As the Chicago International Film Festival moves into its second week, there are still a lot of interesting and exciting movies to be seen. I feel compelled to note that none of the 16 features on this week’s program that I’m familiar with are as beautiful or as potent as Jean-Luc Godard’s Nouvelle vague–one of the 39 films shown in Toronto last month that Chicago festival director Michael Kutza boasted to the press about having rejected. (Among the other 38 “rejected” titles are a charming minimalist comedy, A Little Stiff, shown at the Film Center last month, and a fascinating documentary, Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse, which premiered on cable last weekend.) So though, as always, Kutza’s selection is a mixed bag, there are nonetheless several titles included that are worth anyone’s time.

I especially recommend Krzysztof Kieslowski’s The Double Life of Veronique, Jocelyn Moorhouse’s Proof, Jan Oxenberg’s Thank You and Goodnight, George Cukor’s 1960 Let’s Make Love (mainly for Marilyn Monroe’s performance), Otto Preminger’s 1954 River of No Return (mainly for Preminger’s direction), Barbara Kopple’s American Dream, and Victor Erice’s The South (1982) on the basis of my own experience, and Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro’s Delicatessen and Raul Ruiz’s Treasure Island on the basis of what I’ve heard. Among the other weekend offerings, I’d call Beeban Kidron’s Antonia and Jane watchable, Kurt Neumann’s 1958 The Fly marginally watchable, and Walter Lang’s 1956 The King and I extremely dull.

High points after this weekend include Chantal Akerman’s winsome Night and Day, John Greyson’s hilarious and pointed The Making of Monsters in the Wednesday-night program of shorts, and, in the CinemaScope retrospective, Samuel Fuller’s Forty Guns (1957), Robert Rossen’s The Hustler (1961), and Frank Tashlin’s Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (1957); foremost among my colleagues’ recommendations are Kon Ichikawa’s Noh Mask Murderers and Tsai Yang-Ming’s Fraternity. Additional recommendations and information can be found in the reviews and descriptions below; check marks appear next to some of the more promising titles.*

Among the recommended new films, I’ve heard The Double Life of Veronique, Delicatessen, and Antonia and Jane will be opening commercially in Chicago at some point. One possible advantage to attending a festival screening is that the filmmaker may be present; but unfortunately the festival never issued a list of attending filmmakers.

Screenings are at the Fine Arts, 418 S. Michigan, the Music Box, 3733 N. Southport, and the Esquire, 58 E. Oak. Tickets can be purchased at the theater box office the day of the screening starting one hour in advance or at the film festival store, 828 N. State; they are also available by phone at 644-3456 or 902-1500. General admission to each program, with some exceptions, is $7, $6 for Cinema/Chicago members; the first shows of the day before 6 PM at each theater are two dollars cheaper. “Best of the Festival” programs cost $10, $9 for Cinema/Chicago members. For further information, call 644-3456. –Jonathan Rosenbaum

* Archive note: the check mark has been replaced by an asterisk (*) for the archive version of the festival listngs.

Friday, October 18

30 Door Key–Ferdydurke

Jerzy Skolimowski’s new film, set in Warsaw during the onslaught of war in 1939, stars Crispin Glover as a 30-year-old who suddenly starts being treated by those around him–including his former professor, a nymphet, and a female cousin–as if he had regressed back to childhood. (Fine Arts, 4:30)

Quiet Days in August

Pantelis Voulgaris’s Greek feature focuses on six unrelated, lonely people in Athens during the month of August. Eventually, each meets one of the others, and the six separate stories become three stories about couples. (Esquire, 5:15)

*The Double Life of Veronique

Krzysztof Kieslowski’s 1989 ten-film work Decalogue, one of the most critically acclaimed achievements in recent cinema, is a hard act to follow, but The Double Life of Veronique, a French-Polish coproduction, is a worthy successor. Kieslowski has challenged himself stylistically and thematically, again measuring human behavior not against a codified moral law but against natural mysteries of a sort that he implies is ultimately unfathomable. His story of two young women, one born in Poland and the other in France, who are inexplicably identical in every way, is no trick of interlocking puzzle pieces but a lovely construction of loose ends that trail off to infinity. The film is exhilarating, shot through with moments of soaring triumph, and at the same time oblique, impenetrable, and strange, all of which Kieslowski intends. This is a film that lives in the imagination long after viewing, and one of the must-sees of the year. (BS) (Fine Arts, 7:00)

The Station

Some ill-conceived melodrama mars this first effort from Sergio Rubini, but The Station offers many small pleasures–not least among them Rubini’s own hilarious star turn as the gawky stationmaster. Much recent Italian cinema seems to mourn the passing of traditional values, and The Station tackles this theme too. A young provincial stationmaster, his old-fashioned office happily devoid of computers, meets Flavia (played with restraint by Margherita Buy), a sophisticated young socialite on the run from her exploitive lover, when she’s forced to spend the night in the station waiting for the next train. In that time these two characters tentatively feel each other out. The young stationmaster hears about cities he’ll never see (but that he tracks on his schedule) from an improbably glamorous woman who even speaks German (the language he’s trying to learn). Rubini handles this miniature drama with admirable delicacy, rendering it ironic and touching all at once. The film goes downhill when the absurdly evil lover returns, but overall The Station marks Rubini as a director to watch. (CS) (Music Box, 7:00)

