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Cinema Sprawl

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The 24th Chicago International Film Festival, running from Monday, October 24, through Sunday, November 6, promises fewer programs this year--a little less than 100 versus last year's 131--with a good many more repeats; and the screenings occupy a much wider geographic spread, with films showing on the University of Chicago campus and at the Three Penny as well as at the two standbys from last year, the Biograph and the Music Box. Although some countries are unrepresented--including the People's Republic of China, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Korea, Mexico, and most of Africa and the Middle East--the overall international spread (or sprawl) is as far-flung as ever, including such unlikely coproductions as Rowing With the Wind (Spanish/Norwegian in English) and Consuelo, an Illusion (Chilean/Swedish). The festival is also broadening its plans for question-and-answer sessions with directors after their films; specifics will be announced at the relevant screenings.

Like last year's selection, the films on offer, taken as an unwieldy whole, make up an indigestible hodgepodge, reflecting neither a critical position nor an all-purpose cornucopia. (A total absence of retrospectives--apart from an Alan Parker tribute, which is surely the last thing that we need--is especially striking and unfortunate.) But there are still clearly a number of things worth seeing. Two of the best films that were originally selected, Terence Davies's Distant Voices/Still Lives and Krzysztof Kieslowski's Thou Shalt Not Kill (also known as A Short Film About Killing), have been withdrawn by their recently acquired American distributors, but at least this means that we'll be able to see them in Chicago eventually.

On the basis of what I've seen so far, I can certainly recommend Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky (an excellent Swedish documentary by Michal Leszczlowski about the shooting of Tarkovsky's last feature, The Sacrifice), Keep Your Right Up (a quirky comedy by and starring Jean-Luc Godard in one of his more benign moods, with echoes of Keaton, Jerry Lewis, and Tati's Monsieur Hulot, though it's far from a mainstream effort), Manifesto (Dusan Makavejev's Lubitsch-like romp through a fairy-tale Eastern Europe in the 20s, short on plot but sexy and stylish), and Travelling Avant (Jean-Charles Tacchella's affectionate, passionate, and rather Truffaut-like memories of fanatical cinephilia in postwar France--regrettably described as something else in the festival's official schedule, and unfortunately, unlike the preceding titles, slotted to appear only once).

With some reservations, and in descending order of preference, I can also recommend Hou Hsaio-hsien's Daughter of the Nile and Peter Greenaway's Drowning by Numbers (two talented directors working somewhat below par), Tereza Trautman's skillful but unexciting Brazilian feature Best Wishes (to be shown only once), and Juzo Itami's conventional and ultraslick A Taxing Woman's Return.

A few films that I haven't seen but have heard encouraging things about are Theo Angelopoulos's Greek Landscape in the Mist, Joao Botelho's Portuguese Hard Times (adapted from the Dickens novel), Christine Edzard's English six-hour Little Dorrit (ditto), Ken Russell's English (and campy) The Lair of the White Worm, Raul Ruiz's half-hour episode in the French/Swedish Ice Breaker, Serguei Soloviev's Soviet Assa, and Francisco J. Lombardi's Peruvian In the Mouth of the Wolf, the last three will receive only single screenings.

We expect to be running reviews of most of the films as they appear, and will endeavor to describe as well as we can (limited in some cases by the unreliability of the festival schedule) the remaining programs. Reviews have been solicited from local writers who have recently attended press screenings, as well as from writers in seven other cities who have seen the films at various other festivals across the globe.

No two of our reviewers (19 so far) operate according to the same tastes or standards, so the selective festivalgoer should proceed with caution and discernment. If previous Chicago festivals are anything to go by, the quality of what's shown will range from the first-rate to the terrible, with a lot of mediocre selections in between, but everyone will have a different opinion about what belongs in each category. For whatever its worth, there are at least three new movies playing in Chicago during the festival that I find more exciting and important than any of the festival films that I've seen--Barbara Trent's Coverup: Behind the Iran Contra Affair (currently at Chicago Filmmakers), Clint Eastwood's Bird (currently at the River Oaks and the Fine Arts), and Rob Tregenza's Talking to Strangers (at the Film Center the first weekend in November)--but I don't expect everyone to agree with me. In the final analysis, movie hunting at festivals entails a lot of risk, in more ways than one; don't say you haven't been warned.

Meanwhile, a few specifics: Screenings are at the Biograph, 2433 N. Lincoln; the Three Penny, 2424 N. Lincoln; the Music Box, 3733 N. Southport; Ida Noyes Hall on the University of Chicago campus, 59th and Woodlawn; and opening night at the Chicago Theatre, 175 N. State. Tickets can be purchased at the theater box office the day of the screening starting one hour prior to the first screening, at the Film Festival store at 2476 N. Lincoln, or by calling 281-2433 (credit cards only). General admission to each program, with some exceptions, is $6.50, $5 for Cinema/Chicago members. All weekend matinees (3:00 and 5:00 on Saturday; 1:00, 3:00, and 5:00 on Sunday) are $4 general admission, $3 for Cinema/Chicago members. Opening night costs $10-$15 for the film, and $150 for both the film and the party.

For further information, call 281-2433 (questions) or 644-3456 (24-hour recorded update/hotline), listen to radio station WBEZ FM (91.5), or watch WMAQ TV (channel five) for updates and coverage. Happy hunting!

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