Roman Holiday

William Wyler, a director eternally defeated by his own obsessive craftsmanship, here poaches on the turf of Lubitsch and Wilder (1953). Audrey Hepburn, very young and very beautiful, is a princess traveling incognito; stodgy Gregory Peck is a newspaperman who can’t decide whether to love her or exploit her. Wyler lays out all the elements with care and precision, but the romantic comedy never comes together–it’s charm by computer. (DK) (Three Penny, 4:00)

Independent Short Films 1

Three narratives: Stephen Eckelberry’s Going Home from the U.S., starring Karen Black and Jeannette Nolan; Kirkham Jackson’s Pieces of the Moon from the UK; and Johannes Stjarne Nilsson’s Nowhere Man from Sweden. (Three Penny, 6:30)


Thomas Hardy’s big, rich, yet ultimately bleak novels have provided fertile soil for John Schlesinger (Far From the Madding Crowd), Roman Polanski (Tess), and now Michael Winterbottom, the facile young English director of Butterfly Kiss and Go Now who’s given us a surprisingly passionate and engrossing adaptation of Jude the Obscure. Kate Winslet (Sense and Sensibility) and Christopher Eccleston (Shallow Grave) incarnate Hardy’s star-crossed lovers, cousins who meet in the picturesque university town of Christminster, which refuses to allow Jude to challenge England’s class structure by becoming a scholar. The two flee to an equally chilly, inhospitable London, which disapproves of their uncompromising passion. The inexorable playing out of their doom results in one of the most shocking denouements imaginable (a friend calls this “the feel-bad movie of the year”). It’s handsomely mounted, beautifully shot, and deeply moving, with a panoramic sweep that transcends all Masterpiece Theatre cliches and is ideally suited to the big screen. (MB) (Pipers Alley, 7:00)

Unhook the Stars

No one could accuse Nick Cassavetes of following in his father’s stylistic footsteps. Whatever the opposite of improvisation is, Cassavetes has hit it on the head his very first time out. Every character, scene, and situation in this movie is neat, constricted, pigeonholed, predictable. Despite some fine acting, no one and no thing is allowed to go beyond the one-line summary that passes for character development. Gena Rowlands, as the mother of us all (including the director), delivers her usual tour de force performance, this time as a widow whose last, headed-for-disaster fledgling has departed the nest, leaving her with no one to nurture or read the Encyclopaedia Britannica to. Enter neighbor Marisa Tomei, a loudmouthed bleached blond with a heart of gold who just happens to have a small boy in need of some motherly love. Watching this movie is just about as thrilling as reading someone else’s valentine to his mother. The cliches, the schmaltz, and the family values are bad enough, but they’re confined to a neat, sterilized, underpopulated generic suburb that might as well be a soundstage. Gerard Depardieu waltzes in as a French Canadian truck driver and would-be love interest, proving yet again that he has an infallible nose for Hollywood hokum. (RS) (Music Box, 7:00)

Bitter Sugar

At last, a love story for Castro haters everywhere. Cuban-born filmmaker Leon Ichaso (Sugar Hill, Crossover Dreams) cowrote and directed this story about a young couple’s doomed love, set against the backdrop of modern-day Havana. Gustavo, a promising college student and ardent communist supporter who hopes to continue his studies abroad, falls in love with Yolanda, a jaded dancer with diametrically opposed political beliefs. His faith in Fidel is shaken when his brother is arrested and tortured by the police, apparently for the crime of being an unrepentant Metallica fan, and then joins the rank of angry Cuban youths who inject themselves with the HIV virus as a protest against the government. Gustavo’s father, a psychiatrist, can’t find work and is forced to take a job as a lounge pianist at a swanky tourist resort. And Yolanda, impatient with Gustavo’s allegiance to Castro, becomes a high-class prostitute. Subtlety is not the film’s strong point. There are some excellent performances here, especially from the supporting cast, but the story is so thin and presents its political views with such heavy-handedness that at times it seems little more than anti-Castro propaganda. (RP) (Pipers Alley, 7:15)

