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Chicago International Film Festival

Week Two

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Friday 12 October

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) (Landmark, 4:30)

Warm Water Under a Red Bridge

At 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) (Landmark, 6:30)

Hi, Tereska

J A welcome antidote to the bloated historical epics that currently dominate Polish cinema, this gripping portrait of an alienated 15-year-old captures the experience of Poland's "blockers" generation--the aimless and morally bankrupt teens who live in depressing apartment blocks built during the communist era. Pliant and eager to please, Tereska lives in Warsaw with her bratty sister, factory-worker mother, and unemployed, alcoholic father. She dreams of escaping their life of poverty and frustration by becoming a fashion designer, but lacks the self-confidence to achieve her goals. When she enters a tailor's training program, she falls under the influence of a rebellious fellow student who pushes her toward her first cigarette, first bottle of wine, first sexual experience, and first crime. Shooting in black-and-white digital blown up to 35-millimeter and smoothly mixing amateur actors from reform schools and professionals, director Robert Glinski conveys a gritty veracity that's both formally spare and emotionally unsparing. 86 min. (AS) (Landmark, 6:45)

Baran

J The plight of illegal Afghan workers in Tehran provides the backdrop for this story of unrequited love, written and directed by Majid Majidi (The Color of Paradise, Children of Heaven). Much of the film takes place at a construction site, where a cocky Iranian tea boy is at first angered by a new tea boy, an Afghan refugee, then discovers that this rival is really a girl and becomes infatuated. Majidi, who's prone to pictorialism, uses somber hues of gray and brown, except in scenes involving women, and favors meticulously composed overhead and dolly shots (courtesy of the inventive cinematographer Mohammed Davudi). His visuals get preciously symbolic at times, and the boy's selfless devotion to the girl--whom we never get to know--seems intended as an apology to Iran's helpless refugees. Yet despite its mawkish tendencies, the film is remarkable for the naturalistic acting of its cast, particularly the simple, tenderly expressive performances of the two leads, Hossein Abedini and Zahra Bahrami. 94 min. (TS) (Landmark, 7:00)

Halle Berry Tribute

Hollywood Reporter film reviewer Duane Byrge will host an evening of talk and clips with Halle Berry (Strictly Business, Boomerang, Bulworth, X-Men, Swordfish). (Music Box, 7:00)

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, 7:15)

Pauline and Paulette

This modestly colorful Belgian-French-Dutch film by Lieven Debrauwer builds on the strength of good performances and a delicate interplay of types and stereotypes. The story of the unfolding relationship of four sisters is so enjoyable that it seems a disservice to mention that this falls into the feel-good movie subgenre about retarded characters whose childlike goodness has the power to transform others. Paulette is a flamboyant, pretty-in-pink shopkeeper, amateur opera singer, and proudly self-made woman who struggles with the unwanted adoration of her sweetly dim and endlessly pesky sister Pauline. When their sister Martha, Pauline's stern caregiver, dies, her will bequeaths substantial assets to whichever surviving sister is willing to assume the burden of Pauline for life. Paulette and the youngest sister, Cecile--a career woman in a new relationship--bounce the unfortunate Pauline back and forth, but Pauline has already made her choice and doesn't care who knows it. Pauline and Paulette might easily have been mawkish; instead it has a light comic edge and a dignity built on the fine characterization of Pauline. 78 min. (BS) (Music Box, 7:30)

Violet Perfume (Nobody Hears You)

Maryse Sistach's fifth film centers on two teenage friends in Mexico City, Yessica (Ximena Ayala) and Mirian (Nancy Gutierrez), who are threatened by abuse and harassment and whose relationship lets them briefly forget the pain around them. Sistach creates a tight structure and a paranoid mood, but the psychology seems oversimplified. 90 min. (GK) (Landmark, 9:00)

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) (Landmark, 9:00)

All About You

If you haven't had your fill of stories about attractive single women in a world where all men are dogs, women who are shocked when the abrasive guy right under their nose turns out to be Mr. Right, here's one more for you. Renee Goldsberry plays a law-school student whose failed relationship with a self-absorbed businessman causes her to put her life on hold. She takes a job as a waitress at a posh nightclub, where she endures the attentions of self-absorbed men until the inconvenient arrival of a roommate's guest brings some surprises--though not for the audience. Christine Swanson wrote and directed this lightweight romantic comedy; the appealing cast includes Terron Brooks, Debbie Allen, and Lou Myers. 90 min. (RP) (Landmark, 9:15)

