29th Chicago International Film Festival: The Week's Worth | Festival | Chicago Reader

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FRIDAY, OCTOBER 8

Rudy

A worthy addition to the "faith, grit, and hard work conquers all" genre that includes Rocky and Hoosiers (which was directed by David Anspaugh and written by Angelo Pizzo, the same team that created Rudy). This is a surprisingly involving, deceptively straightforward story of an average--maybe less-than-average--guy who dreams of going to Notre Dame despite his poor grades and playing for the Fighting Irish despite his physical shortcomings ("five foot nothing; weight, a hundred nothing"). Even before legendary coach Ara Parseghian (Jason Miller) says, "I wish some of my players had your heart in their bodies," you may feel you know what's going to happen. So why base a movie on a true story if the Impossible Dream isn't going to come true? The surprise is in the execution: sincere performances and fluid direction do their work. There was as much sniffling at the end as at the end of The Joy Luck Club. (MB) (Pipers Alley, 7:00)

*Rebels of the Neon God

This story of lost and desperate teenagers in Taipei, Taiwan--a kind of cross between Rebel Without a Cause and an adolescent The 400 Blows--is an outstanding first feature, made for a mere $400,000. Director Tsai Ming-liang fills his frame with video games (he found his two unknown male leads in a video parlor), tawdry porno movies, dark, watersoaked apartments, and sterile sex--images that are depressing but utterly appropriate. At the end of the film there's no place for the two young men to go, and the implied indictment of the anomie of modern Taiwanese life is devastating. The last shot, of an anonymous street at night, its traffic lights flashing for no apparent reason, has the same power and rightness as the ending of Antonioni's Eclipse, with its cityscapes completely void of human beings. (PB) (Pipers Alley, 7:00)

*Three Colors: Blue

Poland's Krzysztof Kieslowski is one of the supreme stylists working in today's cinema. In recent years he's developed a distinctive manner of visual expression, relying heavily on filters, distorting lenses, and unusual camera placements to convey ideas and emotions not readily evident through dialogue alone. He specializes in fragile moral tales (his Decalogue series, The Double Life of Veronique), sketching the characters and situations only lightly to leave room for the viewer's interpretation. The French-produced Three Colors: Blue is his most stylistically consistent and emotionally complete film yet. The plot line is rather simple, following a few months in the life of Julie (Juliette Binoche), a young woman who survives a car accident that claims the lives of her husband and daughter. Initially depressed and lonely, Julie slowly builds enough inner strength to accept her new situation and confront some unresolved issues. The story has a few surprising turns and plenty of hard choices for the protagonist, but it's less what they are than how they're crafted that defines the substance of this film. All technical aspects are impressive here, particularly the cinematography and music, the expressive use of which is another of the director's trademarks. Three Colors: Blue is the first installment of a triptych based loosely on the three ideals of the French Revolution: liberty, equality, and fraternity. It was first shown at this year's Venice film festival, where it shared the Golden Lion prize and Binoche won an acting award. The next two feature-length parts, White and Red, are slated to premiere at the upcoming Berlin and Cannes festivals. If the exquisite Blue is any indication, Kieslowski may well be on his way to an unprecedented win of cinema's triple crown. (ZB) (Music Box, 7:00)

*The Day of Despair

In some respects this is largely a footnote to the two towering works of Portuguese master Manoel de Oliveira, Doomed Love (1978) and Francisca (1981). The first of these is a four-hour adaptation of Camilo Castelo Branco's classic 19th-century novel that deserves a place alongside Greed and Berlin Alexanderplatz as one of the key translations of a novel into film; the second, nearly three hours long, adapts a novel about Castelo Branco himself. The 76-minute The Day of Despair (1992), which completes the Castelo Branco trilogy, is derived from the correspondence of the novelist, whose growing blindness drove him to take his own life at the age of 65. Made when de Oliveira was 83, it's a reflective, spare modernist work--less accessible than his more recent The Valley of Abrabam, but much more moving than that film or the vastly inferior The Divine Comedy (1991), shown at the Chicago Film Festival last year. It's a thoughtful and provocative introduction to the greatest of all Portuguese filmmakers. (JR) (Pipers Alley, 7:15)

Something Within Me

Emma Joan Morris's joyous documentary examines the innovative curriculum at the Saint Augustine School of the Arts, a school in the South Bronx that was on the verge of being shut down. She records the small, private pleasures of its turnaround without trying to wedge in metaphorical insights, and the spontaneity and truth of her film has an immense emotional pull. Casually slipping into these kids' lives, Morris shows a teacher imploring a young saxophonist to improvise on a Sonny Rollins number, then shows how the student adapts this training to his science class. The film makes explicit the connection between children's creativity and their sense of self-worth. It also shows how the adminstration has moved away from a strict religious indoctrination to a practical discussion of morality and behavior, because only one-fifth of the school's students are Catholic. The rousing climax is a year-end concert, where the principles and ideas the students have learned about are fully expressed. (PZM) (Pipers Alley, 7:15)