Nostalgia for Countryland

One of Dang Nhat Minh’s best films, Nostalgia for Countryland is not another coming-of-age story. Yes, its protagonist, Nham, is a 17-year-old country boy who’s secretly writing poetry while waiting for his army papers and tilling the land with his widowed mother, his smart-ass little sister, and his sister-in-law, Ngu. His big brother is off making money somewhere and rumored to be living with another woman. A subtle intimacy and tension slowly grow between Nham and the lonely Ngu. Then Nham picks up a distant relative at the train station: Quyen, a beautiful 30-year-old who escaped Vietnam and wound up working as an accountant in New York. Of course Nham falls helplessly in love with her, a sentimental and sexual awakening that Dang treats with flair, humor, and tenderness. But the fate of these two people also parallels the fate of Vietnam. Quyen has lost her country, and her sensual rediscovery of the beauty of nature, her nude baths in the river, her enthusiasm for an exquisite puppet show (alone worth the price of the ticket) just underline that loss. She’s no peasant, she doesn’t belong, she upsets the balance. Nham is rooted, even trapped in his own country, but his sense of loss and alienation is no less acute. A dreamer without a boat, he’s condemned to stare at the horizon and to experience furtive and forbidden emotions for his sister-in-law. Sensitively and precisely crafted, Nostalgia for Countryland is a rare jewel of a film. (BR) (Three Penny, 8:15)

Mother Night

An honorable failure, this intelligent adaptation of one of Kurt Vonnegut’s best early novels falters in part because it rejects Vonnegut’s narrative structure of alternating several time frames for more chronological flashbacks. This plays havoc at times with the book’s delicate ordering of facts about Howard W. Campbell Jr. (Nick Nolte)–a successful German-American playwright living in Germany who decides during the rise of Nazism to work as an American spy, knowing that for security reasons his masquerade as a Nazi can never be revealed. The invaluable moral of the novel, placed in the first paragraph of the introduction, is “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.” By placing it less prominently in the narration, director Keith Gordon and adapter Robert B. Weide grant it a lesser function, so that the powerful literary irony established in the film’s first half–all the more valuable in the context of Schindler’s List and its suggestion that there were good ways of being a Nazi–is eventually dissipated, and the improbabilities of the original become much more vexing without the author’s exquisite expositional strategies. But this has taste and soul before the contrivances become too obtrusive. With Sheryl Lee, John Goodman, Alan Arkin, Kirsten Dunst, and David Strathairn. (JR) (Pipers Alley, 9:30)


“Queer cinema” is fashionable, and particularly this year, films about young male hustlers in Hollywood. Bruce LaBruce and Rick Castro (Hustler White) and Everett Lewis (Skin and Bone) have an inside knowledge of the gay milieu and enough flair to accurately represent it on-screen. But Scott Silver is an unoriginal imitator cashing in on gay chic. Take a cute actor from a well-known show-business family (David Arquette), a semisordid, semisexy subject (teenage gay prostitution on Santa Monica Boulevard), a love story (the hustler and his girl–of course he’s not really gay; he just does it for the money), and a friendship (between two young hustlers), then add a few mobsters (the kids owe them money), some predictable stock characters (a crazy black dude on coke, a shy and repressed customer, a cool porter at a chic hotel, a homeless man), and a few shreds of a cheap dream (leave this urban hell to work as security guards in the middle of a safe nowhere). When the Arquette character has finally solved all his problems and bought bus tickets to leave town, he decides to turn one last trick. By this point you’ll probably be thinking, “If this trick kills him I’ll scream.” But it’s not worth screaming about. (BR) (Music Box, 9:30)

The Dress

Nasty, even brutish in tone but enjoyably playful in form, this dryly comic Dutch feature by Alex van Warmerdam recounts the life story of a dress, from designer through various owners–creating a shaggy-dog ambience that recalls at times the “automatic writing” and delirium of continuity proposed by Luis Bunuel’s The Phantom of Liberty. Van Warmerdam’s misanthropy and cavalier notions about rape are a far cry from Bunuel’s mordant humanism, but his freewheeling narrative style and gallows humor are lively and unpredictable. If you’re in the mood for something different, check this one out. (JR) (Pipers Alley, 9:45)