Smokers Only

Veronica Chen's debut feature offers a shallow and painfully languid look at the lives of two alienated young people in contemporary Buenos Aires. Reni (Cecilia Bengolea) is a sullen lounge singer; Andres (Leonardo Brezicki) is a bisexual who hustles tricks on empty nighttime streets. The paths of these two kindred souls cross by chance, and their lives briefly intertwine as they go on a journey of sexual and personal discovery. Formerly an editor, Chen is much better at using the power of association and direct observation than at creating a cohesive narrative structure. Single images occasionally capture the emotional immediacy of the moment, and contrasting shots are sometimes insightfully juxtaposed. But more often the film is mired in long, uneventful sequences full of mechanically recited platitudes that were clearly meant to be poignant. Equally irritating are the stilted performances of the two leads, who sleepwalk their way through all 88 minutes. (ZB) (Music Box, 9:15)

Cunnamulla

About 500 miles west of Brisbane lies the last town on the Queensland railway system--tiny jerkwater Cunnamulla, the subject of Dennis O'Rourke's unflinching documentary. The indolent townspeople would be amusing if they weren't so pathetically impoverished; almost everyone is dependent on a government pension for survival. One of the few exceptions is Arthur, who laconically cruises the scorched streets in his cab, always without a fare. His garrulous wife seems to know the entire town's business, which, given the paltry number of inhabitants, isn't that difficult. O'Rourke, a veteran documentarian, has a singular talent for unobtrusively capturing people as they go about their everyday lives, which allows him to accumulate some arresting and disturbing scenes: two young teenage girls talking intimately about their assorted sexual partners, an old, toothless aborigine woman singing an impassioned spiritual, the town dogcatcher dragging a yelping dog to a field and shooting it. The film does have some small, quiet moments of hope and humor, but overriding everything is the sense of boredom and futility that has settled on the town like so much dust. The residents are all aware that their lives stink, but no one seems to have a clue how to change anything. 105 min. (JK) (Landmark, 9:30)

In the Bedroom

A film about wild grief, devastating loss, and single-minded vengeance seems particularly germane these days. In character actor Todd Field's directorial bow, Sissy Spacek and Tom Wilkinson play an educated middle-class couple coping, badly, with the violent death of their college-age son. In the Bedroom possesses many virtues: it has a real feel for the topography and rhythms of its coastal Maine setting and a true empathy for its people--Spacek and Wilkinson are given all the time and space they need to layer the guilt, rage, and prejudice that lie beneath a lifetime of enlightened gentility, and they have a field day. This is the kind of movie "serious" critics always think Hollywood should be making--intelligent, character driven, literate--but unfortunately nothing in it transcends the tasteful and the well made. Except the ending. Just when the proceedings have veered into familiar bloodletting-and-trembling territory, the entire axis of the film shifts, and the closing moment, so subtle it could be missed, calls into question practically everything that went before. Still, a killer ending does not a movie make, and ultimately In the Bedroom may be more interesting to talk about than to sit through. 138 min. (RS) (Music Box, 9:30)

Saturday 13 October

Ruby's Bucket of Blood

Angela Bassett stars in this made-for-cable feature about a juke-joint owner in Louisiana who hires a white singer. Julie Hebert adapted her own play, and Peter Werner directed. 95 min. (Landmark, 12:45)

Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India

This historical piece, set in 1893, revolves around the languorous game of cricket, which makes the nearly four-hour running time appropriate. The title comes from the tithes paid by villagers to the local raja and to the British for protection. Indian superstar Aamir Khan, also the producer, plays a tempestuous villager who offends a British captain, then agrees to a cricket match--with the lagaan as the prize--between the British soldiers and the reluctant villagers, none of whom knows the game. The film, directed by Ashutosh Gowariker, isn't as lavish or flashy as the typical Bollywood product, and cricket aside, there's little to distinguish the plotting and wide-screen visuals from more traditional Hollywood musicals--though few recent American musicals are this fluid or engaging. The traditional-style songs, combining northern Indian folk music with classic Western motifs, were written by noted composer A.R. Rahman. 224 min. (MP) (Landmark, 2:00)

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, 2:00)

Hi, Tereska

See listing under Friday, October 12. (Landmark, 2:15)

