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Chicago International Film Festival

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Friday 5 October

Address Unknown

This melodrama by Kim Ki-duk, set in a small Korean town, focuses on three teenagers with dysfunctional families and how they've been affected by the war in the 50s and the continuing presence of U.S. troops. 117 min. (Landmark, 6:30)

Anna's Summer

This seems to be a time for radiant over-50 women coping with loss, cf Charlotte Rampling in Under the Sand. In Jeanine Meerapfel's latest film, Anna's Summer, Anna (Angela Molina) returns to her family's Greek-island home after the death of her husband. As the sole survivor of the family and thus the sole repository of its history, she's haunted by memories--she turns a corner of the villa and steps into sun-drenched afternoons peopled with long-gone relatives raising their glasses in a toast. Sitting down on the beach for a snack, she's soon bookended by her husband and her long-dead father, both offering advice and felicitations on her abalone-cracking expertise. Some of the memories don't belong to Greece; unfolding a sweater transports her to a former residence in Germany. And some of the memories don't even belong to her; they belong to her Jewish grandmother Anna, who died at Auschwitz, and her father's beloved mistress Anna, dead of tuberculosis in a Swiss sanitarium. Minor but convincingly atmospheric, Anna's Summer overlaps times, cultures, languages--Spanish, Greek, German, and English--in a way that at first overwhelms and then slowly comforts, forging an identity all the stronger for its patchwork oddities. 107 min. (RS) (Landmark, 6:45)

The Milk of

Human Kindness

A French housewife, overcome by the stress of raising another baby, runs away from home and finds refuge in the apartment of a sympathetic neighbor (the talented Dominique Blanc). The Good Samaritan finds it difficult to get rid of her neurotic guest, who opens up a rift--sometimes beneficial, usually not--in the routines of her family and friends. This melancholy critique of bourgeois anomie is creditable, though it suffers a bit from sluggish pacing and vaguely drawn characters, and its territory has been more incisively explored by Bigger Than Life, Safe, My Life in Pink, and last year's underrated Petite cherie. The film's most impressive aspect is its delineation of the characters' sterile suburban paradise. Using shallow focus, shaky-cam cinematography, and bright reflective surfaces, director Dominique Cabrera creates an oppressively weightless, transparent world--a prison made of gauze and glass. 93 min. (MR) (Landmark, 7:00)

Waking Life

J Richard Linklater's exciting and innovative feature was shot on digital video, then transformed into a new kind of animation that works wonders with the subtleties of body language and creates hallucinatory effects with palpitating backgrounds. There isn't much of a story in any ordinary sense--just a lot of encounters and philosophical dialogues as a young college graduate walks around Austin, Texas, trying to decide if he's dreaming or awake. In a way the movie rethinks and replays most of Linklater's previous features in the fresh terms of this animation process: the overall narrative drift through Austin recalls Slacker; the hero is Dazed and Confused's Wiley Wiggins; Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke are discovered in bed, continuing a conversation they started in Before Sunrise; and Linklater himself puts in a couple of appearances. The writer-director worked on oil rigs before teaching himself film and filmmaking, and the inquiries here are basically those of an autodidact lost in college bull sessions. (Fellow independent Caveh Zahedi is around to hold forth on the film theory of Andre Bazin and its religious implications.) You might be frustrated if you're looking for plot rather than movement, action rather than pulsing vibration, but I had a ball. 97 min. (JR) (Music Box, 7:00)

Abandoned

Arpad Sopsits's latest film unfolds in familiar territory--a Stalinist orphanage whose institutionalized hopelessness can stand for any authoritarian regime's--and in a few short months the prepubescent hero accumulates as much psychological baggage as if he'd endured decades of repression. Set in Hungary shortly after the 1956 uprising, the story plays out in microcosm its own saga of revolt, flight, and survivor guilt. There are nominal villains (the sadistic, pedophilic headmaster) and good guys (the dissident scientist punished by being sent to the boondocks to teach orphans), but they come off less as stereotypes than as respondents to the job description. The real drama unfolds in the complex relationships of the inmate kids to one another and to the institutions that seek to mold their characters. Lately, Hungarian movies have cornered the market on depression; the films of Bela Tarr, Janos Szasz, or Gyorgy Feher--often in black and white and unrelieved gray or, as here, in dark blues and blacks, under leaden skies, with rain or snow, and surrounded by night--seem shot in purgatory. Yet for all its dreary trappings, Abandoned possesses a remarkable distance and clarity that are promises in themselves. 98 min. (RS) (Music Box, 7:15)

Mirror Image

Hsiao Ya-chuan's playful debut is set mostly in a Taipei pawnshop, run by the young Tung-ching (a droll Lee Jiunn-jye) since his father's stroke. Tung-ching hangs around with a girlfriend he met on the Internet who's fascinated with palmistry, in no small part because his fingerprints were erased in a motorcycle accident. A mysterious woman comes in to pawn her watch, and while the possibilities she brings to Tung-ching's life (they hawk goods together on the subway) provide the film's title, the idle reality of the pawnshop is more involving. Hsiao's cool visual style belies the fact that he honed his chops as an assistant director on Hou Hsiao-hsien's Flowers of Shanghai; the quirky characters and flitting romantic subterfuges are closer to Wong Kar-wai, though the film's rhythms are very original. 72 min. (MP) (Landmark, 7:30)

La CienAga

J This astonishing debut film from the young Argentinean Lucrecia Martel manages to sustain a consistent level of tension and anxiety throughout. At their run-down country estate, middle-aged Mecha and Gregorio drink away the hot, sticky days, ignoring their bored adolescent children. An accident next to the murky swimming pool sends Mecha to her bed, while the other members of the family wander around aimlessly, taking potshots at dogs and wild animals in the surrounding swamplands or flopping down on unmade beds, oblivious to ringing phones and doorbells and one another. Everybody in the family bears the marks of carelessness and inattention: scars, burns, bruises. Then Tali, Mecha's cousin and mother of her own brood, comes from town to visit her frustrated and bored relative. Danger is always near, and violence seems not just possible but probable. La cienaga has the power of great literature--I was reminded of Chekhov's plays, the novels of Dostoyevsky and Faulkner--and it's remarkably assured in its juggling of two large families. Every frame is dense with life, with children and animals running in and out, yet it's not messy. Instead it's highly focused--and something of a small masterpiece. 103 min. (MB) (Landmark, 9:00)

