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Chicago International Film Festival

Week Two

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Friday 11 October

Winter

In this tony 2001 chamber drama by Italian writer-director Nina Di Majo, a translator (Valeria Golino) who feels stifled in her childless marriage to a philandering middle-aged industrialist befriends an art gallery owner (Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi) and her noncommittal writer boyfriend. Out of what ensues, Di Majo spins an Antonioni-esque portrayal of alienation and betrayal. The director films her actors as if they were in a fashion video; they strike poses while talking past one another, and the bleak cityscape and sterile interiors further heighten the sense of ennui. But the script is as shallow as the characters, giving the actors little more than glorified soap-opera platitudes to work with. They resort to expressing emotional "depth" by pouting and screaming; Bruni-Tedeschi, renowned for her intensity, comes off as a caricature of herself. In Italian with subtitles. 97 min. (TS) (Landmark, 4:00)

Springtime in a Small Town

Leading Chinese director Tian Zhuangzhuang is best known for his sublime historical epic Blue Kite (1993), whose depictions of the horrors of life under Mao got him banned from filmmaking for three years. His greatly anticipated return is a remake of the most revered Chinese film of all time: Fei Mu's 1948 Spring in a Small Town. Just after World War II a sickly landlord, Liyan, living in a half-ruined manor receives an unexpected visit from an old university friend, Zhiwen. Zhiwen was once the lover of Liyan's wife, Yuwen, and as passions rekindle, modern romance threatens to unravel traditional bonds of loyalty. The remake preserves the long, carefully designed takes, hauntingly dark atmosphere, and stealthily increasing tension of the original, but there are critical differences. Tian has abandoned the most innovative feature of Fei Mu's version--Yuwen's strikingly modernistic voice-over, a whispered stream of consciousness that complicates and poeticizes everything that happens--and replaced it with an almost classical film language, turning a radical commentary on China's breakdown into a nostalgic celebration of a lost perfect past. His goal is radical: to heal the rupture between China's traditional past and its postrevolutionary present. But the result, though splendidly graceful, is overly decorous and oddly lifeless. In Mandarin with subtitles. 112 min. (SK) (Landmark, 4:15)

Dog Days

After years toiling as a documentarian, Austrian director Ulrich Seidl has been receiving considerable acclaim on the festival circuit for this occasionally provocative but frequently wearying feature. Consistently sardonic in tone as it skewers both solid Viennese burghers and lumpen thugs, Dog Days is a free-form chronicle of an insufferably humid summer weekend that swerves vertiginously between a rabidly jealous young man's pursuit of his free-spirited girlfriend, the antics of a mentally unhinged female hitchhiker who gleefully insults drivers, an elderly man's poignant but slightly creepy efforts to seduce his loyal housekeeper, and the horrific gang rape of a teacher by her sadistic lover and his friends. At first, Seidl's visual flair manages to enliven the mordant proceedings--meticulously composed shots of Austrian sunbathers are eerily reminiscent of sculptor Duane Hanson's hyperrealistic re-creations of middle-class Americans. Yet as Dog Days approaches its violent but banal conclusion, Seidl's talent for satirical invective is neutralized by his weakness for over-the-top narrative pyrotechnics--this is more warmed-over Quentin Tarantino than Georg Grosz. In German with subtitles. 120 min. (RMP) (Landmark, 4:30)

Exam

Despite a mainstream thrust that suggests Hollywood in its conventional blandness, this first feature by writer-director Nasser Refaie has a prototypical "Iranian art movie" orientation. It's a comedy about a crowd of young women waiting to take a university entrance exam that never strays outside its schoolyard location--a graceful tour de force that's limited by a reluctance to move beyond predictable character types. Unfolding over 80 minutes of real time, it evokes the modernist style of The White Balloon, and the focus on women determined to receive higher education is mildly feminist--though the propensity of recent Iranian features for staging all their action in exteriors is at least partially a consequence of censorship laws requiring women in film interiors to wear chadors, however implausible. The giggles and prankishness of many of the exam takers are refreshing, yet it's symptomatic of the overall mildness that the liveliest moments ensue when someone's pet monkey gets loose and climbs a tree. In Farsi with subtitles. 80 min. (JR) (Landmark, 5:00)

Wedding in Ramallah

This complex and troubling documentary starts hopefully, with the events leading up to a large wedding in a Palestinian village, and concludes with the newlyweds estranged from each other in a nondescript apartment in Cleveland. Director Sherine Salama spent over a year filming Bassan, who, after living a decade in the States and being deserted by an American wife, returns to his village to enter the arranged marriage. Following the wedding, he returns to Cleveland, and his wife moves in with his family and tries to get a visa. Salama sheds light on, among other things, what it's like to live in a war zone and how Islamic tradition controls male-female relationships. In English and subtitled Arabic. 91 min. (JK) (Landmark, 6:30)

Tribute

I Tribute bands often make good money and play to enthusiastic audiences, which must help the players forget that they're siphoning someone else's talent and charisma. Rich Fox and Kris Curry, veterans of MTV's The Real World, directed this documentary about the dreamers, losers, and opportunists who make up five such bands, and though it's consistently hilarious, it's also fairly depressing. Among the impersonators are the spooky Andy Patche, whose role as Gene Simmons in a Kiss tribute ended when he allegedly set fire to his own home; the pompous Chuck Harter, who played Michael Nesmith in a Monkees tribute and still holds a grudge against his old Davy Jones; and the miserable Rich Sorenson, whose only escape from his job repairing and selling used tires is playing guitar in a Judas Priest tribute. Fox and Curry treat the fanatics with greater affection than the jobbers, though the only person who comes out unscathed is Chez Monroe, who quit Harter's band after three rehearsals as Davy Jones and concludes, "There's more important things in life to worry about than that shit!" Steven Soderbergh served as executive producer, dispatching ace editor Stephen Mirrione (Traffic, Ocean's Eleven) to help pull this together. 89 min. (JJ) (Landmark, 6:45)

Unknown Pleasures

I At least since I vitelloni and The Wild One in the 50s, movies about disaffected youth have constituted a kind of subgenre for filmmakers interested in historicizing the present--an undertaking whose most distinguished practitioners in Chinese-language cinema include Hou Hsiao-hsien, Edward Yang, and the much younger Jia Zhang-ke, born in 1970. I still haven't caught up with Jia's first feature, Pickpocket (1997), but his stunning epic about the transformation of China through capitalism, Platform (2000), marks him as the most gifted and stylistically and thematically contemporary Chinese filmmaker to have emerged in years. His third feature, shot on digital video, isn't an achievement on the same order, though it takes on the same theme, in a story about two unemployed 19-year-olds. Jia's virtuoso long takes, choreographed mise en scene, and feeling for character and behavior place him in a class by himself, yet in China his films have circulated only on black-market videos--a point alluded to here in a sequence where his first two features are being sold, along with Pulp Fiction, by a vendor on a bicycle. As the first of Jia's works to be shown in Chicago (Platform got a single screening at Northwestern University's Block Museum in Evanston), this automatically qualifies as a must-see. In Mandarin with subtitles. 113 min. (JR) (Landmark, 7:00)

Daughter from Yan'an

I During China's Cultural Revolution millions of urban teenagers were sent to the countryside to be reeducated as peasants. Many disobeyed an official ban and had illegitimate children, and this candid and touching documentary follows some former students as they arrange a meeting between two classmates and the daughter they abandoned. Perhaps ironically, director Kaoru Ikeya has chosen a young woman from Yan'an, a town in the parched highlands of central China that was the cradle of Chinese communism. She chafes at her harsh life and the feudal thinking of her foster parents and in-laws and longs to see her birth parents, who are now married to other people and living in Beijing. Ikeya, who's Japanese but has focused on China ever since Tiananmen, evenhandedly elicits frank comments and reactions from his subjects. The meeting between daughter and father is sad to watch, as is the reunion dinner of old classmates, who lament their lost youth and fear being forgotten by a new generation. It's an illuminating look at how China is confronting a painful past. In Mandarin with subtitles. 120 min. (TS) (Music Box, 7:00)