Cunnamulla

See listing under Friday, October 12. (Landmark, 2:30)

Violet Perfume (Nobody Hears You)

See listing under Friday, October 12. (Landmark, 3:00)

Domestic Violence

One wouldn't expect a documentary by Frederick Wiseman about domestic violence to be anything less than powerful, but it's his subtle, low-key approach to such an emotionally charged subject--one too often presented in luridly melodramatic terms--that makes the film so devastating. After some brief early sequences involving police responses to domestic-battery incidents (one of which is very graphic), Wiseman spends the bulk of his time at a Tampa, Florida, shelter for abused women and their children, observing the shelter's deceptively mundane activities: intake interviews, staff meetings, case-management sessions, support groups, and schoolroom activities. The picture that emerges from these scenes is fittingly complex, and it sets up a final sequence that's as haunting as anything I've seen in a long time. 196 min. (RP) (Music Box, 3:00)

Lovely Rita

This Austrian-German feature, the directorial debut of Jessica Hausner, focuses on a troubled and isolated middle-class adolescent (Barbara Osika) and her awkward attempts to relate to people, sexually and otherwise. 80 min. On the same program, Patrick Daughter's short Any Creature. (Landmark, 4:15)

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, 4:15)

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, 4:30)

All About You

See listing under Friday, October 12. (Landmark, 5:15)

Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures

In the discourse about Kubrick since his death, the accounts of his life and work by his family and associates have been gratifying, since they're more intelligent and reliable than almost anything distributed while he was alive. As someone points out in this 140-minute hagiographic documentary by his brother-in-law Jan Harlan (which has already been shown on cable and is now available on video and DVD), Kubrick has generally been admired more and understood better by other filmmakers than by critics. Even Kubrick collaborator Michael Herr struck out in his recent book about his friend when he tried to critique Eyes Wide Shut, but here Martin Scorsese and Alex Cox deal persuasively with the film's dream logic. Harlan begins with playful montage effects; discusses Kubrick's long-suppressed first feature Fear and Desire, A.I. Artificial Intelligence, and the unmade "Aryan Papers"; and helpfully shoots down rumors about his subject's alleged misogyny and asocial tendencies. Among the many people interviewed are Woody Allen, Jack Nicholson, and Tom Cruise (who narrates), and there are lots of home movies and an early radio interview. One can also see a few chinks in Kubrick's armor, such as his touching naivete in imagining that his melancholy masterpiece Barry Lyndon ever could have been commercial. (JR) (Landmark, 6:15)

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, 6:30)

The Mad Songs of Fernanda Hussein

J As narrative this is lumpy in spots, and one is often reminded that all of the actors, apart from Thia Gonzales in the title role, are nonprofessionals. But John Gianvito's epic 168-minute feature about the impact of the gulf war on the U.S., shot on a minuscule budget in New Mexico over six years, is such a powerful and moving act of bearing witness that these limitations become secondary. The film moves through several cinematic modes and styles to tackle its daunting subject, veering from drama to documentary--a sequence on war toys took my breath away, and there are extended passages by Iraqi musician Naseer Shemma commemorating some of the war's victims--and culminating in a long experimental sequence at the end that I found both cathartic and beautiful in its mythic resonance. The film tells the stories of three characters in three cities: a Mexican-American woman who's acquired the name Hussein through marriage and loses both of her children as a consequence, a rebellious and angry teenage boy who leaves home and becomes an activist, and a scarred returning solider (played by a gulf war veteran). Clearly not for everyone, but I can't think of many other American independent features in recent years that have mattered as much to me. (JR) (Music Box, 6:30)

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) (Landmark, 6:45)

Our Lady of the Assassins

This Death in Venice set in the moral decay of Medellin, Colombia, has its faults, but it's Barbet Schroeder's most relevant and interesting film in over a decade. Based on an autobiographical novel by Fernando Vallejo, the film stars German Jaramillo as a gay exiled writer (reminiscent of Pasolini) who returns home to die, only to fall in love with an underage hustler who, like everyone else on the streets, doesn't plan to reach adulthood. Together they move like a tedious funeral procession through the city's dangerous streets and oases of calmness. Schroeder's gritty surrealism is enhanced by his casting real street kids and shooting them on their own turf, using high-definition video to create an odd color palette. His tone is off-putting, but ultimately we identify with and care for the protagonist, who feels true loss only when the city's anarchy affects him on a personal level. 100 min. (MP) (Music Box, 7:00)