Fast Fast

Winner of the Golden Bear at the 1980 Berlin film festival, Carlos Saura’s feature is about a young thief who joins up with a barmaid and two other teenage friends to rob a factory. Their success increases their standard of living and leads to more criminal undertakings. (Esquire, 7:30)


Imagine the Coen brothers remaking Terry Gilliam’s Brazil on speed and you’ll get an idea of this brazenly assured black comedy by the young French music-video and commercial directors Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro. The story unfolds in a tall, decaying apartment building in a vaguely postnuclear Paris, where chronic food shortages have led residents to resort to cannibalism. This occasions an ongoing war between the demented, perverse eccentrics who inhabit the complex and the Troglodistes, an underground band of outlaw vegetarians. At once deliriously compulsive and formally expressive in its visual design, colors, and virtuoso camera movements, the film exhibits astonishing control and beautifully modulated off-center rhythms and surreal tones. The movie becomes weary and repetitious at the end, when the filmmakers run out of things to do, but there’s a prickly substance here, and thought-provoking, cogently represented ideas–about collaborators, the Occupation, Nazis, and suicide–give the movie clarity and weight. (PZM) (Fine Arts, 9:00)


The hard-edged good looks and coolly intelligent direction of this period piece set in Franco’s Spain and based on a real-life crime of passion recalls Claude Chabrol’s Violette or Mike Newell’s Dance With a Stranger. After completing his military service, naive country boy Paco decides to remain in Madrid near his virginal and hardworking fiancee, Trini. He rents a room from a larcenous widow played by Victoria Abril (Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!), who quickly initiates him into her criminal practices and kinky sex life. Director Vincente Aranda provides a candid look at an amoral couple for whom sexual attraction grew into obsession and obsession led to murder. Abril’s steamy performance won her an acting award at this year’s Berlin film festival. (AS) (Music Box, 9:00)

We’re Talkin’ Serious Money

Chicagoan Dennis Farina and Leo Rossi star in this U.S. feature as New York hustlers who hide out in Los Angeles after failing to pull off a Wall Street bond heist. James Lemmo directed. (Esquire, 9:30)

No Way

The first feature of Berlin experimental filmmaker Christoph Doering focuses on the stark conflict between a doctor turned monk and a hard-sell satellite-TV-system salesman. Shot mainly in black and white, with color interludes. (Music Box, 11:00)

Shakes the Clown

Comedian Bobcat Goldthwait wrote, directed, and plays the title character in this low-budget U.S. comedy about an alcoholic party clown. With Julie Brown, Robin Williams, and Florence Henderson. (Esquire, 11:30)

Saturday, October 19

Best Documentaries

A selection of competition winners. (Music Box, noon)

The Double Life of Veronique

See review under Friday, October 18. (Fine Arts, 12:30)


See review under Friday, October 18. (Esquire, 1:00)

The King and I

A typically overproduced Fox filming of the Rodgers and Hammerstein hit (1956), with Yul Brynner (in the part he would play for 25 years on the stage) as the king and Deborah Kerr (dubbed) as the British schoolteacher who comes to Siam to educate Brynner’s army of children. Too long, but the score is swell. Walter Lang directed. In ‘Scope. (Dave Kehr) (Fine Arts, 2:30)

The Children’s War

Sandra Werneck’s 51-minute “nonsensationalist” Brazilian documentary delves into the reasons why more than 1,800 children have been murdered in Brazil over the past five years. (Music Box, 3:00)


See review under Friday, October 18. (Esquire, 3:00)


With the “new Dutch cinema” a decade in the past, there are few original and vibrating talents still working in the Netherlands. Frouke Fokkema is one of them. She manages to use the diffuse light and flat landscape of southern Dutch farm country as the emotional catalysts of her none-too-happy tale. A farmer loses his wife and enters a period of depression. His family (aging parents, almost-adolescent son, and odd cousins and aunts) urges him to head for an agricultural exposition in Amsterdam. There he spends the night with a photographer-artist who is dissatisfied with her career and decides to go off and live with him on the farm. Once she does, strange things start happening. A haunting, delicate film, with that strange Dutch sense of ironic humor underlying everything. (DO) (Fine Arts, 5:00)


The first feature of German filmmaker Liliane Targownik is entirely set inside the new flat of its hero, a young architect who has sex with a juror in order to win a design contest. (Music Box, 5:00)

Paths of Death and Angels

At times visionary and at times merely hallucinatory, Hungarian director Zoltan Kamondi’s debut features gallons of hip visual style poured over a broody, fragmented narrative–sort of MTV gone Eastern Europe. The timeless postapocalyptic landscape of the film, suggestive perhaps of the destruction inflicted by decades of communist tyranny, is home to a collection of dispassionate individuals who search vainly for love and the meaning of life. The two protagonists, Ilona and Ivan, come closest to what one might call a relationship, but it proves illusory in the face of their unresolved internal conflicts. The film’s technical feats, especially the cinematography and set design, are extremely impressive, but the director’s concentration on singular effects severely hampers overall cohesion. Many of the recurring symbols and references are virtually indecipherable; among those that are somewhat clear is the juxtaposition of Rolls-Royces and run-down industrial buildings, providing an apt metaphor for the puzzling contradictions of postcommunist Hungary. (ZB) (Esquire, 5:00)

