes painfully, how our lives are articulated around moral dilemmas. Decalogue, systematically set in large dwelling units in Warsaw, also shows an updated picture of contemporary Poland, full of electronic appliances, designer jeans, fast cars, elegant women, and kids playing with computers. Decalogue, One, which deals with the relationship between man and God, masterfully transcends its subject to reach the outer limits of language, the state of powerless revolt caused by the unnecessary death of a child. It is not, as some superficial minds would have it, that Krzysztof, the atheist university professor, is punished because he has replaced God with a computer. Rather, what a 19th-century French poet, Alfred de Vigny, called “the deity’s eternal silence,” is made almost tangible by the silence left in Krzysztof’s apartment, in his mind and his heart, by the accident. If there is any morality here, it is subtly indicated by Krzysztof’s failure to adequately respond to the boy’s questions and anxiety about the death of a stray dog in the neighborhood. Not that he could have avoided the tragedy. But his refusal to think about death leaves him in a state of powerless rage. The true miracle of the film is how Kieslowski expresses grace, charm, and lovability in such a drama. The warm, witty relationship between father and son, the father’s cool life-style and benevolent skepticism, the son’s endearing combination of shining intelligence and childish naivete–all these elements are staged with tenderness, freshness, and humor. The camera shows a real closeness to the characters, and the acting–especially that of the 11-year-old boy Pawel–is moving, professional, accurate, and superb. (BR) Screening with Decalogue, Two. (Music Box, 7:00)

Decalogue, Two

In Krzysztof Kieslowski’s earlier No End (1984), Aleksander Bardini had a supporting role as a cynical aging lawyer who agreed, in his last case before retirement, to take over the defense of a worker accused of having participated in an illegal strike. His jaded, realistic approach sharply contrasted with the idealistic style of his client’s previous attorney (Jerzy Radziwillowicz, of Man of Marble fame), and his eventual legal victory was experienced by all as a painful compromise, a sad acceptance of martial law. In Decalogue, Two, Bardini plays a similar part but this time his humanity shows more clearly under the mask of gruffness. The elderly head of a hospital ward, he lives by himself in a shabby apartment building where tenants are deprived of hot water. He tells his cleaning lady the story of his life, in short “serialized” episodes. Their poignant ending will give an acute meaning to his moral dilemma. An elegant, middle-class woman (a musician in a philharmonic orchestra) who lives upstairs nervously paces up and down, knocks at his door, pursues him. Her husband is in intensive care in the old man’s hospital, and she wants to know what his chances of living are. Unable to predict, the doctor refuses to give her an answer. She will, however, succeed in breaking down his attitude of pure professionalism, and involve him in her dilemma (truly a physician’s nightmare). She is played by Krystyna Janda, the heroic fiancee of the proletarian hero in Wajda’s Man of Marble and Man of Iron, which endows her character with an air of immediately recognizable class. (BR) Screening with Decalogue, One. (Music Box, 7:00)


To make the title a bit more comprehensible, read Robby, Kalle, and Paul, after the film’s three main characters. This German-Swiss coproduction by Dani Levy starts out as a brightly colored comedy about sexual relationships and ends as a rather weird statement on male bonding. Robby, a scruffy art-student type, and Kalle, a somewhat more hunky specimen, are roommates. Because they need the money, they rent a room to Paul, a slick young businessman with plans for luring women to the grotesquely decorated bachelor pad he rigs up in the middle of their chaotic loft. In fact, he’s pretty much a loser where women are concerned. So is Robby, while the romantically ruthless and amoral Kalle is apparently (not necessarily to the viewer) irresistible to women, and doesn’t hesitate to steal them from his two buddies. The importance of women, who are used entirely as props, quickly fades, and much of the film’s broad humor is motivated by a nasty male rivalry, with the nerdy middle-class Paul as the butt of most jokes. A scene in which Paul sets up an elaborate seduction for a regressively portrayed bimbo from the office, only to have Kalle lure her away with ease, is particularly distasteful. Like a number of recent German comedies, with the work of Doris Dorrie coming foremost to mind, the plot grows increasingly heavy and violent, as if the director had suffered amnesia halfway through production and finished the film in another genre. The humor goes haywire and starts to become off-putting and sour when the camaraderie reaches its zenith and the roommates start drunkenly comparing male members. (BS) (Univ. of Chicago, 7:00)

The Needle

One of the hottest new films in the Soviet Union, a remarkable first feature from one of the most talented of the new generation of Soviet filmmakers, this film directed by Raschid Nugmanov is part social-problem drama, part action thriller, centering on drugs and youth gangs in contemporary urban USSR. The lead character, Moro, compassionately played by Soviet rock mega-star Viktor Zoj (who also wrote and performed the powerful music for the film), is a young student who returns home after a long absence and crosses paths with an old girlfriend. He quickly discovers she is addicted to heroin and dangerously entangled with a ruthless drug dealer who keeps her hooked. Attempting to save her, Moro is forced to battle the local drug mafia and, in exciting action sequences, displays all the cunning, athletic ability, and martial-arts skills expected of a young action hero. So far, this sounds like the stuff of standard melodramatic thrillers, but the surprise is the sudden shift to Godardian high ground–the vantage point from which the filmmaker playfully deconstructs the formulas of the action genre: a fight sequence is suddenly interrupted by comic-book special effects (the jagged lines that signify “pow” and “blam”) and the film instantly becomes a flashy, stylized satire engaging the aesthetics of pop culture. (To underscore his satiric intention, the filmmaker dedicates the film to Soviet TV.) The Needle is a rich mixture of styles, techniques, and themes that play off one another effectively most of the time and most certainly work to produce an exceptional film dense with meaning and implication. Of particular interest is the sound track, which resonates with imaginative effects. (KK) (Three Penny, 7:00)