Little Blond Death

Jean van de Velde's cryptofascist Dutch film is a dishonest and muddled reworking of Robert Benton's Kramer vs. Kramer within an aggressive punk context. Valentine, a virulently misogynist poet and performance artist, has a roadside sexual encounter with Mieke, his former grade-school teacher. When Mieke announces he's the father of her unborn child, Valentine dismisses her claim. Yet seven years later, when Mieke is taking out her rage and frustration at Valentine's sexual rejection on their son, Micky, Valentine takes the boy in. Micky is now around to see Valentine go on sex and drug binges, though somehow this doesn't seem to affect the child. Yet Valentine, naturally, proves more intuitive and loving than Mieke, while Micky helps transform Valentine into a less self-absorbed and narcissistic father. The director has no interest in penetrating Mieke's psyche; she's the prototypical wounded avenger. And he can't find a consistent tone to mask the implausible pretext. The film opens with an awkwardly staged and hysterically rendered prologue that reveals Valentine's tortured childhood and his demonic, violent father; it descends into desperation with a last-act spiritual crisis that wholly distorts the relationship of father and son. This is an ugly, mean-spirited work that isn't helped by its garish color scheme and design. (PZM) (Pipers Alley, 9:00)

Inge, April and May

A tragicomic German feature directed by Wolfgang Kohlhaase and Gabriel Deneke about the efforts of a Berlin resident during World War II to consummate his love for a woman just before the Russians seize the city. (Pipers Alley, 9:00)

The Snapper

At the Cannes film festival British director Stephen Frears's (My Beautiful Laundrette, The Grifters) new film was proclaimed by some as this year's Strictly Ballroom for its crowd-pleasing qualities. There's no doubt about it, the film captivates audiences. At Cannes and at recent screenings at the Toronto film festival this cheeky little comedy, which ripples out from the predicament of a pregnant Irish teenager who refuses to reveal the father of her child, had them enthralled, laughing from beginning to end. But why? The production values are strictly made-for-TV, and so are the sitcom-style performances: when thoroughly charming characters (Colm Meaney is particularly charming as Dad) stand around in the kitchen tossing one-liners at one another, it seems like they ought to be seen in half-hour episodes a week apart. Nevertheless The Snapper may be destined to become an art-house hit. (Scharres) (Pipers Alley, 9:15)

Tales and Tallies of the Courtyard

This documentary by filmmaker and anthropologist Elaine de Latour was shot inside the closed quarters reserved for the wives and children of an Islamic chieftain in Nigeria. It's respectful and rather slow paced, yet offers sufficient surprises and contradictions to hold the viewer's interest. For instance, even though confined, some of the women are successful entrepreneurs, running their businesses through male intermediaries. But oddly enough, one can't avoid the impression that the more things change, the more they remain the same. As the first four wives talk about the high cost of marrying off their daughters and share their feelings about the chief's attraction for his new and younger fifth wife, I could have sworn I was overhearing a conversation at my local coffeehouse. (PE) (Pipers Alley, 9:15)

Twinkle

George Matsuoka's Japanese feature about the perils of being gay in Japan focuses on a closet homosexual doctor who winds up in a marriage of convenience with a translator (played by former teen idol Hiroko Yakushimaru); chaos ensues when the bride's parents discover his sexual identity and his gay relationship runs into trouble. (Music Box, 9:15)

SATURDAY. OCTOBER 9

Little Blond Death

See listing under Friday, October 8. (Pipers Alley, 3:00)
Inge, April and May
See listing under Friday, October 8. (Pipers Alley, 3:00)
Shorts Program #1
Kieron J. Walsh's Shooting to Stardom, Myles Connell's In Uncle Robert's Footsteps, David Munro's Bullethead, Andrew Kotting's Smart Alek, and Kevin Burget's Park Tragedy. (Music Box, 3:00)

*Rebels of the Neon God

See listing under Friday, October 8. (Pipers Alley, 3:15)

Something Within Me

See listing under Friday, October 8. (Pipers Alley, 3:15)

*Three Colors: Blue

See listing under Friday, October 8. (Pipers Alley, 5:00)

*The Day of Despair

See listing under Friday, October 8. (Pipers Alley, 5:00)

Tales and Tallies of the Courtyard

See listing under Friday, October 8. (Pipers Alley, 5:15)

Shorts Program #3

Jane Weinstock's weird and unsettling The Clean Up, Ethan Spigland's The Strange Case of Balthazar Hyppolite, Valerie Buhagiar's The Passion of Rita Camilleri, Ken Webb's The Walters, Tessa Sheridan's Alien Corn, and Matthew Duchesne's Fire Babies. (Pipers Alley, 5:15)

One Nation Under God

A documentary on the changing attitudes toward gays in America over the last four decades, this is a fascinating collage: part history of homosexuality, part chronicle of a gay relationship, and part indictment of the growing influence of new Christian groups like Exodus International that seek to transform gays into heterosexuals. The inclusion of rare medical footage of psychotherapeutic techniques once used to "cure" gays through reparative therapy, aversion therapy, and "orgasmic-reassignment" therapy may seem horrifying, sad, outrageous, even humorous by today's standards. But as the film proves, homophobia is still alive and well. (PE) (Music Box, 5:15)

Bank Robber

Both straight story telling and parody, Bank Robber updates the classic tale of a gentleman criminal by turning it into low-key comedy. Patrick Dempsey plays the role of Billy, an impeccably dressed young man who robs banks without being greedy or violent about it. His world is rather simple, filled with dreams of spending happy moments with his girlfriend on a quiet beach. Bank robbing is seen as just a job--actually a natural choice given his family tradition. But Billy's luck ends when his image is captured by a bank camera. He's forced to run, finding refuge in a bizarre run-down hotel reminiscent of the one in Barton Fink. Confined to his room for days, he's visited by an array of odd characters, among them a pushy pizza delivery man, a drug dealer, and a hooker whose heart he wins. While many of the scenes in Bank Robber are enjoyably fresh, it doesn't have the stylistic boldness or the consistency of Barton Fink. Despite a familiar cast--Lisa Bonet, Forrest Whitaker, and Judge Reinhold--this is not a big-budget film, and it doesn't pretend to be. Everything about it, from the comedic concepts to the set design, is decisively on the side of camp. (ZB) (Pipers Alley, 7:00)

