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The 25th Chicago International Film Festival moves into its second full week with a fair number of worthwhile films, including what are probably the two best parts of Krzysztof Kieslowski's Decalogue (the grim A Short Film About Killing and the exquisite A Short Film About Love), Maurizio Nichetti's hilarious The Icicle Thief, several retrospective items, and several other films listed below and indicated by asterisks (*) (those are recommended by our reviewers). Of special note is Christian Blackwood's engrossing, eccentric, and oddly inspirational Motel, a personal documentary with the feeling of a fiction film, which I caught up with last weekend. Screenings will be at the Music Box, 3733 N. Southport; the Village, 1548 N. Clark; Ida Noyes Hall, 1212 E. 59th St., on the University of Chicago campus; and the Three Penny, 2424 N. Lincoln. Tickets can be purchased in person at the theater box office the day of the screening, starting one hour prior to the first screening, or at the film festival store at 1538 N. Clark. They are also available by phone at 644-3456 or at Ticketmaster: 559-1212 or 902-1500 (credit cards only). General admission to each program, with some exceptions, is $6, $5 for Cinema/Chicago members. The "Best of the Festivals" retrospective films and the Chaplin programs (except for the City Lights presentation on October 30) are $5 general admission, $4 for Cinema/Chicago members. For further information, call 644-3456 or listen to radio stations WNUA (95.5 FM) or WBEZ (91.5 FM) for updates and coverage. --Jonathan Rosenbaum

Friday October 20

Land of Promise

Andrzej Wajda's epic study of the industrialization of Poland, seen through the story of three partners in a textile mill, walked off with the grand prize at the 1976 Chicago film festival despite a fairly strong subtext of anti-Semitism. Too long and too much. (DK) (Village, 6:00)

The Spider's Web

West German director Bernhard Wicki's compelling and by now classic 1959 film The Bridge makes one hope for more than just well-planned entertainment from him. The Spider's Web is just that, though that's no reason not to see it. This tale, set between the world wars, integrates the struggle between a ruthless young German lieutenant and a Jewish double agent from Eastern Europe with the chaotic politics, labor uprisings, and aborted revolutions of the period, along with a number of romantic and more personal subplots. Klaus Maria Brandauer, who plays Lenz, the agent, always makes it worth the admission price, and the rest of the production lives up to his performance, especially the camera work of Gerard Vandenberg. But every aspect of The Spider's Web is just a shade above adequate, which makes for an eye-filling 195 minutes but leaves little to muse on once it's over. Brandauer is by turns boyishly charming, mercurial, shifty, and cruel, but as enjoyable as he is to watch, we've seen it all before, just as we've seen the standard good guy/bad guy rise-to-power plot. From the director on down, everyone works to the highest level of craft, but they don't deliver the goods as art. (BS) (Three Penny, 6:00)

*A Short Film About Killing

Like A Short Film About Love, this feature--also known as Thou Shalt Not Kill--started as a 50-minute episode of Decalogue, Krzysztof Kieslowski's series for Polish television, before being reshot as a feature. The movie is particularly remarkable for its visual style. (In order to create a different mood for each of the episodes, Kieslowski had decided to work with ten different cinematographers--eventually, parts three and nine were shot by the same man, Piotr Sobocinski). In A Short Film About Killing, Slawomir Idziak rendered a claustrophobic, nonrealistic effect: through specially designed filters, he produced a glaucous, quasi-monochromatic image, clearer in the center, "dirty" and darker at the edges. In an interview with Cahiers du Cinema after the, film's success at Cannes last year, he explained, "I found it very important to show how much people are depressed in Poland now. As the new generation says: 'no future' [in English in the text]. I tried to show this despair through the greens obtained with these filters." Before the credits appear, there is an unappetizing close-up of a dead rat in a gutter; then, as the sadistic screams and laughter of children are heard a black cat is seen hanging from a noose. Is it an allusion to Edgar Allan Poe's tale of murder and inescapable guilt? Later, an unpleasant, middle-aged cabdriver explains how much he dislikes cats. "They cannot be trusted--like people." We see him, out of pure nastiness, refuse to pick up a man and a woman shivering in the cold (two of the best-known actors in Polish cinema: Jerzy Radziwillowicz and Krystyna Janda). The film concerns the three intertwining lives of the cabdriver, the frail, unstable drifter who brutally murders him, and the young, idealistic lawyer who experiences with this, his first case, a painful failure while becoming a father for the first time. The senseless, bloody brutality of the murder is put in parallel with the institutionalized violence of the execution, the nameless terror of the young man, the distasteful details (the pan that collects his feces after hanging). Though the film seems violently opposed to the death penalty, rather than looking for a message, I understand it as a displacement of point of view, as masterfully illustrated by a very unusual shot in the execution sequence: in a striking reverse angle, the camera is put under the feet of the hanging man, showing the distorted features of the executioner pulling the rope. While most of Decalogue's episodes depict a more modern, more democratic Poland, A Short Film About Killing is closer to the director's earlier work--showing the quiet, chilly despair that has overcome the country in recent years. Never fascinated by violence or pain, never trivializing it, Kieslowski's vision suggests--beyond the murky veil of daily life, beyond the confused, misguided actions of his protagonists--a hidden spirituality. (BR) (Music Box, 7:00)