One Fine Spring Day

Korean director Hur Jin-ho's lachrymal romantic dramas are all about restraint. They sketch with the sparest of means the space around the precisely poised stillness that's at the intersection of romance and mourning. This film, like his previous melodrama, Christmas in August (1998), traces a love affair that begins and ends with seeming inevitability. It keenly observes, using a distanced camera, the delicate adjustments two young adults--a sound technician in a small South Korean town and a radio producer who hires him to record sounds of nature--must make to accommodate their changing feelings about each other. Unlike most Korean films, this one puts the woman in charge. She nudges their undefined courtship toward something more passionate, and when she decides she's had enough he's completely nonplussed. A subdued palette and precisely framed, virtually still compositions anchor the actors in a natural world that echoes the story as it moves from spring to winter and back to spring. The soundscape is exquisitely detailed--we hear the sigh of wind through a bamboo grove, the rustling of tall grasses, the tinkling of a temple's bells. Hur's achievement might have been close to sublime if his controlling style hadn't smothered any spontaneity in the actors' performances and the denouement hadn't pushed the tone off-key. In Korean with subtitles. 115 min. (SK) (Landmark, 7:15)

Santa Maradona

I A slacker film paradoxically spilling over with vitality, Marco Ponti's debut feature unfolds in that perpetually broadening never-never land between adolescence and maturity. Two young literati share jokes, philosophies, and a bare-bones apartment: Andrea (Stefano Accorsi), donning suit and tie, races to surreal, wonderfully deadpan job interviews for positions at businesses he despises, while Bart (Libero De Rienzo) lies around all day, occasionally "writing" literary reviews by copying them off the Internet. Their bright, witty, and madly articulate conversation ricochets back and forth like the handball they bounce off their apartment wall, and the film's jazzy style, with its frequent ellipses, zip pans, and circular constructs, conveys the sense of a life improvised from moment to moment. When Andrea falls for a woman who fits into his rituals without a hiccup, she almost nudges him into adulthood--luckily her confession of retroactive infidelity gives him the excuse he needs to avoid rushing headlong into responsibility. In Italian with subtitles. 96 min. (RS) (Music Box, 7:15)

Pleasant Days

We realize the title is ironic when in the opening scene a woman gives birth on a laundry floor, then sells her baby without batting an eyelash. Peter, who's just been released from prison, moves in with his sister, who owns the laundry and now the baby, then proceeds to get involved with the new mother and her shady married boyfriend--a triangle that's starkly devoid of love and soon spirals into hate. Kornel Mundruczo's heavily improvised, dangerously unromantic portrait of eastern European young adulthood puts these angry characters--who seem able to communicate only through sex or violence--in an environment drained of hope, and viewers are left feeling that they've been dragged through something sordid. With Tamas Polgar, Orsolya Toth, and Kata Weber. In Hungarian with subtitles. 100 min. (MP) (Landmark, 8:45)

Dark City

Twelve narratives intertwine on the mean streets of Mexico City in this dramatic feature by Fernando Sariñana, based on Juan Madrid's short-story collection Chronicles of Dark Madrid. In Spanish with subtitles. 113 min. (Landmark, 9:00)

The Blessing Bell

I Japanese filmmaker Sabu, honored as best emerging director at the 2000 festival, returns with this offbeat existential comedy. A Keaton-esque factory worker, laid off from his job, drifts through a series of misadventures and cosmic coincidences involving a suicidal yakuza, a woman cheating on her husband, a mother whose children are trapped in a burning apartment, an old man who's about to die, and a jackpot lottery ticket. Like Jim Jarmusch's Stranger Than Paradise, the film uses long static shots to heighten the story's absurdity, and its slapstick moments (a car accident, a flowerpot smashed over someone's head) often occur outside the frame. The plot progresses like a billiard ball careening around a table, but at the climax the hero races back through each of the film's locales, encountering some of the same characters, and the instantaneous symmetry is worth the wait. I thought this was a riot, but if you're not a fan of elliptical humor you'll have more fun watching paint dry. 87 min. (JJ) (Landmark, 9:30)

Grill Point

With a musical running gag that alone is worth the price of admission, Andreas Dresen's funky, likable German feature charts the profound but not completely negative effects of adultery on two lower-middle-class couples, best friends until one husband beds the other's wife. Set in Frankfurt an der Oder--not the affluent Bavarian capital but a poor east German relation--the story unfolds mostly at the characters' workplaces: Uwe operates the bar and grill of the title, his spouse sells perfume in a department store, her new lover broadcasts radio horoscopes, and the lover's wife mans a tollbooth near the Polish border. Like Mike Leigh's work, the film was largely improvised after much rehearsal, but Dresen heightens the immediacy with grungy, bleached-out digital video and nervously mobile camerawork. The actors hold their own against the camera's intimacy, their up-close visages registering a host of conflicting emotions. The fact that their characters are so unprepared for what's happening gives the improvisations a satisfying edge. Dresen maintains a neat balance between humor and pain, never overreaching into bathos or satire: one scene finds Uwe and wife roaming the greensward of their apartment complex with an empty birdcage, forlornly calling for their children's parakeet, which has flown the coop. In German with subtitles. 105 min. (RS) Also on the program: Jesse Rosensweet's eight-minute Canadian short The Stone of Folly. (Music Box, 9:30)

Madame Sata

I Thirty or forty years ago Brazilian films were as political as any in the world; today most carefully avoid social conflicts and contradictions. Of course there are exceptions, and Madame Sata is one. The story of an immensely strong drag queen in Rio in the 1930s--a legendary rebel, thief, and eventual murderer who was also generous and loyal to the limit--it describes more than an early South American Stonewall. Joao Francisco dos Santos, whose character is carefully built by director Karim Ainouz and wonderfully acted by Lazaro Ramos, is the incarnation of a certain ethic of resistance. Black, poor, and gay in a country that even today doesn't acknowledge that racism is a dominant force, Madame Sata fights back, becoming a role model rather than an object of pity. This is an important film. In Portuguese with subtitles. 103 min. (Q) (Landmark, 9:45)

Shorts in Flux

The title of this shorts program might well refer to the quality of the work, which ranges from content in search of technique (Stanley Cho's awkward and cliched family drama Mallory) to technique in search of content (Eric Patrick's fast-motion epic Ablution). Three of the ten entries are worth seeing, though: In Reza Parsa's Meeting Evil (12 min.) a terrorist with a bomb strapped to his chest sits in the backseat of a car, taping a video letter to his daughter that he hopes will explain his motives and excuse his crime--and for the length of the video, anyway, it does. Brin Hill's sleek Morning Breath (17 min.), shot on location at Coney Island and a Brooklyn housing project, uses impressionistic imagery and a voice-over rap poem written by Sir Mums to tell the story of a street-level dealer who's trying to hang on to a woman of substance. And Dave Lieber's loopy clay animation Reaper, Sheeper, Treasure Seeker (15 min.) shuffles together blackouts about a sheep that devours everything in sight, a quartet of pirates who carpool every day while listening to talk radio, and the grim reaper, whose job is beginning to get to him. 119 min. (JJ) (Music Box, 9:45)

