Chris Hefner's The Poisoner: Stuck in place, lost in time

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This Friday night at Lincoln Hall, local artist Chris Hefner will premiere his second feature, The Poisoner, at 7 and 9 PM. Local musician (and Hefner's occasional bandmate) Daniel Knox composed the film's score; he'll perform a live set before each screening. You can purchase tickets for the event and watch a short trailer at the Lincoln Hall website.

The Poisoner tells the Kafkaesque story of a young woman who responds to a bizarre newspaper ad. An older man wants someone to marry him, then gradually poison him to death. Befitting the dreamlike nature of the premise, it's never clear as to how much time passes over the course of the story or even when it takes place. Hefner shot The Poisoner in apartments that appear to have been built in the early 20th century (including one in Portage Park); what few props there are in the minimalist design look like they're just as old. There are no references to current events—or to much of anything outside the marital home. (In its morbidity and exacting mise-en-scene, it's a bit like Nagisa Oshima's In the Realm of the Senses but without the sex or political implications.) Based on the oblique visual cues, the story could be playing out any time between the mid-1920s and the early 1950s. The lush black-and-white cinematography and Knox's delicate chamber score, which often invokes ragtime music, heighten the feeling of being lost in time. I don't know what it adds up to, but I enjoyed watching and hearing it.

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