The Letter

A better-than-average Bette Davis vehicle (1940), well constructed by shrewd old hack William Wyler from a Somerset Maugham play. Davis, the bored wife of a rubber-plantation owner (Herbert Marshall, which will excuse anything), kills her lover, and the colonialists band together to get her off. Mustn’t give the natives the wrong idea. Howard Koch wrote the dialogue, a dry run for Casablanca. With James Stephenson and Gale Sondergaard. (DK) (Three Penny, 10:30)

Midnight Perversions

Martin Murphy’s The Adventures of Handyman from Australia; Shinjuku Boys from the UK; Of Skin and Metal from the U.S. (a documentary about body piercing); and Twilight of the Gods from New Zealand. (Music Box, 11:30)


Guys Like Us

This uneven comedy-drama tells the story of a couple of handicapped men who decide to enter a whitewater raft race on the dangerous Rogue River in Oregon. Starring Vincent D’Onofrio as Tony “Ole” Olezniak, a self-pitying ex-pro-football player blinded by a freak spinal injury, and Gregory Hines as Bernard “Lem” Lemley, a wheelchair-bound dental technician, the film plays much of the time like a television movie of the week, though writer Bob Comfort (Dogfight) and director Richard LaBrie give short shrift to the actual race, which would seem to be the obvious climax of the story. There are also some genuinely touching scenes, as when Ole matter-of-factly reveals to Lem how he used to get laid by a different groupie virtually every night of the week, and Lem balefully confides that he’s had sex only five or six times in the nine years since his injury. Both actors shine brightly in their roles. Overall not a bad go at this sort of thing, but there’s still too much of the corny against-all-odds reverence that renders inspirational films indistinguishable from one another. (JK) (Pipers Alley, noon)

Broken Silence

A sincere if not particularly inspired adventure story written and directed by Wolfgang Panzer, about a naive Swiss monk (Martin Huber) who breaks his vow of silence. The monk’s Carthusian superiors have sent him to renegotiate the lease on their monastery, which is owned by a reclusive woman who lives in Indonesia. Terrified by his first plane ride, he refuses to get back on board during a stopover in New Delhi, and soon discovers that his wallet has been stolen. The thief is a young African-American woman (Ameenah Kaplan) who takes pity on her victim and, without telling him that she has his money, agrees to accompany him on his journey. This is simply a variation on the “odd couple on the road” tale, and it’s as predictable as they come, complete with arguments, wacky characters, and the inevitable recognition by the couple that they need each other despite their differences. The film also suffers from some wooden dialogue, though this is often compensated for by beautiful location shooting. (RP) (Music Box, 2:00)


There’s nothing really new in this 1995 three-hour thriller by writer-director Michael Mann about cops (Al Pacino and others) and robbers (Robert De Niro and others) in Los Angeles, but it has craft, pacing, and an overall sense of proportion–three pretty rare virtues nowadays. The story takes as long as it does because the big heist is shown rather than elided a la Reservoir Dogs and because the action keeps passing back and forth between Pacino and De Niro, revealing their personal failings as well as their professional smarts. Both actors do creditable jobs. With Tom Sizemore, Diane Venora, Amy Brenneman, Ashley Judd, Mykelti Williamson, Wes Studi, Ted Levine, Val Kilmer, and Jon Voight (in what might be called the Christopher Walken part). There’s an effectively minimalist, percussive music score credited to Elliot Goldenthal. (JR) Mann will attend the screening; showing as a double feature with Thief. (Pipers Alley, 2:00)

Little Sister

Dutch director Robert Jan Westdijk’s first film has nothing to do with the Raymond Chandler book of the same name, though coincidentally is does recall Robert Montgomery’s famed experiment in subjective camerawork for another Chandler opus, Lady in the Lake. “Little sister” Daantje’s life–her friends, her parties, her boyfriend, her fashion studies–is beginning to take shape when her older brother Martijn unexpectedly shows up, camcorder on his shoulder, and proceeds to invade every second of her days and nights. Rapidly alienating everyone around her with his intrusive filming and even more intrusive presence, he repels all attempts to get rid of him, carting around old family secrets on Super-8 as leverage. Compared to other entries in the obsessive-guy-with-a-camera genre–from Peeping Tom to Coming Apart to Family Viewing to Benny’s Video–Little Sister is pretty tame. It eschews visual layering and juxtaposed images from different sources in favor of a single unrelenting roving eye. Paradoxically, the act of filming everything in mostly handheld point-of-view shots tends to diffuse the creepy voyeuristic implications of the brother’s project, concentrating our attention on the defensive reactions of the sister. Daantje’s world starts to fall apart–but as much from its own fragility as from the infantile sibling aggression of Martijn’s camera. (RS) (Pipers Alley, 3:00)

