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asterisk (*) = recommended

Friday October 27

*Monsieur Verdoux

After polishing off Hitler in The Great Dictator, Charles Chaplin found an even bigger fish to fry–the “normal” bourgeois capitalist. Inspired by an unproduced screenplay by Orson Welles, he settled on the notorious Landru, a literal lady-killer in France who married and murdered a slew of wealthy, lonely women in order to support his snug middle-class family. The resulting movie, the blackest and most brilliant of all of Chaplin’s masterpieces (and reputedly the favorite film of Bertolt Brecht), views capitalism as murder and proceeds thoughtfully from there. As funny as much of the film is, it boldly mixes philosophy with slapstick and might share the subtitle of Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem, “A Report on the Banality of Evil.” Talky, tender, audacious, horrifying, and profound, the film also furnishes brassy Martha Raye with her best role ever, and in the tragicomic figure of Verdoux (a character as contradictory in his charisma as Marilyn Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes), Chaplin offers his subtlest and most complex performance, a radical rethinking of the nature of his own appeal–not to mention the state of Western civilization (1947). (JR) (Music Box, 7:00)

National Film Board of Canada: Animation program

A program of short animated films from the National Film Board of Canada. We haven’t been able to determine whether this will be the same program recently shown at the Children’s Film Festival or not. (Village, 7:00)

Three Seats for the 26th

Jacques Demy’s musical set in Marseilles, with Yves Montand and a Michel Legrand score. A review appears in last week’s issue under Wednesday, October 25. (Univ. of Chicago, 7:00)

*James Baldwin: The Price of the Ticket

By the time he died in 1987, James Baldwin had almost been forgotten, although he was only 63. His greatest creativity, and fame, encompassed the period from the mid-1950s to the mid-’60s when he was a pioneer: novels and essays such as Another Country, Giovanni’s Room, and The Fire Next Time expressed black outrage before the full force of the black liberation movement, and articulated gay love and experience before gay liberation. But by the late 1960s, seen by liberal whites as frighteningly truculent but by black radicals as not sufficiently militant (he was scorned by Eldridge Cleaver in Soul on Ice as one who hated both his blackness and his manhood), and disillusioned by both the continuing racism of white America and the direction the black movement was taking, he retreated to the south of France. He’d gone abroad before–to France, Switzerland, and Turkey in the 1950s–but now his writings found little response, either critical or popular, and when he returned to the U.S. to teach, it was almost as a relic of the past. Yet, as this well-constructed documentary makes clear, throughout his life Baldwin retained a host of personal friends. They are seen in large numbers, in the scenes from his dramatic funeral that open and close the film, and individually–from writers Maya Angelou, Ishmael Reed, William Styron, and Amiri Baraka to former Parisian lover Lucien Happersberger to pianist Bobby Short–testifying to his power to move and influence. Eschewing spoken narration, the film (its title not only echoes that of a collection of Baldwin’s essays, but was a favorite phrase of his) tells his story through interviews, readings, dramatizations, and an astonishing array of archival footage that documents not only public appearances but many private moments of his life. Although the film rings a bit false and defensive when dealing with his period of apparent decline, all in all director (also cowriter and coproducer) Karen Thorsen has created an authentic and moving portrait of one who believed that “it is not a romantic notion–it is an unalterable truth: all men are brothers.” (JS) (Three Penny, 7:00)

The Front Woman

Suzanne Schiffman’s French comedy about a publisher of romantic novels, with Jean-Pierre Leaud and Helene Lapowier. A review appears in last week’s issue under Thursday, October 26. (Univ. of Chicago, 9:15)

*My Left Foot

Two things stand out in this accomplished biography of writer and painter Christy Brown: Daniel Day Lewis’s layered, brilliant performance and the virtual absence of sentiment. Badly crippled by cerebral palsy and capable of controlling only his left foot, Brown nonetheless established a considerable reputation as an artist, poet, and novelist. Day Lewis deftly captures Brown’s taunting wit and unflinching intelligence without denying his contradictions and deep flaws. Brown’s alcoholism, depressed state, and strained relationship with his speech therapist lend a suitably dark edge. First-time director Jim Sheridan, who cowrote the script, has an assured, confident touch. The film has a mesmerizing authenticity; its postwar working-class Dublin milieu reveals Sheridan’s eye for detail. Given the potential for melodrama the film is remarkably restrained; unfortunately it’s not perfect. Brown’s progression as a painter and writer is insufficiently shown, and it’s never clear whether he was thought of as a legitimate artist or a freak. Also the fractured, elliptical story construction is needlessly confusing, moving back and forth from Brown’s childhood to his pursuit of Mary Carr (Ruth McCabe), whom he eventually married; the crosscutting effectively cancels out any chance of discovery. Thankfully what sustains the movie even in its weaker sections is Day Lewis and his extraordinary ability to enter Christy Brown’s alienated and dislocated world. (PZM) (Music Box, 9:30)