The Orphan of Anyang

Just when it looked like great films from mainland China were on the wane, along comes a first film of immense depth, assurance, and stylistic rigor. Impassively composed of long, static shots where the action is usually glimpsed obliquely--from behind the hero's back, from across the street, through traffic, sometimes head-on--The Orphan of Anyang recounts, virtually in dumb show, the story of a man who loses his job and finds a baby in the same day, with things going either uphill or downhill from there (it's hard to say which). Novelist and film critic Wang Chow's stark minimalism proposes a unique and utterly fascinating relationship between his nonprofessional actors and the nonactors who stream in and out of the frame, neither hostile to nor complicit in the drama played out just on- or offscreen. Similarly, the rare lines of dialogue and the domestic intimacy of a sputtering lightbulb never really separate from the ambient noise. The relationship between individual and milieu is constantly evolving. A hulking crime boss, his future radically shortened by leukemia, hies himself to a riverbank for some contemplative quality time, surrounded, as always, by his eager goons. Their jostling, macho posturing, threatening when they're pushing women around in a red bordello, seems absurd, uncertain, and almost fragile in the clarity of sunlight and water. 74 min. (RS) (Landmark, 7:30)

Streeters

A streetwise 15-year-old living in Mexico City's homeless underworld steals a corrupt police officer's drug money and prepares to flee the city with his girlfriend. But when he learns that his father, whom he's never met, is alive he goes in search of him, pursued by the ruthless cop. Director Gerardo Tort presents a memorably gritty vision of Mexico's urban outcasts, especially its legions of exploited homeless children. Yet given the aura of tragedy surrounding the story from the beginning, the outcome is never in doubt, and the movie feels increasingly like an empty exercise. With Luis Fernando Pena. 85 min. (RP) (Landmark, 8:45)

Lift

This second feature by the gifted team of DeMane Davis and Khari Streeter is deeply accomplished and fascinating, though problematic. In a riveting lead performance, Kerry Washington plays a deeply conflicted young woman named Niecy, who's attempting to work through her complicated feelings about her emotionally distant mother (Lonette McKee). Niecy works at an upscale Boston department store, a shrewd cover for her other life as a brilliant thief of expensive designer clothes. Driven by a near-pathological need to please her mother, she surrenders to her most primal impulses, losing all sense of balance. The movie is beautifully shot by David Phillips, and it has a throbbing, spontaneous urgency, a berserk style, and fluid, sensual rhythms, which are unfortunately broken by sharp disruptions in the narrative, such as a hallucinatory nightmare fantasy set during a funeral. It also lacks authority and never develops a perspective on its deeper subject--the emotional void of a life spent pursuing material goods. 85 min. (PZM) (Landmark, 9:00)

Smokers Only

See listing under Friday, October 12. (Landmark, 9:30)

Disco Pigs

Kirsten Sheridan's dark fairy tale seems closer, in its curious, quintessentially Irish mixture of violence and mysticism, to the films of her countryman Neil Jordan (The Company of Wolves, The Butcher Boy) than to the raucous social-realist canvases of her father, Jim Sheridan (My Left Foot, The Boxer). A boy and a girl--dubbed "Pig" and "Runt," presumably not by their parents--forge a magical bond at birth, continue it in quasi-autistic isolation in high school (communing through their own language, imagery, and rituals) only to see it turn psychotic when sex rears its head and what seems to him like destiny seems to her like incest. The film is based on a play by Enda Walsh, and though certain scenes translate vibrantly to the screen, particularly those that trace the girl's dawning awareness of her soul twin's difference, Walsh's fairy-tale image system works far better as language than as transmogrified by Sheridan into disingenuous and deliberately tacky fantasy flashes of crowns and castles. This is an ambitious debut, but a very uneven one. 93 min. (RS) (Landmark, 9:30)

Intimacy

A marked improvement upon its source material--a slightly misogynistic novella and a minor short story by Hanif Kureishi--Patrice Chereau's film is both an observant portrait of class-bound London by a foreigner and an empathetic look at sexual passion that completely avoids cheap prurience. Like Chereau's previous Those Who Love Me Can Take the Train, Intimacy benefits from cinematographer Eric Gautier's brilliant use of a handheld camera and imaginative wide-screen compositions. The threat of bathos is also kept at bay by the assured performances of Mark Rylance, as a troubled English bartender who strays from his marriage, and Kerry Fox, who masterfully embodies the woman who meets him for weekly sexual trysts. A subplot involving Fox's jealous husband (played with considerable flair by Timothy Spall) is grating, but Chereau's tone is, for the most part, intelligently restrained. 119 min. (RMP) (Music Box, 9:30)