The Sex of the Stars

Gender switching is at the center of a family drama in The Sex of the Stars, Quebecois director Paule Baillargeon's first feature since the 1979 La cuisine rouge. The Sex of the Stars, which elicited a less-than-enthusiastic response from the opening-night crowd at this year's Montreal film festival, is adapted from a novel by Monique Proulx about a bright, sensitive 12-year-old named Camille who idolizes her absent father. Unfortunately, the film's catalytic event--the reappearance of her dad, once Pierre-Henri, now Marie-Pierre--doesn't work dramatically. His motive for returning is never made clear, and the actor who plays him never looks like anything other than a man dressed as a woman. Poor Marie-Pierre is rarely given anything more substantial to do than flip through fashion magazines and sew extra-large dress patterns. The film does succeed in capturing some of the emotional trauma caused by a broken home, but audience members may wish Marie-Pierre, in the words of Camille's mother, had remained "the absent one who can do no wrong." (AS) (Music Box, 7:00)

*Bhaji on the Beach

This surefire crowd pleaser is also an immensely accomplished first feature. It offers a poignant and humorous look at a range of Anglo-Indian women and the pressures they face reconciling the demands of tradition and family with life in a Western culture. The values of the contemporary British society they want to be a part of--on their own terms--strain their relationships with both their elders and Anglo-Indian men. Director Gurinder Chadha and screenwriter Meera Syal allow these issues to surface naturally and comically in the context of a day trip to the seaside sponsored by an Asian women's center. Away from everyday problems the women have an opportunity to reflect on the assumptions that have guided their lives and are able to draw strength from one another's company. Chadha adds clever visual counterpoint to the story by conveying an older woman's alienation through sequences that parody the popular Indian cinema. (AS) (Pipers Alley, 7:15)

Darkness in Tallinn

Though the Baltic states recently regained their independence, they remain as enigmatic as ever to much of the world. One might expect Darkness in Tallinn, an Estonian-Finnish production, to shed a little light on the identity of Estonia, where it's set. But if Ilkka Jarvilaturi's quirky feature is even half accurate in depicting life there, Estonia is the weirdest place on earth. The ostensible subject of the film is the heist of a huge shipment of gold by the Estonian mafia. Their scheme is to cut off the power supply to the entire city, then ship the loot out of the country in the form of gold-filled cigarettes. Deadpan comedy, straight drama, storybook romance, political commentary, deadly violence, and fairy-tale miracles all find their way into this intriguing, though poorly edited, hodgepodge of scenes. To the film's credit, it maintains an aura of irreverence even during the most serious moments. Looked at from a certain angle, the realistic and the bizarre in today's Estonia are apparently one and the same. (ZB) (Pipers Alley, 7:15)

Morocco Body and Soul Music Program #1

The first of two programs devoted to short films by Izza Genini about Morocco and its music; included here are Hymns of Praise, Gnaouas, and Aita. (Pipers Alley, 7:15)

The Conjugal Bed

This angry, hilarious film about life in postrevolutionary Romania tells its story in the typical Eastern European manner--through powerful visual images and a quasi-hallucinatory, stylized narrative filled with shouting, unpleasant people. The film follows the fortunes of one semicrazed, desperate Vasile, the owner of a movie theater who needs hard currency to keep his mistress happy and to get his wife an abortion. His wife wants to have the baby so they can sell it, and his mistress soon declares her independence by starting a do-it-yourself pornography studio in Vasile's "conjugal bedroom." Director Mircea Daneliuc is bitterly cynical concerning the prospects of the "new" Romania, and it shows. The Conjugal Bed features a few bathroom scenes, nasty or perfunctory sex, and a violent, wonderfully different comic spirit simply not available in Western cinema. (PB) (Pipers Alley, 9:00)

Naked

Mike Leigh won the best-director award at Cannes for this film, and everyone with standards is declaring it a great film. But is the praise just a little much? Will anyone out there in the real world--noncritics, regular people--want to sit through 126 minutes of unmitigated ugliness, cynicism, and subterranean horror? What is learned rubbing so long and hard against the crushed, smashed, demolished creatures who populate Leigh's lumpen, nighttime London? Yes, David Thewlis's lead performance is brilliant (another Cannes winner), but who can bear two hours with this demented, corrosive, woman-beating, battered-brain genius? Especially when there's no illumination, and certainly none of the pockets of post-Thatcher hope and humanity that light up Leigh's masterly High Hopes and Life Is Sweet. (GP) (Music Box, 9:00)

When I Close My Eyes

Billed as Slovenia's first independent feature, this psychopolitical study portrays an aloof postal clerk, Ana, played by Petra Govc (her first film) with nuanced ennui. Ana's mailman father was nailed to a tree by government thugs when she was a little girl. After discovering his corpse, she gathered up the letters spilled from his satchel. Later she turns into both a thief and a detective as she traces her father's ill-fated career and is robbed by an astrology nut on a motorcycle who shoots her with a Polaroid instead of a pistol. This is an intriguing ensemble of elements, but director Franci Slak, who studied cinema at Poland's Lodz film school, fails to orchestrate them. Instead of teasing us with its opacity, his drama feels unfinished. (Stamets) (Pipers Alley, 9:15)