With All My Love

Largely set in Algiers at the turn of the last century, Amalia Escriva's debut feature retraces the life of a young Frenchwoman for clues to her suicide. Courted by, then married to a lawyer sympathetic to the Algerian insurgents, the fragile and coquettish Eugenia (Jeanne Balibar) wages a war of nerves with the other women in his cloistered, patriarchal household. Writer-director Escriva clearly is after a parable of the colonial experience, in which the fate of the outsider Eugenia parallels that of the French colonists. But most of the connections are strained, and an ending that's supposed to explain everything merely deepens the mystery of Eugenia's psychological malaise. Still, Escriva's mise-en-scene is impressive, using tight close-ups and a spare, modernist score to convey claustrophobia and despair. With Bruno Todeschini. 86 min. (TS) (Landmark, 9:15)

Harlem Aria

This slice of tripe ought to go directly to video, yet here it is in a world-class film festival. It tells the improbable story of Anton (Gabriel Casseus), a 28-year-old who lives in Harlem with his auntie (Eyde Byrde) and is considered slow. By day he works at a dry cleaner's, and at night he sings along to opera records in his bedroom and dreams of becoming a star. When he and his auntie have a row, he runs away, determined to go to Italy. After being hustled out of his money by the scruffy Wes (Damon Wayans), he ends up singing in a park for change, accompanied by Matthew (Christian Camargo), who wheels his piano out of his swank apartment. Of course Wes shows up and continues to prey on the sweet-natured Anton, of course Matthew and Wes lock horns, and of course Anton points out that they're really just two peas in a pod. Casseus lip-synchs unconvincingly, and the plot twists are merely convenient. The most dramatic scene is the opening aerial stock footage of New York at night, with its quick glimpse of the World Trade Center towers. 100 min. (JK) (Landmark, 9:15)

Goodbye Charlie Bright

This first feature by Nick Love, set in south London during a hot, dull summer, attempts to join the feral recklessness of Trainspotting and Human Traffic with more complicated examinations of friendship, loyalty, alienation, and boredom such as Federico Fellini's I vitelloni and Martin Scorsese's Mean Streets. That's a tall order for an inexperienced director, especially since he's chosen to work in discordant styles and moods, veering schizophrenically between detached naturalism and dark, neon-drenched stylization. The loose narrative details the criminal behavior and feverish pursuits of young men avidly seeking adventure, sex, and adult experiences, focusing on the vaguely homoerotic attraction of best friends Charlie (Paul Nicholls) and the more frenetic Justin (Roland Manookian). The movie opens with a light, insouciant touch but quickly degenerates into sneering superiority and sarcasm, with characters mocking old women and waving a gun in the face of a young boy. The only original contribution is a sharp, angry turn by Phil Daniels as a melancholy, defeated thug. 86 min. (PZM) (Landmark, 9:30)

Reel Shorts 3: New Voices, New Visions

A 107-minute program of eight shorts by beginning directors. (Music Box, 9:30)

'R Xmas

The French go on loving Abel Ferrara (King of New York, Bad Lieutenant) even though he's worn out his welcome in America because of his countless dubious, excessive, allegedly drug-impaired genre movies. But 'R Xmas is a genuinely gripping tale about New York heroin dealers, and it keeps the drugs on-screen. It's Ferrara's most controlled, most tightly organized film ever--Bressonian minimalism with the colors and ambience of Michael Mann's Miami Vice. The stone-faced nouveau riche Latino couple at the center (Lillo Brancato and The Sopranos's Drea de Matteo) go about their business in 1993 New York City, finding last-minute Christmas presents, watching their daughter perform in a school pageant, riding around in a limo, sitting at a table cutting, counting, and packaging heroin. All is peace on earth until the husband is kidnapped and a huge ransom is demanded. The panicked wife tries to find the money, which leads her to a gangster who can deliver and some cool scenes between de Matteo and Ice-T. In past movies Ferrara has been subjective and all over the map; here he's objective and disciplined. 85 min. (GP) (Music Box, 9:45)

Saturday 6 October

Unloved

J A paradoxical, peculiarly Japanese blend of austerity and plenitude characterizes the imagery in Kunitoshi Manda's highly impressive first feature. The starkly abstract compositions, their formal nonnaturalism offset by warm, saturated color, are at once confrontational and serene--which also describes his main character, a woman in her early 30s who's perfectly comfortable with her simple, uneventful life as well as her small apartment, non-upwardly mobile job, and plain garb. When a handsome, rich businessman sweeps onto the scene and lays at her feet a challenging job, a posh apartment, and designer clothes, all the Cinderella stuff makes her acutely uncomfortable. She much prefers the attentions of a scruffy, somewhat younger, much poorer forklift operator-cum-guitarist. The calm complacency of her resolve drives both men nuts, calling into question the whole tenor of their lives. The moral confrontations find characters either head-to-head or back-to-back or in some other gently startling composition, the subtle camera movements recording each nuanced change of perspective or control. Manda defines his characters less through their spoken choices than through their relationship to the elements around them, be they the clean lines of a Calvin Klein sheath dress or the feel of the air around a hand stretched out to check whether it's raining. 117 min. (RS) (Landmark, 2:30)

Abandoned

See listing under Friday, October 5. (Landmark, 2:30)

Reel Shorts 3: New Voices, New Visions

See listing under Friday, October 5. (Music Box, 2:30)