Saturday 12 October

Nothing More

Carla, a post office employee in Cuba, is waiting for news about the visa that will let her travel to the U.S., though she doesn't really care whether she goes. Meanwhile, she's trying "to help people understand each other better" by illegally rewriting their letters--including those of a TV shrink--with predictably comical results. Shooting in black and white with spots of color--a flower here, a taxi there--first-time director Juan Carlos Cremata Malberti wants to challenge the Cuban bureaucracy with his vision of invention and fun, but he's trying too hard: Nothing More, overloaded with quirky cheapo special effects, comes across as a low-rent version of Amelie. Like many Cuban films in recent years, it's torn between its hatred for red tape and its love for an ideal Cuba in which citizens can shape their own destiny. But Cremata Malberti lacks the storytelling acumen of directors such as Juan Carlos Tabio, and his film devolves into a patience-testing farce. With Thais Valdes, who resembles Jean Seberg right down to the haircut. In Spanish with subtitles. 93 min. (MP) (Landmark, noon)

My Sister Maria

Viennese beauty Maria Schell enjoyed an international acting career in the 50s, working with such talents as Luchino Visconti (White Nights), Rene Clement (Gervaise), and Richard Brooks (The Brothers Karamazov). But her career never recovered from a five-year hiatus she took in the mid-60s, and this elegiac portrait by her younger and more successful brother, Maximilian Schell, finds the reclusive 76-year-old living in their family's old home in rural Austria--and in the past, courtesy of the videos she watches on one of her 11 television sets. Her profligate spending, aggravated by an increasingly tenuous grasp on reality, has recently forced her brother to liquidate part of his art collection to save her from ruin, and the film's rather stilted interviews and reenactments sometimes make it seem less a documentary than a valedictory performance. Maximilian stresses that Maria was an icon in postwar Germany, yet the saddest thing about her isolation and disappointment is that it's so common. In German, French, and Italian with subtitles. 94 min. (JJ) (Landmark, 12:15)

Santa Maradona

I See listing under Friday, October 11. (Landmark, 12:30)

Wedding in Ramallah

See listing under Friday, October 11. (Landmark, 1:00)

Philanthropy

Nae Caranfil's corrosively funny satire takes place in a faraway land populated by idle rich, working poor, and a middle class consisting entirely of stray dogs--in other words, contemporary Romania. An impoverished teacher at a private high school, living with his elderly parents and flacking his slender self-published volume of stories, falls for a sexy, high-maintenance model; to finance their courtship he moonlights for a bizarre agency that writes scripts for panhandlers and concocts elaborate frauds to collect alms from fat cats. Caranfil seldom troubles himself with logic--the teacher's scam involves dining at expensive restaurants and using a sob story to get other customers to pick up the check, but how he manages to turn a profit this way is never explained. On the other hand, one has to admire a film belligerent enough to classify charity as part of the capitalist power structure; the rage underlying Caranfil's humor goes down like an icy shot of vodka. In Romanian with subtitles. 110 min. (JJ) (Music Box, 2:00)

Minor Mishaps

Annette K. Olesen's amiable debut, in which a mother's unexpected death and her husband's ensuing illness expose tensions in an eccentric extended family, bears a similarity to Lone Scherfig's Italian for Beginners (2001), and it too won an award at the Berlin film festival. This family-relationships-in-crisis dramedy is, not surprisingly, even more reminiscent of Mike Leigh: Olesen and her crew created the film together during an extensive rehearsal. Ceding much of the creative responsibility to actors has its pluses, producing, for example, an abundance of humanity and strong performances. But it also generates glaring minuses, such as an excessive amount of dysfunction among the characters and a limited dramatic construction. Still, if you want life-affirming entertainment you could certainly do worse. In Danish with subtitles. 105 min. (MP) (Landmark, 2:15)

The Blessing Bell

I See listing under Friday, October 11. (Landmark, 2:15)

Dog Days

See listing under Friday, October 11. (Music Box, 2:15)

Hukkle

I Gyorgy Palfi's oddball first feature combines the bucolic black humor of Hitchcock's The Trouble With Harry and the pastoral lyricism of the classic French documentary Farrebique. A symphony of rural sights and sounds--including the hukkle, or hiccup, of the title--provides the oblique framework for the investigation of a series of mysterious deaths in a sleepy Hungarian village. While the enigmatic narrative hints at retribution for sins committed against nature and womankind, Palfi's unfettered, omniscient camera slices across walls, soars across the sky for bird's-eye views, and dives underground to discover an ill-fated mole waddling through its tunnel. Told almost entirely without words and composed largely of detail shots, Hukkle doesn't quite transcend the gimmickry of its concept, but it succeeds as a bravura technical exercise with some truly amazing images. In Hungarian with subtitles. 75 min. (MR) On the same program, Hyun-joo Kim's UK short Sap. (Landmark, 2:45)

International Shorts

Short films from Russia, Bulgaria, Singapore, Germany, Australia, the UK, and the U.S. 112 min. (Landmark, 3:15)

Venus Boyz

In this documentary look at drag kings--women who dress as men--almost all the subjects say they felt profoundly alienated from society before their makeovers. Director Gabriel Baur shows performers in action at a drag king night in New York and interviews several in depth, including Diane Torr, a sort of matriarch of the drag king world who clearly articulates the political agenda behind her parody of male stereotypes. Baur reveals the great diversity within this culture, which includes not only cross-dressers but also women experimenting with male hormone injections in an attempt to create a "cyborg" gender that blends male and female elements. All of this gender bending can get pretty confusing: in one hilarious segment a king describes following someone she thought was a sexy woman only to find out it was a man in drag; the two became close friends, though their gender preferences precluded the possibility of romance. In English and subtitled German. 104 min. (JK) (Landmark, 4:30)

Daughter From Yan'an

I See listing under Friday, October 11. (Music Box, 4:30)

Dark City

See listing under Friday, October 11. (Landmark, 4:45)

Only the Strong Survive

Master documentarians D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus directed this fascinating group portrait of soul and R & B legends who are still touring 40 years after their original fame, enduring even after they've been relegated to the nostalgia circuit. Especially amazing are their interviews with Sam Moore of Sam and Dave, who seems mild and self-deprecating offstage but still burns with charisma when he sings, and Wilson Pickett, who continues to live up to his reputation as a wild man. As one might expect, the interviews are complemented with rehearsal and performance footage, sequences that are as revealing as anything the musicians say. With Isaac Hayes, Mary Wilson, Jerry Butler, the Chi-Lites, Ann Peebles, and the late Rufus Thomas. 101 min. (HS) (Landmark, 5:00)

The Exam

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

Illinois' Own

The most impressive of these seven shorts is Bruce Terris's Flying (12 min.), a beautifully written scene for Marc Vann, as an anguished businessman awaiting a flight in a blue and ghostly airport, and Mike Nussbaum, as the old stranger who befriends him. Montage punctuates the measured silence between their remarks as the businessman rakes over memories of his wife and child, and in one masterful shot cinematographer David Blood tracks around Vann as he surveys the deserted airport, the focus shifting to sweep across the empty corridor. Caton Volk's fast-paced and colorful video documentary Puppetry (15 min.) takes advantage of the city's annual Puppetropolis festival to survey artists on the outer limits of puppet theater, exploring their methods and ideas about the medium. Puppeteer Blair Thomas points out that the process by which he creates a puppet is analogous to the way an actor develops a role, but Redmoon Theater artistic director Jim Lasko explains, "It's not up to the puppet to convince the audience; it's up to the audience to endow the puppet with life, which is totally different from actors' theater." Also on the program, films by Anna Christopher, Rusty Nails, Pat Healy, Duane Edwards, and Ron Lazzeretti. 94 min. (JJ) (Landmark, 5:45)

This Is Not a Love Song

During a botched attempt to steal gasoline a small-time thief inadvertently shoots a young girl, and he and his partner are pursued across the Scottish highlands and moors by an armed posse. The story--written by Simon Beaufoy, who also scripted The Full Monty--is a variation on Of Mice and Men, with Kenny Glenaan playing mentor to a brash but dim-witted dependent (Michael Colgan). Despite some amateurishly arty digital-video effects, director Bille Eltringham makes nice use of the foreboding terrain to cast a pall around the men. Not a groundbreaker, but an effective low-key suspense yarn. 94 min. (RP) (Landmark, 7:00)