Antonia and Jane

Beeban Kidron’s film is a slight comedy about two friends–Jane, a plump sad sack who has bad luck with men, and Antonia, an attractive, snooty socialite who appears to have everything going for her. The two women go to the same psychiatrist, and through their individual sessions we learn that they’ve secretly been jealous of each other since high school: Jane would give anything to have Antonia’s looks and popularity, while Antonia would like to dump her constricted life-style and adulterous husband for what she perceives as Jane’s freewheelingness. The women’s misconceptions about each other are the source of much of the humor in the film, and there are some extremely funny moments. For the most part, though, the film is a pleasant but fairly predictable story about the false assumptions people often make about one another and the difficulties that ensue. (Reece Pendleton) (Music Box, 7:00)

Traces of Love Life

Peter Del Monte’s episodic Italian feature about love and relationships, structured in elliptical vignettes and running the gamut from childhood to old age. (Esquire, 7:00)

Docteur Petiot

Christian de Chalonge’s Docteur Petiot chronicles the life and times of the infamous Beast of Marseilles, the physician of the title who, under Hitler’s occupation, managed to be at once the kindly neighborhood doctor, the savior of escaping Jews, and a serial killer who slaughtered those Jews, hoarded their possessions, and burned their remains in his cellar furnace. Chalonge never seeks to explain his protagonist (played with mesmerizing precision by Michel Serrault, who incarnates each contradictory persona as if it were the only one) with any outward signs of mental illness. Rather, he charts the never-quite-readable mind of the good doctor by following him on his daylight rounds and clandestine nighttime visitations through the byways of the city and the labyrinthine chambers of his town house, as if in searching one’s itineraries one could search one’s soul. (RS) (Fine Arts, 7:30)

*Thank You and Good Night

Family is the place where no matter how hard we try we remain children forever. In Thank You and Good Night, her contribution to the “family romance,” Jan Oxenberg happily puts on her childhood shoes again and performs a minor miracle: to make a whimsical, sometimes amusing film about the long agony and eventual death of her grandmother. The poetic, childlike aspects of the film (its use of puppets, drawing, animation) are its most successful, while its cinema verite portions have an air of deja vu (how many times do we have to witness a warm, slightly silly middle-class Jewish family comforting one another as they face death?) in spite of the incredible performance of the grandmother herself, generously offering her last months to the cruel gaze of the camera. Thank You and Good Night is an uneven film, sometimes slightly tedious, but nonetheless daring, imaginative, pregnant with sharp moments of Jewish humor, and at times extraordinary. (BR) (Music Box, 9:00)

*Raise Ravens

Carlos Saura’s haunting 1976 masterpiece, originally released as Cria, is a richly textured memory piece with touches of biting Bunuel surrealism. Set in Madrid in 1975 at the close of the fascist era, Saura’s film compiles the memories of an unhappy childhood using the mechanism of an adult’s dreams. The movie is filled with disturbingly offhand images and strange visions: the main character, Ana, witnesses her mother and father dying in the same bed at separate times, compulsively washes dirty water glasses left behind by the dead, daydreams of flying, and repeatedly sings along with a sinister pop song: “Sunshine pours through my window today, but sadness fills my heart, why must you go?” Ana Torrent, who made a remarkable appearance in Victor Erice’s The Spirit of the Beehive two years earlier, is startling here, her large brown eyes radiating both innocence and a remarkably adult ravishment. Geraldine Chaplin is also good as both Torrent’s dying mother and the adult Ana. In interviews, Saura has described childhood as a stage where “nocturnal terror and fear of the unknown” fill one’s life. In Raise Ravens, each moment is etched with crystalline clarity, yet the meaning of many of the memories remains elusive. (Ray Pride) (Esquire, 9:15)


Jocelyn Moorhouse’s sensitive and well-acted chamber drama focuses on a young man, blind since birth, who is obsessed with taking photographs. Cared for by a frustrated young housekeeper who both loves and despises him, he strikes up a friendship with another young man, and the story turns into a subtly nuanced romantic triangle and power struggle that gains resonance as we learn more about the hero’s childhood. Thematically (if not stylistically) suggestive at times of Peeping Tom, this impressive first feature from Australia shows a remarkable amount of assurance in writing as well as direction, clearly marking Moorhouse as someone to watch. With Hugo Weaving, Genevieve Picot, and Russell Crowe. (JR) (Fine Arts, 9:30)

The Fly

Slightly above-average 50s science fiction, enlivened by a nearly literate script by James Clavell (Shogun). Al Hedison (before he changed his name to David and became a TV star) is a scientist meddling with a strange theory of molecular exchange; he discovers, once again, that there are things-that-man-was-not-meant-to-know when he accidentally trades heads with a fly. With Vincent Price, Herbert Marshall, and Kathleen Freeman; directed by Kurt Neumann in ‘Scope (1958). (Dave Kehr) (Music Box, 11:00)

My Lovely Monster

Michel Bergmann’s German horror-film spoof uses as its point of departure a ghoul stepping out of a silent film that has caught on fire as the 17-year-old heroine is watching it at her father’s cinema in Hamburg. The two set out on a search for the only surviving copy of the film, traveling to Hollywood to enlist the assistance of real-life monster buff Forrest J. Ackerman. (Esquire, 11:30)