Be My Star

An unexpectedly fresh, unsentimental take on first love is delicately yet forcefully presented in this slip of a film--it's 65 minutes long--by first-time feature director Valeska Grisebach. Fourteen-year-old Nicole lives with her mother and sister in an apartment in Berlin, and her flirtation with the callow Christopher rapidly becomes serious when the two spend time together while her mother works a night shift. Their emotional and physical interactions seem stunted and perverse--they talk about what their parents do or what they've heard in movies and on television. It's more poignant than funny when, after a few brief encounters, Christopher complains, "It's not like it was at the beginning." Clearly they need more comfort from each other than their thin, childish bodies can provide, but in the adolescent city of Berlin, which is suffering its own growing pains, E.M. Forster's dictum of "only connect" has never seemed more difficult. (MB) On the same program, Selena Chang's Three Exits. (Landmark, 2:45)

Offspring

As a teenager, filmmaker Barry Stevens was stunned when his father told him that he and his sister were products of the first wave of artificial insemination in Britain in the late 40s and early 50s. This one-hour documentary--which follows Stevens, now a Canadian citizen, as he tries to find his biological father--is an absorbing meditation on determining who one's real father is and on defining one's own identity. Stevens's father is dead, but his mother, still a resident of Britain, is cooperative and jocular in the face of her son's detective work, though generally foggy when it comes to the details about the clinic where she received the donated sperm. His dogged perseverance eventually pays off: he finds the husband-and-wife team who ran the clinic, learns through DNA testing whom he's not related to, and discovers that he has a half brother who was also a product of the clinic. At the end of his circuitous journey an even more astounding revelation provides a heartwarming surprise ending. It's a story that could easily have turned into yet another chronicle of obsessional yearning, but Stevens's humor and self-consciousness keep things from getting too solemn or pedantic. (JK) On the same program, Natalia Almada's All Water Has a Perfect Memory. (Landmark, 3:15)

Anna's Summer

See listing under Friday, October 5. (Landmark, 4:30)

Address Unknown

See listing under Friday, October 5. (Music Box, 4:30)

The Milk of

Human Kindness

See listing under Friday, October 5. (Landmark, 4:45)

Harlem Aria

See listing under Friday, October 5. (Landmark, 5:00)

Goodbye Charlie Bright

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

Mirror Image

See listing under Friday, October 5. (Landmark, 5:15)

With All My Love

See listing under Friday, October 5. (Landmark, 6:45)

Waking Life

JSee listing under Friday, October 5. (Landmark, 7:00)

Nine Queens

An experienced grifter takes a younger confrere under his wing for the theft of a block of stamps called the "nine queens" in Fabian Bielinsky's caper-within-a-caper debut film, which runs as smoothly as a well-rehearsed con. The premise, indeed the whole movie, is held together only by surface tension, yet that tension is skillfully and humorously maintained throughout. The pace is brisk and the rhythm unforced, and the dialogue jogs companionably alongside the plot's snaky twists and turns. The actors are charismatic, particularly Ricardo Darin as the pro whose blend of charm and desperation plays well against the wide-eyed earnestness of his partner Gaston Pauls and the squadron of street-smart characters the two pick up along the way. Widely hailed in Argentina as proof that homegrown products can compete with American studio fare, Nine Queens's ability to breathe new life into old Hollywood chestnuts lies paradoxically in its Argentinean rhythms and savvily casual-looking locations, from corner bodegas to luxury high-rises. Of course, one might wonder why anyone outside of Hollywood would want to breathe new life into its old chestnuts. 115 min. (RS) (Music Box, 7:00)

'R Xmas

See listing under Friday, October 5. (Landmark, 7:15)

Reel Shorts 1: World's Fair

An international program of short films from the UK, Germany, Israel, Switzerland, the U.S., Canada, and Sweden. 92 min. (Music Box, 7:15)

The Road

One of contemporary cinema's least-known major directors, Kazakhstan's Darezhan Omirbaev makes films whose austerity--he was once nicknamed "the Bresson of the steppes"--is frequently tempered by sly humor. The Road, his fourth feature, is both an enjoyably languid road movie and a self-reflexive meditation on the difficulty of making films in Kazakhstan. It isn't quite up to the standard of his previous work, but it combines rigorous cinematic craftsmanship and a penchant for controlled lyricism. When the protagonist, a disaffected filmmaker named Amir, learns that his mother is seriously ill, a circuitous trip to her home provides an opportunity for unimpeded self-examination that always seems on the verge of becoming self-flagellation. A scene in which a kung fu movie is mistakenly shown to a crowd assembled for the premiere of Amir's new film pithily demonstrates that serious filmmakers, whether in the U.S. or Kazakhstan, have no choice but to stoically accept, even embrace, their marginal status. 85 min. (RMP) (Landmark, 7:30)

Kissing Jessica Stein

The title character of this amiable romantic comedy is a young Jewish editor (Jennifer Westfeldt) at a Manhattan newspaper whose neuroses and formidable intellect repel male suitors. Tired of the losers her controlling mother sets her up with, she answers an intriguing personals ad and unexpectedly finds herself contemplating a lesbian relationship with her opposite--an open, confident, and emotionally centered woman (Heather Juergensen). The humor derived from the "odd couple" pairing and Stein's absurd attempts to keep family and friends in the dark about the relationship isn't exactly fresh, but the movie's still fun, thanks to a good cast and engaging performances from Juergensen and Westfeldt, who also wrote the script. Directed by Charles Herman-Wurmfeld. 94 min. (RP) (Landmark, 9:00)

Mulholland Drive

J I'm still trying to decide if this 146-minute piece of hocus-pocus is David Lynch's best feature since Eraserhead. In any case, it's immensely more likable than his other stabs at neonoir (Blue Velvet, Wild at Heart, Lost Highway, etc), perhaps because it manages to like its characters without sentimentalizing or sneering at them (which is what limited portions of Twin Peaks). Originally conceived and then rejected as a TV pilot, then expanded after some French producers stepped in, it has the benefit of Lynch's own observations about Hollywood, which tend to be a lot fresher at this point than his puritanical notations on small towns in the American heartland. The best-known actors here (Ann Miller, Robert Forster, Dan Hedaya) wind up relatively marginalized, while the talented newcomers (in particular the remarkable Naomi Watts and the glamorous Laura Elena Harring) are invited to take over the movie. They have a field day doing so; Watts and Harring even turn out to be the hottest Hollywood couple of the year. The plot slides along agreeably as a tantalizing mystery before becoming almost completely inexplicable, though no less thrilling, in the closing stretches--but that's what Lynch is famous for. It looks great too. (JR) (Landmark, 9:15)