Chihwaseon

The 98th feature of Korean master Im Kwon-taek, who's only 66, is an old-fashioned, beautifully crafted biopic, the kind that translates easily into picturesque art-house fare in the Western marketplace--it shared the best director prize this year at Cannes, a first for any Korean film. The life of Korean painter Jang Seung-up, who was born in 1843 and disappeared 54 years later, provides more than enough drama and historical incident for a richly reimagined evocation of Korea's past. Against the backdrop of Chinese and Japanese colonization, political reform, and popular revolt, Jang's life as a rebel artist plays out in a briskly captured series of episodes, and the performance of Korea's finest screen actor, Choi Min-sik, in the role is vibrant and full-bodied. Jang's hard-drinking, prodigiously lustful, defiantly nontraditional MO is pretty standard, as is the contradiction between the artist's radical creativity and his willingness to produce gorgeous brush paintings, screens, and fans for well-connected connoisseurs. The telegraphically economical narrative line, in which elegant ellipses separate precisely delineated moments, is a perfect analogue to his vibrantly impressionistic brushwork. Ultimately, this triumph of cinematography and art direction remains vulnerable to its internal critique of art as commodity. In Korean with subtitles. 117 min. (SK) (Music Box, 7:00)

El bonaerense

I Pablo Trapero's first feature, Crane World (1999), marked a turning point in Argentinean cinema, proving that the new generation of filmmakers could dispense with a tradition of verbose dramas and cheap comedies and make something fresh and innovative. This film, Trapero's second, tells the story of a locksmith who leaves his small village to serve in the bonaerense, one of the most corrupt and dangerous police forces in the country (and the world). This is a tale of apprenticeship in which the protagonist plunges into a world of uniforms, routine, and barely disguised darkness, chaos, and madness. Trapero, who displays a great eye for authenticity and detail and a remarkable skill in treating the extraordinary in a realistic way, creates a powerful portrait of everyday life in Argentina in which the sense of anguish and despair is deep and sex provides the only relief. In Spanish with subtitles. 92 min. (Q) (Landmark, 7:15)

The Embalmer

I Peppino, the hero of this dark love triangle, isn't exactly your standard-issue romantic lead: he's gay, a taxidermist, and a dwarf. In a chance encounter at the zoo he meets a tall, handsome, and remarkably sweet-natured young man who becomes his protege and roommate, the dwarf's genuine charm and affection bringing a certain viability to this unlikely Mutt and Jeff couple. When a decisive young woman, a rival for the lad's attentions, enters the picture, the story takes a decidedly sinister turn, and a sense of imminent doom invades the cozy upscale refuge that Peppino has fashioned for his young charge. The dead animals and taxidermist's tools, benignly shot at first, add to the weight of dread--as do the human corpses with packets of drugs stitched inside, covert work that finances the trio's lavish lifestyle. Peppino's ragged pacing and silent rages escalate, his jealousy infecting every scene; by the film's underwater finale, director Matteo Garrone has bestowed a tragic stature on the pint-size Othello who loves "not wisely but too well." In Italian with subtitles. 101 min. (RS) (Music Box, 7:15)

Springtime in a Small Town

See listing under Friday, October 11. (Landmark, 7:30)

Winter

See listing under Friday, October 11. (Landmark, 8:15)

My Mother's Smile

I In his best film in years, Marco Bellocchio crafts a stringently moral tale that carries a hint of horror, as if his hero had caught a whiff of hellfire. Ernesto (Sergio Castellitto, in a broodingly charismatic performance) is awakened one morning by a Vatican emissary who reveals that Ernesto's deceased mother, a woman of pedestrian accomplishments and garden-variety faith, has been proposed for sainthood. This determinedly atheist son subsequently discovers the dark motives, high ambitions, and venal dreams that have led his family to mount a secret campaign toward this end. Now they need his help. Bellocchio constructs Ernesto's moral dilemma with evident relish, placing his character between a morass of hypocrisy and a yawning pit of childhood guilt. The film's chiaroscuro lighting and sumptuous imagery suggest the netherworlds Ernesto's intellect so rigorously rejects. In Italian with subtitles. 103 min. (BS) (Landmark, 9:15)

The Trilogy: On the Run

I The first entry in Belgian writer-director Lucas Belvaux's 2000 trilogy, in which the three stories share some incidents and characters a la Kieslowski's "Three Colors." Each film represents a particular genre; in this one, a noir thriller, Belvaux plays Bruno, a convict who breaks out of jail and returns to Grenoble, where two decades earlier he'd belonged to a radical workers' movement (and robbed a bank). He finds one old comrade (Catherine Frot) teaching school and raising a family and another running the local drug trade. The cops want him dead, and so does the dealer, who's in cahoots with them. But Bruno clings to his ideals, eluding them all and setting off bombs, just like in the old days. He meets up with Agnes (Dominique Blanc), a junkie married to a cop, and she hides him at a villa belonging to her friend Cecile (Ornella Muti) until a betrayal drives him deep into the Alps. The plot is intricate (partly because it can't afford continuity gaps in the intersecting lives), especially in laying out Bruno's methodical revenge and subsequent getaway. Behind the camera Belvaux builds suspense with an austere tone and clever false alarms; in front of it he plays Bruno as chivalrous yet ruthless. The least convincing element here is Bruno's political worldview. The terse, terrific music is by Riccardo Del Fra. In French with subtitles. 117 min. (TS) (Landmark, 9:30)

Divine Intervention

This slight film of mostly comic tableaux is set in director Elia Suleiman's hometown of Nazareth, in territory controlled by Israel, where the inhabitants take out their frustrations by feuding over parking spaces, dumping garbage in one another's backyards, and destroying recently repaired public roads. In this uncertain world, patients, visitors, and doctors will even smoke in a hospital. Sometimes Suleiman seems to be taking on the difficulty and absurdity of love during war; his character carries on a long, silent courtship of a beautiful woman, conducted as they rendezvous in a parking lot at an Israeli checkpoint. At other times he wanders into Mad magazine territory--the lighter side of terrorism--as when Suleiman floats a balloon with Yasir Arafat's face on it over the Israeli border in an echo of Billy Wilder's One, Two, Three. The most disturbing sequence comes at the end, when Suleiman conjures up a female Palestinian ninja warrior to dispatch Israeli soldiers--wishful thinking or mildly incomprehensible satire? In Arabic and Hebrew with subtitles. 92 min. (MB) On the same program, a Swedish short, Hidden. (Music Box, 9:30)

Auto Focus

One reason Paul Schrader's Calvinist obsessions have become tiresome--even when others are responsible for the writing, as they are here--is that he seems more invested in their perpetuation and exploitation than in their exploration. Yet I have to concede that he's become an unusually skillful and sensitive director of actors, and the inventive performances--Greg Kinnear as Crane (the wholesome star of Hogan's Heroes who became a sex addict) and Willem Dafoe as his seedy sidekick and fellow pornographer--keep this story interesting in spite of its puritanical framework. The film also raises ethical questions by purporting to explain an unprosecuted murder as well as a couple of screwed-up lives, though it does consider, at least in passing, the questionable ethics of Hogan's Heroes. Watchable, but not very insightful. The screenplay is by Michael Gerbosi, who adapted Robert Graysmith's nonfiction book The Murder of Bob Crane. 107 min. (JR) On the same program, a German short, Fight the Cinema. (Landmark, 9:45)

