Posted inFilm

Off the Map

Based on a play by Joan Ackerman, this dreamy memory piece from director Campbell Scott reflects the influence of his mentor and frequent collaborator Alan Rudolph. Valentina de Angelis stars as the precocious 11-year-old daughter of bohemian parents (Sam Elliott and Joan Allen) trying to live off the land in rural New Mexico in the […]

Posted inArts & Culture

The 40th Chicago International Film Festival

Friday, October 8 Henri Langlois: The Phantom of the Cinematheque Any documentary about the eccentric late cofounder of the Cinematheque Francaise is bound to be watchable, but Jacques Richard’s lumpy 210-minute talking-headathon obfuscates as much as it clarifies. The factionalism in the French film world guarantees that Richard has to choose sides, but he fails […]

Posted inFilm

The Undergrad

Chicago filmmaker Michele Mahoney reworks The Graduate, inverting Elizabethan practice by casting women in every role. The result is fairly clever (the hero is tempted by a corporate career not in plastics but in latex), though finally thin and underdeveloped. The film poses questions about gender and power while echoing the original’s critiques of marriage, […]

Posted inFilm

Moscow Siege

English director Pamela Gordon directed this riveting 2003 look at the military standoff between Russian special forces and Chechen rebels who seized a Moscow theater and held the audience of 900 hostage. Incorporating interviews with survivors, news footage, and eerie material shot by the rebels, the film conveys a harrowing sense of breakdown. In Russian […]

Posted inFilm

Case for a Rookie Hangman

Made in the aftermath of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, Pavel Juracek’s second and final feature (1969, 102 min.) is a formally audacious political fantasia that transforms the third book of Gulliver’s Travels into an allegory on coercion and tyranny. After acquiring a mysterious watch, Lemuel Gulliver (Lubomir Kostelka) plunges into the monarchy of Laputa, […]

Posted inFilm

The Jester’s Tale

In this engaging 1964 Czech feature a mercenary soldier and his Falstaffian sidekick take elaborate measures to evade allegiance to either the Catholics or the Protestants during the Thirty Years War. Pavel Juracek’s script provides some biting commentary on the absurdity of war, and director Karel Zeman creates a stylistic hybrid of baroque chiaroscuro lighting, […]

Posted inFilm

Voyage to the End of the Universe

Written by Pavel Juracek, this Czech SF feature (1963) borrows substantially and without acknowledgment from Stanislaw Lem’s 1961 novel Solaris: in the late 22nd century a space crew transporting colonists to a distant planet are plagued by strange occurrences, sexual tension, and mental breakdown. The movie is badly marred by Juracek’s didactic celebration of communist […]

Posted inFilm

Dancing for Dollars

These two 1997 documentaries by Angus Macqueen offer sardonic analyses of the impact of the free market on Russian art. The Bolshoi in Vegas examines the quixotic efforts of a likable American entrepreneur, Ed Martin, to present the brilliant Bolshoi Ballet to philistine Las Vegas audiences. The irony is undermined by Macqueen’s withering condescension toward […]

Posted inArts & Culture

Case for a Rookie Hangman

Made in the aftermath of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, Juracek’s second and final feature (1969, 102 min.) is a formally audacious political fantasia that transforms the third book of Gulliver’s Travels into an allegory on coercion and tyranny. After acquiring a mysterious watch, Lemuel Gulliver (Lubomir Kostelka) plunges into the monarchy of Laputa, a […]