The Ruins

Mrinal Sen's Indian film about three friends on a weekend jaunt to the country who wind up at an isolated house with a paralyzed blind woman and her daughter (1984). (Univ. of Chicago, 7:00)

*Painted Faces

A Chinese feature set in the Peking Opera School. A review appears in last week's issue under Saturday, October 14. (Music Box, 9:00)

Decline of the American Empire

Denys Arcand's French Canadian "essay on politics and morals and talking dirty," as Reader critic Peter Keough put it in 1986. His full review appears in last week's festival listings under Saturday, October 14. (Village, 9:00)

Restricted Area

Nikolai Gubenko's film from the Soviet Union focuses on a young woman heading a relief committee to assist a small village devastated by a windstorm. (Univ. of Chicago, 9:15)

Mona and Me

Patrick Grandperret's French feature about three disaffected teenage boys and a girl whose major influence is Johnny Thunder of the New York Dolls. (Three Penny, 9:30)

Night of the Adeaters

150 minutes of TV commercials from all over the world--a condensed version of an annual seven-hour event in Paris. In keeping with the Chicago festival's predilection for the very bad along with the good, a lot of bad commercials are promised along with some good ones. (Music Box, 11:00)

To an Unknown God

Jaime Chavarri's 1977 Spanish feature about an aging homosexual magician. A review appears in last week's festival listings under Wednesday, October 18. (Village, 11:00)

The Last Supper

Political allegory from Cuba, directed by Tomas Gutierrez Alea. An 18th-century plantation owner invites 12 of his slaves to join him for a Good Friday dinner, stretching the bounds of unconscious irony to their absolute limit. Alea's essay on Christian idealism undercut by capitalist reality isn't up to his earlier Memories of Underdevelopment--it's too schematic and a little too obvious at times. Still, it's a very handsome production, photographed in lush capitalist color (1977). (DK) (Univ. of Chicago, 11:00)

Saturday October 21

Kings of the Road

The first masterpiece of the New German Cinema. Wim Wenders's existentialized road movie follows two drifters--an itinerant movie-projector repairman and a child psychologist who has followed his patients by dropping out--in a three-hour ramble through a deflated Germany, touching on their private pasts and their hopes for the future. It's full of references to Hawks, Ford, and Lang, and one scene has been lovingly lifted in its entirety from Nicholas Ray's The Lusty Men. As the hommages indicate, one of the subjects is the death of cinema, but this isn't an insider's movie. Wenders examines a played-out culture looking for one last move. An engrossing, enveloping film, made with great craft and photographed in highly textured black and white by Robby Muller (1976). (DK) (Village, 1:00)

Here's Your Life

Based on four novels by Swedish writer Eyvind Johnson, this first film by Jan Troell (The Emigrants) is a neorealist epic centered on the slow drift of a school dropout through a series of m eaningless jobs. The print to be screened is the cut 127-minute version; the original is 40 minutes longer (1966). (Univ. of Chicago, 3:00)

White Lies

Arturo Ripstein's latest Mexican feature, to be shown without subtitles, about a famous actress, her lover, and a lesbian who is a friend of the latter. (Three Penny, 3:00)