Suicide Club

This is exploitation at its most gleefully incomprehensible and entertaining. Sono Sion's setup--54 Japanese high schoolers leap in front of an oncoming train--might bring to mind Kiyoshi Kurosawa, but the follow-through is pure Takashi Miike: the train is difficult to slow down because of all the "human grease." As a detective (Audition's Ryo Ishibashi) tries to figure out what happened, a prepubescent all-girl J-pop group sings philosophical paeans to the Internet (e.g., "Mail me!"). A brief interlude transports viewers into "The Velvet Goldmine Rocky Horror Picture Show," where a suave cult leader says, "I want to die like Joan of Arc in a Robert Bresson film." In his own warped way Sono is trying to say something about contemporary Japan; if nothing else, he succeeds at the impossibly distasteful--making suicide look like fun. In Japanese with subtitles. 99 min. (MP) (Music Box, 9:45)

eXXXorcisms

A more experimental, Mexican version of Pedro Almodovar, Jaime Humberto Hermosillo is best known for affectionately parodic, gender-bending melodramas. This new film is an aesthetic and narrative departure--working for the first time in digital video, he perversely fuses confessional cinema and horror-film conventions. In order to revisit the site of a youthful passion, the solidly bourgeois Marco Antonio (Alberto Estrella), who's married and complacent, gets a job as a security guard in a shopping arcade. As any pretense of naturalism evaporates, he recalls through a self-induced hallucination his intense adolescent affair with a male school friend. Essentially a protracted monologue, Estrella's bravura performance and Hermosillo's brilliant use of the digital medium help turn this theatrical exercise into a full-fledged cinematic psychodrama. Still, I missed the buoyant ironies of Hermosillo's previous work--the emphasis here on personal exploration and catharsis comes perilously close to an elaborate, if unusually lurid, therapy session. In Spanish with subtitles. 78 min. (RMP) (Landmark, 10:30)

Sunday 13 October

International Shorts

See listing under Saturday, October 12. (Landmark, noon)

Grill Point

See listing under Friday, October 11. (Landmark, noon)

My Life as McDull

This animated feature based on characters from a popular Hong Kong comic book nimbly sidesteps cuteness and pratfalls and immerses the viewer in a sharp-eyed re-creation of the city's tattered environment and dream spaces. The main character is a none-too-bright piglet whose world is populated by animal children and human adults, and the filmmakers--director Toe Yuen, writer Brian Tse, designer Alice Mak--take advantage of a broad palette of animation effects, from simple line drawings to baroque fantasies of high-rise warrens, to analyze Hong Kongers' sense of who they are and where they're going after a few years under Chinese sovereignty. Droll to hilarious set pieces recount McDull's birth, education, and training as a would-be Olympian, with excursions to his mother's TV cooking show and the Maldives; these and other bits of whimsy are accompanied by ruminative Schumann and Schubert piano works that have been given improbably catchy nonsense lyrics. The beauty of the film lies in its jazzy creativity--it's a free-flying dance of images that animates more than its characters. Ultimately it stakes out more serious ground as the piglet and the city, constantly scrutinized by the powers that be, invent their own identities in endless fragile dreams. In Cantonese with subtitles. 75 min. (SK) (Landmark, 12:15)

The Trilogy: An Amazing Couple

I The second entry in Belgian writer-director Lucas Belvaux's 2000 trilogy, in which the three stories share some incidents and characters a la Kieslowski's "Three Colors." This one's a farce: Cecile (Ornella Muti)--the woman whose villa is used to hide the fugitive Bruno in On the Run--suspects her husband, Alain (Francois Morel), of having an affair, when in fact all he's having is an operation. When she hires a cop (Gilbert Melki), the husband of her friend Agnes (Dominique Blanc), to tail him, Alain comes to believe she's having an affair. Some of the misunderstandings that propel the plot are comical, but others reveal the characters' fear, anger, and romantic yearning. Belvaux's game of name-my-influences (one sequence is an homage to the crop-duster scene in North by Northwest) gets tiresome, but the escalating faux pas kept me chuckling. The films are all meant to stand on their own, but seeing the major characters from the first through the eyes of the major characters in the second definitely adds to the viewer's experience of both. Morel is great as the hapless neurotic, and Muti is just about perfect as the exasperated wife who underestimates her seductive powers. In French with subtitles. 100 min. (TS) (Landmark, 1:00)

One Day in August

Understatement isn't the strong suit of most Greek cinema, and Constantine Giannaris's overwrought One Day in August is no exception. Yet another movie composed of crosscut intersecting stories, it follows three families from the same building (but somehow from different classes) on the first, incredibly hellish day of summer vacation. After a few random close encounters in the traffic jam surrounding Athens, they go their separate ways. Into the same 24 hours Giannaris manages to pack sexual infidelity, robbery, marital breakup, a drug overdose, a fatal hit-and-run, a near drowning, and the disappearance of a little girl with leukemia, who reappears miraculously cured. Meanwhile back on the home front, a brooding teenager has broken into all three families' apartments. He reads their letters, smokes their dope, eats their food, watches their videotaped confessions, tries on their bridal gowns, and, when the police show up, jumps from a balcony to what just may be his death--it's hard to tell because, though he gets up and limps away, the girl who takes him in looks suspiciously angelic, and then there's the white light... In Greek with subtitles. 106 min. (RS) (Landmark, 2:00)

Blind Spot: Hitler's Secretary

For years Traudl Junge--who was 22 in 1942, when she was picked out of a clerical pool to work as Hitler's private secretary--refused to talk publicly about her experience. Finally, at the age of 81, she decided to speak, sitting before the cameras nicely dressed, carefully coiffed, and seemingly self-possessed as she recited the sort of meaningless anecdotes--he doted on his dog, he was very polite, he was kind to children--Mel Brooks used to devastating effect in The Producers. The banality of evil indeed. The secretaries were in thrall to their powerful boss, who dined with one or two every day, preferring light badinage with them to talking shop with high-ranking Nazis. None of the communications they typed, she declares, had any tinge of the horrors being perpetrated somewhere far off in the name of the Reich. Viewers hoping for new revelations will have to be content with learning that Hitler suffered from severe stomach problems. Yet there's much more here than a trickle of unsatisfying tidbits. Traudl was later filmed watching and commenting on her earlier interviews. Here her insight and self-criticism are acute, as is her discussion of how she buried and eventually confronted her feelings of guilt and complicity. And when she recounts the final days in the bunker, we enter a mad, hypnotic fever dream. In German with subtitles. 95 min. (MB) (Music Box, 2:00)

Minor Mishaps

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

Philanthropy

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

Wedding in Ramallah

See listing under Friday, October 11. (Landmark, 2:30)

The Trilogy: After Life

I The third entry in Belgian writer-director Lucas Belvaux's 2000 trilogy, in which the three stories share some incidents and characters a la Kieslowski's "Three Colors." The most poignant yet least satisfying of the lot, After Life is a melodrama about the volatile symbiotic relationship between Pascal, a corrupt cop (Gilbert Melki), and his doped-up schoolteacher wife, Agnes (Dominique Blanc). Many of the incidents from the two previous features are replayed here from the point of view of the couple. Pascal is distraught over his wife's drug habit, torn up over his feelings for her friend Cecile (Ornella Muti), and disgusted by his dealings with the town's drug supplier. Agnes, who's helpless in the first film and a comic foil in the second, is revealed as the cause of her husband's pact with the mob; she's a vampirish presence who hides her pain from colleagues and leads her life largely separate from Pascal's (making her a sympathetic accomplice for Bruno in On the Run). Not all their personality traits jibe with their earlier personae, and for me that made both the characters and the tragic ending less believable. In French with subtitles. 124 min. (TS) (Landmark, 3:30)

