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The Reader reviews the Chicago International Film Festival's 15 revival screenings

Oliver Stone presents Natural Born Killers and Michael Moore presents Roger and Me during CIFF's 50th year


A half century of CIFF milestones, from Scorsese's debut to Lee Daniels's achievement award

Read our reviews of films screening during the first and second weeks of CIFF.

This year the festival celebrates its 50th edition with revivals of: Alexander and Natural Born Killers, introduced by director Oliver Stone; Roger and Me, introduced by director Michael Moore; four features starring French actress Isabelle Huppert; and numerous features that have played in past years. Unless otherwise noted, screenings are at River East 21 and tickets are $14.

Alexander screens 10/12, 7 PM.
  • Alexander screens 10/12, 7 PM.

Alexander Director Oliver Stone presents his 207-minute director's cut. Reviewing the original release, which ran 176 minutes, J.R. Jones wrote, "Stone realizes a decades-old dream with this epic biography of Alexander the Great, though all those who accused Stone of crimes against history with Nixon and JFK will be pleased to learn that history has struck back. This elephantine 2004 drama follows the young Macedonian general (Colin Farrell) as he conquers the Persian army and advances into central Asia, still smarting from the emotional wounds inflicted by his shrewish mother (Angelina Jolie) and brutal father (Val Kilmer). Alexander was above all a warrior, but despite the movie's substantial running time Stone is too occupied with psychodrama to explore Alexander's innovations in battle, and Farrell, clearly out of his depth, seems less a leader of men than a Hellenistic James Dean." Sun 10/12, 7 PM.

Breaking the Waves screens Sat 10/18, 5 PM.
  • Breaking the Waves screens Sat 10/18, 5 PM.

[Recommended] Breaking the Waves A breakthrough feature (1996) by Lars von Trier, the postmodernist Danish director of The Element of Crime, Zentropa, and The Kingdom. Set on the remote north coast of Scotland in the early 70s, this all-stops-out melodrama concerns a naive young woman (Emily Watson in a galvanizing performance) who marries a worldly oil-rig worker (Stellan Skårsgard) despite opposition from her tightly knit Calvinist community. After being paralyzed by an explosion, he persuades her to find a lover and describe her sexual experiences to him. Shot by the great Robby Müller, the film shifts powerfully between dizzying handheld footage (given an unusual texture by having been transferred to video and then back to film) and gorgeous, digitally doctored "chapter headings" that linger meditatively over landscapes to the accompaniment of period pop songs. Improbably combining elements from Carl Dreyer and Federico Fellini, this 159-minute feature shamelessly pushes the audience's emotions to the breaking point. You won't come out of it indifferent, and even if it winds up enraging you (I could have done without most of the ending myself), it nonetheless commands attention. —Jonathan Rosenbaum Sat 10/18, 5 PM.

Comedy of Power screens Tue 10/14, 5:30 PM.
  • Comedy of Power screens Tue 10/14, 5:30 PM.

Comedy of Power Loosely based on a judge's dogged investigation of a corrupt French oil company during the 90s, this 2006 feature is one of Claude Chabrol's most satisfyingly astringent films. Forgoing his usual preoccupation with marital infidelities and familial hypocrisy, he explores something much more insidious: the smugness of powerful men who assume that lining their own pockets and abusing the public trust is their birthright. While a director such as Francesco Rosi would probably confine his indictment of corporate malfeasance to excoriating businessmen and their ties to the government, Chabrol mingles contempt for public odiousness with an interest in sexuality and private life. His fearless, relentless judge is oblivious to her long-suffering husband's feelings of abandonment, and her insistence on giving sleazy men their comeuppance is more a victory over misogyny than an exercise in civic responsibility. Superbly incarnated by Isabelle Huppert (in her fifth starring role for Chabrol), she's almost nunlike in her quiet heroism. In French with subtitles. —Richard M. Porton 100 min. Tue 10/14, 5:30 PM, Music Box, $5.

Fanny and Alexander screens Mon 10/13, 2 PM.
  • Fanny and Alexander screens Mon 10/13, 2 PM.