Helicopter String Quartet

A Dutch documentary in English and subtitled German by Frank Scheffer chronicling the first performance (June 1995) of one of composer Karlheinz Stockhausen’s strangest conceptual works–a string quartet in which each musician performs in a separate helicopter in flight, with the music and ambient sounds transmitted to the composer for the final mix. The complications of preparing such a stunt and then bringing it off are such that one can easily see how a documentary feature could be devoted to them, and I wasn’t bored by any of the details, which include interviews with Stockhausen, the musicians, and the planners. But I don’t recall the music nearly as well as the logistics of the event. I saw this on projected video and can’t vouch for how it looks transferred to film. (JR) (Three Penny, 4:00)

Funny Girl

Barbra Streisand in her film debut (1968); she plays the Ziegfeld comedienne Fanny Brice, who also happened to be the mother-in-law of producer Ray Stark. Streisand is stunning, but the film is a trial, particularly when the music disappears somewhere around the 90-minute mark and all that’s left is leaden melodrama. William Wyler directed (it was his next-to-last film); the musical numbers were staged by Herbert Ross. With Omar Sharif, Walter Pidgeon, Kay Medford, and Anne Francis. (DK) (Music Box, 4:00)

A Single Spark

Korean cinema is rapidly becoming a force to be reckoned with, which is a mixed blessing, as businessmen are now producing more commercial films. But A Single Spark proves that the radical inspiration that was the source of some recent masterpieces hasn’t died, only found new modes of expression. To recount the story of Jeon Tae-il, a young union activist who committed suicide to attract attention to working conditions in Korean sweatshops, director Park Kwang-su raised money through grassroots organizations and thousands of individual donations, and many textile workers agreed to act in the film. A Single Spark interweaves two periods: the last years of Jeon Tae-il’s life (1965-’70), shot in black and white, as he evolves from lost teenager to charismatic activist, and the mid-70s, which marked the apex of the persecution of the left, a time when a writer researching a book on Jeon is hiding from the police. The black-and-white part is the most successful, showing not only the violence done to the workers but their resilience, solidarity, generosity, and solid political common sense–one’s reminded of Soviet or Chinese cinema of the 30s and 40s. The second part is a bit more heavy-handed, but it has to be understood as marking the filmmaker’s (and the audience’s) presence in this historical recounting: the past is not dead, for generations feed one another. (BR) (Pipers Alley, 5:00)


The 1981 feature debut of Miami Vice producer Michael Mann was firmly aligned along the neomacho axis of Scorsese, Cimino, and Schrader; it’s an attempt to parlay a surly, alienated hero (James Caan) into an abstract existential force. But Mann’s observations are trite, derivative, and frequently sentimental. By giving us a professional burglar who yearns for the suburban security of wife and family, he comes weirdly close to an amalgam of Taxi Driver and Kramer vs. Kramer. The visual style is strictly small screen: tight, head-bonking close-ups occasionally relieved by self-conscious pictorial effects. With Tuesday Weld, Willie Nelson, Jim Belushi, and Robert Prosky, who has the great wisdom to underplay his role as a fatherly crime boss in this exaggerated context. (DK) Mann will attend the screening; showing as a double feature with Heat. (Pipers Alley, 5:15)

Sudden Manhattan

Adrienne Shelly first reached international fame as a smart, sassy, tough-as-nails, but slightly confused character in independent classics such as Hal Hartley’s The Unbelievable Truth and Trust. When she wrote a semiautobiographical screenplay about the surrealistic and emotional wanderings of a young woman in Manhattan, she auditioned more than 80 actresses for the part before realizing that, no matter how difficult it would be to both act and direct, she was the only one who could pull it off. Sudden Manhattan is a brilliant, ironical, endearing portrait of a complex young woman whose idiosyncrasies and insecurities are matched by the absurdities of life (and male desire) around her: bearded killers, actors with libido trouble, obsessional landlords, fortune tellers. What saves Sudden Manhattan from being merely a female version of Martin Scorsese’s After Hours is the delicate, almost tender, yet goofy humor with which Shelly the director and actor explores the mean streets of her beloved New York. Sudden Manhattan identifies Shelly as a filmmaker to watch. (BR) (Three Penny, 5:30)