Cuckoo

This trilingual comedy, set in the wilds of Lapland in September 1944, is largely predicated on the misunderstandings among three people: a Finnish sniper (Ville Haapasalo) who's dressed in a German uniform and chained to a rock for being a reluctant fighter but eventually frees himself, a Russian captain (Viktor Bychkov) who's en route to a court-martial for alleged anti-Soviet remarks but is accidentally freed by a Russian bomb, and a local widow and reindeer farmer (Anni-Kristiina Juuso) who takes them both in but can't understand either because she speaks only Sami. Evoking at times the final sequence of Jean Renoir's Grand Illusion, which may have been an influence, this was written and directed by Russian filmmaker Alexander Rogozhkin (The Chekist), but originated as a project by the two male leads, both comedians. (It seems likely that they and the delightful Juuso helped with the dialogue, as Rogozhkin speaks only Russian.) The movie overextends a patch of folk mysticism toward the end and adds a silly whimsical coda to the plot, but as a comedy of errors it's often hilarious. In Finnish, Russian, and Sami with subtitles. 100 min. (JR) (Music Box, 4:00)

Hukkle

I See listing under Saturday, October 12. (Landmark, 4:15)

Illinois' Own

See listing under Saturday, October 12. (Landmark, 4:30)

At the First Breath of Wind

Franco Piavoli directed this new Italian feature, described by the festival literature as a "poetic painting" of a rural family on an August afternoon. In Italian with subtitles. 85 min. (Music Box, 4:30)

Rabbit-Proof Fence

I I saw this stirring and inspiring feature in Melbourne, where it was a hit, so I can't say whether Miramax, its scissors-happy U.S. distributor, has left it alone. Like Rolf de Heer's recent The Tracker, it qualifies as an aboriginal "western," albeit a more traditional one--where de Heer's film suggests Dead Man, this has some of the epic sweep of The Searchers. Directed by Philip Noyce (Newsfront), who's poised for a comeback thanks to this film and his fine forthcoming adaptation of The Quiet American, it deals with the "stolen generation" of aboriginal children, who were torn from their families by misguided state functionaries and social theorists. It's based on a true story about three girls, ages 8, 10, and 14, taken from their mother in 1931 and sent to a state-run facility a thousand miles away; they escape and set off for home on foot, dodging the law en route. The story is so black-and-white that one feels like hissing the villain (Kenneth Branagh) and cheering the heroines at every stage, but it's such an amazing tale that the simplicity of the telling seems warranted. David Gulpilil, the aboriginal star of Walkabout and The Tracker, is memorable here too. Adapted by Christine Olsen from a book by Doris Pilkington and shot by the matchless Christopher Doyle. 94 min. (JR) (Landmark, 4:45)

Only the Strong Survive

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

Unknown Pleasures

I See listing under Friday, October 11. (Landmark, 6:30)

Hallelujah, I'm a Bum!

I This eccentric and soulful anarcho-leftist fantasy is probably the most underrated of all Depression-era musicals. Directed by Lewis Milestone in 1933 from a script by Ben Hecht and S.N. Behrman and with a score by Rodgers and Hart that features rhyming couplets, the film stars Al Jolson as a Central Park hobo who actually likes being homeless--until he falls in love with an amnesia victim (Madge Evans) who's a former mistress of the mayor (Frank Morgan) and has to get a job to support her. The overall conception may owe something to Chaplin's City Lights, released two years earlier, but the remarkable editing and mise en scene show Milestone at his most inspired and inventive. (His parodic Eisensteinian montage cut to the syllables of "America" must be seen to be believed, and a tracking shot past muttering customers in a spacious bank is equally brilliant and subversive.) Harry Langdon is memorable as a Trotskyite who sternly lectures the hero, and Richard Day's art deco sets are striking. Jolson's most memorable numbers include the title tune and "You Are Too Beautiful," one of the loveliest of all Rodgers and Hart ballads. Not to be missed. 82 min. (JR) (Music Box, 6:30)

Grill Point

See listing under Friday, October 11. (Landmark, 6:45)

Madame Sata

I See listing under Friday, October 11. (Music Box, 6:45)

The Blessing Bell

I See listing under Friday, October 11. (Landmark, 7:00)

Divine Intervention

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

Nights of Constantinople

The young scion of an old Havana family secretly writes an erotic novel that wins an international prize. When his puritanical grandmother hears the news she suffers a stroke, and the other members of the family are suddenly freed from the past's hold. At one point the matriarch compares the menagerie of relatives cooped up in the faded family villa to the House of Usher, but not much in this 2001 comedy drama is scary. It tries for blithe, but its characters are one-dimensional and hardly decadent--there's an earnestly romantic grandson, a fat-bitch cousin, a repressed-spinster aunt, an overbearing grandma. And the situations that lead to the looting of valuable paintings are contrived--director Orlando Rojas is overly fond of soft-porn scenes and drag acts--while the social commentary on Cuba is minimal, though we do learn about the island's infatuation with Western pop culture. With Francisco Rabal, Liberto Rabal, and Veronica Lynn. In Spanish with subtitles. 115 min. (TS) (Landmark, 9:00)

This Is Not a Love Song

See listing under Saturday, October 12. (Music Box, 9:00)

Santa Maradona

I See listing under Friday, October 11. (Landmark, 9:15)

Auto Focus

See listing under Saturday, October 12. (Music Box, 9:15)

Venus Boyz

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

Monday 14 October

Offbeat Shorts

A hilarious satire of video violence, Paul Kosoulides's UK film Inferno (28 min.) concerns two hapless Anglo-Indian car thieves serving time in a modern prison where their images, voices, and handprints are stored as digital files. After hackers break into the computer system and loot the files, the crooks find themselves turned into disposable combatants in a grisly shoot-'em-up computer game starring a heavily armed Lara Croft-style bombshell, but the AI component lets them learn from their errors and gain control of the scenario. In Jeremy Passmore's moody Crossing (12 min.) a homeless teenager purposely steps in front of moving cars so he can hit the drivers up for cash--and catch a glimpse of the bright light awaiting him. And Martin Jones's UK film At Dawning (12 min.) features a strong performance by Jenny Agutter as a woman who wakes up in a strange man's bed and tries to step out quietly, an endeavor complicated by her discovery of a man caught on a tree branch outside the bedroom window. Subtitled shorts from Spain, France, and Canada complete this 102-minute program. (JJ) (Landmark, 4:00)

Venus Boyz

See listing under Saturday, October 12. (Landmark, 4:45)

Philanthropy

See listing under Saturday, October 12. (Landmark, 6:00)

The Lawless Heart

The narrative strategy of presenting a single tale from a series of different perspectives has become so commonplace that it no longer constitutes much of a statement in itself, and the screen time this British drama expends connecting the dots between its three concurrent segments would have been better used developing its characters. Writer-directors Neil Hunter and Tom Hunsinger use the funeral of a thirtysomething gay man as the common starting point for stories about the man's lover, brother-in-law, and long-absent best friend. The lover's story is the most interesting: Tom Hollander gives a strong performance as the considerate and quietly grieving young man, who wanders into a sexual relationship with a free-spirited woman (Sukie Smith) and can't decide whether he's reevaluating his sexuality or just freaking out. The brother-in-law (Bill Nighy), a woodenly conservative family man, bumbles through a midlife crisis and emerges from it as much a dullard as he was before, and the best friend (Douglas Henshall), a freewheeling chap estranged from his family and hometown, becomes the central figure in a perfunctory love triangle. 99 min. (JJ) (Landmark, 6:30)

Sister Helen

I Rob Fruchtman and Rebecca Cammisa's deeply affecting documentary portrait of Sister Helen Travis follows the 69-year-old Benedictine nun's work as founder and director of a recovery home for drug and alcohol addicts in the South Bronx. Loud, riotously foulmouthed, and utterly committed to her calling, Sister Helen both commands and earns the respect of the 23 men in her halfway house through an uneasy mix of humor, contentiousness, and tenacity. And while there's no denying her charm, the filmmakers are smart enough not to downplay her significant flaws. A former boozer who lost a husband and two sons to alcohol, drugs, and murder, she can display a zeal and emotional volatility that seem painfully counterproductive. This is a fittingly complex look at a remarkable woman and her equally memorable charges. 90 min. (RP) (Landmark, 6:45)