A Dog's Day

This political parable--the second film of the young Indian director Murali Nair, whose first film won the Camera d'Or in Cannes--illustrates the idea that the simplest gesture can have unforeseen consequences. Once again, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. In a rural Indian province a ruling lord allows democracy to come to his village, handing over political power to an elected official. At the same ceremony he gives his royal dog, Apu, to a former faithful servant. Grumbling about the dog, and its current and erstwhile owners, begins when it bites a duck. When it attacks a young boy, it becomes a catalyst for political unrest, pitting the new politicians against the old order. The simple, ironic tale is enhanced by highly colored images and a lovely score that uses traditional folk songs. 74 min. (MB) (Music Box, 9:15)

Love Come Down

To call Clement Virgo the hippest of Canadian filmmakers would be a backhanded compliment; this drama may take place at street level, but it's less concerned with glib irony than with spiritual redemption. A Cain-Abel story with a racial twist, it expands on Virgo's short Save My Lost Nigga Soul, only in this film one brother (Larenz Tate), an aspiring stand-up comic addicted to drugs, is black while his half brother (Martin Cummins), a boxer, is white. Virgo's usual aestheticism takes a backseat to character development, and the film wouldn't work without Tate's charisma, especially when he's wooing singer Deborah Cox. The result is a mythical realism reminiscent of minor Eugene O'Neill, in which sickness is hereditary and buried family conflicts threaten to overwhelm the present. However well-meaning the film, its metaphors are as patent as they come, as is the conclusion that there's no place like home. 99 min. (MP) (Landmark, 9:30)

Italian for Beginners

Like Jacques Rivette's recent Va savoir, Lone Scherfig's Italian for Beginners is a multicharacter film that strives to reinvent the screwball tradition. Unlike Rivette, who turned out a nuanced and often moving meditation on film and theater, Scherfig falls back on one-dimensional characters whose eccentricities, while initially diverting, soon become tiresome. Still, this ultimately toothless farce, with its Dogma 95 imprimatur, is not without its charms. The frequently clueless principals--an inept but alluring bakery clerk and the widowed pastor who courts her are among the most endearing--find a modicum of happiness in studying Italian, driving home the point that northern Europeans both romanticize and patronize the Mediterranean south. Scherfig also manages to elicit excellent performances from a talented cast, particularly from Anders Berthelsen as the young pastor and Anette Stovelbaek as his klutzy paramour. 118 min. (RMP) On the same program, Robert McClean's short The Moment of Accepting Life. (Music Box, 9:30)

The Devil's Backbone

J Guillermo del Toro, the Mexican horror specialist whose highly regarded Cronos was followed by the Hollywood misfire Mimic, should recoup his reputation with this neogothic yarn set in an isolated orphanage for boys during the Spanish civil war. The specificity of the political-historical content diminishes the suggestiveness of the horror elements, which have been borrowed largely from Lars von Trier's The Kingdom, and the political resonance is reduced because the source of all evil is a single villain who lacks both political and supernatural overtones. What's left is an entertaining and atmospheric revenge tale, embellished with a Lord of the Flies boy-ocracy, Bunuelian black humor (strict schoolmistress Marisa Paredes parks her wooden leg before taking on a strapping young stud), and the memorable image of an unexploded bomb towering like a monument in the orphanage's courtyard. 106 min. (MR) (Landmark, 9:45)

Sunday 7 October

A Dog's Day

See listing under Saturday, October 6. (Landmark, 2:00)

Reel Shorts 1: World's Fair

See listing under Saturday, October 6. (Music Box, 2:00)

Offspring

See listing under Saturday, October 6. (Landmark, 2:15)

Man Walking on Snow

Masahiro Kobayashi's feature focuses on a former sake producer and retired widower on the island of Hokkaido who gets a visit from his estranged son and grandson. 103 min. (Landmark, 2:30)

Kissing Jessica Stein

See listing under Saturday, October 6. (Landmark, 2:30)

Love Come Down

See listing under Saturday, October 6. (Landmark, 3:30)

Final

In Campbell Scott's shifty and absorbing solo debut as director, Denis Leary is an alcoholic musician under lock and key in a mental hospital and Hope Davis is the prim, understated doctor in charge of his case. Leary is convinced that he was cryogenically frozen after crashing his truck into a government installation and has been revived 400 years later only to be given a lethal injection. The film's third-act twist is jarring and surprisingly effective, bolstering the psychological drama that precedes it. Bruce McIntosh adapted his own Pinter-like play, and Scott, shooting on digital video, is skillful in his handling of the actors. Though he's still ranting and cracking wise, Leary is more muted than usual, while Davis handles her more difficult character arc with aplomb. 111 min. (MP) (Landmark, 4:00)

Runaway

This documentary by the two women who made the extraordinary 1998 Divorce Iranian Style--English documentarian Kim Longinotto and Iranian anthropologist Ziba Mir-Hosseini--is watchable and interesting, but still a disappointing follow-up. The focus, a women's shelter in Tehran that handles teenage runaways, seems less distinctly Iranian than an Iranian divorce court. The teenage girls are generally coaxed into returning to their families despite clear evidence that they've been abused by parents and siblings--a disturbing outcome that makes a depressing contrast to the ingenious ways some of the women in Divorce Iranian Style manage to work around repressive laws. These girls' lack of alternatives is provocative and certainly worth noting, but as in some Frederick Wiseman documentaries about public institutions in the U.S., there doesn't seem to be enough information to truly evaluate their situations. 87 min. (JR) (Music Box, 4:00)