*The Red Squirrel

Spain's Julio Medem more than fulfills the promise of his debut feature Cows (seen at last year's festival) with this playful thriller, which he describes as "an antimacho parable in the form of a mystery comedy." Romantic and slightly obscene, the complex plot builds from an audacious lie told by Jay, a washed-up rock musician who claims that a beautiful amnesiac is his longtime girlfriend. Attempting to fashion the woman of his dreams, he supplies the woman with details of their alleged relationship, especially their sex life. But Jay's deception is only one of many that unfold when the two take refuge at the Red Squirrel campsite. The film's visual style shares the absurd humor and effrontery of its plot: still photographs come to life and segue into flashbacks; ominous dreams predict future confrontations; and the myth of the vagina dentata is given literal bite. Named best foreign film in the "Directors Fortnight" at this year's Cannes film festival. (AS) (Pipers Alley, 9:15)

Colorado Cowboy: The Bruce Ford Story

Arthur Elgort's distinctive documentary is nearly undone by some questionable formal strategies, though the intelligence and self-effacement of its subject, virtuoso Oklahoma bull rider Bruce Ford, transcend any stylistic limitations. This free-form, impressionistic film suggests the works of Bruce Weber and Gus Van Sant, as well as Nicholas Ray's The Lusty Men, in dramatizing the essential conflict of a rodeo, the tension between social stability and the cowboy's reckless, passionate need for self-expression. Elgort alternates film stocks, moving between painterly black and white; grainy, high-contrast black and white; color archival footage; and color Super-8 home movies. But the compositions are too arty, the images too pretty and studied. Elgort also fetishizes Ford through a succession of slow-motion montages. The film's real power is in the loose, casual interviews with Ford, a smart, reflective thinker who subtly disrupts the iconography; his sly confidence registers on every frame, his skilled craftsmanship and dedication reveal the tenacity and fervor of a true artist. (PZM) (Pipers Alley, 9:15)

SUNDAY, OCTOBER 10

*The Red Squirrel

See listing under Saturday, October 9. (Pipers Alley, 3:00)

*The Day of Despair

See listing under Friday, October 8 (Pipers Alley, 3:00)

Shorts Program #2

Tim Southam's Dober Man, Benoit Cohen's Lola Posse, Bruno De Almeida's The Debt, Christina Andreef's Excursion to the Bridge of Friendship, Jesse Peretz's Six Hours From Cleveland, Justin Chadwick's Walking the Line, Andrew Lancaster's Palace Cafe, Monica Pellizzari's Just Desserts, Juan de Llaca's Me voy a escapar, and Nicole Mitchell's Spring Ball. (Music Box, 3:00)

*Rebels of the Neon God

See listing under Friday, October 8. (Pipers Alley, 3:15)

Colorado Cowboy: The Bruce Ford Story

See listing under Saturday, October 9. (Pipers Alley, 3:15)

Twinkle

See listing under Friday, October 8. (Pipers Alley, 5:00)

One Nation Under God

See listing under Saturday, October 9. (Music Box, 5:00)

The Sex of the Stars

See listing under Saturday, October 9. (Pipers Alley, 5:15)

Shorts Program #3

See listing under Saturday, October 9. (Pipers Alley, 5:15)

*Bhaji on the Beach

See listing under Saturday, October 9. (Pipers Alley, 5:30)

Autumn Moon

Autumn Moon is an exquisite portrait of modern Hong Kong. A young Japanese tourist who speaks no Cantonese visits the city and meets a young Chinese woman at a famous harbor-watching spot. Since the film is wonderfully free of cliches, no romance develops. Instead they become friends, and she takes him home to eat her grandmother's delicious meals. The woman's parents are in Canada, where they've decided to stay; they have no intention of sending for their daughter. As the narrative moves on, the Japanese youth and the young woman learn a good deal about themselves and the future; they also learn that cultural barriers can come down. Visually, the film is more than striking. No one has ever captured Hong Kong on film exactly this way. Director Clara Law has labored so that cool colors, particularly blue, carry much of the emotional thrust of the film. She has also drawn her characters so well that the most subtle interplay between them and the city has a major impact. Law's own memories of the old ways and her partial remove from them over the years are the base of this deeply moving and often hilarious film. (DO) (Music Box, 7:00)

Lolo

Shot in the slums of Mexico City, reportedly with the permission of local gang leaders, this feature by Francisco Athie is about the escalating violence and hardship experienced by a foundry worker and his lover as they fight for survival. (Pipers Alley, 7:15)

Making Up

The antics of two female friends, one of them the creator of a comic strip called Rubi, the Mosquito Woman, are the focus of this German feature directed by Katja von Garnier. (Pipers Alley, 7:15)

Morocco Body and Soul Music, Program #2

The second of two programs devoted to short films by Izza Genini about Morocco and its music; eight films will be screened, including Embroidered Canticles, Lutes and Delights, Songs for a Shabbat. (Pipers Alley, 7:15)

The Snapper

See listing under Friday, October 8. (Pipers Alley, 7:30)

Domenica

A German feature directed by actor Peter Kern (Crazy Boys, Streetchild) about an orphan who works as a brothel bookkeeper, then as a prostitute, and finally, after rebelling against the pimps, as a brothel owner. (Pipers Alley, 9:00)

Ludwig 1881

A Swiss-German production, directed by Donatello Dubini and Fosco Dubini, about an 1881 trip taken by King Ludwig of Bavaria with an actor named Josef Kainz, both under assumed names, to the Lake of the Four Cantons, where Kainz is to perform scenes from Schiller's William Tell. (Pipers Alley, 9:00)