Innocence Unprotected

Dusan Makavejev's third feature (1968) reuses footage from a film about the Serbian acrobat and strongman Aleksic, intercut with titles, wartime actuality films, and interviews with various collaborators on the film, who can still remember the incredible difficulties of shooting the original (1942). A funny and genuinely endearing tribute to an innocent folk hero--bizarre in spots, and definitely Makavejev. (DD) (Village, 4:00)

Animation

Animated shorts from Brazil, the U.S., Great Britain, Hungary, Romania, Yugoslavia, Switzerland, Canada, Poland, and elsewhere. (Music Box, 4:30)

Island

Paul Cox's latest film, the tale of three women, outcasts or refugees, together on a Greek island. A review appears in last week's issue under Thursday, October 19. (Three Penny, 5:00)

The Green Wall

This Peruvian back-to-the-land (or, more accurately, back-to-the-jungle) drama became a minor cult item after its exposure at the 1970 Chicago film festival. The director, Armando Robles-Godoy, is entirely innocent of technique, but his sincere fumblings give the cliche themes some charm. (DK) (Univ. of Chicago, 6:00)

Celeste

A somber, meticulous, Germanic approach to a very French subject--the memoirs of Celeste Albaret, the housekeeper who cared for Marcel Proust during the last nine years of his life. This 1981 film by former documentarist Percy Adlon takes a deep pleasure in the petty details of everyday life: brewing tea becomes, convincingly, a profound undertaking. As a film about waiting, confinement, and busywork, it suggests Peter Handke's The Left-Handed Woman, but Adlon envisions this life as one full of purpose--Celeste is a servant of genius to genius. As the title character, Eva Mattes is allowed to show a talent for quiet naturalism that her other films (Stroszek, Jail Bail) have suppressed, but Jurgen Arndt plays Proust as he might have been animated by Chuck Jones--too cute and too abstract. (DK) (Village, 6:00)

*A Short Film About Love

Like A Short Film About Killing, A Short Film About Love was made as a 50-odd-minute episode of Krzysztof Kieslowski's Decalogue series for Polish television (they were parts five and six). Kieslowski later developed these two into feature-length movies underlining respectively the senselessness and randomness of murder (and punishment) and desire. In his earlier Blind Chance, Kieslowski based the entire narrative structure on the exploration of randomness: depending on whether or not he caught a train, a young man could live three different lives. Though not strictly theological, the Polish director's vision of mankind is informed by Christian concepts. One is man's essential frailty. Another is a keen sense of the contagion of evil, at least of the "transference of guilt," as also found in Hitchcock's oeuvre. It was already at work in A Short Film About Killing, but is nowhere more splendidly expounded than in A Short Film About Love. This film contains a number of Hitchcockian elements: a blond heroine--the irresponsible object of desire--and a voyeuristic apparatus reminiscent of Rear Window. The real similarity lies in the transference of guilt: Tomek is induced by his roommate to become a voyeur; this passion (initially a mere pretext for sexual jokes and male bonding) becomes his own private, dark obsession. Truffaut once said that Hitchcock filmed his love scenes as murder scenes and his murder scenes as love scenes. In A Short Film A bout Love, the protagonist hungrily watches the woman he loves as if he wanted to kill her; he persecutes and annoys her, reminding me of what 18th-century French moralists said about love--that in its ways and modes of expression, it looks more like hatred than friendship. Conversely, when the object of Tomek's attention finally invites him into her place, she humiliates him in a way that constitutes a symbolic murder--with painful consequences. However, while Kieslowski displays, not without humor and sympathy, the transference of guilt, he also allows for a transference of grace, which gives the film its luminous touch. The ending takes us onto another plane of reality, like the reunion between husband and wife in Kieslowski's earlier No End. It is as beautiful, poignant, and sad as the finale of Tristan und Isolde. (BR) (Music Box, 7:00)