[Recommended] Fanny and Alexander Ingmar Bergman's 1983 feature, condensed from a much longer TV series, is less an autumnal summation of his career than an investigation of its earliest beginnings: through the figure of ten-year-old Alexander (Bertil Guve), Bergman traces the storytelling urge, developing from dreams and fairy tales into theater and (implicitly) movies. The film doesn't so much surmount Bergman's usual shortcomings—the crude contrasts, heavy symbolism, and preachy philosophizing—as find an effective context for them. Tied to a child's mind, the oversimplifications become the stuff of myth and legend. As in The Night of the Hunter, a realistic psychological drama is allowed to expand into fantasy; the result is one of Bergman's most haunting and suggestive films. With Ewa Fröling and Gunn Wållgren. In Swedish with subtitles. —Dave Kehr 197 min. Mon 10/13, 2 PM.

The Idolmaker screens Sat 10/11, 2:30 PM.
  • The Idolmaker screens Sat 10/11, 2:30 PM.

The Idolmaker A showbiz morality play (1980) with the stern, cautionary tone of the 50s gray-flannel success stories: the protagonist, a rock 'n' roll promoter played with jumpy, empty energy by Ray Sharkey, becomes obsessed with his career at the risk of his soul, though he's rescued by a last-minute infusion of 70s "be yourself" philosophy. The ersatz period score is unusually lively, but the milieu carries no conviction: the details are grotesquely wrong. Taylor Hackford directed, with occasional sharp, manic bursts, but the film is sluggish and sloppy overall, burdened with a dismally redundant plot line. With Peter Gallagher, Joe Pantoliano, Maureen McCormick, and Olivia Dukakis. —Dave Kehr PG, 117 min. Hackford attends the screening. Sat 10/11, 2:30 PM.

Jamaica Inn screens Sun 10/12, 2:30 PM.
  • Jamaica Inn screens Sun 10/12, 2:30 PM.

Jamaica Inn By common consent, this is 1939 drama is one of Alfred Hitchcock's poorest and least personal works, though it has some compensations. The last film he made in Britain before moving to the U.S., it's adapted—like Rebecca, his first American picture—from a Daphne du Maurier novel, about an 18th-century nobleman in Cornwall who doubles as the head of a band of smugglers. If this quirky pasteboard effort belongs to anyone, it's Charles Laughton, who plays the lead with some wit and energy and also served as coproducer. Sidney Gilliat, Joan Harrison, and J.B. Priestley all worked on the script, and Maureen O'Hara, Leslie Banks, and Robert Newton costar. —Jonathan Rosenbaum 98 min. Film historian John Russell Taylor lectures at the screening. Sun 10/12, 2:30 PM.

Mountains of the Moon screens Wed 10/15, 1:30 PM.
  • Mountains of the Moon screens Wed 10/15, 1:30 PM.

Mountains of the Moon Bob Rafelson's ambitious and elusive 1990 account of the African explorations of Richard Burton (Patrick Bergin) and John Speke (Iain Glen) in the mid-19th century, based on the biographical novel Burton and Speke by William Harrison and the journals of Burton and Speke, and scripted by Harrison and Rafelson. The search for the source of the river Nile, filled with adventures and hardships, makes up most of the film, and it works fairly well (with attractive location photography by Roger Deakins). What works less well is the elliptical account of the two men's troubled friendship, which eventually supplants the first story—some debatable liberties have been taken with the historical facts to further muddle matters. (Making Burton an anticolonialist and Speke a repressed homosexual are two examples; the depiction of Burton's wife Isabel—nicely played by Fiona Shaw—is a third.) Rafelson appears to be attempting to make a comment on Burton's heroic distance from Victorian England, but only certain parts of this strategy register with any persuasiveness. With Richard E. Grant, John Savident, and James Villiers. —Jonathan Rosenbaum Following the screening, at 3:45 PM, Rafelson presents at "master class" in film production, drawing on his experience with the film. Wed 10/15, 1:30 PM, Columbia College Film Row Cinema, 1104 S. Michigan, eighth floor. F

Natural Born Killers screens Sun 10/12, 4 PM.
  • Natural Born Killers screens Sun 10/12, 4 PM.