Middle of Nowhere

A Mexican thriller directed by Hugo Rodriguez about a couple and their adolescent son living in an isolated roadside diner who encounter three escaped convicts. (Pipers Alley, 9:00)

Darkness in Tallinn

See listing under Saturday, October 9. (Pipers Alley, 9:15)

*Alice in Wondertown

This controversial Cuban film, which has received only limited screenings in its homeland, is loosely based on Lewis Carroll's well-known political allegory, taking a grown-up Alice on a journey through what passes for life in modern-day Cuba. Innocent about the workings of the system, Alice must negotiate her way through a maze of obstacles--the socialist parallel to the Mad Hatter's tea party and the Queen of Hearts' croquet game. The film, directed by Daniel Diaz Torres, is laced with irony. It has a hilarious scene in an insect-infested hotel; other scenes provide an irreverent view of Marxist ideology and "the worker's paradise" in the fictitious city of Maravillas. It helps to have some familiarity with current problems in Cuba, but most viewers will be able to pick up enough to get the point, even if they miss many of the in-jokes. If you liked Delicatessen, this film should also appeal. (PE) (Music Box, 9:15)

MONDAY, OCTOBER 11

The Sex of the Stars

See listing under Saturday, October 9. (Pipers Alley, 5:00)

The Conjugal Bed

See listing under Saturday, October 9. (Pipers Alley, 5:00)

*The Red Squirrel

See listing under Saturday, October 9. (Pipers Alley, 5:00)

Unexpected Encounter

The much-praised Mexican filmmaker Jaime Humberto Hermosillo directed this feature starring Lucha Villa as a singer and movie star who's accused by her new maid (Maria Rojo) of manufacturing her past to suit her current reputation and abandoning her daughter--whom the maid claims to be--at any early age. (Music Box, 5:00)

*Bhaji on the Beach

See listing under Saturday, October 9. (Pipers Alley, 5:15)

Seventh Horse From the Sun

The title of this handsomely photographed but frequently rambling romantic drama from India is taken from a local creation myth. It seems that the seventh member of the team of horses that pull the sun across the sky each day represents the future. How that applies to this 1992 film directed by Shyam Benegal, who was honored with a six-film retrospective at last year's festival, is not as easily explained. This ambitious study of the nature of romance, fate, and truth is somewhat lighter in tone than much of his previous work. It is the story of the romantic exploits of a loquacious railway mail clerk, told in an interconnected and everevolving series of flashbacks to his attentive, easily impressed circle of male friends. Benegal does treat his characters in a realistic manner by rejecting the idealism typical of many Indian films. But while this art-house "horse" completes the race, it doesn't finish in the money. (DP) (Pipers Alley, 7:00)

The Ditvoorst Domains

Adriaan Ditvoorst, who committed suicide at 47, was at the forefront of the new Dutch cinema that began in the 60s and lasted two decades. While he's relatively unknown in North America, Godard, Bertolucci, and other European filmmakers and critics thought of him as a major talent. Thom Hoffman, who acted in Ditvoorst's White Madness and became a close friend, has carefully wrought a portrait of the director that also gives us a clear explanation of how the new Dutch cinema came about and then disappeared. This is both an indispensable film on a major movement in European filmmaking and an intense and moving personal tribute to a friend. It is also Hoffman's first film as director, which makes it worth more than passing notice. (DO) (Pipers Alley, 7:00)

Split: William to Chrysis--Portrait of a Drag Queen

This is an hour-long video documentary about the life of legendary drag queen Chrysis. Through interviews with his friends and colleagues, we're given glimpses of his intriguing life, from his tumultuous adolescence (his wealthy socialite parents had him committed to a mental hospital for cross-dressing) to his relationship with Salvador Dali to his work as a successful cabaret performer. But filmmakers Ellen Fisher Turk and Andrew Weeks concentrate so heavily on recounting show-business stories that they wind up reinforcing the mystique of the performer rather than revealing anything of substance about the person behind the facade--unfortunate, given the wealth of material buried here. On the same program, two shorts, P[l]ain Truth and Until the Cure, I Offer the Care. (RP) (Music Box, 7:00)

When I Close My Eyes

See listing under Saturday, October 9. (Pipers Alley, 7:15)

Twinkle

See listing under Friday, October 8. (Pipers Alley, 7:15)

Domenico

See listing under Sunday, October 10. (Pipers Alley, 9:00)

*Child Murders

This is clearly the best film to come out of Hungary this year--which is saying a lot, for despite the fear and loathing most American distributors manifest when the subject is mentioned, Hungarian cinema is one of the most artistically accomplished in the world. Ildiko Szabo's Child Murders tells the story of Zsolt, a young boy forced to care for his eccentric former-actress grandmother, and Juli, a pregnant Gypsy girl he befriends, despite the beatings and ridicule from other children the friendship brings. When Juli miscarries the two get rid of the baby's body, but they're turned in to the police by a young girl who loves to torment them. Ultimately Zsolt gets his revenge. A good old-fashioned "art" movie: black-and-white, intense, psychologically deep, and visually powerful. (PB) (Music Box, 9:00)

*Autumn Moon

See listing under Sunday, October 10. (Pipers Alley, 9:15)

Making Up

See listing under Sunday, October 10. (Pipers Alley, 9:15)

Middle of Nowhere

See listing under Sunday, October 10. (Pipers Alley, 9:30)