Mary Forever

Marco Risi’s Italian film about a teacher’s experiences at a reform school. A review appears in last week’s issue under Wednesday, October 25. (Village, 9:30)

If I Only Had Your Love

The festival hasn’t yet decided definitively whether to use the preceding title or If Only I Had Your Love. Either way, it’s a West German film by Peter Kern about a lonely computer programmer who encounters a woman on New Year’s Eve. (Three Penny, 9:30)

The Borrower

The second feature by John McNaughton (Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer) is an SF comedy about an exiled extraterrestrial, starring Rae Dawn Chong and Chicagoan Tom Towles. (Univ. of Chicago, 11:00)

Saturday October 28

Book of Days

This film by Meridith Monk is extremely “worked-on,” both in sound and image. Monk, perhaps known somewhat better for her work in music than for her forays into film and video, has made a feature in which every frame is quite literally composed. Unfortunately it shows. Book of Days is not exactly a pretentious film, but it is a disappointingly academic one, its carefully choreographed, almost painful discipline dictating that it never, ever, step out of its prearranged lines. The premise, concerning a Jewish family’s day-to-day life in a Teutonic town in the Middle Ages just before a particularly virulent outbreak of the plague–is not uninteresting. Nor is its mode of narration, consisting of short scenes and interviews with Jews and various members of the community at large that intriguingly question the limits of knowledge in any given time frame. But despite its actors’ occasional epiphanies, the film stoically resists all spontaneity–being at once more humorless and less compelling than it ever needs to be. Particularly lifeless are Monk’s flash-forwards into contemporaneity, duly noted as “counterpoint” and “shift-of-focus,” but never especially interesting in themselves. For better or worse, the film consistently raises a lot more questions than it’s prepared to answer. (RS) (Univ. of Chicago, 2:00)

National Film Board of Canada: Documentaries

A retrospective look at some of the National Film Board of Canada’s best documentaries. (Music Box, 3:00)


One of the best things about a film festival is the opportunity to look in on other countries and cultures–to see how people look and act in foreign settings, and to experience different national styles of filmmaking. Unfortunately in this case Hungarian director Gyula Gazdag has fashioned something very like an American made-for-TV docudrama–a film not only uninspired in itself but dull and familiar in form. The story, based on an actual incident of some years ago, concerns two youths, sons of a border-guard commander, who seize a high school girls’ dormitory, demanding a million dollars and a charter flight to the country of their choosing (“London–Paris–night life–freedom forever” the older one rhapsodizes). Soon a familiar hostage-situation standoff develops, and soon all-too-familiar cliches rear their heads: the wise old police chief, the humanistic doctor (played by director Istvan Szabo [Mephisto]), the distraught parents (the disciplinarian father moving quickly from bluster to stupor). There are some nice suggestions as to personalities and their depths in the acting of the youths and hostages, but the script allows for little in the way of either revelation or development of character. Although the director seems to have intended the film to represent a microcosm of Hungarian society, showing how its social relationships engender tragedy, he really hasn’t been able to fulfill that intention here. (JS) (Village, 3:00)

*Meeting Place

Goran Markovic’s Yugoslavian feature about what happens when an aging archaeologist overturns a Roman stone leading directly to the dead. A review appears in last week’s issue under Sunday, October 22. (Three Penny, 3:00)

Invincible Lovers

Stavros Tsiolis’s Greek film about a 12-year-old orphan who runs away from home. A review appears in last week’s issue under Wednesday, October 25. (Univ. of Chicago, 4:00)

Dancing for Mr. B.: Six Balanchine Ballerinas

As a fan of ballet in general, and of George Balanchine in particular, it is hard for me to gauge the general audience appeal of this movie. Purely on a formal level, Anne Belle and Deborah Dickson’s exploration of Balanchine’s work through interviews with six of his ballerinas is a well-constructed, often fascinating study in the joys and anxieties of influence. Usually art is romantically ascribed to some unique solitary “vision.” And Balanchine’s long, unquestioned reign as grand choreographer extraordinaire would seem to support such a view. Yet, as filmmakers well know, art is sometimes a two-way street. Balanchine’s passionate two-way relationship to music–particularly to the music of his contemporaries–is amply recorded, here and elsewhere. But part of the genius of Balanchine was his uncanny ability to pick up on the possibilities of his dancers and to reveal those possibilities back to them through his choreography. This was, after all, the man who declared “Ballet is woman.” Thus the film’s constant crosscutting between archival footage of Mr. B.’s ballets (and ballerinas) and the current reflections of those ballerinas on their experiences with Mr. B. affords an intriguingly oblique, uniquely interreactive vision of the artistic process. The fact that many of these ballerinas are now engaged in passing on the Balanchine legacy to a new generation of dancers adds yet another layer to a film that is, quite literally, about inspiration. With Maria Tallchief, Mary Ellen Moylan, Melissa Hayden, Allegra Kent, Merrill Ashley, Darci Kistler, and (in archival footage only) Suzanne Farrell and Tanaquil Leclercq. (RS) (Music Box, 5:00)