Blue Spring

One of a cluster of ominous new Japanese films detailing high school gangs led into violence by a charismatic leader, Toshiaki Toyoda's Blue Spring is all style over substance. Based on a Japanese comic-book series, it details the rivalry between the dominant Kujo (played by the striking star of Taboo, Ryuhei Matsuda) and his devoted follower Aoki--a rivalry with ritualized competitions that point toward a sublimated homoeroticism. Toyoda's self-consciously stylized ice blue palette and ostentatiously skewed camera angles overwhelm the thin characterizations of his stylishly delinquent boys and their oh-so-hip violence. And the film seems grimly trapped within its characters' worldview--why should we root for Kujo's bullies and not his rivals? Takeshi Kitano might have leavened this combination with sentimentality and droll humor, but Toyoda keeps things tightly under control--much to his disadvantage. 83 min. (SK) On the same program, Lisa Barnstone's short Drink Me. (Music Box, 9:45)

Sunday 14 October

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, 2:00)

Disco Pigs

See listing under Saturday, October 13. (Landmark, 2:00)

Hi, Tereska

See listing under Friday, October 12. (Music Box, 2:00)

The Orphan of Anyang

See listing under Saturday, October 13. (Landmark, 2:15)

The Human Comedy

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, 2:15)

Lovely Rita

See listing under Saturday, October 13. (Landmark, 2:45)

Cunnamulla

See listing under Friday, October 12. (Landmark, 4:00)

Streeters

See listing under Saturday, October 13. (Landmark, 4:00)

Lagaan: Once Upon

a Time in India

See listing under Saturday, October 13. (Music Box, 4:00)

Lift

See listing under Saturday, October 13. (Landmark, 4:15)

The Mad Songs of Fernanda Hussein

See listing under Saturday, October 13. (Music Box, 4:30)

Blue Spring

See listing under Saturday, October 13. (Landmark, 4:45)

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, 6:00)

ABC Africa

This is Abbas Kiarostami's first feature shot on digital video and his first film that's mainly in English. It's also his most accessible film to date, though people may still be scared away by his subject matter: the enormous number of Ugandan children orphaned by the AIDS crisis. He focuses much of the time on the kids singing and dancing--making this documentary resemble a musical at times--and that has led some critics to call his take on the crisis inadequate. But his film is only superficially superficial, and it grows in meaning and resonance as it develops. One brief scene in a hospital and a few interviews tell us all the disturbing facts we need to know, and the second half of this 83-minute film moves beyond conventional documentary into the kind of philosophical inquiry we expect from Kiarostami. A scene set in almost complete darkness matches similar scenes in Taste of Cherry and The Wind Will Carry Us, and a sequence set in a ruined house in the rain is as lovely as anything in Life and Nothing More. As in virtually all of Kiarostami's mature work, issues raised by a well-to-do filmmaker interacting with poor people remain central, as does his admiration for his subjects' resilience in coping with tragedy. (JR) (Landmark, 6:15)

Violet Perfume (Nobody Hears You)

See listing under Friday, October 12. (Landmark, 6:15)

All About You

See listing under Friday, October 12. (Landmark, 6:45)

Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures

See listing under Saturday, October 13. (Landmark, 8:00)

Bad Luck Love

None of the vaguely low-life characters in Olli Saarela's uniquely Finnish tale of love, jealousy, murder, and redemption seems to have a clue that there's a larger world beyond their few scruffy blocks of home turf. At once violently reactive and stultifyingly passive, they seem governed by the laws of inertia. They hang out around a gym, more or less in training--but for what? There are no matches, no hint that boxing is anything but a pretext for hitting punching bags and occasionally one another. Ex-fireman Saarela's view of his resolutely lumpen characters is neither empathetic nor judgmental. His hero's drunken, doped-up, jealousy-driven, and amazingly brutal slaughter of a local punk is treated with the same acceptance as his later conversion to forgiveness and Christianity; the Jesus tattoo he acquires in prison shares pride of place on his body with the death's-heads and skulls of his former allegiance. It's all indicative that he's a changed man, sort of. 84 min. (RS) (Music Box, 8:00)