Anna's Summer

See listing under Friday, October 5. (Music Box, 4:15)

The Road

See listing under Saturday, October 6. (Landmark, 4:45)

With All My Love

See listing under Friday, October 5. (Landmark, 5:00)

Unloved

J See listing under Saturday, October 6. (Landmark, 6:00)

Amelie

In a country where the wholesale political revisionism of a Forrest Gump raises nary a critical eyebrow, it's hard to imagine the ideological turmoil created in France by Jean-Pierre Jeunet's latest film, a piece of born-again Pollyannaism that spawned adulatory fans and bitter denunciators. Amelie is the candy-colored, whimsical tale of an introverted young woman (Audrey Tautou) who decides, overnight, to become the fairy godmother of her neighborhood. The whole thing starts with the discovery of a little boy's treasure box, and that's basically what Jeunet seeks to reproduce--a sense of the world as a collection of fetishized objects that convey emotions and states of mind (literally, in the case of the plaster lawn gnome Amelie steals from her father's garden and sends on a round-the-world tour). The ease with which the perky, big-eyed heroine ingeniously succeeds in improving the lot of everyone around her and the painterly manner in which reality in every inch of the frame is "improved" constitute both the "quirky" charm and the pure fishiness of the film. No doubt Jeunet has succeeded here, as he never quite managed to in Delicatessen or The City of Lost Children, in conveying a personal vision and in putting us inside his head. The question is, do we want to be there? 121 min. (RS) (Music Box, 6:00)

Focus

Neal Slavin's first feature adapts Arthur Miller's midcentury novel of the same title about anti-Semitism in Brooklyn during the last years of World War II. With William H. Macy, Laura Dern, David Paymer, and Meat Loaf Aday. 104 min. (Landmark, 6:30)

Fat Girl

J Another meditation on adolescent female sexuality by French director Catherine Breillat. Breillat, who happens to be the younger sister of a former glamorous actress, investigates the relationship between two sisters on holiday with their parents at a beach resort. Elena, a beautiful 15-year-old, is hot to trot, while Anais, a pudgy 12-year-old, watches her pick up a handsome Italian at a cafe, quickly start making out with him, then sneak him into their shared bedroom for the inevitable, heartbreaking seduction. Their self-involved parents are oblivious, and Anais takes refuge in banana splits and floating in the crystal blue pool while making up sardonic songs. When Elena's little romance collapses, there's a nightmarish drive back home on a highway dense with speeding trucks--a prelude to the nightmares ahead.

The shocking, ambiguous ending might have been better served by the film's original, ambiguous title, "To My Sister." 95 min. (MB) (Landmark, 6:45)

Goodbye Charlie Bright

See listing under Friday, October 5. (Music Box, 6:45)

The Milk of Human Kindness

See listing under Friday, October 5. (Landmark, 7:00)

Abandoned

See listing under Friday, October 5. (Landmark, 8:30)

The Devil's Backbone

J See listing under Saturday,

October 6. (Music Box, 8:30)

Be My Star

See listing under Saturday, October 6. (Music Box, 8:45)

Mirror Image

See listing under Friday, October 5. (Landmark, 9:00)

Harlem Aria

See listing under Friday, October 5. (Landmark, 9:00)

Address Unknown

See listing under Friday, October 5. (Landmark, 9:15)

Monday 8 October

Runaway

See listing under Sunday, October 7. (Landmark, 5:00)

Final

See listing under Sunday, October 7. (Landmark, 6:00)

Unloved

J See listing under Saturday, October 6. (Landmark, 6:15)

Betty Fisher and Other Stories

That a genre has no name doesn't make it any less a genre, and veteran French director Claude Miller's self-proclaimed "intersecting stories" film seems neither better nor worse than any number of its type. It opens magnificently, with a mesmerizing daughter-mother interaction between the always fascinating Sandrine Kiberlain and the still-beauteous Nicole Garcia, who plays a monster of such self-centeredness it's symptomatic of a disease. Unfortunately, the more the other stories take over, the less compelling the film becomes, since none of the other characters, alone or in tandem, generate a tenth of the energy or chemistry that charges the air between the two women. The carefully assorted players--rich and poor, black and white, kindly and cruel--pick up their respective cues, crisscrossing like well-rehearsed extras in a long tracking shot. They all manage to hit their marks and hustle the Rube Goldberg intrigue along its intended trajectory, but there's little momentum or excitement--just more tired plays on much-abused coincidence. 100 min. (RS) (Music Box, 6:30)

My First Mister

Sometimes when you see an original, quasi-perfect American film such as Terry Zwigoff's Ghost World, you amuse yourself by imagining how Hollywood would fuck it up. Look no further. Christine Lahti's directorial bow also spotlights a disaffected teenager (Leelee Sobieski as a girl addicted to punk accoutrements and writing eulogies) who hooks up with a marginal loser some 30 years her senior (Albert Brooks as a reclusive clothing-store owner). But where Zwigoff's film borders on poetry, My First Mister (yes, the title is a tip-off to its coyness) is a bathetic TV-movie type "learning experience" that provides about as much insight into teenagers as 40s westerns did into Indians--it's all in the costumes and customs. Only Brooks has the space and talent to construct a believable character; Sobieski lacks the skill to transmute her badly written affects into a full persona. Lahti has surrounded her with wonderfully inventive actors--Carol Kane, Michael McKean, Mary Kay Place--but she's handed them a script that runs on stereotype and schmaltz. 109 min. (RS) (Landmark, 7:00)

Be My Star

See listing under Saturday, October 6. (Music Box, 7:00)

The Road

See listing under Saturday, October 6. (Landmark, 7:15)

Love Come Down

See listing under Saturday, October 6. (Landmark, 8:45)

A Dog's Day

See listing under Saturday, October 6. (Music Box, 8:45)

Kissing Jessica Stein

See listing under Saturday, October 6. (Landmark, 9:00)