The Black Box

A Soviet documentary by Iossif Pasternak about avant-garde art in the Soviet Union between 1957 and the present, focusing on the necessity of this art going underground between Stalin and Brezhnev. The film’s title refers to Kasimir Malevich’s famous 1915 painting. (Village, 5:00)


Christian Blackwood’s offbeat documentary about a few U.S. motels and the people he finds at them. A review appears in last week’s issue under Sunday, October 22. (Three Penny, 5:00)

First Date

Peter Wang’s new feature from Taiwan. A review appears in last week’s issue under Sunday, October 22. (Univ. of Chicago, 6:00)


Although the autobiographical nature of Charles Chaplin’s work is evident from the beginning, it reaches a much more introspective plane in this melancholy tale of an aging, out-of-work music-hall clown named Calvero (Chaplin) who saves a beautiful young ballerina (Claire Bloom) from suicide and manages a limited comeback. Significantly, the movie opens in London in 1914, the same year Chaplin started to make pictures, and Calvero is a figure very much like his own father, who died in abject poverty. (Chaplin’s own children Geraldine, Michael, and Josephine appear briefly in the opening scene.) Critics who find Chaplin’s late work “self-indulgent” usually single out this film as Exhibit A, but despite the movie’s length (145 minutes) and ponderousness, it offers a moving backward look by Chaplin at his own origins and milieu, and is full of warmth and sweetness, as well as some measured reflections on the nature of Chaplin’s art at the twilight of his career. And while it is one of the least comic of his pictures, it features one of the funniest and most luminous sequences in the history of movies: a wonderful stage performance featuring Chaplin with Buster Keaton, the only time they ever appeared together on film (1952). (JR) (Music Box, 7:00)

National Film Board of Canada: Norman McLaren tribute

A selection of shorts by Canada’s most famous animator. (Village, 7:00)

*Rose of the Desert

While there is certainly a rose in the desert of Mohamed Rachid Benhadj’s first film, and while it becomes a symbol of the creation and endurance of beauty in a harsh environment, the film’s original title Louss is perhaps more to the point. It is the Arabic word for the crystalline formation of the desert’s natural elements: wind, sand, and nocturnal humidity–that is, beauty caused by the harsh environment. The ever-present desert is never used for false heroics: there is an “Arabia” here, but no Lawrence. This hero is of a different stamp. Born without arms, Moussa has learned to use his legs and feet with grace. The film has a subtle narrative, that of the daily lives of those who live and love with the rhythm of the languid sands. (DO) (Three Penny, 7:00)

Streets of Yesterday

This is a typical–and sad–example of the failure of certain leftist liberals to articulate a realistic position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I saw the film at the latest Jerusalem film festival and was struck by the growing gap between the leadership of the Labor Party and the peace movement activists, and between the latter (most of them “intellectual” and professional Ashkenazim) and the majority of Sephardim. In this context, Streets of Yesterday has a certain relevance: the confusion (and ultimate betrayal) of its main character, a young sabra called Raz, accurately reflects the impasse reached by the liberal Zionists when faced with Arab terrorism, the intifada, and the Palestinians’ persistent claims for land and national self-determination. This relevance, however, appears to be the only redeeming feature of the film, an overambitious thriller with limited means and an international cast of little credibility. An Israeli-British-West German coproduction (shot in Tel Aviv and Berlin), the film has a rather interesting beginning, showing the life and political climate on a Tel Aviv university campus. Raz’s friend Amin, a Palestinian student involved in a terrorist group, witnesses a crime being committed by the Israeli secret service while he’s trying to assassinate an American diplomat. The film turns into a sub-John le Carre tale of double-talk, political intrigue, phony allegiances, and psychological confusion. Raz, who fails to help Amin, seeks shelter in Berlin and spends the rest of the movie brooding about what he did and should be doing. The film is so intent in exploring Israeli guilt that it overdoes its symbols (the final murder, for example, takes place in Hitler’s stadium, where a crowd of angry Palestinians lynch a Jew) and ends up presenting a questionable image of Palestinian identity. The best thing that could be said about the movie is that it manages to convey, albeit awkwardly, an insidious, disturbing picture of Jewish angst; the worst, that real Palestinians are conspicuously absent from it. (BR) (Univ. of Chicago, 8:00)