TUESDAY, OCTOBER 12

Making Up

See listing under Sunday, October 10. (Pipers Alley, 5: 00)

When I Close My Eyes

See listing under Saturday, October 9. (Pipers Alley, 5:00)

Woman of the Night

A first feature by Mexican filmmaker Eva Lopez-Sanchez, based on a novel of the same tide by David Martin del Campo, concerns a western novelist summoned to Veracruz by his lover to help her get rid of a corpse. (Pipers Alley, 5:00)

Split: William to Chrysis--Portrait of a Drug Queen

See listing under Monday, October 11. (Music Box, 5: 00)

The Conjugal Bed

See listing under Saturday, October 9. (Pipers Alley, 5:15)

Just Friends

The year is 1959. In Chicago, White Sox fans are celebrating the pennant win. But across the Atlantic in the Belgian port of Antwerp jazz is what occupies the minds of an intimate circle of struggling young artists and performers. Much in the manner of Paul Mazursky's Next Stop, Greenwich Village, this sentimental and universal story is constantly brightened by the music and the occasional odd detail, such as an artist's model being courted by a man in a suit of armor or the story of how the name Antwerp is derived from a legend involving the severing of a giant's hand by the cousin of Julius Caesar. Director and cowriter Marc-Henri Wajnberg hits a wide variety of notes in this 95-minute cinematic riff, which is improvised around the story of getting a talented but impetuous tenor-saxophone player off the Antwerp docks and on his way to New York City. The convincing solos of lead actor Josse De Pauw, an engaging Flemish performer, are provided by Archie Shepp; the original music is composed by Michel Herr. (DP) (Pipers Alley, 7:00)

Seventh Horse From the Sun

See listing under Monday, October 11. (Pipers Alley, 7:00)

Unexpected Encounter

See listing under Monday, October 11. (Pipers Alley, 7:00)

Animation Program

Eleven shorts: from England, An Vrombaut's Little Wolf, Charlie Lovett's Wubba, Eoin Clarke's Buzz, Mark Baker's The Village, Barry Purves's Screen Play, and Nick Park's The Wrong Trousers; from the U.S., Jamie Maxfield's Above Average, Madeline Figueroa's Hospital Dream, and John Callahan's I Think I Was an Alcoholic; from Australia, Dennis Tupicoff's The Darra Dogs; and from Switzerland, Jonas Raeber's Hoffen auf Bessere Zeiten. (Music Box, 7:00)

*Alice In Wondertown

See listing under Sunday, October 10. (Pipers Alley, 7:15)

Under One Roof

Three very different women try to share a crowded apartment without killing one another in this strident movie from Brazil. One woman, a widowed piano teacher, spends most of her time lamenting her dead husband, resenting one of her roommates for her wild social and sexual life, and doting on the youngest roommate, a paranoid schizophrenic. The three women fight over men, clothing, and use of the shower. Director Paulo Thiago doesn't have the slightest clue how he wants all of this to play out. One minute the film appears to be a farce, the next a melodrama. Add to this some primitive editing and an overwrought sound track and what one gets is something that resembles those hysterical Latin American soap operas on Telemundo. (RP) (Pipers Alley, 9:00)

*Autumn Moon

See listing under Sunday, October 10. (Pipers Alley, 9:15)

Bank Robber

See listing under Saturday, October 9. (Pipers Alley, 9:15)

The Inheritance

A comedy from the Czech Republic by Vera Chytilova (Daisies, The Apple Game) about a village drunk who, after the collapse of communism and the restitution of private property, discovers that he suddenly owns a brickyard, a deluxe hotel, and several shops, among other things. (Music Box, 9:15)

Lois

See listing under Sunday, October 10. (Pipers Alley, 9:30)

WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 13

*Alice in Wondertown

See listing under Sunday, October 10. (Pipers Alley, 5:00)

The Ditvoorst Domains

See listing under Monday, October 11. (Pipers Alley, 5:00)

Animation Program

See listing under Tuesday, October 12. (Music Box, 5:00)

Lolo

See listing under Sunday, October 10. (Pipers Alley, 5:15)

Ludwig 1881

See listing under Sunday, October 10. (Pipers Alley, 5:15)

*Child Murders

See listing under Monday, October 11. (Pipers Alley, 7:00)

*The Blue Kite

Director Tian Zhuangzhuang is no stranger to controversy. Two of his previous films, On the Hunting Ground (1985) and The Horse Thief (1986), were held back from export by Chinese authorities who thought they weren't politically correct. The Blue Kite was nearly finished in 1991, when several officials who saw it decided it had problems in its political "leanings." Postproduction work stopped, and the film had to be completed outside official channels. The story is of one Chinese family's experiences during the political changes and social upheavals of the 50s and 60s. It's told through the eyes of a young boy, played by three actors as an infant, a child, and a teenager. His mother marries three times, each marriage leading to disaster, and the extended family, neighbors, and landladies add their own joys and agonies. All of the film's events and characters are based on Tian's own memories or those of his friends, and he's careful to root the drama in a proper historical context. The film is visually exquisite, its emotions true. As the members of the "fifth generation" continue to tell their own stories, we can begin to grasp the reality of China's history. (DO) (Music Box, 7:00)

Under One Reef

See listing under Tuesday, October 12. (Pipers Alley, 7:15)

Community Cinema

Two short independent films made by local filmmakers: Todd Robinson's Angel Fire, a thriller set in a mill town, and Ben Broitman's Amphibian, about a young boy estranged from his parents who invites the girl next door to come look at his fish. (Pipers Alley, 7:15)