Millennium Mambo

I'll have to see it again, but my first look at Hou Hsiao-hsien's latest feature, announced as the first in a new series, led me to conclude that it's one of the emptiest good-looking films by a major director that I can recall. The characters are boring--terminally familiar zeros--and the ability of this Taiwanese master to be a provocative and prescient historian of the present (Goodbye South, Goodbye and portions of Good Men, Good Women) appears to have deserted him. Visually, he works much closer to his actors than usual and moves his characters in and out of focus, defining a much more claustrophobic world than he has in the past. But the story--a young bar hostess (Hong Kong star Shu Qi) shuttles between her jealous boyfriend/flatmate and a gangster while taking ecstasy and throwing tantrums--seems standard issue, apart from the somewhat unorthodox voice-over narration, at least until an unexpectedly lyrical finale. 119 min. (JR) (Music Box, 9:00)

Focus

See listing under Sunday, October 7. (Landmark, 9:15)

Nine Queens

See listing under Saturday, October 6. (Landmark, 9:30)

Tuesday 9 October

Italian for Beginners

See listing under Saturday, October 6. (Landmark, 6:00)

Millennium Mambo

See listing under Monday, October 8. (Landmark, 6:15)

Big Bad Love

The directorial debut of actor Arliss Howard (Full Metal Jacket), who costars here with his wife, Debra Winger, in a tale with a Mississippi setting about a middle-aged Vietnam vet and writer who's separated from his wife and two kids and works as a house painter while trying without success to get his manuscripts published. Based on a novel by Larry Brown, who also had a hand in the screenplay; with Paul Le Mat and Rosanna Arquette. 111 min. (Landmark, 6:30)

Night Shift

J After switching from the day shift to the night shift at a bottle factory, Pierre (Gerald Laroche) becomes the butt of jokes perpetrated by Fred (Marc Barbe), a charismatic yet brutish coworker. At first Pierre believes it's because he's the new kid on the block, but as the jokes become crueler and more personal, he's forced to contend with Fred's sadistic and violent tendencies. Writer-director Philippe Le Guay has crafted a tense, unpredictable drama that explores the bonding rituals of France's working class and the dialectic between males as individuals and as members of a group. He never takes the easy way out by stacking the deck against his heavy, who at times can be sensitive and sympathetic. Fred eventually forges an alliance with Pierre's young son Victor (Bastien Le Roy), who initially dislikes him for the way he treats his father but comes to see him as someone to emulate. Tensions increase, and a terrible pathology takes over. But a final cryptic comment by Pierre leaves things refreshingly open-ended. 96 min. (JK) (Music Box, 7:00)

Man Walking on Snow

See listing under Sunday, October 7. (Music Box, 7:00)

Super 8 Stories by Emir Kusturica

Akin to a cinematic doodle churned out between major projects, Emir Kusturica's chronicle of his rock band's recent European tour is initially diverting but eventually degenerates into a tedious concert movie. The focus on the No Smoking Orchestra's idiosyncratic Gypsy rock is of more than passing musical and sociological interest; it's difficult not to be a little intrigued by an indigenous Balkan pop culture that rejects the cliches of American Top 40 pabulum. Both crowd pleasers and an irreverent riposte to the ethnic divisions that continue to plague the former Yugoslavia, the Bosnian rockers espouse a refreshingly unsentimental form of radical humanism. Unfortunately, Kusturica is more interested in celebrating the juvenile--and for the most part painfully unfunny--high jinks of his raucous buddies. 90 min. (RMP) (Landmark, 7:30)

Betty Fisher and Other Stories

See listing under Monday, October 8. (Landmark, 8:30)

What Time

Is It There?

J This is Tsai Ming-liang's most exciting and original feature to date. The obsessive constants in all of his five features--the same actors playing similar roles in some of the same locations, the quirky preoccupation with water and alienation--may make him seem like a minimalist. But here he branches out beautifully by adding another city and country to his repertory--Paris, France, which alternates with Taipei, Taiwan--without compromising any of his formal rigor or playfulness. In The Hole a young man and woman occupy flats on separate floors of the same building; here they occupy separate countries and time zones. They remain basically strangers, apart from a few fleeting encounters, but the intricate formal rhyme schemes devised by Tsai as he oscillates between the two are even more inventive than those in The Hole--one of the many things evoking Jacques Tati. There's also some play between the young man watching Truffaut's The 400 Blows on video in Taipei and the young woman encountering its star, Jean-Pierre Leaud, in a Paris graveyard. I was irritated, though not surprised, that in one segment of crosscutting between masturbation, lesbian sex, and straight sex, only the latter is denied any dignity. The young man's father has recently died, his mother is crazed and delusional with grief, and the film goes places in its treatment of death and time you'd never expect. With Lee Kang-sheng and Chen Shiang-chyi. 116 min. (JR) (Landmark, 8:45)

Chico

J In her second feature, talented Hungarian writer-director Ibolya Fekete draws on her documentary training to create a dazzling mix of newsreel clips and dramatic footage as she explores the history of a revolutionary named Ricardo--"Chico" to his friends. Half-Spanish and half-Hungarian, half-Catholic and half-Jewish, Chico--played by Eduardo Rozsa Flores, the real-life inspiration for the film and Fekete's former lover--has been raised a passionate communist and must now come to terms with a world that rejects his ideology. Challenging and ambitious, Chico looks at the difficulty of sustaining ideals in a shifting political climate and at the problem of forging a personal identity when one has been defined by larger-than-life concepts. 108 min. (AS) (Landmark, 9:00)

Waterboys

The producers of the Japanese films Shall We Dance? and Sumo Do, Sumo Don't have turned out a clone based on their audience-winning formula, replacing ballroom dancing and sumo wrestling with synchronized swimming. Waterboys is another zany story about oddball loners--in this case, nerdy high school boys--who find inner strength, build team spirit, triumph over adversity, and demonstrate every other cliche of the genre. You have to wonder what brought independent director Shinobu Yaguchi on board. Sadly, his amusingly twisted, anarchic spirit can't shake Waterboys out of its predictability, though he comes close in the grand finale--a swimming exhibition so goofily over-the-top it's breathtaking. 90 min. (SK) (Music Box, 9:15)