Cinema Paradiso

Though nostalgia usually more closely resembles sanctimonious posing than playful turns of memory, Cinema Paradiso is an exception that offers reality-weary film viewers a pleasant diversion. For the young Italian director Giuseppe Tornatore the sentimental journey is not an embarrassing anachronism but a glorious fete. His brightly colored souvenir casts its wistful gaze to a time when movies were bigger than life and chemistry (in the form of flammable film) posed the biggest threat to the local bijou. The story is a simple, even predictable coming-of-age tale: Late one night Salvatore, a successful director living in Rome, receives a phone call. The news from home stirs memories of the Sicilian village he left years ago, an old friendship, and his first and most enduring love–the Cinema Paradiso. It was there, as a child, Salvatore first surreptitiously witnessed the forbidden kisses and embraces of Hollywood, and later of neorealism, while the local priest performed his duty as the parish’s one-man rating board. In the projection booth, Alfredo (played by an affably gruff Philippe Noiret) performed dazzling magic with levers, lamps, and light. Eventually the taciturn old projectionist succumbs to Salvatore’s persistent yet exuberant curiosity and the latter begins an apprenticeship. At times Cinema Paradiso suffers from this rather slight and all-too-familiar premise. But the real protagonist of this delightful tale is the Paradiso, and Tornatore’s treatment of the movie theater as a dynamic character brings the film to life. Intimately anchored to the life of the village, the little bijou’s history is subject to the same forces–the church, the Mafia, and various permutations of progress. Tornatore has assembled a wonderful cast of characters whose idiosyncrasies are painted in broad and loving strokes. Like The Icicle Thief, another Italian entry in this year’s festival, Cinema Paradiso revels in a romantic yearning for il cinema of yesteryear. The capper is the projectionist’s farewell gift to Salvatore–don’t let anyone spoil the surprise for you. (LT) (Music Box, 9:30)

The Flame of the Pomegranate in the Cane

Images take precedence over plot in this frequently beautiful but tediously experimental film from Iran. A photographer almost stumbles over an elderly man lying in the street. His quest to discover the identity of the man sparks a journey into the past that has a profound effect on his own life and art. Director Saied Ebrahimifar studied film in Little Rock, Arkansas. He notes that his feature debut “is the kind of cinema which does not rely on story line or dialogues, but delivers its message through its visuals.” Its meaning, however, may be lost on Western audiences who lack the patience to endure this languorous journey into an alien world. (AS) (Village, 9:30)

Where the Sun Beats Down

Joaquim Pinto, who wrote, directed, and photographed this, his second feature, has worked as a sound editor for some truly idiosyncratic directors, like Raul Ruiz and Werner Schroeter, but can’t fully register his own style and personality. The simple story concerns a young, struggling college student named Nuno, who has left school to work on his sister’s farm. Laura, who seems distant (her daughter has recently died), assigns a young farmhand named Alberto to look after her brother. Alberto is involved with the daughter of a wealthy landowner; the friendship of Alberto and Nuno complicates Nuno’s relationship with Laura, but what unfolds isn’t all that interesting. For a film ostensibly about forbidden relationships, the movie is never dangerous or threatening. Like a lot of recent films, it’s a memory piece (“the past is the soul of the people,” one character remarks) about the rush of events that make it impossible to reconcile the past and present. Visually the movie is stunning; unfortunately the demands and limitations of linear story telling impede Pinto’s vision. He employs voice-over narration that effectively cancels out any sense of discovery and too easily fleshes out motivation and behavior. Given his imposing command of the camera, it’s a bit disconcerting to discover his flair for the melodramatic. The completely unsatisfying, abrupt ending prompted jeers from the crowd I saw it with in Toronto. A strange, weird movie, not at all successful, but in many ways far more interesting than the artistically negligent Hollywood product we’re normally granted. With Laura Morante, Antonio Pedro Figueiredo, and Marcello Urehgue. (PZM) (Three Penny, 9:30)

The Taste of Hemlock

Of the 30 or so films in the festival I’ve seen so far, this low-rent American effort is quite possibly the most embarrassing. Adapted from British playwright Pauline Macauley’s The Astrakhan Coat, it’s a film-school exercise that never takes off. A naive, hopeless waiter named Claude (Randy Harrington) answers an ad for a leather jacket, gets drawn into a weird triangle of friends, and unwittingly sets off a bizarre idiomatic plot involving murder and espionage. The premise holds that the protagonist is lured into the unsettling, dangerous underworld for the thrill and the vague promise of excitement (among other things it rips off Scorsese’s After Hours shamelessly). But for what’s intended as a taut, diabolical thriller, first-time director Geoffrey Darwin doesn’t have the slightest notion of timing; the initial setup runs on interminally. There are some eerie, effective uses of the iris shot and a recurring shot of a staircase. But the execution and acting are strictly amateurish. Cinematically there’s almost nothing to hold your interest. Darwin isn’t flamboyant or perverse enough to impose a dangerous, nervy edge. The ubiquitous writer-producer, Eric Tynan Young, who also composed the music and plays one of the trio, lacks the talent to juggle so many responsibilities. His variation of the repressed English homosexual lapses so frequently into parody you wonder if that’s not the real objective of the filmmakers. The one interesting subject, how the leather jacket makes the quintessential loser sexually attractive, isn’t even elaborated. The violent, shocking resolution that’s meant to shake you up only reminds you how awful everything that preceded it was. (PZM) (Univ. of Chicago, 10:30)