Men, Women: A User’s Manual

First there was A Man and a Woman, then A Man and a Woman: 20 Years Later, and now Men, Women: A User’s Manual, Claude Lelouch’s fin de siecle epic about star-crossed lovers. Bernard Tapie–France’s favorite rogue entrepreneur-politician, who’s been convicted of fraud and embezzlement–makes his screen debut and is a natural as a bullying, lying lawyer. The eternally bemused Fabrice Luchini plays an actor, Alessandra Martines (Madame Lelouch) an infuriated ex-mistress, and Salome Lelouch (the director’s daughter) a 15-year-old in the throes of first love. They and their extended family run wild through a batch of subplots. The movie opens with Tapie at the controls of a helicopter and Martines screaming to get out. When they meet again she’s a doctor who tells him crisply that his ulcer is actually cancer–she too can be a bully. Francis Lelai’s score surges with no relief in sight, and Lelouch lifts scenes from every movie since My Night at Maud’s. Snubbed by the New Wave, Lelouch says he’s just a popular director who believes in love, life, and God. He seems to identify with his vilified star, making the point that the last will ultimately be first–at the box office anyway. (JD) (Pipers Alley, 7:00)

Mother Night

See listing under Friday, October 18. (Music Box, 7:00)

The Dress

See listing under Friday, October 18. (Three Penny, 7:30)

Regular Guys

Housing must be extraordinarily difficult to come by in Germany. The heroes of both last year’s hetero-among-the-homos comedy Pretty Baby, aka Maybe . . . Maybe Not, and this year’s version, Regular Guys, find themselves reluctantly rooming with gays when their girlfriends kick them out. But Regular Guys, ostensibly a cops-and-robbers pic, is a far gentler and funnier film. Where Pretty Baby was garish and strident in both decor and characters, Regular Guys manages to make a stakeout in abandoned rooms over an unsoundproofed porn theater seem positively homey. Its comedy–lightweight and occasionally sophomoric, rarely forced or overstated–flows consistently, and its characters are genuinely likable in a laid-back kind of way. When the hero joins his roommate in his oversize bathtub the seduction isn’t sexual in nature. Rather it’s one of those moments that sometimes occur in screwball comedies, where the protagonist, tired of being buffeted by a seemingly endless series of misunderstandings, stops resisting the absurdity and goes with the flow. We’re hardly at a Bringing Up Baby level here, but as a comic lesson in cooling out, this has its moments. (RS) (Pipers Alley, 8:30)

Goodbye South, Goodbye

For many filmgoers Hou Hsiao-hsien’s cinema is represented by a haunting image from his film Dust in the Wind (1986): a boy and a girl on a motorcycle, cruising the Taiwanese countryside. This was the past of the island, and Hou’s films were exploring the pace of people moving about on foot or on bike. Goodbye South, Goodbye is a turning point, for to fictionalize modern Taiwan Hou has to show his characters using faster, louder, more efficient means of transportation: the film starts on a train and ends up with a long shot of a car that has jumped off the road. The real subject of the film is how this change of pace is affecting people’s lives and intimate feelings and forcing the filmmaker to construct a story differently. The loose narrative follows the wanderings of Kao, a small-time gangster with big dreams, his sidekick Flathead, their girlfriends Ying and Pretzel, and a cast of ill-favored characters, from rural cop to crooked politician, as they try a variety of moneymaking schemes but mostly struggle to find a place of their own in the no-man’s-land that the south of Taiwan has become. We’re treated with splendid, almost meditative shots of the countryside, whose beauty is lost on the protagonists: the land they love is a stagnant backwater of urbanized Taipei–a swamp despoiled by modernization that keeps them trapped. Using small, intimate vignettes–floating moments of daily life–and keeping most of the violence offscreen, concentrating instead on the mystery, the poignant presence of the faces and bodies, Hou offers a splendid version of Taiwanese modernity. (BR) (Music Box, 9:00)