The Man Without a Past

I Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki perfects his trademark formula of deadpan humor and arctic-circle pathos in this brilliantly ironic comedy. After arriving in Helsinki by late-night train, a thuggish middle-aged man is beaten to a pulp, left unconscious in a park, and ends up an amnesiac shell in a waterfront squatters' camp where Scandinavian practicality and rock 'n' roll thrive side by side. The drifters and bums, doleful losers all, make the stranger one of their own, and against this postindustrial vista his angel of mercy appears, in the form of a wispy Salvation Army lifer (Kaurismaki regular Kati Outinen of The Match Factory Girl) who's so devoid of hope that she rouses a spark of compassion from the bottom of his soul. Kaurismaki slyly builds to one of the funniest and most joyous endings any movie has offered this year, as his unlikely hero is transformed into a man with a sliver of a future. In Finnish with subtitles. 97 min. (BS) Also on the program: Bing, a nine-minute Australian short by Eron Sheean. (Music Box, 7:00)

Hukkle

I See listing under Saturday, October 12. (Landmark, 7:15)

At the First Breath of Wind

See listing under Sunday, October 13. (Music Box, 7:15)

The Embalmer

I See listing under Saturday, October 12. (Landmark, 8:30)

The Dancer Upstairs

John Malkovich's first feature as a director is an adaptation of a Nicholas Shakespeare novel, about a Latin American military policeman (Javier Bardem) whose pursuit of a Marxist guerrilla (Abel Folk) is complicated by an affair with his daughter's ballet teacher (Laura Morante). In English and subtitled Spanish. 133 min. (Landmark, 8:45)

Turning Gate

I Director Hong San-soo's work represents an intellectual undercurrent in recent Korean film--his subject is the microphysics of relations, the deconstruction of love and sex--and he has a more penetrating eye than many of his colleagues worldwide. His films are unusually truthful and unsentimental, but he isn't interested in cruelty or the cheap cynicism most directors indulge in when portraying love gone wrong. In Turning Gate--whose script wasn't written beforehand but sketched and improvised each day of the shooting--an actor loses a job and goes to visit a friend in the provinces, meeting two women along the way. He will abandon and be abandoned, his immaturity will be exposed, his masculinity endangered. If he learns something we won't hear about it, though we will see forces at work to which the characters are blind, such as class and gender. Hong manages to make these laconic characters transparent and sympathetic, and each scene is not only beautiful but precisely made. In Korean with subtitles. 115 min. (Q) (Landmark, 9:00)

Lana's Rain

This drama by Michael Ojeda, the only local independent feature in this year's festival, concerns Lana (Julia Orlenko), a young Bosnian woman who emigrates to Chicago with her older brother in hopes of starting a new life--an endeavor complicated by the brother's criminal past. In English and subtitled Serbo-Croatian. 105 min. (Landmark, 9:15)

Shorts in Flux

See listing under Friday, October 11. (Music Box, 9:15)

The Crime of Father Amaro

Carlos Carrera's feature about corrupt Catholic priests caused a furor in Mexico but cleaned up at the box office; Gael Garcia Bernal (Y tu mama tambien) plays a priest who fathers a child with a teenage girl and discovers that his colleagues are mixed up with guerrillas and drug lords. Adapted from an 1875 Portuguese novel by Jose Maria Eca de Querioz; in Spanish with subtitles. 120 min. (Music Box, 9:30)

Tuesday 15 October

Lana's Rain

See listing under Monday, October 14. (Landmark, 4:00)

Sister Helen

I See listing under Monday, October 14. (Landmark, 4:15)

Turning Gate

I See listing under Monday, October 14. (Landmark, 4:30)

Crazy as Hell

A maverick psychiatrist (Michael Beach) is put to the test when he engages in a battle of wills with a guileful new patient (Eriq LaSalle) who claims he's Satan. Adding to the doctor's challenges on the psychiatric ward is the presence of a documentary film crew, there to record his controversial technique for healing patients without the use of medication. It's great fun to watch Beach and especially LaSalle (who also cowrote and directed), but the decision to portray the psychiatric setting as a Felliniesque circus telegraphs the denouement right from the start. Condensed, the movie would have made a terrific Twilight Zone episode; at nearly two hours, it sags under the excess. 113 min. (RP) (Landmark, 6:30)

The Man Without a Past

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

The Best of Times

Director Chang Tso-chi is the poet of Taiwan's second generation of filmmakers, a loosely defined group who followed new-wave masters such as Hou Hsiao-hsien and Edward Yang. Theirs is a smaller-scale cinema of urban textures, with lost youth wandering through ennui-saturated empty spaces. In his third feature, The Best of Times,Chang wraps this sensibility around a typical kids-in-gangland story and infuses it with his own gentle brand of magic realism. Two young cousins fall in with Taipei gangsters, drawn to the money, the excitement, and the chance to moor their drifting lives. Levelheaded Wei's attempt to stay on an even keel is constantly frustrated by the actions of short-fused Jie, who precipitates the inevitable lurch into violence. Yet Chang's films are more visionary experiments than narrative exercises. Here he envelops each scene in a gorgeous half-lit glow, immersing Wei and Jie in virtual water--like fish in an aquarium, one of the film's recurring motifs. Family life is another of Chang's preoccupations, and this film's finest scenes re-create the boys' homes in a strikingly realistic series of tableaux that pulsate with overlapping dialogue, nervous tension, crackling humor, and jazzy entropy. In Mandarin with subtitles. 109 min. (SK) On the same program, a Belgian short, You Should Make Movies. (Landmark, 6:45)

A Map of the Heart

A young German woman vacationing on Corsica is dumped by her longtime lover, who wants to patch things up with his pregnant wife. At the start of this postcard-pretty existential drama, a local vendor describes an island game that links interweaving stories so that the end of the chain resembles the beginning, and director Dominik Graf has done something like that in detailing the physical and emotional stranding of the young woman. Some of his devices--the omniscient voice-over, the frequent fade-outs and visual asides--seem intended only to jazz up the tortured, lugubrious relationship the woman has with a violence-prone teen delinquent, but Graf has also crafted a hallucinatory mood that accurately reflects her state of mind. With Karoline Eichhorn. In German with subtitles. 116 min. (TS) (Music Box, 6:45)

Bond Girls Are Forever

John Watkin, who directed this 47-minute documentary for the American Movie Channel, offers a predictably shallow treatment of a rich topic: the role of women in the 007 films. Maryam d'Abo (from 1987's The Living Daylights), modeling the latest winter fashions, interviews a dozen actresses who've appeared in the series since it debuted in 1962, and they make a game effort to prove they've empowered women by playing characters called Dr. Goodhead and Pussy Galore. Yet Luciana Paluzzi claims that after she made Thunderball (1965) serious directors like Fellini and Antonioni wanted nothing to do with her, and Carey Lowell recalls that the producers of License to Kill (1989) said she'd be playing a tough, capable CIA agent but weren't happy with her until she showed up in a pink lamé halter top. Being a Bond girl was a huge career break for all of them, so one can understand their reluctance to knock the franchise, but at the end, when Lowell lets slip that all her Bond fan mail comes from young boys, one realizes that Watkin has evaded the real subject with the finesse of a superspy. With Ursula Andress, Honor Blackman, Jane Seymour, Michelle Yeoh, Halle Berry, and Judi Dench. Also on the program, Lock Picking, a 15-minute German short by Scott Kirby. (JJ) (Landmark, 7:00)