Reel Shorts 2:

Mondo Insane-O

Eleven offbeat shorts--nine of them from the U.S. (including an animated item by Bill Plympton), one from Germany, and one from the UK. 84 min. (Landmark, 9:30)

Drive-in Movie Memories

This hour-long documentary traces the development of one of America's purest icons, the drive-in theater, from its roots as a rural phenomenon in the 30s, when it allowed people unable to afford much else to go see movies, to its full flowering in the 50s and 60s, when it shifted from a place to take the family to a haven for horny teenagers. Director Kurt Kuenne based his film on two books by the husband-and-wife team of Don and Susan Sanders, also the producers, and the three of them provide some wonderful archival footage and loads of historical and sociological tidbits, beginning with the drive-in's origins as a get-rich-quick venture for the owner of an auto-parts chain. The tone of the film is appropriately light and playful, and it features interviews with several B-film actors and producers--notably the late Samuel Arkoff, president and founder of American International Pictures--as well as some of the mavericks who ran drive-ins during their heyday. (JK) On the same program, Phil Robinson's Hubert's Brain. (Music Box, 9:30)

Wednesday 10 October

Big Bad Love

See listing under Tuesday, October 9. (Landmark, 4:00)

Night Shift

J See listing under Tuesday,

October 9. (Landmark, 4:30)

Chico

J See listing under Tuesday,

October 9. (Landmark, 6:30)

What Time

Is It There?

J See listing under Tuesday,

October 9. (Landmark, 6:45)

Man Walking on Snow

See listing under Sunday, October 7. (Landmark, 7:00)

Band of Outsiders

JA gangster story, sort of, by Jean-Luc Godard, who supposedly told his backers that he was going to make a sequel to Breathless and then delivered this mix of musical comedy, slapstick, violence, and incidental observations on politics and philosophy. Claude Brasseur, Sami Frey, and Anna Karina make fairly inept burglars, but they do a wonderful version of the "Steam Heat" number from Stanley Donen's The Pajama Game. This remains one of Godard's most appealing and underrated films, relatively relaxed and strangely optimistic (1964). 95 min. (DK) (Landmark, 7:00)

Kwik Stop

There are so many curves and anomalies in this unpredictable and at times cryptic low-budget independent feature, made by Chicago actor Michael Gilio, that I'm tempted to call it an experimental film masquerading as something more conventional. If it's a comedy--and I'm not sure it is--there are far too many close-ups, though this is very much an actors' film (and a showcase for the four leads). If it's a road film--and I'm not sure it is--it never gets very far on any given route, though that's surely deliberate. At times I wondered if I were watching something akin to a James Purdy novel--or a story by Franz Kafka. Two characters (played by Gilio and Bird on a Wire's Lara Phillips) are opaque--they meet at a convenience store where she's shoplifting, then go on a cross-country trip toward LA, until things start to get weird--and two (played by Karin Anglin and the charismatic Rich Komenich) have back stories. This movie is about the interactions between these characters, and though I'm still trying to figure out what all the pieces mean, there's no way I can shake off the experience. 111 min. (JR) (Music Box, 7:00)

Drive-in Movie Memories

See listing under Tuesday, October 9. (Music Box, 7:30)

Quartet for Two

The fourth film directed by actor Naoto Takenaka (star of Shall We Dance?) takes an exceedingly wry look at divorce Japanese style. Flirting with inverted stereotypes as it traces the breakup of a marriage between a career wife and a gentle househusband and charts the divided loyalties of their two kids, it uses a madcap mix of tones to describe the changing landscape of familial allegiances. There are melodramatic set pieces (husband and unfaithful wife have it out as thunder crashes and lightning strobes), bits of social satire (every bus ferries a sprawling collection of snoring businessmen), hysterical Kabuki moments (a wronged wife waves compromising photos as she treats half the neighborhood to a blow-by-blow account of her husband's infidelity), and musical interludes of campy psychodrama (a succession of highly stylized, dashingly surreal dream sequences). Indeed, the whole movie is awash in music, from the omnipresent Brahms duet the mother and daughter practice to the husband's humming as he dusts. Ultimately the oddball tonal shifts prove bracing, the film seeming all the more generous to its slightly ridiculous characters for avoiding the bathos of Kramer vs. Kramer shtick. 104 min. (RS) (Landmark, 9:00)

Offspring

See listing under Saturday, October 6. (Landmark, 9:15)

Cool and Crazy

J It wasn't until long after I'd watched this movie about a 30-man choir in a Norwegian fishing village with an "uninterrupted view to the north pole" that it occurred to me it might not be a documentary. I did notice that parts of it were unabashedly staged, as when the group is shown performing outdoors, braving severe winter weather in picturesque images that fade to white, and I did think it a bit strange that some teenage girls began to pester the singers--mostly old men--for autographs after a concert in Russia that brought down the house. But then all documentarians contrive to some degree, and there's nothing unusual about director Knut Erik Jensen (Passing Darkness) moving the camera or even cutting from an interviewee to an object that represents the person's words as metaphor or twists them into irony (a pot boils over on the stove as a former activist bemoans his recent passivity). Still, Jensen's use of the conventions of documentary making--and his undermining of them in ways both bold and subtle--seems too canny and consistent for the form. Yet the harder I try to decide whether this is a documentary or a parody, the more I wonder why it matters. 105 min. (LA) (Music Box, 9:15)

Wild Flowers

Based on the writings of 19th-century poet K.J. Erben, this Czech film is a collection of seven ballads or fairy tales that are dramatized against a rural 19th-century backdrop and woven together by recurring characters. Director F.A. Brabec captures a time when people were much more attuned to nature than we are now, when there was a clearer line between good and bad deeds, and when death was always near. In one story a man who lives in a lake falls in love with a young woman and takes her from her mother. Despite their passionate love, she pines for her mother and begs for a visit, which he finally grants, but with strict conditions. Another story is a cautionary tale about not wishing for something awful because it might come true. Most of the stories have sad or violent outcomes that reflect the harshness of rural life, but they also celebrate the joys of living in close harmony with nature. 85 min. (JK) (Landmark, 9:30)