Sunday, October 20

Let’s Make Love

Although this movie is usually accorded a low place in the Marilyn Monroe canon–and understandably so, because the comedy and musical numbers never quite take off the way they’re supposed to–it deserves to be reevaluated for the intelligence of Monroe’s performance and the rare independence of her character; this one was made after her brush with Actors Studio, and she isn’t playing a bimbo. Yves Montand costars as a reclusive billionaire who discovers he’s being parodied in an off-Broadway revue; he tries out for the part himself, incognito, and she’s the chorus girl who helps him along. George Cukor directed, in ‘Scope, and lent a certain glamour and polish to the proceedings. With Tony Randall, Wilfrid Hyde-White, Frankie Vaughan (whose number, “Incurably Romantic,” isn’t half bad), and bits by Milton Berle, Bing Crosby, and Gene Kelly; Norman Krasna wrote the querulous script (1960). (JR) (Fine Arts, 1:00)

Chronique paysanne en Gruyere

A documentary by Jacqueline Veuve that follows the life of a Swiss farming family for a year. (Music Box, 1:00)

Docteur Petiot

See review under Saturday, October 19. (Esquire, 1:00)

*American Dream

In 1977 Barbara Kopple made the most rousing, passionate agitprop labor documentary of them all, Harlan County, U.S.A., her coal miners’ call to arms that won the Academy Award for best feature documentary. Now Kopple has forged a labor update for the 90s, American Dream, which is almost as emotionally stirring and even more intellectually compelling. Kopple brings her camera to the small town of Austin, Minnesota, where practically everyone has worked at the Hormel meat-packing plant for generations. But when the company announces a wage cutback the more militant workers call for a walkout–against the advice of the national union. If Harlan County, U.S.A. was a black-and-white saga about noble workers up against uncaring management, the dialectic tensions of American Dream cut many more ways. Everyone is granted his or her reasons, even the go-slow national union and the workers who consider the wildcat strike foolish. But Kopple hasn’t sold out where her militant politics are concerned: the Hormel management are unfeeling capitalist creeps, every one of them. American Dream also won the Academy Award for best feature documentary, and it’s richly deserved. (GP) (Music Box, 3:00)

River of No Return

Marilyn Monroe and Robert Mitchum search for her missing husband in an excellent western by Otto Preminger, one of the first films to discover the potential of CinemaScope and a fine example of Preminger’s rational approach to the mysteries of personal morality (1954). (Dave Kehr) (Fine Arts, 3:15)

The South

On the surface, Victor Erice’s second feature–despite its having a different fictional source (a story by Adelaida Garcia Morales) and scriptwriter (Jose Luis Lopez Linares)–seems to bring back some of the haunting obsessions of his first, the wonderful The Spirit of the Beehive (1973): the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War, the magical spell movies exert 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 The South points to an elaborate system of duplication that underlies the film’s structure, 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 a mysterious and resonant past, with the poetic ambience of a Faulkner story. Omero Antonutti (Padre padrone) plays the father, Sonsoles Aranguren the daughter (1983). (JR) (Esquire, 3:30)

Birds of a Feather

The festival identifies this feature by Fernando Ayala as Argentinean, although another source maintains it’s Puerto Rican. Whatever the nationality, it deals with the growing bond between a repressed homosexual and a female prostitute with an eight-year-old son. (Fine Arts, 5:00)

Behind Locked Doors

A first feature by Swiss director Anka Schmid about the 17 occupants of an apartment house in a large German city. (Music Box, 5:00)

Silent Pain

With subsidized Eastern European moviemaking all but defunct, small, hard gems like Martin Holly’s Silent Pain are increasingly bound to lose out to impersonal international coproductions. Set in Czechoslovakia in the 50s and 60s, built on an intricate, almost musical series of flashbacks, the film traces two lives: an old man whose war-hero son was wrongly executed by the regime, and his grandson, branded as the son of a class enemy, trying to find his way in a society that might startle even Kafka. When the grandson finds himself consigned to an army unit of the dregs and the dispossessed, the story turns fairy-tale vivid, with a tank commander who could have been drawn from Jaroslav Hasek’s immortal Good Soldier Schweik, staggering through cases of beer and relentlessly pointless exercises. Jiri Krizan’s script echoes some of the ironies of Milan Kundera’s work, especially the sections built around an ancient buried cask of slivovitz that no one can find. The cask eventually becomes a metaphor for freedom, elusive truth, and pure joy. Note: The subtitles, marred by a great deal of fairly obscure British idiom, may be difficult to follow. (Ray Pride) (Esquire, 5:30)


German director Percy (Bagdad Cafe) Adlon’s self-conscious, lachrymose, embarrassingly misdirected tearjerker about an East German librarian who escapes to northern Alaska after her lover is killed trying to climb the Berlin Wall. At a gloomy, frozen Eskimo outpost, Roswitha (Rosel Zech, Fassbinder’s Veronika Voss) finds herself rejuvenated when she teams up with an androgynous foundling (singer K.D. Lang). Lang is a great entertainer, but her acting debut has to be seen to be believed. No singer has been this stiff and mumbled so many lines since Elvis in Love Me Tender. Salmonberries is sort of a lesbian love story, but the passion is frustratingly closeted. Lang still hasn’t quite come out. (GP) (Fine Arts, 7:00)