Natural Born Killers Oliver Stone attends this screening of his 122-minute director's cut. Reviewing the original release, which ran 118 minutes, Jonathan Rosenbaum wrote, "Stone lets it all hang out, including common sense, in this freewheeling, heavy-handed music-video-style satire (1994) about a young couple on the run (Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis) who rack up 50 corpses for the fun of it and then spearhead a prison revolt after they're arrested, all with the lip-smacking encouragement of the sleazy media, not to mention Stone himself. The characters are (perhaps deliberately) cut from the thinnest cardboard, while the style is an unbridled smorgasbord of 35-millimeter, 16-millimeter, Super-8, video, animation, and rear projection, raggedly edited and goonishly overacted by everyone involved (including Robert Downey Jr. with an Australian accent, Tommy Lee Jones, Tom Sizemore, and Rodney Dangerfield, who's featured in a wild sitcom parody that provides some of the film's more inventive moments). The show-offy psychedelic manner may keep you interested, just as the sex and violence may keep you titillated—unless, like me, you feel you've seen it all before, in which case you'll be bored out of your skull. Written with David Veloz and Richard Rutowski, the script is said to be based on a story by Quentin Tarantino—which means that a Tarantino script has been both figuratively and literally stoned beyond all recognition." R. Sun 10/12, 4 PM.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest screens Sat 10/18, 4 PM.
  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest screens Sat 10/18, 4 PM.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest This slick and entertaining 1975 film of Ken Kesey's cult novel will inevitably disappoint admirers of director Miloš Forman's earlier work. Jack Nicholson plays McMurphy as if he were born to it, and the supporting cast provides fine, detailed performances. But there is little of Forman's real personality in the film, which smooths over the complexities of his Czechoslovakian work in favor of some mighty simpleminded conceptions of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. With Louise Fletcher, William Redfield, Michael Berryman, Scatman Crothers, and Sidney Lassick. —Dave Kehr R, 133 min. Sat 10/18, 4 PM.

101 Reykjavik screens Sat 10/18, 4 PM.
  • 101 Reykjavik screens Sat 10/18, 4 PM.

101 Reykjavik What happens when Hlynur, a nerdy Icelandic guy, has a one-night stand with his lesbian mother's fiancee that may have got her pregnant? Baltasar Kormákur's 2000 feature doesn't deliver the arctic circle weirdness of the Kaurismaki brothers or the sexual shenanigans of Almodóvar, but it does have some good moments. It's at its best when exploring Hlynur's loser lifestyle at home with mom or his cruising through the pickup bars of Reykjavik, where he finds someone he can treat worse than the local jocks treat him. The introduction of Spanish actress Victoria Abril as his mother's hot-to-trot lover screams of coproduction quotas; she injects a jarring dose of Mediterranean heat just when the comedy seems to be finding its own deadpan Icelandic way. The earnest emphasis on the mother's coming out and the schematic, politically correct resolution don't help. In English and subtitled Icelandic and German. —Barbara Scharres 100 min. Sat 10/11, 12:15 PM.

The Piano Teacher screens Sun 10/12, 4 PM
  • The Piano Teacher screens Sun 10/12, 4 PM

The Piano Teacher For me, a few of Michael Haneke's features are first-rate (The Seventh Continent, The Castle, Code Unknown) but most of the others replay formulas other filmmakers have handled with more style and originality. This 2001 feature about a prim piano teacher (Isabelle Huppert) who lives with her mother (Annie Girardot) and develops a sadomasochistic relationship with a young male pupil (Benoît Magimel) approaches the latter category, although critic Robin Wood has made interesting observations about Haneke's subtle use of music. If you like being shaken up, this is probably for you; Huppert gives her all, and you won't be bored. Haneke adapted an Austrian novel by Nobel Prize winner Elfriede Jelinek; unfortunately but apparently necessarily, due to the conditions of this coproduction, he kept the action in Vienna but cast French actors speaking French. With subtitles. —Jonathan Rosenbaum 129 min. Sun 10/12, 4 PM, Music Box, $5.