Roberto Succo

See listing under Friday, October 12. (Landmark, 8:15)

No Man's Land

This first feature by Danis Tanovic is a rueful yet often funny account of a tense standoff between Serbian and Croatian soldiers in a demilitarized zone in Bosnia in 1993. The plotting is deft and persuasive, beginning with a shockingly violent combat sequence. Tanovic then implodes that scenario, and the story suddenly turns grave and absurdist--a third man wired with hidden explosives provides a stark and devastating symbol of the greater social, cultural, and political quagmire. The film isn't particularly distinguished visually or stylistically, though Tanovic has a shrewd grasp of tone and atmosphere. And while the war-as-insanity metaphor clearly fits the cruel, heartbreaking story, its force is undercut by a succession of character types--ambitious television journalists, outmatched UN peacekeepers, overbearing politicians. 98 min. (PZM) (Landmark, 8:30)

Trembling Before G-d

At first glance the moral conflict between Orthodox Judaism and homosexuality seems irreconcilable--and Sandi Simcha DuBowski's revealing documentary only confirms as much. DuBowski interviews a wide spectrum of individuals in New York and Jerusalem, from rabbis to openly gay and lesbian Hasidim, some of whom are shown only in silhouette, clearly uneasy about speaking publicly. The camera does little more than register a steady stream of talking heads, yet the diverse personal stories provide a glimpse into a shunned subculture, where the struggle to integrate forbidden sexual practices and religious dogma is sustained by the desperate hope that, in God's eyes, good deeds may eventually outweigh the breaking of a fundamental commandment. Somewhat curiously, the film's most emotional moments occur when some of the subjects talk about their estrangement not from God, but from their families. 84 min. (ZB) (Music Box, 8:30)

Smokers Only

See listing under Friday, October 12. (Landmark, 9:00)

Monday 15 October

Maya

See listing under Friday, October 12. (Landmark, 4:00)

Sister Wife

See listing under Sunday, October 14. (Landmark, 5:00)

No Man's Land

See listing under Sunday, October 14. (Landmark, 6:30)

Bad Luck Love

See listing under Sunday, October 14. (Music Box, 6:30)

The Orphan of Anyang

See listing under Saturday, October 13. (Landmark, 6:45)

Disco Pigs

See listing under Saturday, October 13. (Landmark, 7:00)

Baran

See listing under Friday, October 12. (Music Box, 7:00)

Lift

See listing under Saturday, October 13. (Landmark, 7:15)

The Mad Songs of Fernanda Hussein

See listing under Saturday, October 13. (Music Box, 8:30)

Lovely Rita

See listing under Saturday, October 13. (Landmark, 8:45)

The Son's Room

This year's Palme d'Or winner at Cannes is something of a departure for Nanni Moretti--heretofore known for his semiautobiographical, highly political comedies about daily life in modern Italy, starring himself as himself. The Son's Room is purely fictional, starring Moretti as a psychiatrist with a satisfying, comfortable bourgeois life--the kind of life Moretti might have mocked in his earliest films. The psychiatrist has a full practice and a good relationship with his lovely wife (the radiant Laura Morante), who's a publisher of art books, and their two well-adjusted teenagers; they all live in a sunlit apartment within sight of the sea. Domestic bliss is only occasionally challenged by the son's problems at school or the petty concerns of patients. Then a sudden accident reconfigures everything that has been so lovingly, carefully put together. With tender skill, Moretti illuminates Samuel Beckett's phrase "I can't go on--I'll go on." 95 min. (MB) (Landmark, 9:00)

The Pornographer

Bertrand Bonello's second feature looks at pornographic filmmaking in a strictly intellectual context. Jacques (played by an overweight Jean-Pierre Leaud), a director of innovative hard-core films in the 60s and 70s but retired for years, returns to the profession, only to find it stultifying. As he considers creating something more meaningful, he starts to question his relationships with his family, especially his estranged son. His concern never quite seems genuine, and Bonello weighs down the plot with a dense postmortem of 60s and 70s French philosophy. With Jeremie Renier. 108 min. (GK) (Music Box, 9:00)

Blue Spring

See listing under Saturday, October 13. (Landmark, 9:15)

Streeters

See listing under Saturday, October 13. (Landmark, 9:30)