*Lillian

David Williams's acute, transcendent study of the selflessness of a real woman--Lillian Foley, a 57-year-old southern black woman--has an unadorned, heartfelt purity. The film's fierce naturalism suggests documentary: the story develops from incidents and details in Foley's life. Yet the balance of the cast is composed of actors, and the scenes they play veer from fully thought out to elaborate improvisation as they detail Lillian's personal sacrifices caring for the invisible (neglected children) and the forgotten (the elderly poor). It's a film about discoveries and small, almost incidental pleasures that, strung together, carry tremendous power. It isn't visually daring, though cinematographer Robert Griffith has a keen sense of how to light faces and individualize characters. Every scene carries a charge of truth and surprise, creating a portrait that"s neither sentimental nor simple. (PZM) (Pipers Alley, 7:15)

Gorilla Bathes at Noon

The best-known Yugoslavian director--when there was a Yugoslavia--Dusan Makavejev has been making films around the world for the last decade and a half that never quite match his exhilarating Belgrade-produced classics from the 60s and 70s, including the tart, dazzling collages of fictional narrative, found documentary, kitsch, and Brechtian interludes Man Is Not a Bird and WR: Mysteries of the Organism. Gorillas Bathe at Noon, though no breakthrough, is still a modest step for Makavejev in connecting with politics and cultural criticism again. A Soviet officer (Svetozar Cvetkovic) remains in Berlin after the wall falls, wandering about trying to make sense of a post-Marx world. He's there when the Lenin memorial comes down (a real-life documentary moment). It can't be denied: Makavejev, the most brazenly anti-Stalinist of Eastern European directors, is waxing a bit nostalgic for the commie days. (GP) (Pipers Alley, 9: 00)

Just Friends

See listing under Tuesday, October 12. (Pipers Alley, 9:15)

The Lotus Eaters

Coming-of-age stories, in which rebellion and growth are catalyzed by a charismatic outsider, seem to be a staple of all national cinemas. This quintessentially Canadian version of a familiar tale adds nothing new to the genre, but it's so, well, nice. The restless spirit of the 60s finally arrives on one of the islands off British Columbia in 1964, embodied in the shapely form of Miss Andrews, a young schoolteacher from Montreal whose ideas about education, authority, and love collide with the orderly existence of the Kingswood family. While mostly comic, the story broaches serious issues and provides a realistic treatment of the repercussions of infidelity. Director Paul Shapiro stresses the charm of the islanders' fabled eccentricities and draws admirably modulated performances from both child and adult actors. (AS) (Pipers Alley, 9:15)

Floundering

Set against the hallucinatory backdrop of postriot Los Angeles, producer Peter McCarthy's first feature film as a director is a quirky comedy about an out-of-work 30-year-old (James Le Gros) who's suffering from insomnia and a major existential crisis. When he's not out looking for work or listening to deadbeat friends explain the meaning of life to him, he's obsessing about the cause of the riots and fantasizing about bumping off the Daryl Gate-slike police chief who seems to taunt him from his television set. The alternately bleak and surreal tones of the film blend more successfully than the characters, who waver between the realistic and the one-dimensional. The film also veers off on some pretentious tangents at times, particularly during Le Gros's monologues. Yet on the whole Floundering is an amusing and engaging piece of work. (RP) (Pipers Alley, 9:15)

Seven Songs for Malcom X

This project by the Black Audio Film Collective in London, directed by John Akomfrah, adds little to the X phenomenon beyond the chance to meet the real-life Shorty, who was played by Spike Lee in his X epic. Akomfrah hooks his documentary to the hype around Lee's movie, but doesn't explore the terrain. Instead he offers mannered interviews interrupted by an odd selection of archival clips of atomic-bomb blasts, Korean war combat, and civil rights marchers hit by fire hoses. Pretentiously executed, the film suffers from the obligatory postmod look of too many documentaries funded by the BBC's Channel Four. Its ideologically progressive exercises are routinely packaged with reflexive gestures borrowed from performance art; here, books orbit around the head of a boy playing Malcolm in his school days, a rifle hangs overhead when an adult Malcolm impersonator recites militant passages, toy airplanes suspended by wires illustrate flights to Mecca. Akomfrah has yet to master what Malcolm X called the "science of imagery." (Stamets) (Music Box, 9:30)

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 14

Just Friends

See listing under Tuesday, October 12. (Pipers Alley, 5:00)

Under One Roof

See listing under Tuesday, October 12. (Pipers .Alley, 5:00)

Seven Songs for Malcolm X

See listing under Wednesday, October 13. (Music Box, 5:00)

*Child Murders

See listing under Monday, October 11. (Pipers Alley, 5:15)

Short Documentaries

Two films: Claire Hunt and Kim Longinotto's 52-minute The Good Wife of Tokyo from England, about "the state of the traditional Japanese marriage in contemporary times," and Christopher Tuckfield's 53-minute The Journey From Australia, about a man named Billie Sinclair who's deaf and blind. (Pipers Alley, 5:15)

*The Blue Kite

See listing under Wednesday, October 13. (Pipers Alley, 7:00)

The Inheritance

See listing under Tuesday, October 12. (Pipers Alley, 7:00)