The Children of Chaos

Veteran French director Yannick Bellon (Eamour violee, La triche) shot documentary footage before scripting this disappointing look at a controversial new program for young criminals. Without much support from a mostly weak cast, the beautiful Emanuelle Beart sulks her way through a decidedly unglamorous performance as Marie, a drug-addicted unwed mother who has been sentenced to prison for prostitution. After serving eight months, she is allowed early parole to join a special reform school where the students supposedly rehabilitate themselves through theater. A most unlikely candidate for this experience, Marie snubs the other delinquents and won't participate in the exercises. She gets a fix from her lover-dealer and stumbles around all glassy eyed. But after she is chosen to replace the criminally inclined lead actress in a play, that old theatrical magic seems to work its spell. Marie learns her lines, occasionally cracks a smile, and on a visit to her parents, even takes an interest in her own overly precious child. In spite of the research, Bellon fails to make the material ring true. Without much visual interest, the screenplay relies on contrived situations and stereotyped characters, leading inevitably to the most tired cliche of all, "the show must go on." (AS) (Three Penny, 7:00)

The Ruins

Mrinal Sen's Indian film about three friends on a weekend jaunt to the country who wind up at an isolated house with a paralyzed blind woman and her daughter (1984). (Village, 8:00)

Farewell to False Paradise

A Turkish woman is arrested in West Germany for murdering her husband. A review appears in last week's listings under Thursday, October 19. (Univ. of Chicago, 8:00)

*The Icicle Thief

One of the most popular films at the recent Toronto film festival among audiences and critics alike, this hilarious Italian comedy, the fourth feature by Maurizio Nichetti, is everything The Purple Rose of Cairo (or Gore Vidal's novel Myron) should have been and more. Nichetti himself arrives at a TV studio where a befuddled, pretentious film critic who is hoping to present either a Jean-Pierre Melville film or The Manchurian Candidate is saddled instead with Nichetti's neorealist pastiche, The Icicle Thief, which bears a striking resemblance to The Bicycle Thief. As this somber postwar black-and-white family drama proceeds, with Nichetti himself playing the out-of-work father, we see a contemporary Italian family distractedly watching the movie on TV, along with garish commercial interruptions in color. Eventually, an American-style bathing beauty in one of the commercials accidentally winds up inside the neorealist film, and the housewife in the neorealist film lands inside one of the commercials. It would be a pity to give away any more of the brilliant high jinks of this lively populist-modernist farce, except to note that the four-way traffic between the TV studio, the film-within-a-film, the commercials, and the family is beautifully handled, and speaks to the widest possible audience without an ounce of pretension. (Ironically, the film was produced by Italian television and will eventually be shown there, but because Nichetti's bogus commercials bear such a strong resemblance to real ones on Italian TV, so as not to completely confuse the audience, this is one of the few features that will be shown there without commercial interruptions.)

What is it that keeps a national treasure like Nichetti a household name in his own country and a virtual unknown in the U.S.? He's been called the Woody Allen of Italy, but it's something of a disservice to regard him as that, because for my money his talent, imagination, and originality as a writer-director-actor, not to mention his humor (one look at him is enough to inspire a giggle), go well beyond Woody's. I've been an indefatigable fan every since I caught his first feature at the Venice film festival ten years ago--Ratataplan, which showed the influence of Keaton and Tati and turned up briefly on Cinemax. (Some viewers may recall his work as an actor and writer in the earlier Allegro non troppo, the Italian Fantasia.) Since this wonderful movie seems to have practically no chance at all of getting a U.S. distributor, you can't afford to miss it. (JR) (Music Box, 9:30)

Resurrected

A soldier reported dead in the Falklands war and memorialized as a hero returns seven weeks later, apparently a victim of amnesia, in an English drama directed by Paul Greengrass. (Three Penny, 9:30)

Whooping Cough

Peter Gardos's Hungarian feature about the adventures of two children on the day in October 1956 that Soviet soldiers invaded Hungary (1987). (Village, 9:45)

Tolerance

A French film written and directed by Pierre-Henri Salfati, this rather tedious period picture takes off from the alleged practice in late-18th-century England of well-to-do salons adopting as house pets and conversation pieces hermits who were ejected from British monasteries for being too pious. According to this movie, "the craze for salon hermits" was exported to the Continent, at least to the extent that one such hermit turns up in a crate at the wealthy estate of a French noble family. The wife of the nobleman, named Tolerance, takes this bearded, unkempt hermit pretty seriously, which winds up threatening the stability of her marriage; the hermit asks the nobleman at one point to teach him debauchery, which for him represents the ultimate self-sacrifice. None of this is very convincing, and the satirical possibilities of the conceit, which cry out for the steely control of a Peter Greenaway, are frittered away in peripheral details. I previewed this--or, rather, most of this--on video, and some decorous cinematography and Mozart on the sound track weren't enough to keep my finger from the fast-forward button. With Ugo Tognazzi (as the nobleman), Rupert Everett, Anne Brochet, and Laszlo Szabo. (JR) (Univ. of Chicago, 10:30)