The Funeral

Perhaps the darkest of Abel Ferrara’s very dark films, The Funeral explores the classic Godfather terrain of family and betrayal through the complicated relationships of brothers Ray (Christopher Walken), Chez (Chris Penn), and Johnny (Vincent Gallo), whose death at the hands of rival gangster Spoglia (Benicio Del Toro) occasions both the wake that opens the film and the bloodshed–shocking even in the Ferrara atmosphere of casual violence–that ends it. Here corruption is in the blood. Intense performances from a cast that also features Annabella Sciorra and Isabella Rossellini illuminate the dark settings like flashes of lightning. (MB) (Pipers Alley, 9:30)

Independent Short Films 2

Sparrow from Australia; Jeff Goldblum’s Little Surprises from the U.S., with Rod Steiger; and from the UK 15th February and Steve McNicholas and Luke Cresswell’s Brooms, a documentary about the percussion show Stomp. (Three Penny, 9:30)


The Collector

Perhaps the most interesting element of John Fowles’s novel was its alternation between two narrators–the shy and eccentric butterfly collector who kidnaps a young woman to add to his “collection,” and the woman herself. By jettisoning this structure, the film (1965) has precious little to hold one’s interest apart from Terence Stamp and Samantha Eggar as the two leads; Stanley Mann and John Kohn’s script adaptation is relatively flat-footed, and William Wyler’s direction is as academic as ever. (JR) (Music Box, 12:15)

Friendly Persuasion

Gary Cooper heads a Quaker family in Civil War times that looks an awful lot like the ideal nuclear unit of the Eisenhower era–dutiful wife (Dorothy McGuire), lovesick daughter (Phyllis Love), gangly teenage son (Anthony Perkins). Coop’s pacifist ideals come into question when the territory is invaded by Confederate troops: will he fight or won’t he? Assured, well-meaning, moderately dull filmmaking from William Wyler; the screenplay was written under a pseudonym by the blacklisted Michael Wilson. With Marjorie Main, Walter Catlett, and Richard Eyer (1956). (DK) (Three Penny, 12:30)

To Speak the Unspeakable: The Message of Elie Wiesel

The film opens with Elie Wiesel’s speech at the dedication ceremonies of the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. It’s boringly familiar territory–with Bill and Hillary looking suitably somber in the front row. Wiesel tells of a woman in the Carpathian Mountains who wondered why the Jews in the Warsaw ghetto didn’t wait quietly for the end of the war. The woman was his mother, and a year later she was dead at Auschwitz, along with the rest of his family. This opening establishes the dichotomy that informs Judit Elek’s understated documentary: banal images in the present, rich verbal evocations of a haunted past. Elek is herself a Holocaust survivor and a pretty mean evocator of the past in her own feature-film career (in Awakening the young heroine’s dead mother appears to her with some regularity). Here Elek follows Wiesel as he retraces 50 years later his nightmarish journey from Transylvania through Auschwitz and Birkenau to Buchenwald. But it isn’t what he sees, says, or does that’s important. The voice-over lines of Wiesel’s writing, well read by William Hurt, are where the true drama unfolds–the inevitable failure of a search for that which is gone. There are few of the usual concentration-camp shots. Instead the dead who’ve taken over Wiesel’s life come vibrantly alive for long, flickering minutes in the silent footage of everyday life in the Jewish shtetl. (RS) (Pipers Alley, 1:00)

The World of Animation

From the UK, Joanna Dunn’s Skywatchers, Vivienne Jones’s Touch Wood, Christoph Simon’s Euro Deutschland, Anthony Hodgson’s Combination Skin, and The Saint Inspector; from Canada, Abigail Steinberg’s Jules, Yasmin P. Karmin’s Sijjil, Roslyn Schwartz’s I’m Your Man, and John Weldon’s Scant Sanity; from Sweden, Lasse Persson’s Hand in Hand; and from the U.S., The Chicken From Outer Space and Monkey Love. (Music Box, 2:30)