Walking a Tightrope

Michel Piccoli stars as a famous gay novelist, reportedly based on Jean Genet, whose sexual desires are satisfied with the help of a woman friend. Nico Papatakis directed this French feature whose original title is Les equilibristes. (Music Box, 7:00)

Skinless Nights

Rokurou Mochizuki’s Japanese feature focuses on a producer of pornographic videos who moves into a hotel to write a screenplay for a more serious film. (Esquire, 7:30)

Treasure Island

Raul Ruiz’s transgressive French version of the Robert Louis Stevenson classic was made in the mid-80s but has long been tied up in litigation. I haven’t seen either Ruiz’s original four-hour cut or this shortened version, edited by the great filmmaker Chris Marker, but considering the high level of Ruiz’s work during this period, I suspect it’s well worth seeing. Be prepared to share Ruiz’s predilection for the magical and the irrational. The varied cast includes Jean-Pierre Leaud, Lou Castel, and Anna Karina. (JR) (Fine Arts, 9:00)

Ava & Gabriel, a Love Story

This picture has played at numerous film festivals in 1991, and it often seems as if it’s been picked only to round out a global program; there aren’t that many feature films made in the Dutch Antilles. But there is actually a perfectly good reason to show Ava & Gabriel: the gorgeous folk-art-like pastel palette of African American cinematographer Ernest Dickerson, whose past work includes both the films of Spike Lee and several features for Ava & Gabriel director Felix de Rooy, who was a student with Dickerson at NYU. Ava & Gabriel is a mostly naive telling of a doomed cross-cultural love story, a romance between a black painter, Gabriel, and the mixed-blood model Ava he’s picked for his commissioned mural of the Virgin Mary. But despite the heavy-handed criticism of Dutch racism and some amateurish melodrama, it’s still pleasant to spend 100 minutes on location in Curacao. (GP) (Music Box, 9:30)

Lost in Siberia

The only interesting thing about Lost in Siberia–the fact that it’s the first Soviet-British coproduction–is the same thing that ruins it: the producers’ attempt to create a product with worldwide commercial potential has resulted in a take on life in the Gulag that fails to rise above the level of a television movie of the week. Touted as “bringing the very finest of Russian filmmaking in line with Western technical standards,” it in fact appropriates images from Freeze–Die–Come to Life and Swan Lake–The Zone, two of last year’s prizewinning Soviet films. It’s also burdened by the bilingual emoting of sunken-eyed, hollow-cheeked Anthony Andrews as the British archaeologist mistakenly bundled off to a forced labor camp. (AS) (Esquire, 9:30)

Monday, October 21

Best Video Productions I

A selection of competition winners. (Fine Arts, 4:30)

27 Hours

Montxo Armendariz’s 1986 feature about the friendship between three boys in a Spanish harbor town over 27 hours. (Esquire, 5:30)

White Page

This relentlessly grim, blunt drama from the talented Vietnamese filmmaker Ho Quang Minh (Karma) has some of the trappings of neorealism–the use of nonactors and location shooting, for example. The story concerns a woman’s torture, sexual subjugation, and rebirth in the aftermath of the Khmer Rouge’s self-destructive “reeducation campaigns” that gave way to the killing fields. Vixna arrives from Paris with her two young daughters, expecting to be reunited with her husband, a party functionary who’s unaccounted for. Instead she’s sent to the “April 17” commune, where she’s subjected to violent psychological abuse, torture, and rape (by the pernicious commune leader). Minh conjures up images and details with frightening clarity and terrifying abundance, but his emotional reserve denudes their impact. The tone is uncertain, and despite the inherent power of the material, there’s no unifying narrative thread. The setup is alternately provocative and devastating, and the relentless, bludgeoning repetitions leave you numb. Without modulation, there’s no place for Minh to take the material, and he works himself into a corner. (PZM) (Fine Arts, 7:00)

The Conviction

A neurotic young woman (Claire Nebout) lingers around an art museum after hours and is set upon by a sexually forward architect (Vittorio Mezzogiorno). The woman resists, complies, resists, complies; afterward she charges him with rape. There is a trial and a conviction. Here is a movie so controversial that probably no American distributor will touch it: director Marco Bellocchio, who wrote the script with his analyst, seems to be indicating that the woman needed to be assaulted, that this forceful, ultramasculine architect, a walking id, actually helped her toward mental health. Bellocchio, the most original of Italian directors, has made other sexually controversial films, including 1986’s Devil in the Flesh, with its notorious oral-sex scene. For two decades his oeuvre has been far ahead of conventional morality. Now, for the first time, Bellocchio appears thickheaded, sexist, and retrograde in his philosophy. (GP) (Music Box, 7:00)

Holidays on the River Yarra

Movies about alienated urban youth are nothing new, and Leo Berkeley’s pedestrian treatment of the subject in this Australian first feature will surely elicit a strong sense of deja vu. Mick and Eddie are two dead-end teenagers who linger on Melbourne’s deserted streets looking for any kind of excitement. Eventually they hook up with a group of white supremacists set on forming an expedition to topple the government on a small island off the coast of Africa. This preposterous idea quickly finds a fertile spot in the boys’ barren imagination, but a day and a few plot twists later, the two find themselves back at square one. This low-budget production provides some glimpses but no in-depth analysis of urban Australia’s most pressing problems, including racial friction and unemployment. There’s dubious solace in learning that commonplace American social afflictions can also be found down under. (ZB) (Esquire, 7:30)