Hotel Saint Pauli

Svend Warn and Petter Vennerod's Norwegian feature about a male writer and a female prostitute who are roommates, friends, and lovers, and the triangle that develops when she brings a runaway home with her. (Music Box, 11:30)

The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant

A lesbian love triangle becomes a schema of sexual power plays in Rainer Werner Fassbinder's most harshly stylized and perhaps most significant film. The action is confined to a single set--the apartment of fashion designer Margit Carstensen, decorated with desiccated mannequins and a mammoth painting of fleshy, galloping nudes--where the three characters (one is a mute) scheme, complain, and attempt to seduce. With Irm Hermann and Hanna Schygulla (1973). (DK) (Village, 11:30)

Sunday October 22

*Motel

Most Americans seem to live lives of quiet surrealism, and Christian Blackwood caught on long ago. His best films have been ironic (but sympathetic) looks at film directors (Roger Corman), popular singers (Eartha Kitt), and other exotic folk. In Motel, he looks at ordinary Americans whose lives are spent living in or running that most American of institutions, the motel. His film is also a model of another American invention, the road movie. He begins with a motel run by three very strange women, moves on to another frequented only by the women visiting inmates in a neighboring prison, and--after a few pit stops along the way--ends with a remarkable motel-theater whose owner-star seems mad until Blackwood lets us see her humanity and beauty. This may well be Blackwood's best film to date. It Is certainly the finest documentary I've seen this year. (DO) (Univ. of Chicago, 2:00)

Itinerary of a Spoiled Child

Claude Lelouch's 1988 effort (in its American premiere) has got the polish and sheen that any first-rate hack working with a good photographer could replicate. The most aggressively commercial of the post-New Wave directors, Lelouch is a button pusher, a paint-by-numbers director undeserving of extended discussion. This film stars New Wave icon Jean-Paul Belmondo as a wealthy industrialist who stages his own death and wanders around Africa, before finding a former employee and discovering that his business empire is collapsing. In a weak reach at Pygmalion, Belmondo instructs the former worker (Richard Anconina) in the rules of the game and prepares him for his ascension within the company. Lelouch is after some strained notion of transfiguration. The first hour is concerned with documenting the industrialist's rise from abandoned child to circus legend to entrepreneur. But to give you an idea of the philosophical weight Lelouch brings the work, he suggests "the real problem is not believing in God, but knowing whether or not God believes in you." Lelouch has never been very good with actors. The magic in Belmondo's face has been drained; it's a lifeless, completely uninvigorating performance. To make matters worse Lelouch has cast his young wife Marie-Sophie L. in the difficult role of the industrialist's daughter, who falls for the reconstructed Anconina. Marie-Sophie is pretty, but hollow and vacant, and her reconciliation with Belmondo smacks of the worst sentimentality. Shot in 70 millimeter by Jean-Yves Le Mener, it's beautiful and empty and completely lacking in vigor or energy (the images and performances atrophy almost immediately). Finally it's rather disconcerting this film is getting play as some major international cultural event (complete with a lavish Bloomingdale's party) while Bertrand Tavernier's great new film Life and Nothing But can't even acquire an American distributor. Most will soon find that Lelouch can't begin to live up to the billing. (PZM) (Music Box, 2:30)

Fountain

Soviet satire set in a microcosmic apartment building. A review appears in last week's issue under Friday, October 13. (Village, 3:00)

Mona and Me

Patrick Grandperret's French feature about three disaffected teenage boys and a girl whose major influence is Johnny Thunder of the New York Dolls. (Three Penny, 3:00)