Man of Flowers

Paul Cox’s poetic comedy functions through its slightness: its subject is a lonely, middle-aged man (Norman Kaye) whose lifelong fear of sexuality has led him to retreat from the world into pure aestheticism–he practices flower arranging, takes sketching classes, and plays the organ at his neighborhood church. Into his life comes Lisa (Alyson Best), a professional figure model, whom he hires to strip to the strains of Lucia di Lammermoor. Lisa’s affection for her gently eccentric employer grows, but he resists becoming involved with her–and that’s about all there is to it. Cox’s morose, subtly whimsical style takes a while to impose itself, but eventually the film acquires a cozy, seductive strangeness spun from curious, understated details and some plangent imagery. With Chris Haywood, Sarah Walker, and Julia Blake. (DK) (Village, 8:30)

To an Unknown God

This moody, poetic Spanish film centers on an aging professional magician, who traces his homosexuality back to a boyhood encounter with Garcia Lorca. Director Jaime Chavarri does not treat his character’s gayness as a political issue, but as a metaphor for an affective difference–a specificity and intensity of emotion that will forever set him apart from the people around him. Hector Alterio stars, in a quiet, commanding performance; with Javier Elorriaga, Maria Rose Salgado, and Rosa Valenty (1977). (DK) (Univ. of Chicago, 9:15)

Waller’s Last Trip

An elderly track inspector meditates on his past. A review appears under Monday, October 16. (Three Penny, 9:30)

Restricted Area

Nikolai Gubenko’s color film from the Soviet Union focuses on a young woman heading a relief committee to assist a small village devastated by a windstorm. (Music Box, 9:30)

The Fruit of Paradise

I couldn’t make head or tail out of this avant-garde version of the Adam and Eve story when I saw it ages ago (it was made in 1970), but Vera Chytilova’s wild, extravagant, and ravishing romp was certainly intoxicating on a sensual level. It came at the end of her rebellious period as the great hope and holy terror of the new Czech cinema, after her even better About Something Else and Daisies, and before she buckled down to the relatively staid efforts of The Apple Game and Prague. A Czech-Belgian coproduction set in a Czech resort, with a great deal of technical razzle-dazzle: double exposures, slow motion, step printing, and so on. (JR) (Village, 10:15)

Thursday October 19

Here’s Your Life

Based on four novels by Swedish writer Eyvind Johnson, this first film by Jan Troell (The Emigrants) is a neorealist epic about the slow drift of a school dropout through a series of meaningless jobs. The print to be screened is the cut 127-minute version; the original is 40 minutes longer (1966). (Village, 5:30)

Decalogue, Three

This film is difficult to write about–if one does not want to give away the outcome of the story. The film is built around multiple levels of deception–and the audience is duped along with the main characters. Superficially, it appears to be one of the least likable episodes of the series–because of the difficult personality of the lead character, because of its ambiguous ending. But it is also one of the most subtly intelligent–a profound study of the effects of emotional loneliness. On Christmas Eve, while Janusz prepares to celebrate with his wife and kids, Ewa reenters his life, demanding immediate help and attention. They spend a night in empty streets, hospitals, shelters for alcoholics, and deserted train stations. Is Ewa a metaphor for Poland, which can attract international attention when something goes wrong, but whose daily struggles are quietly forgotten in the long Eastern European winter? (BR) Screening with Decalogue, Four. (Music Box, 7:00),

Decalogue, Four

In Borges’s Emma Zunz, a young woman who had been the recipient of her father’s secret must take action upon learning of his demise. Death has turned the words of her father into a sacred text–whose truth she never questions. Emma Zunz is a classical heroine, imbued with pure meaning and unshakable belief–like Antigone or Electra. I would hesitate, on the other hand, to call Anka, the protagonist of Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Decalogue, Four, a postmodern heroine; yet she belongs to the murky realm of the after-text, where words are no longer made sacred by death, but merely obsolete and sometimes bothersome–where the transparency of language has disappeared. Anka’s mother died when she was an infant, and she was raised by an adoring father. When she discovers a letter left by her mother, she can’t decide whether to tear the envelope open or not. She will use the situation to act out her own ambiguous feelings for the man who may or may not be her biological father. Playing with difficult issues–truth, incest, repression–Kieslowski has produced a luminous, exhilarating, often humorous film, graced by the sensual charm and beauty of Adrianna Biedrzynska as Anka. (BR) Screening with Decalogue, Three. (Music Box, 7:00)