Together Alone

This black-and-white, 16-millimeter debut feature by P.J. Castellaneta may function as cinema, but its impulses are innately theatrical. It’s a two-character, single-setting work that tries to assess the political and personal repercussions of AIDS and articulate some kind of gay identity. The story unwinds in the aftermath of anonymous, passionate sex between a square, repressed man named Bryan and his shadowy, attractive pickup Brian. The movie is more provocative than satisfying: the two relate their shared pain and emotional loss in long, disjointed monologues, gradually breaking down each other’s defenses. It’s a confessional, stark work, but unfortunately there’s not a glimmer of authenticity; the dialogue is at once too archly clinical and disastrously simpleminded. The movie is so dramatically inactive that the third-act revelations don’t pay off, and instead the whole thing seems a pale act of desperation. Castellaneta’s directing style is heavily influenced by television, consisting of a bland succession of close-ups and reaction shots; the performances are one-note, monotonous, and flat. (PZM) (Music Box, 9:00)

Best Video Productions II

A selection of competition winners. (Fine Arts, 9:30)

The Pianist

Two sisters befriend a Japanese classical pianist in a Canadian feature directed by Claude Gagnon. (Esquire, 9:30)

Tuesday, October 22


See review under Sunday, October 20. (Fine Arts, 4:00)

Best Student Films I

A selection of competition winners. (Music Box, 4:00)

The Conviction

See review under Monday, October 21. (Esquire, 5:30)

*Forty Guns

Samuel Fuller’s wild and wonderful, semicoherent black-and-white ‘Scope western was shot in ten days, and in some ways it looks it. But it’s also the first feature that fully announces his talent as an avant-garde filmmaker, even in this unlikeliest of genres. Barbara Stanwyck stars as the “woman with a whip” (the film’s original title, and still the title of its theme song), the land baroness of Tombstone Territory. She’s assisted by the 40 dudes of the title, and Barry Sullivan is the marshal who turns up to challenge her. There’s a hilarious romantic subplot involving a female gunsmith (whose sexual initiation is handled through an iris and dissolve that Godard incorporated into Breathless), an endless crane-and-track shot through a western town that defies belief, a lot of delirious violence, perverse sexuality, and imaginative visual energy, and all the other signs of Fuller’s brilliant snap and crackle, including several startling plot twists. If you’ve ever wondered why Godard and other French New Wave directors deify Fuller, this movie explains it all. With Dean Jagger, John Ericson, and Gene Barry (1957). (JR) (Fine Arts, 6:00)

The Art of Animation

An international selection including, among other shorts, Richard Condie’s Canadian The Apprentice, Ken Lidster’s English The Balloon, Cathy Joritz’s German Give AIDS the Freeze, Caroline Leaf’s Canadian Sisters, Gavrilo Gnatovich’s U.S. Prehysterical Days, and Richard Antonius’s Swedish Jordens Rost. (Music Box, 7:00)


A first feature in black and white by U.S. director Jefery Levy structured around a conversation between a driver and a passenger on the Los Angeles freeway. With David Warner and Steve Antin. (Esquire, 7:30)

The Beggar’s Opera

President Havel’s free adaptation of John Gay’s 1728 drama (which was also the source of Brecht’s The Threepenny Opera) was performed only once in communist Czechoslovakia, in 1975, resulting in government persecution of actors and crew. The celluloid version of The Beggar’s Opera starts off sprightly; the scenes of the vast Prague pickpocket network are reminiscent of the Keystone Kops, and Mack the Knife (the superbly cast Josef Abrham) delivers tart lessons to his underlings on the sublime art of womanizing. But too soon the fun trails off into endless talk, and the story goes nowhere at all. Once again, Jiri Menzel (My Sweet Little Village, Life on a String) proves he’s among the world’s most overrated directors, one who takes an anecdotal approach to cinema only because he doesn’t have the slightest grasp of narrative. (GP) (Fine Arts, 8:00)

*Noh Mask Murderers

This tricky, audacious new film from Japanese legend Kon Ichikawa (The Makioka Sisters) inventively examines Japanese preoccupations and themes in a beautifully complex structure, including interlocking flashbacks. The plot is an intricate murder mystery, unfolding as a series of seemingly unrelated affairs that are eventually revealed to have connections to the unfolding family drama. An aging Noh master announces he’s retiring, setting off an internecine war over who will succeed him, his grandson or his granddaughter. Noh Mask Murderers shows Ichikawa isn’t getting sentimental or tired; it’s visually alive, with wonderfully liberating framing and cutting, images of speed and intensity, and dense color patterns from cinematographer Yukio Isohata. But the movie also has substance: Ichikawa’s technique captures its multiple points of view and frequently induces a state of dementia as you watch. Even when Ichikawa sacrifices narrative clarity for some stylistic flourishes, the movie doesn’t suffer; and through the highly stylized Noh theater sections, Ichikawa constructs an elaborate dialectic about Japan’s uncertain merging of the traditional and modern. (PZM) (Music Box, 9:30)