Tuesday 16 October

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) (Landmark, 6:00)

Shirin Neshat: Confronting Silence

Iranian filmmaker, video artist, and installation artist Shirin Neshat has invited controversy by exploring the oppression of women in Iran in ways that are highly formalized. It might be argued that her work--which has been much applauded, though it hasn't been shown in Iran--risks reinforcing stereotypes in the process of exploring them, but it remains provocative and at times hypnotic. The installation pieces, which feature the music of Sussan Deyhim, tend to suffer when shown merely as films or videos, as I assume they will be in this 64-minute program. (JR) (Landmark, 6:15)

Truly Human

The tendency of Dogma 95 films to romanticize the mentally handicapped reaches pathological proportions in this 2000 Danish feature by Ake Sandgren, which takes off from an abominable fairy-tale premise and becomes more misguided with every frame. A little girl with disgruntled yuppie parents forges an imaginary relationship with the aborted fetus of her brother, who has grown to manhood inside the walls of the family's home. When the house is torn down, this naif is unleashed upon an uncaring world, his purity of heart leading him to violate various social norms (accompanied by his own personal choir). The Dogma manifesto was written as an antidote to the blahs of contemporary filmmaking, but this entry proves that, in addition to the jittery DV camera work, the genre is characterized by the cliche of an innocent who must suffer to prove how awful society has become. 90 min. (MP) On the same program, Joe Meredith's Stubble Trouble. (Landmark, 6:30)

Track of the Cat

Mythological westerns, even good ones, are a dime a dozen, but metaphysical westerns are a rare breed. This year's festival provides an opportunity to see William Wellman's supremely odd 1954 allegorical oater--a one-of-a-kind mix of solid Hollywood classicism and overt, nearly avant-garde experimentation--the only way it should be seen: in CinemaScope and unfaded color. Wellman and cinematographer William Clothier set out to make a "black-and-white film shot in color," one rife with abstract expressionist images such as the solitary red slash of Robert Mitchum's hunting jacket in a horizontal stretch of white snow, black trees, and gray mist. The film represents an artistic crossroads both for Wellman (here revisiting novelist Walter Van Tilburg Clark a decade after his famous adaptation of Clark's The Ox-Bow Incident) and his motley collaborators. Mitchum's feared, family-tyrannizing male seems like a dress rehearsal for his tour de force stepdaddy performance in The Night of the Hunter a year later. Screenwriter A.I. Bezzerides's use of the blatant symbolism of the cat--"black 'painter' whole world," to quote the homestead's century-old resident Indian--prefigures the apocalyptic "great whatsit" of his 1955 screenwriting masterwork, Kiss Me Deadly. In Track of the Cat's claustrophobic interior set, a dysfunctional family straight out of O'Neill crowds the frame, declaiming a litany of recriminations and denials, fueled by frustration, scripture, booze, and poetry; outside, in a snowy, silent, unarticulated vastness, a black panther prowls around like some landlocked Moby-Dick. Wellman's ongoing fascination with what's just offscreen infuses each space with the unknowable echo of the other, making for one hell of a moody, strange, and unforgettable hybrid. 102 min. (RS) This film was selected for the critic's choice section of the festival by Jonathan Rosenbaum. (Music Box, 7:00)

Bad Luck Love

See listing under Sunday, October 14. (Music Box, 7:15)

All About Lily Chou-chou

This is the second E-mail movie by writer-director Shunji Iwai that I've seen. The first was Love Letters (1995), his debut feature, and there as well as here we're shown a lot of E-mails and then invited to note the discontinuities and incongruities arising when they're juxtaposed with the interactions of the writers in real-life encounters. The concept was interesting and charming in Love Letters, up to a point, but here it quickly becomes repetitive, obvious, and dull. It doesn't help that the film, which runs 146 minutes, is about cruel, violent, repressed, and uninteresting high school students who all happen to be rabid fans of a pop singer named Lily Chou-chou. I didn't believe in any of these kids for a second; they all come across as the projections of someone roughly twice their age, which Iwai is. (JR) (Landmark, 7:30)

Pauline and Paulette

See listing under Friday, October 12. (Landmark, 8:00)

ABC Africa

See listing under Sunday, October 14. (Landmark, 8:15)

In the Bedroom

See listing under Friday, October 12. (Landmark, 8:45)