The Borrower

The second feature by John McNaughton (Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer) is an SF comedy about an exiled extraterrestrial, starring Rae Dawn Chong and Chicagoan Tom Towles. (Music Box, midnight)

Sunday October 29

*James Baldwin: The Price of the Ticket

A documentary about the late novelist and essayist. A review appears under Friday, October 27. (Univ. of Chicago, 2:00)

Circus Boys

The circus, offering natural symbolisms for both the illusion of film and the absurdity of modern life, was a favorite subject of postwar European cinema. This lyrical second feature by writer-director Kaizo Hayashi (To Sleep so as to Dream) harks very much back to that period, from its sharp black-and-white photography to its echoes of 1950s Bergman and Fellini. The setting, too, is in the past–the 1920s or ’30s, when traveling circuses such as that depicted in the film were disappearing in Japan. Rather than a period piece, though, or mere nostalgia, the film reflects on the meanings of both life and art. “Isn’t that cheating?” asks the younger of the two protagonists when his brother proposes practicing at night so the old circus hands will think they have talent. “It’s good cheating–like magic,” explains Jintal the older boy (Hiroshi Mikami). Is cinematic story telling good or bad cheating? Jinta, at any rate, goes on to become a con man, “a magician of words, an acrobat of juggling lies,” as he expresses it. His adventures when he leaves the circus and later attempts to return are the chief materials of the film’s story–one that its Japanese title (The Boy’s Own Book of the 20th Century) hints may be a historical allegory. Whether or not precise references to the 20th century lurk in the background, Circus Boys works beautifully as a fairy tale–a moving allegory of humanity lost and found, degraded and saved. That may sound corny as hell, but Hayashi pulls it off; he’s created a genuinely affecting and magical film. And oh yes–there’s an elephant here to end all movie elephants. (JS) (Music Box, 3:00)

Rose of the Desert

Mohamed Rachid Benhadj’s Algerian film. A review appears under Saturday, October 28. (Village, 3:00)

It’s So Much Nicer Wherever We Are Not

Michael Klier’s West German feature about the difficulties of two young Polish emigres in West Berlin. A review appears in last week’s issue under Tuesday, October 24. (Three Penny, 3:00)

National Film Board of Canada: Animation program

A selection of animated shorts from the National Film Board of Canada. (Univ. of Chicago, 4:00)

The Summer of Aviya

Despite the trail of film festival awards behind it, this overproduced drama lacks a certain cinematic excitement. Adapted from a popular autobiographical novel by veteran actress Gila Almagor (who in addition to producing plays the character based on her own mother), this period piece follows ten-year-old Aviya through the summer of 1951 with her mother, Henya, a severely disturbed holocaust survivor. Their difficult relationship is poignantly rendered. Although Henya, a widow, was once a beautiful partisan fighting in the Polish woods, she is now reduced to being the village crazy, rudely taunted by neighbors as she takes in laundry and sewing for a meager livelihood. The feisty Aviya (played with precocious gravity by Kaipo Cohen) initially seems to take the situation in stride, but soon stirs up trouble by fantasizing that a new neighbor, Mr. Gantz, is her father. Director Eli Cohen (whose first feature Ricochets provided a controversial look at Israeli soldiers during the war in Lebanon) acts the role of Gantz, another holocaust survivor with problems on the home front. The Summer of Aviya typifies quality Israeli cinema with its melodramatic excursion into a painful past redeemed by the courage of a new generation. It is a worthy though not very daring effort. (AS) (Music Box, 5:00)

Book of Days

Meredith Monk’s “abstract documentary about the sadness and joy of human nature.” A review appears under Saturday, October 28. (Village, 5:00)

Chicago: A City Second to None

Christian Bauer’s feature-length documentary about Chicago, made for German television. (Three Penny, 5:00)

Flame of the Pomegranate in the Cane

Saied Ebrahimifar’s Iranian feature. A review appears under Saturday, October 28. (Univ. of Chicago, 6:00)