Personal Velocity

Rebecca Miller's second feature shows her to be a careful but somewhat schematic scenarist; her shaky directorial skills are partly offset by her skill at eliciting convincing portrayals from actors. Adapted from three of Miller's own short stories, this uneven triptych features flawed female heroines whose woes are attributable to unstable or bland male partners and simple bad luck. In the opening sequence Kyra Sedgwick shines as a working-class mother on the run from a brutal husband, while in the concluding sequence Fairuza Balk does her valiant best with a character who's more prototype than flesh and blood--a pregnant young woman traumatized by a number of chance encounters that seem pilfered from a second-rate Kieslowski script. Miller appears most comfortable with the upper-middle-class milieu of the middle sequence, in which Parker Posey plays a neurotic editor who abandons her faithful but boring husband for a charismatic young novelist. 85 min. (RMP) (Music Box, 7:00)

The Lawless Heart

See listing under Monday, October 14. (Landmark, 8:45)

Marathon

A young woman named Gretchen (Sara Paul) continuously rides the subway lines of New York, obsessively working crossword puzzles while her mother leaves increasingly agitated messages on her answering machine; eventually it's revealed that Gretchen's participating in some sort of marathon. This silly, contrived video--written, edited, directed, and produced by Amir Naderi--plays like a student work. There's almost no dialogue, so information is imparted by the mother's messages, each more annoying than the last. (We learn that the mother is also a competitive crossworder, but this bond between them is never explored.) To make this story dramatically interesting something important would have to be at stake, but it's never made clear who Gretchen's competing against or even if this is a formal competition; even when it becomes unclear whether Gretchen will reach her goal in time, the drama is flat. 74 min. (JK) On the same program: a Danish short, 2 Minutes. (Landmark, 9:00)

One Day in August

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

Tribute

I See listing under Friday, October 11. (Music Box, 9:15)

Suicide Club

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

A Map of the Heart

See listing above under this date. (Music Box, 9:30)

Wednesday 16 October

The Best of Times

See listing under Tuesday, October 15. (Landmark, 4:00)

Marathon

See listing under Tuesday, October 15. (Landmark, 4:45)

Turning Gate

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

Lana's Rain

See listing under Monday, October 14. (Landmark, 6:45)

The Embalmer

I See listing under Saturday, October 12. (Landmark, 7:00)

Monday Morning

I Unfolding almost as pantomime, with a minimum of plot, dialogue, or psychology, this wryly understated comic masterpiece by Otar Iosseliani follows a workingman whose daily routine from his home to the gate of a toxic chemical plant never varies until the morning he decides not to enter and, for once, finish his cigarette. A chance meeting with a former schoolmate turned transvestite washroom attendant convinces him to follow his dreams, so he abandons his self-absorbed family and hies himself to Venice with the blessings (and lire) of his reprobate father. His life doesn't change, but the scenery does, and in an Iosseliani film, background detail counts tremendously. The hero's odyssey functions as a pretext for a series of vignettes so that each passing figure sounds his own absurdist grace note, from the curé who spies on women at their toilettes to the director himself as an ersatz maestro. Though often compared to Tati, Iosseliani depends less on a central comic actor than on limpid compositions of collective portraiture, like the social canvases of Buñuel or early Jean Renoir. In French with subtitles. 120 min. (RS) (Music Box, 7:00)

Morvern Callar

Morvern Callar (cult fave Samantha Morton) is an inarticulate grocery store clerk in a Scottish hamlet--dead-end girl in a dead-end job in a dead-end town. She seems frozen, unable to act; but when she does, it's sudden and startling. An unexpected influx of cash sends her and her best friend, Lanna, who's noisier but equally feckless, on an aimless Spanish beach trip full of joyless sex, drug taking, and drunken Brits. It's not what Morvern wants--not that she knows what she wants--and when the accidental tourist becomes an accidental celebrity, things get even more disturbing. Fans of director Lynne Ramsay's first movie, the bleak Ratcatcher, won't be surprised that this little existential exercise makes The Stranger look like a funwagon. 97 min. (MB) (Landmark, 7:15)

At the First Breath of Wind

See listing under Sunday, October 13. (Music Box, 7:15)

Personal Velocity

See listing under Tuesday, October 15. (Landmark, 9:00)

Offbeat Shorts

See listing under Monday, October 14. (Landmark, 9:15)

Crazy as Hell

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

A Map of the Heart

See listing under Tuesday, October 15. (Music Box, 9:15)

The Crime of Father Amaro

See listing under Monday, October 14. (Landmark, 9:30)

Rabbit-Proof Fence

I See listing under Sunday, October 13. (Music Box, 9:30)

Thursday 17 October

Monday Morning

I See listing under Wednesday, October 16. (Landmark, 4:00)

Crazy as Hell

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

Monday Morning

I See listing under Wednesday, October 16. (Landmark, 6:30)

Best of Fest 1

Rescreening of an award-winner or audience favorite, to be announced October 13. See www.chicagoreader.com or www.chicagofilmfestival.com for updates. (Music Box, 6:30)

Morvern Callar

See listing under Wednesday, October 16. (Landmark, 6:45)

Best of Fest 3

Rescreening of an award winner or audience favorite, to be announced October 13. See www.chicagoreader.com or www.chicagofilmfestival.com for updates. (Music Box, 7:00)

One Day in August

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

Cuckoo

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

Marathon

See listing under Tuesday, October 15. (Landmark, 9:00)

The Best of Times

See listing under Tuesday, October 15. (Landmark, 9:00)

Frida

Madonna and Francis Ford Coppola have both tried, but it's Salma Hayek, a genuine Mexican national, who finally gets to bring the colorful painter Frida Kahlo to the big screen. She chose as her director Julie Taymor, whose first film, Titus, featured stunning visuals--coups de theatre in cinematic terms. Similar touches can be found in Frida, notably the beautiful, impressionistic handling of the famous streetcar accident that resulted in a lifetime of pain for the artist; a witty montage that takes Kahlo and her husband, muralist Diego Rivera (a typically robust performance from Alfred Molina), from Mexico to New York; and a sequence in which Rivera becomes King Kong to Kahlo's Fay Wray. But as with all biopics, there are the inevitable deadening moments, as when Frida is introduced to Tina Modotti (uh, Ashley Judd) at a party and Tina drags her off. This is the Classics Illustrated version of Kahlo's story--fun mostly for the sets and the clothes. 120 min. (MB) (Music Box, 9:00)

Best of Fest 2

Rescreening of an award winner or audience favorite, to be announced October 13. See www.chicagoreader.com or www.chicagofilmfestival.com for updates. (Landmark, 9:15)

Best of Fest 4

Rescreening of an award winner or audience favorite, to be announced October 13. See www.chicagoreader.com or www.chicagofilmfestival.com for updates. (Music Box, 9:30)

Suicide Club

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

Friday 18 October

Speedy

INeither as funny nor as freakish as Chaplin or Keaton, sunny go-getter Harold Lloyd incarnated the spirit of his age more directly (and less timelessly) than did his two confreres in the silent-comedy pantheon. Speedy, his last silent film (1928), pits him against corporate interests who want to buy out New York City's only remaining horse-drawn streetcar line; in keeping with the era's enshrinement of speculative capitalism, his goal is not to preserve the good old days but to sell them off at a better price. Extended digressions on Coney Island and baseball (there's a cameo by Babe Ruth) fill out this zippy slice of zeitgeist. Those familiar with King Vidor's contemporaneous masterpiece The Crowd might note how parts of Speedy resemble Vidor's darker spin on rugged individualism. Speedy is no masterpiece--it's not even one of Lloyd's best films. But it is an engaging, fast-paced time capsule. Ted Wilde directed. Silent-film specialists the Alloy Orchestra (featuring Roger Miller of indie-rock heroes Mission of Burma) will provide live musical accompaniment, and the comedian's granddaughter, Suzanne Lloyd, will be on hand to screen restored 35-millimeter home movies of Lloyd and his family and to sign copies of her book, Harold Lloyd: Master Comedian. (MR) 86 min. (Gateway, 4:00)

Speedy

ISee listing above. (Gateway, 7:30)

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