Y tu mama tambien

A satirical comedy directed by Alfonso Cuaron (Great Expectations)--reportedly a big commercial success in Mexico--about two teenage boys on the prowl while their girlfriends are in Europe who persuade a 28-year-old married woman to join them on a road trip. 105 min. (Music Box, 9:30)

Dogtown and Z-Boys

This propulsive and highly satisfying documentary--a big hit at both the Sundance and Toronto festivals--concerns a group of daredevil skateboarders from an economically depressed and dangerous area of Santa Monica known as Dogtown who created a new sport in the 70s. Known as the Z-Boys--their sponsors were the scruffy owners of the Zephyr Surfboard shop--they took their surfing-inspired, gravity-defying moves to back alleys, abandoned swimming pools, and the asphalt-and-concrete berms around their high schools, where they scandalized their more earthbound, 60s-style competitors. Erstwhile Z-Boy Stacy Peralta mines this rich lode, incorporating interviews with the grown-up boarders, and his accomplished, if occasionally overcut and relentless, film combines nostalgia for the group's artistry with a poignant examination of their inevitable loss of innocence when lucrative deals with skateboard manufacturers swiftly broke the group apart. Dogtown and Z-Boys is both a raucous crowd pleaser and an elegy. 89 min. (MB) (Music Box, 9:30)

Wednesday 17 October

The Pornographer

See listing under Monday, October 15. (Landmark, 6:30)

The Son's Room

See listing under Monday, October 15. (Music Box, 6:45)

Truly Human

See listing under Tuesday, October 16. (Landmark, 7:00)

Y tu mama tambien

See listing under Tuesday, October 16. (Landmark, 7:15)

The Human Comedy

See listing under Sunday, October 14. (Music Box, 7:15)

Shirin Neshat: Confronting Silence

See listing under Tuesday, October 16. (Landmark, 7:30)

All About Lily Chou-chou

See listing under Tuesday, October 16. (Music Box, 8:45)

The Iron Ladies

Yongyoot Thongkontoon's crowd-pleasing volleyball comedy embraces gay stereotypes with gleeful energy, creating a group hug for inclusivity. When a lesbian coach is hired to manage an A-level volleyball squad in Lampang, Thailand, the regulars walk out, so she restocks the team with a range of gay types--an army sergeant, a transsexual beauty queen, three screaming drag queens known as the "triplets"--and a token straight guy. Along the way to a climactic showdown a few fingernails are broken, but Yongyoot pretty much plays it straight, delivering all the ups and downs one expects from a sports film while undercutting the usual machismo. Two interesting asides: the director and most of the cast aren't gay, and the film is based on a true story from 1996--the real Iron Ladies are shown, too briefly, during the closing credits. 104 min. (MP) (Landmark, 9:00)

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 Bullet 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 others (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) (Landmark, 9:15)

Dogtown and Z-boys

See listing under Tuesday, October 16. (Landmark, 9:15)

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. (Landmark, 9:30)

Reel Shorts 3: New Voices, New Visions

A 107-minute program of eight shorts by beginning directors. (Music Box, 9:45)

Thursday 18 October

Best of Fest 1

A prizewinning feature from this year's festival (to be announced) and a presentation of awards. (Landmark, 6:30)

Bleacher bums

Saul Rubinek directed this made-for-cable film adaptation of the popular Organic Theater production of the 1970s, written by several hands. The cast includes Wayne Knight, Brad Garrett, Hal Sparks, Matt Craven, and Peter Riegert as fanatical baseball fans, and Charles Durning and Maury Chaykin as seasoned scorekeepers. (Music Box, 6:30)

Best of Fest 4

A prizewinning feature from this year's festival; to be announced. (Landmark, 6:45)

Best of Fest 3

A prizewinning feature from this year's festival; to be announced. (Landmark, 7:00)

Best of Fest 5

A prizewinning feature from this year's festival; to be announced. (Music Box, 7:00)

Best of Fest 2

A prizewinning feature from this year's festival; to be announced. (Landmark, 7:15)

Speaking of Sex

A screwball comedy from Chicago director John McNaughton, written by Gary Tieche. James Spader plays a therapist who gets involved with some of his clients, including married women, one of whom is played by Melora Walters. Others in the cast include Lara Flynn Boyle, Jay Mohr, Bill Murray, and Catherine O'Hara. 92 min. (Music Box, 9:00)

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