*My 20th Century

Strikingly shot in black and white, this first feature by a young Hungarian female filmmaker (which won a Camera d'Or at Cannes) is a virtuoso exercise in cinematic pleasure, visual inventiveness, and wit. Starting with the fairy-tale-like illumination of a park in New Jersey by newly invented electric bulbs, the camera whimsically wanders through a series of vignettes in various parts of the globe (Paris, Amazonia, Hamburg, etc) at the turn of the century in which electricity plays--or emphatically does not play--a role. Then, settling in a humble apartment in Budapest, it shows a young mother giving birth to twin daughters, before expiring. In the next shot, on Christmas Eve, the orphans, in a parody of Renoir's The Little Match Girl, try to sell matches and have magical visions in which a donkey takes them to heaven (or some similar place). Numbed by the cold, they are "kidnapped," each by a different mysterious top-hatted gentleman. The next time we see them, they are grown-up women (played by the same actress, the exquisite Dorotha Segda), both on the Orient Express on New Year's Eve, 1899. One, an anarchist, travels in third class with a secret message, or maybe a bomb, concealed in her belongings; the other is a cynical courtesan who, in the coziness of the first-class lounge, tries to decide if she needs a new "protector" or can afford a vacation. A mysterious, charming, and sexy man will cross at different moments the paths of the two sisters (nearly losing his wits); the magical donkey of that icy Christmas night of their childhood reappears a la The Lady From Shanghai; the entire film is commented on by the voice-over of two blinking stars in the sky; and director Ildiko Enyedi pretends to know nothing about postmodernism, quotation, or cinematic references. There is no explanation for talent, and Enyedi has reinvented cinema for herself, taking us for an unusual ride filled with light, animals, chases, unrelated incidents, and erotic illusion--for our greatest enjoyment. (BR) (Univ. of Chicago, 4:00)

*The Death of a Tea Master

The Japanese tea ceremony, although now a "feminine accomplishment" in that country, was once a very male prerogative and an integral part of samurai culture. This film by veteran director Kei Kumai (Sea and Poison), while on one level a historical fiction about the reasons for death by suicide of the legendary 17th-century tea master Sen no Rikyu (played by Toshiro Mifune), is more fundamentally a meditation on the conflict between power and spirituality in Japanese life. The preeminent values of simplicity and purity associated with both aesthetics and religion in traditional Japan are also pursued through the tea ceremony. Told from the point of view of Rikyu disciple Honkakubo (Eiji Okuda), who has withdrawn in monkish seclusion after the death of his master, the story climaxes in a showdown between Rikyu and Lord Hideyoshi, at that time the ruler of virtually all of Japan. The ceremony of the tea had been an important part of the samurai warrior's prebattle preparation,. and the tea master a crucial constituent of the feudal lord's establishment. Rikyu now repudiates this role--and the fact that his protest is touched off by Hideyoshi's invasion of Korea recalls how 20th-century Japanese conquests were sanctified by traditional ideals of purity, suggesting that the filmmaker is warning against a contemporary repetition. Lushly produced and photographed (despite the minimalist aesthetics of simplicity that the film invokes), it is directed through much of its length as if the movie itself were a sort of ceremony, in an apparent attempt (successful for the most part) to recreate the aura of "the way of tea." (JS) (Music Box, 5:00)

Never, Nowhere, to No One

This autobiographical first feature from Hungarian director Ferenc Teglasy is set in the early 1950s during a forced relocation campaign. It tells the story of the family of Imre Vendel (Andras Kozak), an inventor and former captain in the World War II fascist Hungarian army (the reason he's a candidate for relocation), who are moved from their Budapest apartment to an abandoned farmhouse in a remote rural area. During the next two years the Vendels face harassment from local police and officials, suspicion from neighbors (based mainly on their big-city background), and the difficulties of earning a living in a completely unfamiliar environment. When Vali Vendel (Jolanta Grusznic) bears a child, she must do so at home, assisted by her two young sons (Imre having been arrested on a trumpedup charge). It is the older son, Lamas (Tibor Antai), through whose eyes the narrative unfolds, as we see him try to come to terms with the world he now inhabits. The most distressing part of this new world is the increasing friction between his parents over questions of giving in or fighting back a friction that, it seems from an epilogue, would eventually result in their separation. Attractively shot and acted, this is another of the recent crop of bitter anti-Stalinist films from eastern Europe. (JS) (Village, 5:00)