*A King in New York

By far the most underrated of Charles Chaplin’s masterpieces, A King in New York, made in England in 1957, is all the more remarkable for its frontal attack on the U.S. in the 50s: McCarthyism, surveillance, paranoia, nuclear energy, plastic surgery, TV commercials, CinemaScope, rock ‘n’ roll, and “progressive” education are all skewered with a sense of rage and effrontery that never stifles the filmmaker’s sublime humanity and delicacy. Made four years after Chaplin was hounded out of this country by intolerance and right-wing hysteria and denied reentry papers–a savage treatment that was glibly defended by Ronald Reagan as recently as 1972–the film had to wait 16 years for its first U.S. showing, at which time it was generally regarded as a total failure and Chaplin’s worst picture. But back in the 50s, Roberto Rossellini had the perspicacity to call it “the film of a free man,” and it’s a judgment worth considering. The freedom on view here goes well beyond not only that of a 50s satirist like Frank Tashlin, but any commercial American filmmaker currently at work. As a highly personal response to the moral and aesthetic ugliness of America in the 50s–and it’s not simply a holier-than-thou assault but a satire that fully acknowledges Chaplin’s complex implication in the American Dream–the film has a narrative and thematic freedom that anticipates some of Godard’s work in the 60s while focusing on key issues that were repressed in Hollywood movies during the same period. Playing a deposed king in exile (which is more or less what Chaplin was at the time), Chaplin treats his subject with an unvarnished bluntness and honesty that are downright disconcerting. With Dawn Addams, Oliver Johnson, and Michael Chaplin (the filmmaker’s son). Note: the film’s running time is 105 minutes–not 165 minutes as listed in the festival schedule. (JR) (Music Box, 7:00)

That Summer of White Roses

Tom Conti stars as a lifeguard at a Yugoslavian beach resort during World War I in Rajko Grlic’s Yugoslav-British coproduction; in English, with Susan George and Rod Steiger. (Village; 7:00)


Adapted from a 1980 novel by Cees Nooteboom that has been through 11 editions in the Netherlands and translated into eight languages, Herbert Curiel’s Dutch feature describes the gradual reeducation of an upper-class womanizer and art dealer (Derek De Lint). He loses most of his money in the stock market and meets the relatively impoverished and rejected son of a family friend who teaches him another way of looking at life’s everyday rituals. Accompanied by a dry and occasionally witty offscreen first-person narration, the plot is largely a series of philosophical monologues and dialogues, but Curiel’s actors and his effective use of Amsterdam settings give it more than an abstract, cerebral interest. Nothing earthshaking, but a respectable and watchable piece of work, made with craft and intelligence. (JR) (Three Penny, 7:00)

Where the Sun Beats Down

Joaquim Pinto’s Portuguese feature. A review appears under Saturday, October 28. (Univ. of Chicago, 8:30)

*Roger and Me

Truth is often stranger than fiction, but seldom is it so much funnier than in Roger and Me, a thigh-slapper about unemployment, eviction, and urban rot in the city of Flint, Michigan. Journalist Michael Moore, who claims he hates documentaries, returned to his hometown after leaving his post as editor of Mother Jones and decided to make a film about what happened there when General Motors moved its three factories to nonunionized Mexico. This should be the stuff of tragedy–and so it is. But no one has documented the absurdities of Reaganomics as forcefully or hilariously as Moore has in that rarest of all oddities–a film as likely to appeal to “politically correct” intellectuals as to those autoworkers whose plight it chronicles. Admittedly, Roger Smith, president of GM (the Roger of the title), and Flint’s upper crust may not get the joke. But they are the only ones. Who else could resist Miss Michigan, who, when asked what the throngs of unemployed workers should do, suggests that they pray for her victory in the Miss America pageant? And the taxpayer-funded efforts on the part of the town council to turn their ravaged city into a tourist attraction boggle the mind as they boondoggle the soul. Thanks in part to the boyishly appealing deadpan of his “me” (in search of a Roger who stonewalls questions and confrontation with all the bodyguarded weight of his position), Moore has somehow managed to achieve a perfect balance of dry humor and drop-dead evidence–a kind of Reagan-age Watergate compressed into 90 surrealistic minutes. (RS) (Village, 9:30)

I’ve Never Been to Vienna

Antonio Larreta’s Argentinean feature, set in Buenos Aires in 1910, about a woman who discovers her grandchildren’s secrets. (Three Penny, 9:30)

The Taste of Hemlock

Geoffrey Darwin’s U.S. film about a waiter who meets a group of eccentrics. A review appears under Saturday, October 28. (Music Box, 10:00)

Monday October 30

Best of student films

Competition winners. (Three Penny, 5:00)

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. (Music Box, 7:00)