Whims of a River

Bernard Giraudeau is a member of the swelling ranks of actors turned “liberal” directors that includes Robert Redford, Mel Gibson, and Kevin Costner. Indeed, Whims of a River is a French Dances With Wolves, with Africans as the resident natives. On the eve of the French Revolution an artistocrat composer, played by Giraudeau (he didn’t really want to star, but Harvey Keitel and William Hurt don’t speak French), is exiled to an obscure governorship in Africa for having killed the king’s friend in a duel. The camera pans around drawing rooms and dinner tables at Versailles or in Cap Saint Louis, laying out a smorgasbord of characters representing the different racial attitudes of the time so we can understand what our hero is evolving out of and admire the breadth of his transformation. Through a young girl slave who’s given to him as a gift and whom he first protects, then educates, then beds, he learns to love Africa and modestly produces a child and a new music. The piece de resistance: Giraudeau on harpsichord, with a trio of unnamed native musicians on drums. The monstrous egotism of this conceit is by no means unusual: for the humanistic actor-director the discovery of anyone outside himself is an event of earth-shattering importance that has to be alibied as the discovery of a whole other culture–Jews for Redford, Indians for Costner, scar- or blue-faced people for Gibson, and Africans for Giraudeau. (RS) (Pipers Alley, 3:00)

Independent Short Films 3

N.G. Bristow’s Dah Dit Dah from the UK; Fabienne Rousso-Lenoir’s Zahor Remember . . . , a photo documentary about “children of the Holocaust” from the U.S.; and Pin-up from Sweden. (Three Penny, 3:15)


To a professional photographer war can be just a series of images: some depicting situations that are destructive, others that are merely threatening, others that are deceptively tranquil. The particular place and time seem to matter little, for the similarities of military engagements, including the journalistic coverage, far outweigh the differences. But there’s an important question that journalists assigned to report on wartime activities often face, namely when and how observation turns into participation, even exploitation. This is precisely the issue addressed by Heiner Stadler’s Warshots, filmed in quasi-documentary fashion in Northern Ireland, Somalia, and Lebanon. The story follows the tribulations of an award-winning German photographer who crosses the line. The film is reasonably successful in suggesting some of the dilemmas he has to resolve, but the diffused and languid narration dilutes their moral gravity. Furthermore, the photographer’s indecisiveness appears to be more the result of his personal shortcomings than of the complexity of the situation, making generalizations difficult if not impossible. Perhaps it’s not surprising then that the most interesting observations made in Warshots take place far away from the main story line: on the streets and inside empty building shells, where local people operate on the strength of genuine convictions. (ZB) (Pipers Alley, 3:15)

Hugo Winner and Shorts

Prizewinners selected by the festival jury. (Music Box, 5:00)

Audience Choice

The audience’s favorite film or films at the festival. (Pipers Alley, 5:30)

The Quiet Room

The latest feature from Rolf de Heer, a Dutch-born director who’s worked principally in Australia, is a frequently daring work that exists almost exclusively within the confused and tormented consciousness of its seven-year-old protagonist (astonishingly and on the whole unsentimentally played by Chloe Ferguson). In response to her parents’ rapidly deteriorating marriage, the girl retreats into a silent world and refuses to talk, though she angrily makes drawings the parents, whose voices are muffled and virtually incomprehensible, can’t understand. A work of remarkable emotional intensity and tonal shifts, The Quiet Room is a torrent of words and ideas, of unformed, inarticulate feelings with virtually no release. But that intensity can’t be sustained, and the film begins to seem repetitive. The ending is also a disappointment, at once too conventional and emotionally unbelievable. Yet in spite of its considerable flaws The Quiet Room demands serious attention. (PM) (Pipers Alley, 5:45)

Bitter Sugar

See listing under Friday, October 18. (Pipers Alley, 7:45)