It’s obvious from the first few frames that director Paul Cox (Vincent, Cactus) has an eye for painterly compositions; and at least early on the sensuous imagery has an almost magnetic hold. But it’s also readily apparent that what takes place within Cox’s immaculate mise-en-scene isn’t very exciting. Island isn’t cinema, it’s cinematography. What’s more, the story is so slippery and insignificant the rest of the film can’t measure up. On the island of Astypalea, three women, each an outcast or refugee, find their lives inextricably linked by outside forces. Marquise (Irene Papas) is a mediocre, bitter painter; Eva (Eva Sitta) is a failed actress and junkie in debt to a thuggish drug dealer; Sahana (Anoja Weerasinghe) is a Sri Lankan national whose husband has abandoned her. Cox is primarily concerned with the actions and details of their lives, and their evolving, indifferent placement in the harsh, alienated landscape. But you can’t help but sense the actors are frozen. Cox seems completely unable to connect the often ravishing images to deeper areas of interest, including the women’s individual fates. No one is helped out by the tortured pacing. Still, Cox is a genuine talent, and you can’t dismiss the movie completely. Chris Haywood contributes a stunning bit as Janis, a deaf-mute fisherman. Of the three principals, Papas is certainly watchable, she has such a remarkable face; she’s the only actress who can impart any sense of conviction or subtlety to her role. The others are far less impressive; Sitta in particular, so pale and withered, doesn’t register. Indeed the only one whose reputation seems secure is cinematographer Michael Edols, who evokes a frightening, awesome view of narrow, rolling hills and a startling range of blues and greens. Cox deploys magnificent tableaux, only the sensation doesn’t last. For an implausible reach at the cultural diversity it wants to project, there’s some interesting Sri Lankan music to open and close the film. With Francois Bernard and Cox regular Norman Kaye in a throwaway role as a tourist. (PZM) (Univ. of Chicago, 7:00)


Based on a real-life incident, Gyula Gazdag’s Hungarian thriller is about two sons of a border guard who take 18 girls as hostages in an attempt to acquire money, passports, and permission to leave the country. (Three Penny, 7:00)

Time Stands Still

This second feature by Hungarian filmmaker Peter Gothar is a little overfull in the way second features often are: the setting is Budapest during the first wave of post-Stalinist liberalization in the early 60s, and the idea is to link an adolescent’s ambiguous progress toward sexual and moral maturity with the political transformations taking place in his country. But Gothar’s talent for creating smoky, menacing atmospheres and darkly enigmatic dramatic situations tends to obscure his concept–the result is a film that is, in some ways, too good for its own good, haunting, original, and impressive, but not really satisfying. The same might be said of Lajos Koltai’s eerily backlit cinematography. (DK) (Village, 8:30)

The Needle

Raschid Nugmanov’s Soviet feature about the rock and drug scenes, starring rock star Viktor Zoj. For a review, see Wednesday, October 18. (Univ. of Chicago, 9:15)

The Guests of the Hotel Astoria

The story of a group of Iranian refugees awaiting visas in Istanbul. A review appears under Saturday, October 14. (Three Penny, 9:30)

Farewell to False Paradise

When a Turkish immigrant kills her husband, she is sentenced to prison by West German authorities. Unable to speak the language and separated from her children, Elif is truly a stranger in a strange land. Yet the young woman achieves an ironic sense of freedom and peace of mind in this community of the incarcerated. The world of the prison buffers her from husbands, brothers, and brothers-in-law, all fierce custodians of oriental paternalism. Not only does Elif rediscover the solace of female companionship, she is also introduced to Western ideas and possibilities inconceivable to a young woman from a Turkish village. But her happiness, security, and plans for the future are circumscribed by a legal surreality. Upon release, Elif will be deported to her homeland where, if the court does not mete out punishment, the dead man’s relatives surely will. As in his first feature, 40m2 of Germany, Tevfik Baser (a young Turkish director living in West Germany) turns to the theme of a Turkish woman living in the West. Once again she is confined, literally and culturally. At times Baser’s prison inmates and personnel seem simplistic and superficially realized. But when he focuses on Elif’s personal transformation as she emerges from behind the veil of tradition, Baser’s direction is compellingly assured. At the center of this quietly intense drama is the resonant performance of the Turkish star, Zuhal Olcay as Elif, a woman caught in the grasp of, and yet lost between, two cultures. (LT) (Music Box, 9:30)

Gal Young Un

An independent feature from Florida, adapted from a story by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Victor Nunez’s film moves slowly, but with such a precise sense of period (Prohibition) and place (the backwoods of central Florida) that it acquires a solid, sensual mass as it develops, aided and abetted by Nunez’s pleasurable camera work. A well-to-do widow (Dana Preu) marries and is exploited by a slick, younger moonshiner (David Peck), who eventually brings home a teenage mistress (J. Smith, the title waif), until poetic comeuppance is finally delivered. Preu and a wonderful ginger cat, both inspired nonprofessionals, jointly walk away with the movie (1979). (JR) (Village, 10:15 PM)