Roger and Me screens Wed 10/22, 7 PM.
  • Roger and Me screens Wed 10/22, 7 PM.

Roger & Me Michael Moore's black-comedy documentary (1989) about the consequences of massive layoffs by General Motors in Flint, Michigan, and Moore's unsuccessful attempts to buttonhole Roger Smith, the General Motors chairman, to bring him to Flint to see what his actions have wrought, is certainly impressive for a first feature, as well as bracing proof that movies can be both hugely entertaining and political at the same time. Mixed in with Moore's justifiably lethal anger, however, is a certain sense of glib superiority over Flint's victims as well as its corporate villains that one is invited to share, and the breezy results, while often exhilarating and never boring, are not exactly devoid of cheap shots and journalistic oversimplifications. (The cheerful heartlessness of Reaganism that is the film's subject is not entirely irrelevant to its own methods.) By all means see this, but try not to feel quite as joyful about rampant stupidity, greed, and misery as this movie encourages you to. 91 min. —Jonathan Rosenbaum Moore attends the screening. Wed 10/22, 7 PM.

A Star is Born screens Sat 10/11, 1 PM.
  • A Star is Born screens Sat 10/11, 1 PM.

[Recommended] A Star Is Born The restored version of George Cukor's classic musical melodrama of 1954. Though many of the excised dramatic scenes are still missing (they're bridged here by still pictures matched to the soundtrack), at least one great Cukor moment—the proposal on the sound stage, with its thematic opposition of public and private expression—has been returned to the print. The missing musical numbers turn out to be fairly mediocre (though not as bad as the awful "Born in a Trunk," which was inserted against Cukor's wishes), yet the work gains a great deal in pace and proportion by their reinsertion. The film is still astonishing for Cukor's full and immediate grasp of 'Scope process, which he uses to create shot sequences of tremendous dramatic intensity and emotional counterpoint. With Judy Garland, James Mason (a landmark performance), Jack Carson, Charles Bickford, and Tommy Noonan.—Dave Kehr 170 min. Film historian John Russell Taylor lectures at the screening. Sat 10/11, 1 PM.

White Material screens Tue 10/14, 8 PM.
  • White Material screens Tue 10/14, 8 PM.

[Recommended] White Material In a fictional African country, a helicopter hovers over a French coffee plantation, bringing news to the stubborn white owner (Isabelle Huppert) that France is pulling out and leaving the country to civil war; refusing to evacuate until her crop has been harvested, she takes her chances with the rebel army and its child soldiers. This haunting 2009 drama by Claire Denis (Beau Travail, 35 Shots of Rum) burns with a mute fear and rage at the ongoing atrocities in central Africa. In keeping with the title—an African character's reference to French material goods—Denis seems at first to be mapping the usual postcolonial tensions between native Africans and European entrepreneurs. But as the characters are all swallowed up by war, their little world gradually polarizes into humanity and savagery, with the young (including the woman's unstable grown son) notably inclined toward the latter. With Isaach De Bankolé, Christopher Lambert, and Nicolas Duvauchelle. In French with subtitles. 105 min. —J.R. Jones 105 min. Tue 10/14, 8 PM, Music Box, $5.

White Knights screens Sat 10/11, 5 PM.
  • White Knights screens Sat 10/11, 5 PM.

White Nights Rambo for the wine-and-cheese crowd; the red-baiting here is cultured but no less creepy. After a ballet dancer (Mikhail Baryshnikov) who's defected from the USSR crash-lands in Siberia, an evil apparatchik places him in the charge of a tap dancer (Gregory Hines) who's defected from the U.S. Hines is supposed to reindoctrinate Baryshnikov, but then the Russian turns him on to the latest tunes from the States. Director Taylor Hackford shapes some engaging performances (the surly, withdrawn Baryshnikov of the early scenes is an intriguing figure) but never extricates himself from the plot machinery; this 1985 feature takes off only in the brief but well-filmed dance sequences. With Isabella Rossellini, Geraldine Page, and Helen Mirren. —Dave Kehr PG-13, 135 min. Hackford attends the screening. Sat 10/11, 5 PM. 

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