Benjamin’s Woman

Carlos Carrera’s curious remixing of Frankenstein and Beauty and the Beast isn’t completely successful, but there’s an invigorating, lyrical sadness in the telling. Benjamin, a former boxer, is a preternaturally shy, inward 50-year-old. He’s both a hulking figure and classic victim, feared by the local children (who pelt him with rocks and stones) and suffocating under the iron-fisted watch of his cruel sister Micaela. One day in church he spots the beautiful teenager Natividad and develops a crush on her. Urged on by his band of drunken friends, Benjamin kidnaps Natividad and barricades her inside his house, setting in motion a strange, unsettling, and starkly unsentimental denouement. The entire film pivots on romantic obsessions–Micaela is crazy about the village priest–but Carrera isn’t really prepared to deal with the full range of emotions and illicit desires he’s conjured up. He also works too hard to establish a parallel between the two characters by giving the young woman a repressive mother. The secondary characters are too broadly drawn, and a significant character drops out of sight too early and then reappears too dramatically. But there are lingering images that hold one’s attention, and the heroine’s performance as she becomes aware of her emerging sexuality keeps the movie on edge. (PZM) (Esquire, 9:30)

Wednesday, October 23

The Beggar’s Opera

See review under Tuesday, October 22. (Fine Arts, 4:00)

Best Student Films II

A selection of competition winners. (Music Box, 4:00)

Noh Mask Murderers

See review under Tuesday, October 22. (Esquire, 5:15)

*The Hustler

Robert Rossen’s 1961 feature, which won the Oscar for best picture, is a somber morality play postulating a pool hustler (Paul Newman at his best) perfecting his craft as existential hero. It makes wonderful use of its seedy locations, memorably filmed in black-and-white ‘Scope by Eugene Shuftan (who also won an Oscar for his work) and with a first-rate secondary cast (Piper Laurie, Jackie Gleason, George C. Scott, Myron McCormick). Adapted by Rossen and Sidney Carroll from a Walter Tevis novel, this picture is so much better than Martin Scorsese’s belated sequel The Color of Money that they don’t even belong in the same category. A post-noir melodrama with metaphysical trimmings, it does remarkable things with mood and pacing, and the two climactic matches with Gleason as Minnesota Fats are indelible. (JR) (Fine Arts, 6:00)

Let Him Have It

Peter Medak’s latest film is a straightforward, powerful account of one of England’s most controversial criminal cases. The story centers on Derek Bentley, a mentally impaired 17-year-old with a history of misdemeanors who falls in with a young street tough named Chris Craig. One evening police catch the two boys breaking into a warehouse. Bentley quickly surrenders, but Craig pulls out a revolver and threatens to shoot anyone who comes near. When an officer approaches him and asks him to hand over the gun, Bentley shouts out the ambiguous phrase “Let him have it!” Craig fires, killing the police officer, and the two boys are arrested and tried for murder. The verdict stunned the nation and changed the course of the British justice system. Medak shows the same wonderful feel for the postwar British working-class milieu that he did in his previous film, The Krays. That accomplishment, combined with his refusal to engage in simplistic moralizing, makes this an effective and engaging piece of work. (Reece Pendleton) (Music Box, 7:00)

After All . . .

The fall of the communist government in Hungary two years ago created a period of modest social turmoil, and the newly empowered lost no time looking into the life histories of both prominent and less important officials and pointing fingers at alleged oppressors and collaborators. One such target, a newspaper journalist accused of having a blemished past, is the centerpiece of After All . . . , a film that alternates between the protagonist’s English-dubbed inner contemplations on the events of the previous 40 years and his limited interactions with the new realities of the outside world. Zsolt Kezdi-Kovacs relies on documentary footage to illustrate the man’s kaleidoscope of memories, but it plays at such a torrid pace that individual images lose their sharpness over time and mesh into an undifferentiated cluster of the significant and the superficial. Excellent photography helps to inform the solitary process of soul-searching, but the excessive historical burden limits the payoff. The sheer intensity and sincerity of the spiritual quest suggest that Kezdi-Kovacs himself might have gone recently through similar tribulations. (ZB) (Esquire, 7:30)

*Night and Day

Although the festival blurb calls this “something of a return” to Chantal Akerman’s “great narrative style,” it seems to me that one of the constants of this remarkable filmmaker’s work is a powerful if “heavy” painterly style that practically precludes narrative flow even when she’s telling stories. Even at her best, as in Jeanne Dielman and The Man With a Suitcase, the only kind of character development she seems able to articulate with conviction is a gradual descent into madness. But the relatively unneurotic Night and Day strikes me as the most successful thing she’s done in years. Julie (Guilaine Londez), the heroine, makes love to Jack (Thomas Langmann) in their small flat by day and wanders through Paris at night while he drives a cab, until she meets his daytime replacement Joseph (Francois Negret) and guiltlessly launches a nighttime affair with him. This forms the structure as well as the plot, and the lyricism Akerman brings to the material intermittently makes this movie “sing” like a musical. Whether the camera is gracefully traversing Jack and Julie’s flat or slowly retreating from Julie and Joseph across bustling traffic while he recounts the things he loves about Paris, Akerman seems to have discovered both a musical rhythm for her mise en scene and a deftness in integrating her score that eluded her in her literal musical Window Shopping. This movie isn’t for everyone–no Akerman feature is–but if you care about her work, you shouldn’t miss it. (JR) (Fine Arts, 8:30)

