The birth of cinema verite, and the rest of this week's movies

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The title screen of Jean Rouchs verite masterpiece
  • The title screen of Jean Rouch's verite masterpiece
Starting Sunday the Gene Siskel Film Center begins a partial retrospective of the films of Jean Rouch, the great French documentarian responsible for coining the term cinema verité and for inspiring the young filmmakers who would come to be identified as the French New Wave. The series begins with one of Rouch's best works, the 1961 feature Chronicle of a Summer, codirected with the ethnographer Edgar Morin. The film is founded on a simple premise: the directors stop random Parisians on the street and ask them whether or not they're happy. With this modest setup, Rouch and Morin initiate a probing sociological study of postwar France and a moving character study to boot. If you've never seen this before, do whatever you can to catch one of the two screenings.

In this week's issue, we recommend two other French features: Claude Sautet's police procedural-cum-moral drama Max et les Ferrailleurs (1971), which features knockout performances from Michel Piccoli and Romy Schneider; and Amour, a new chamber drama by Austrian auteur Michael Haneke (Code Unknown, Caché). We also have new reviews of Gangster Squad, an Untouchables-style period piece from Zombieland director Ruben Fleischer (weird, right?); The Iran Job, a documentary about an American basketball player in the ancient city of Shiraz; Last Call at the Oasis, a documentary about global water crises; The Sheik and I, the latest personal-essay film by director-performer Caveh Zahedi (I Am a Sex Addict); and Somewhere Between, a documentary about Chinese adoptees living in the United States.

Apart from Chronicle of a Summer, this week's best repertory screening is Desire, a rarely revived 1936 romantic comedy produced by the great Ernst Lubitsch and directed by the even greater Frank Borzage; it plays at the Portage Theater on Wednesday at 7:30 PM. Other notable revivals include Last Days of Pompeii, a 1926 silent epic playing Saturday at noon at the Music Box; Passage to Marseilles, a 1944 effort that reunited director Michael Curtiz with Casablanca cast members Humphrey Bogart, Sydney Greenstreet, and Peter Lorre, screening Wednesday night at the Northbrook Public Library; Roman Polanski's Tess, screening at the Siskel Center from a new DCP restoration on Saturday and Monday; and John Carpenter's The Thing, screening at the Music Box on Friday and Saturday at midnight.

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