*A Thousand and One

Wives For her fifth feature, Michal Bat-Adam, the talented Israeli actress turned screenwriter-director, has crafted a very black comedy with a feminist edge. Through some slip in translation the film is being advertised as “an enchanted love story.” It’s hardly that. Instead, the film shows the devastating effects of repressed desire and unquestioned traditional dictates. The action takes place at the turn of the century in an exotic village where all the neighbors know each other’s business. Desperate for an heir, 50-year-old widower Naphtali Simantov takes a third wife–the young and incredibly naive Flora (sweetly played by Israeli rock star Rita Faruz). But Naphtali suffers from inexplicable bouts of impotence and is unable to consummate the marriage. Flora’s slowly blossoming sexuality soon attracts the attention of another man and the seeds of tragedy are planted. The film is imaginatively stylized with a richness of color and sound. A guilty conscience produces visions of a dead mother; frustrated passion provokes a storm. From the hermetically sealed world of the village to the sultriness of a shop, the brilliant production design reinforces the inevitability of the plot. (AS) (Village, 7:00)

The Summer of Aviya

Eli Cohen’s Israeli feature. A review appears under Sunday, October 29. (Univ. of Chicago, 7:00)

City Lights

The most directly moving and beautiful of Charlie Chaplin’s features, his first sound movie eschews spoken dialogue but makes effective use of Chaplin’s score and selective sound effects. The tramp falls in love with a beautiful young blind woman (Virginia Cherrill) who sells flowers and believes he is wealthy. He is befriended by a millionaire (Harry Myers) whom he saves from suicide whenever the latter is drunk, and shunned by the same millionaire whenever the fellow sobers up. Desperately trying to get money to pay for an operation that will restore the flower seller’s eyesight, the tramp has a series of adventures that poetically depict both the heights and the depths of big-city life. Insofar as this is a virtually perfect film in its powerful original state, sound track included (and can be seen in this form on video), it is regrettably being presented at the festival with the accompaniment of a live orchestra, under Carl Davis’s direction. Accompanying a silent film with a live orchestra playing the original score is an exciting and commendable practice, because it permits an audience to experience a classic the way many original audiences did. But replacing a film’s original sound track–something that was also recently done with Eisenstein’s Alexander Nevsky–is a good deal more questionable, even if it involves a precise “duplication” of the original, because it inevitably mutilates the work in the process of honoring it. It may not be as bad as colorizing a black-and-white classic, but in essence it follows a similar principle–removing a work of art from the control of the artist who made it. (A spokesman for this event, who disputes the above premise, has told me that Chaplin revised his own score for City Lights after the film’s completion, and that his revised score is the one in the version distributed on videotape. He also claims that Chaplin presented City Lights in the 30s in certain cities without its sound track, using a live orchestra and sound effects as accompaniment, but I’ve searched David Robinson’s detailed 792-page Chaplin biography in vain for any confirmation of this assertion.) (JR) (Chicago Theatre, 7:30)

*The Unbelievable Truth

This first feature by a little-known American independent proved a major audience pleaser at the recent Toronto film festival. It has since been acquired, for a hefty sum, by Miramax Distribution (the sex, lies, and videotape company), who know a hit when they see one. Displaying a healthy disregard for narrative conventions, 29-year-old director Hal Hartley keeps tongue lodged firmly in cheek while easing deadpan humor out of such diverse topics as (to quote the advertisement) “teenage sex, nuclear winter, and the mechanics of emotional capitalism.” Hartley is helped by an outstanding cast (many of whom he met as a film student at the State University of New York at Purchase) and a carefully stylized production design that makes winning use of his Long Island hometown of Lindenhurst. The plot hinges on the return home from prison of Josh Hutton (Robert Burke), an endearingly taciturn black-clad hero with Clint Eastwood good looks. Prison has made Josh an ace auto mechanic so he is able to land a job with wheelerdealer garage owner Victor Hugo, who overlooks his record because of Josh’s way with an engine. Vic’s beautiful daughter Audry (Adrienne Shelly) finds in Josh an obsession to replace her preoccupation with the end of the world. Made with wit and flair, The Unbelievable Truth sustains the promise of its provocative opening until the very end. (AS) (Univ. of Chicago, 9:15)

Independent videos

Competition winners. (Music Box, 9:30)


Dani Levy’s German-Swiss coproduction about sexual relationships and male bonding. A review appears in the issue of October 13 under Wednesday, October 18. (Village, 9:30)

Winning feature

The jury’s selection of best feature at the festival. (Three Penny, 9:30)

Tuesday October 31

Best of short subjects

Competition winners. (Three Penny, 5:00)

TV commercials

A repeat of the program of Monday, October 30. (Music Box, 7:00)

The Midday Sun

Lulu Keating, who served as sole screenwriter on her feature directing debut, shows talent as a director, but the coming-of-age story is ludicrously overwrought. Her main character, Maggie Cameron, is an improbably naive and obnoxiously arrogant young Canadian who goes to Africa as a volunteer secretary for a black minister. Though reminded that her actions reflect on her employer and his mission, Maggie consistently displays a shocking lack of judgment and her behavior creates progressively more serious consequences for those with whom she associates. In spite of the ridiculous plot, Keating draws enthusiastic performances from her actors, including a humorous cameo by Jackie Burroughs, and shows the African landscape to good effect. (AS) (Village, 7:00)