*Short Films

An international selection, including, among other titles, John Greyson’s Canadian The Making of Monsters, Kevin Bourque’s U.S. In Transit, Andrew O’Sullivan’s Australian A Horse With Stripes, Chester Dent’s English Revolver, and Polly Seddon’s Australian Bad Day. I’ve only seen the first of these, but Greyson’s hilarious and pointed look at gay-bashing is alone worth the price of admission. (JR) (Music Box, 9:00)


This movie is proof that the Chicago Film Festival is too often a dumping ground for the certifiably awful. What starts out a fairly promising consideration of a love triangle between the beautiful, sultry Cinzia and her two lovers, a criminal just released from prison and his best friend, disintegrates into a violent, incoherent work about hooligans who follow soccer clubs around to various matches and fight other soccer gangs. The two friends belong to the Poison Brigade, a closed-off, thuggish goon squad that follows the Rome soccer club, traveling here to Turin for the Rome-Juventus grudge match to engage in street warfare with their opposite number, the Drughi. Director Ricky Tognazzi has no sense of spatial relationships or scene construction; he shoots everything in punishing close-ups, harsh lighting, and smoky, garish compositions, and the street fights seem staged. The movie’s pointlessness isn’t even redeemed by style or attitude. Inexplicably, it’s scheduled for two public showings. Let this serve as your warning. (PZM) (Esquire, 9:30)

Thursday, October 24

Night and Day

See review under Wednesday, October 23. (Fine Arts, 4:00)


See review under Wednesday, October 23. (Esquire, 5:30)

*Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?

It already has, says Frank Tashlin in his brilliant satire of the age of Eisenhower–even before Rockwell Hunter (Tony Randall) becomes the hottest ad executive in town by signing up a bosomy movie star (Jayne Mansfield) to promote Stay-Put Lipstick (“For those oh-so-kissable lips!”). As Ernst Lubitsch was to the 30s and Preston Sturges to the 40s, so was Tashlin to the 50s: a filmmaker gifted with an uncanny insight into the ruling delusions of his day. Loud and beautifully vulgar in DeLuxe Color and CinemaScope, Rock Hunter is hilarious literally from the first frame. (Dave Kehr) (Fine Arts, 6:00)

The Black Republic

Korean director Park Kwang-soo has the sensibility of a sociologist in that his films (his first was Chilsu and Mansu) thoroughly reveal the milieu of his characters. The setting of The Black Republic is a grimy rural mining town where Kim, a fugitive from the police, finds welcome anonymity. This community of shacks, slag heaps, and broken-down machinery is exposed to the viewer layer by layer through Kim’s eyes, though it’s less his story than a portrait of the marginal treadmill existence endured by the people he encounters. The frustration and violence of that existence are played out more personally in the cruel and exploitative relationship he begins with a young woman. The film is slow moving and not particularly satisfying in the narrative sense, but engrossing in its realistic look at life in the Korean industrial landscape. (BS) (Music Box, 7:00)

The Tale of the Unextinguished Moon

A Soviet docudrama directed by Yevgeny Tsimbai about the rise and fall of the Army and Navy People’s Commissar Frunze, once considered a potential successor to Stalin. (Esquire, 7:15)

The Little Criminal

At a time when cinema, even in France, is all too often a prisoner of social or psychological realism, Jacques Doillon’s films define their own narrative conventions and semitheatrical space. In The Little Criminal a delinquent kid runs away from his hometown to find a sister he never knew. Even though his journey takes him on the road, we are acutely aware of the limitations of space that are also limitations on the protagonist’s freedom; the film unavoidably points toward a return of the kid to the police station, the end of the game. Most of the time the three main characters are confined in the car of the young cop the boy has kidnapped at gunpoint to take him to Montpellier in search of his sister. The cop alternately plays detested authority figure, substitute father, gullible adult, young man secretly attracted to a blooming female, and a few other roles. American audiences might cringe at some of the plot devices: Why did the cop leave his gun unwatched? Why did he trust the kid? Yet the poignancy of the cop’s naivete, the dialectic of misunderstanding and recognition between two people from the same background, is precisely what gives the film its fragile grace. (BR) (Fine Arts, 8:00)

The Stranger

Satyajit Ray’s Indian feature concerns the visit of a long-lost uncle to his niece’s family in Calcutta. (Music Box, 9:00)


This Taiwanese gangster movie by Tsai Yang-Ming is solidly entertaining, especially due to a brilliant and moving performance by the actor who plays Wu-shiung, a former mob henchman trying to go straight after serving a prison term for a contract murder. The film follows the conventions of the Hong Kong gangster movie, a wildly popular genre in Asia: it incorporates substantial violence, extreme melodrama, and a heavy emphasis on the themes of loyalty and obligation. Wu-shiung’s struggle to break free of his thicker-than-blood relationship with his old gang brings considerable agony; the depth of rage and disillusionment expressed in the scene where he forces a confrontation with the mob boss at gunpoint in front of the man’s family makes it one of the film’s most compelling sequences. American viewers, seldom prepared for the heavy sentiment of a film like this, tend to laugh when the story dictates tears. Your best bet is to go with it completely and enjoy the catharsis. (BS) (Esquire, 9:00)