Secrets and Lies

Mike Leigh’s multifaceted, gripping 142-minute comedy-drama, winner of the grand prize at Cannes this year, may well be his most accessible and optimistic picture to date, which arouses the suspicions of some of his fans. A young black optometrist (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) seeks out her white biological mother (Brenda Blethyn), a factory worker who put her up for adoption at birth, and as the two become acquainted, tensions between the mother and another illegitimate daughter, between the mother and her kid brother (Timothy Spall), and between him and his wife build to a ferocious climax. The dense, Ibsen-like plotting of family revelations is dramatically satisfying in broad terms, though it leaves a few details unaccounted for. But the acting is so strong–with Spall a particular standout–that you’re carried along as if by a tidal wave. The younger daughter, a near replica of the bulemic daughter in Leigh’s Life Is Sweet, is the weakest link in the chain of family discord, yet Leigh orchestrates the whole thing with such panache that you’re not likely to mind too much. (JR) (Pipers Alley, 8:00)

The Wrapped Reichstag Film

This German documentary is a fascinating if overlong account of Christo’s ultimately successful campaign to wrap the Reichstag in Berlin with fabric, much as he’s wrapped other structures in the last 35 years (he wrapped part of Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art with 2,800 square feet of drop cloth in 1969). Included is footage going back to 1976 showing Christo and his longtime collaborator and companion Jeanne-Claude trying to persuade members of the German parliament that wrapping the Reichstag would be a good thing. One can debate the artistic and sociopolitical merit of the artist’s “wrap art,” but one can’t help but be won over by his sheer zealousness in trying to realize his dream–he persisted for almost 20 years, the German parliament finally granting him his wish in February 1994. While filmmakers Wolfram and Jorg Daniel Hissen are at times too fawning, they offer some engrossing behind-the-scenes glimpses of tests on the fabric used for the wrapping as well as opinions of the project by assorted workers and engineers. Spanning the decline and fall of the Berlin Wall, which ran alongside the Reichstag, this film documents how upheaval and change come to bear on a project of this magnitude. (JK) (Music Box, 8:00)


The Fugitive

Though it’s a good half hour too long, this belated (1993), overblown spin-off of the 60s TV show otherwise adds up to a pretty good suspense thriller. In flight from the law after being wrongly convicted of murdering his wife, Dr. Richard Kimble (Harrison Ford) is pursued over a good many Chicago and rural locations by U.S. marshal Sam Gerard (Tommy Lee Jones) while trying to clear up the mystery of who actually did the killing. The mystery itself is fairly routine and uninteresting, but Jones’s offbeat and streamlined performance as a proudly diffident investigator helps one overlook the mechanical crosscutting and various implausibilities, and director Andrew Davis does a better-than-average job with the action sequences. Written by Jeb Stuart and David Twohy; with Sela Ward, Joe Pantoliano, Andreas Katsulas, and Jeroen Krabbe. Davis will attend the screening. (JR) (Pipers Alley, 7:30)

Pretty Village, Pretty Flame

Another eleventh-hour addition to the festival, this feature by Srdjan Dragojevic is a portrait of the current conflict in the former Yugoslavia, seen in flashbacks from the vantage point of childhood friends, a Serbian and a Muslim, who find themselves on opposite sides. Reportedly it’s a “less than pro-Serbian” account, though one that has gained some following in Serbia. (JR) (Pipers Alley, 8:00)


Ulysses’ Gaze

Unlike some of my colleagues, I don’t regard this three-hour epic by Theo Angelopoulos (1995)–smuggled into this festival at the very last minute–as a great film, but it’s certainly something to see, especially for enthusiasts of Angelopoulos and his long-take style. This Greek-French-Italian production stars Harvey Keitel as a Greek filmmaker working in the U.S. who travels home to make a documentary about the pioneering filmmakers the Manakias brothers. Hoping to recover some of their early films about everyday life in the Balkans in a film archive in Sarajevo, he travels through Albania, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia, and finally Bosnia, a trek that echoes that of Homer’s Odyssey. Magisterially filmed, this movie demands at almost every instant to be regarded as a masterpiece, though for me it’s too full of itself and its own virtue. Still, I can’t deny it’s an experience worth having. With Maia Morgenstern, Erland Josephson, and Thanassis Vengos. (JR) (Pipers Alley, 7:00)


To Be Announced

A jury prizewinner or audience choice. (Pipers Alley, 6:00)

To Be Announced

A jury prizewinner or audience choice. (Pipers Alley, 8:30)


To Be Announced

A jury prizewinner or audience choice. (Pipers Alley, 6:00)

To Be Announced

A jury prizewinner or audience choice. (Pipers Alley, 8:30)