That Summer of White Roses

Tom Conti stars as a lifeguard at a Yugoslavian beach resort during World War I in Rajko Grlic’s Yugoslav-British coproduction in English; with Susan George and Rod Steiger. (Univ. of Chicago, 7:00)

I’ve Never Been to Vienna

Antonio Larreta’s Argentinean feature, set in Buenos Aires in 1910, about a woman who discovers her grandchildren’s secrets. (Univ. of Chicago, 9:15)

Illinois awards

Prize-winning 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. (Music Box, 9:30)

*American Bluenote

Like the cool jazz that permeates its sound track, this bittersweet comedy conceals an edge of desperation. The story of a young saxophonist’s failing efforts to keep his quintet together, the film occasionally falls prey to its sitcom formula, but generally it’s honest, savvy, and ungimmicky in its depiction of life on the lowest rungs of the music biz. Director Ralph Toporoff and screenwriter Gilbert Girion perfectly capture the peculiar mix of naive idealism, soul-eating frustration, and ironic humor fostered in a world in which nice jackets, a car, limitless patience, and a talent for strategic improvisation count for more than musical ability. With his nervously darting eyes, abruptly barking laugh, prematurely receding hairline, and toothy, slightly smarmy grin, Peter MacNicol etches a wonderful portrait of the bandleader as surrogate father, self-punishing slave driver, ballsy bullshit artist, and occasional artist. The strong supporting cast includes Jeff Weiss and Shami Chaikin, two of New York’s finest off-off-Broadway actors, as MacNicol’s oddly guilt-obsessed uncle and aunt, as well as dancer Charlotte d’Amboise as a young ballet teacher whose country outing with the city-addicted MacNicol provides one of the best scenes in this charming, poignant, and funny film. Chicago theater composer Larry Schanker wrote and arranged the movie’s graceful score. (AW) (Village, 9:30)

Winning feature

The jury’s selection of best feature at the festival. (Three Penny, 9:30)

Wednesday November 1

Best documentaries, program one

A selection of competition winners. (Three Penny, 5:00)

I’m the King of the Castle

The spoiled son of a well-to-do landowner resents his father’s new wife and her son. The two young boys vie for power, playing a series of mind games with one another. There is nothing particularly bad about all of this, but there is nothing particularly good either. The atmosphere is ladled on, the text is “poetically dense,” and the performances seem to exist as dramatic exercises for the cast instead of for the creation of character or furthering the narrative. A French film directed by Regis Warnier. (DO) (Music Box, 7:00)

*The Unbelievable Truth

A first feature from the U.S. by Hal Hartley. A review appears under Monday, October 30. (Village, 7:00)

Dancing for Mr. B.: Six Balanchine Ballerinas

Anne Belle and Deborah Dickson’s documentary about six ballerinas who worked with George Balanchine. A review appears under Saturday, October 28. (Univ. of Chicago, 7:00)


Herbert Curiel’s adaptation of Cees Nooteboom’s popular philosophical novel. A review appears under Sunday, October 29. (Univ. of Chicago, 9:15)


An anthology of horror stories from the U.S. by newcomer Wayne Coe, starring Brad Dourif and James Earl Jones. (Music Box, 9:30)

Georgette Meunier

Passionately lusting after her missing brother, the eponymous heroine (Tiziana Jelmini), a lonely provincial pharmacist, turns herself into a seductress at night, and, to deal with her frustration and amuse herself, perfects a poisoning technique that allows her to polish off an inordinate number of hapless men. Made in 16-millimeter as a graduation thesis at the Berlin Film Academy by Tania Stocklin and Cyrille Rey-Coquais, this somewhat stylish but dutifully perverse black comedy, a Swiss/West German coproduction, is fairly watchable, but really nothing special–the sort of nihilistic exercise of style that invariably turns up as festival fodder. You might have a little fun with it, but you can just as easily live without it. (JR) (Village, 9:30)

Winning feature

The jury’s selection of best feature at the festival. (Three Penny, 9:30)

Thursday November 2

All category winners

Competition winners. (Music Box, 7:00)

Audience choice

A selection of the audience’s favorite films at the festival. (Village, 7:00)

I’m the King of the Castle

Regis Warnier’s French feature about family discord. A review appears under Wednesday, November 1. (Univ. of Chicago, 7:00)

Best documentaries, program two

A selection of competition winners. (Three Penny, 7:00)


An anthology of horror stories from the U.S. by newcomer Wayne Coe, starring Brad Dourif and James Earl Jones. (Univ. of Chicago, 9:15)

Audience choice

A selection of the audience’s favorite films at the festival. (Village, 9:30)

Audience choice

A selection of the audience’s favorite films at the festival. (Three Penny, 9:30)