*The Women From the Lake of Scented Souls

Xie Fei's feature, which shared the Golden Bear grand prize this year at Berlin with The Wedding Banquet, is a haunting feminist tale from mainland China about a hardworking, enterprising village woman who becomes suddenly rich when a Japanese entrepreneur (also a woman) buys into her sesame-oil mill. But all is not perfect. The village woman is enmeshed in an adulterous affair and has a retarded adult son to deal with. The son is married off to a poor village girl, who soon finds herself victimized by him as he paws and claws at her body trying to make love. The girl's tragedy comes to dominate the film, and women's suffering is treated as sympathetically and as elegiacally as in the classic Japanese films of Mizoguchi. (GP) (Music Box, 7:00)

The Case of Maria Soledad

The year is 1990. In the Argentinean province of Catamarca a local teenager is raped and murdered, her body mutilated. The crime appears to be an act of random violence, but is it? Based on a true story, The Case of Maria Soledad goes beyond the mystery genre to hold the political elite responsible for Argentina's pervasive corruption and atmosphere of terror. After the initial investigation of the murder implicates several youngsters from prominent local families, the police purposely begin to drag their feet, violating every principle of fairness and justice along the way. Only an extraordinary effort on the part of the local citizens, especially the victim's classmates, keeps the investigation going. If this story sounds familiar, it should. Over the past decade quite a few Argentinean films (e.g., The Official Story) have been made on this and related subjects--and most have been more persuasive. Though well-documented, The Case of Maria Soledad maintains its focus on the issue of social injustice, subordinating all dramatic and stylistic considerations. Accordingly, most of the film's characters (the good nun, the frightened classmate) come across as more archetypal than real; the use of flashbacks is predictable and choppy; and many of the damning allegations go unsubstantiated. It becomes evident that something is wrong in Argentina, but exactly what is far from clear, especially given that the investigation isn't faring any better today under the new, democratic government. This could have been an emotionally haunting suspense film or a sharp documentary. Instead it's merely good intentions translated into pedestrian cinema. (ZB) (Pipers Alley, 7:15)

The Escorts

Of the spate of new films, some made for television, on Sicilian judges and cops who've been murdered for opposing the Mafia, Ricky Tognazzi's tense drama is by far the best. It doesn't offer much insight or depth of emotion, but as a briskly paced political thriller it's highly entertaining. The plot concerns four bodyguards of disparate backgrounds bonding to one another as they risk their lives to protect a magistrate investigating the Mafia assassination of a state attorney. The story of the investigation alternates with subplots about the private lives of the cops--each racked by guilt, family pressures, and the fear of death. The locations in and around Palermo are rendered with surprising feeling, adding a rich sense of place to a film that's somewhat generic. (Scharres) (Pipers Alley, 7:15)

Young Werther

Inspired by rather than based on Goethe's novel The Sorrows of Young Werther, this French feature focuses on teenage alienation, as a young man tries to discover why his 14-year-old friend committed suicide; directed by Jacques Doillon (Le petit criminel and La pirate). (Music Box, 9:00)

In the Name of Christ

Winner of the grand prize at the last Ouagadougou film festival, Roger Gnoan M'Bala's In the Name of Christ may not be the best African movie of the last two years, but it's a very engrossing film, tackling a fascinating cultural issue: the hybrid religious practices that sprang up in Africa after decolonization, which mixed Catholicism, traditional religion, Islam, and everything else that could be found, imported, and assimilated. A film about spiritual displacement, it was shot in a small Ivory Coast village, and the dialogue is in French, the language of "modernity," the international market, and postcolonial alienation. A drunken swineherd, an object of ridicule in the village, imagines that Christ appears to him and orders him to found a new religion. But "Magloire the First" is no shrewd televangelist: the strength of his inner conviction is such that he's capable of inflicting and curing blindness and saving a young madwoman who was raped by a sorcerer. Superbly acted, the film subtly explores the relationship between Magloire, his concubines, and his followers, until his own demons make him the victim of the illusion of power and spirituality he created. (BR) (Pipers Alley, 9:15)

*From the East

Chantal Akerman's haunting masterpiece is a documentary without commentary or dialogue about her several-months-long trip from east Germany to Moscow--a tough and formally rigorous inventory of what the former Soviet bloc looks and feels like today. Her painterly penchant for finding Edward Hopper wherever she goes has never been more obvious; this travelogue seemingly offers vistas any alert tourist could find, yet delivers a series of indelible images and sounds that are impossible to shake later. After two and a half trips through this movie, I recall most the countless tracking shots, the sense of people forever waiting, the rare occurrence of a plaintive offscreen violin over an otherwise densely ambient sound track, static glimpses of roadside sites and domestic interiors, the periphery of an outdoor rock concert, a heavy Moscow snowfall, a crowded terminal where weary people and baggage are huddled together like so many dropped handkerchiefs. The only other film I know that imparts such a vivid sense of being somewhere is the Egyptian section of Straub-Huillet's Too Early, Too Late. Akerman's sorrowful, intractable film reportedly drove out all but five viewers at the Toronto festival press show, but the ordinary festival audiences I saw it with in that city and in Locarno were a hardier bunch. Everyone goes to movies in search of events, but the extraordinary events in this movie are the shots themselves--the everyday recorded by a powerful artist with an acute eye and ear. (JR) (Pipers Alley, 9:15)

Wild East

Made during the final days of the Soviet Union, this feature from Kazakhstan by Rachid Nougmanov (Needle) is a contemporary story about a group of midgets who, when civil war breaks out, escape to the remote mountains of Tien Shan, where they're threatened by a gang demanding extortion money. (Pipers Alley, 9:30)

The Pros and Cons of Breathing

An independent feature by Chicagoan Robert Munic, shot in ten days for $70,000, about anomie among four young men. (Pipers Alley, 9:30)

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