Roberto Succo

French filmmaker Cedric Kahn's sweeping, almost epic re-creation of the life of a notorious Italian-born serial killer, whose major mayhem occurred in the 1980s along the Mediterranean coast of France, makes for engrossing cinema. Kahn has cast a nonprofessional, the blue-eyed and baby-faced Stefano Cassetti, as the devilishly psychotic Succo, and he's cast the French starlet most comfortable in front of a camera, Isild Le Besco, as Succo's 16-year-old girlfriend. The two make out like the bandit couple in Terrence Malick's Badlands, but in their brilliant escapes, when they elude cops everywhere, they register like Bonnie and Clyde. Kahn is among the new breed of French directors who've mastered the rhythms and shooting style of American genre filmmaking, though his Succo is a bit too wild and random in his creepy criminality to grab a mass audience's sympathy. But that's Kahn's intention: to document a madman at work, without sociological excuses or sentimentality. 124 min. (GP) (Music Box, 9:30)

Super 8 Stories by Emir Kusturica

See listing under Tuesday, October 9. (Landmark, 9:45)

Thursday11 October

Quartet for Two

See listing under Wednesday, October 10. (Landmark, 4:30)

Drive-in Movie Memories

See listing under Tuesday, October 9. (Landmark, 5:00)

Maya

The latest of the recent worldwide spate of films that chronicle institutionalized brutality toward women, Digvijay Singh's debut feature, an Indian-U.S. production, lacks focus. A little girl's accession to puberty is celebrated in a temple through a "holy" gang rape by four priests, her pitiful cries clearly audible to family and well-wishers feasting around the perimeter. The only person to rush to help her is a young boy, her erstwhile constant companion with whom she's studied, played, explored, and gotten into tomboyish mischief--the two blissfully unaware that their elders were preparing this bloody end to their childhood. The film, told partially through the eyes of the boy, never really establishes a satisfying point of view, nor does it ascribe the ceremonial rape to any specified decade, region, or belief system. Singh, unable to comprehend how a caring, middle-class, educated Indian family can condone such barbaric practices, has let his incomprehension become that of the movie. Moving through the community of women, he never explores their complex complicity in the perpetuation of what's been done to them, casting them into the very ethnic "otherness" he professes to deny. 105 min. (RS) (Landmark, 6:30)

Big Bad Love

See listing under Tuesday, October 9. (Music Box, 6:45)

Night Shift

J See listing under Tuesday,

October 9. (Landmark, 7:00)

Waterboys

See listing under Tuesday, October 9. (Landmark, 7:00)

Silence...We're Rolling

I haven't seen this French-Egyptian production, but the very notion of a musical comedy by the exuberant Egyptian master Youssef Chahine (Destiny) is irresistible. It's his 40th film, and it's about a stage and screen star (played by the famous Tunisian singer Latifah) who gets dumped by her husband, then pursued by her psychoanalyst. 92 min. (JR) (Music Box, 7:00)

Sister Wife

In 1969 a group of African-Americans fled an impoverished, marginalized existence here in the States and established several communities in southern Israel. They called themselves the Hebrew Israelites and believed they were the direct descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and therefore the descendants of the ten lost tribes of Israel. This Israeli documentary examines their thriving community, which now numbers about 4,000 members and practices a rigid, patriarchal form of Judaism in which polygamy is a way of life. The film follows the life of Zipora, a devout follower who, after 21 years of marriage and nine children, is forced to deal with her husband's decision to take a second wife, a woman 14 years younger than she is. She struggles valiantly with her new reality and claims to support her husband's decision, but the underlying tension is obvious. Her husband leaves it to the two women to forge a truce if not an alliance, and Zipora's ways of coping are nothing short of heroic--she's the one who stays with the new wife in the hospital while his tenth child is born. Directors Timna Goldstein and Hadar Kleinman are sympathetic to Zipora, yet they never succumb to the temptation to portray her as simply a victim. 52 min. (JK) On the same program, Cassandra Herrman and Katy Shrout's American Exile. (Landmark, 7:30)

Cool and Crazy

J See listing under Wednesday, October 10. (Landmark, 8:45)

Amelie

See listing under Sunday, October 7. (Landmark, 9:00)

The Human Comedy

J Taiwanese director Hung Hung--whose delightful first film, The Love of 3 Oranges, won this festival's Fipresci prize two years ago--turns in another accomplished work, though on a larger scale. He sets portions of 12 classic fables from the Confucian Book of 24 Filial Pieties in contemporary Taipei and transmutes them into a subtle meditation on the meaning of family in an increasingly fragmented modern society. The stories range in tone from humorous to wistful and feature recurring characters that often resurface in unexpected ways. The film is sometimes hampered by sentimentality, but that's more than compensated for by its exquisite moments of beauty and deep emotional resonance. 117 min. (RP) (Music Box, 9:00)

Wild Flowers

See listing under Wednesday, October 10. (Landmark, 9:15)

Warm Water Under a Red Bridge

JAt 75, Shohei Imamura offers one of his most ribald films--possibly his daffiest to date: a well-told fantasy about a young woman in a fishing village on the Noto peninsula (The Eel's Misa Shimizu) with a strange physical condition that essentially turns her into a sexual geyser when she's aroused. She gets involved with a middle-aged businessman (The Eel's Koji Yakusho, also a familiar lead in Kiyoshi Kurosawa films) who loses his job and wife, then turns up in the village looking for a golden Buddha stolen from a Kyoto temple that's said to be in the young woman's house. Things get much more complicated after that, but interest never flags over 119 minutes. This isn't a major effort, but it's an enjoyable one. (JR) (Music Box, 9:15)

Reel Shorts 2:

Mondo Insane-O

See listing under Tuesday, October 9. (Landmark, 9:45)

Next issue: Week Two

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