Suddenly One Day

Indian director Mrinal Sen wrote and directed this personal film about a writer and retired history professor in Calcutta who mysteriously deserts his wife and family. As the film progresses, the members of his family reflect on the last few months he spent with them, trying to piece together the reasons he left, and gradually uncover a possible affair with one of his students, accusations of plagiarism, and a poor relationship with his son. These discoveries are interspersed with visits from concerned relatives that don't seem to add anything to the story. After watching the family experience a year of much tedious rumination we come up with no real answers, but rather a picture of a discontented man. The plodding pace of the film, its go-nowhere plot, and leads that are never followed up on, make it at once boring and frustrating to watch. Whether it's due to poor subtitling or is inherent in the film itself, there seem to be many nuances and jokes we don't understand. This film is not for the impatient or the tired. One hundred four minutes has never seemed so long. (ME) (Three Penny, 5:00)

Force majeure

A common film festival complaint asserts that most French films of recent vintage implode about 30 minutes before they end. (Quelque jours avec moi comes to mind as an obvious example.) Force majeure, unfortunately, is no exception. Director Pierre Jolivet begins by posing a fascinating ethical question about personal responsibility, but two-thirds of the way through, the film collapses inward. What had been until then a compellingly tense examination of human choices and frailties is abandoned in favor of some credulity straining plot twists and a limp fadeout.

A prologue establishes the central characters' problem-to-be. Before leaving Southeast Asia, Philippe and Daniel give their hashish to a charismatic Dutchman, Hans, whom they barely know. Their quandary begins 18 months later when an Amnesty International lawyer appears like a bolt from the blue to tell them that Hans will be executed as a drug dealer in five days unless they return to share the blame--and serve a two-year prison term. But Philippe is a promising mathematics student about to take his final exams and Daniel has a live-in girlfriend and baby. Desperate for their compliance, the lawyer provides a videotape of the imprisoned man to fan their feelings of guilt and then brings in the Dutchman's former girlfriend to complete his pitch. Here's where the plot thins instead of thickens, followed not long afterward by the "I've been had" ending.

As the lawyer Alan Bates is sadly miscast and his part badly written, particularly his hysterical monologue about drugs. Francois Cluzet, however, contributes an exceptional performance as the charming ne'er-do-well Daniel. Watching him almost makes up for the lost promise of the rest of the film. The unusual score, a carefully used Bulgarian voice effect, also creates interest throughout. Rumor has it that Touchstone Pictures has purchased the rights for an American remake. With that prospect in mind, this version might be preferable. (AS) (Univ. of Chicago, 6:00)

Decalogue, Seven

Krzysztof Kieslowski basically portrays two kinds of women: some are generous, mellow, desirable, sensual (sometimes with a slight touch of perversity). Others are unhappy, awkward, slightly hysterical, and, feeling unwanted and out of touch with those around them, often resort to desperate, ridiculous, and ultimately hopeless solutions. Decalogue, his series for Polish television, suggests that his understanding of women has at least matured. His unhappy females exist at two levels--as real characters, and as metaphorical expressions of society's anxieties and inadequacies. Majka, the out-of-luck protagonist of Decalogue, Seven, a skinny, bespectacled young woman, was powerless to prevent her life from being stolen from her as a teenager by parental and societal pressures. Now in her early 20s, her life a mess (she has just been expelled from the university), she tries to strike back and build a new life for herself in Canada. This may be the most quietly cruel of the episodes, because we cannot help feeling sympathy for Majka, yet we know she doesn't have a chance to succeed without further messing up her life--and those of others. While shedding a disturbing light on some of the ethical-legal controversies that we are currently facing in the United States, this episode demonstrates Kieslowski's extreme delicacy of touch, his humanistic skepticism: those who are morally wrong are more lovable, more worthy of attention than the impeccable guardians of a moral (or political) order. (BR) Screening with Decalogue, Eight. (Music Box, 7:00)

Decalogue, Eight

One of the most complex and richest episodes of Krzysztof Kieslowski's series for Polish TV, Decalogue, Eight masterfully articulates some bitter truths about the coexistence of Jews and Gentiles in Eastern Europe, the ambivalence of survival, and the difficulties of liberalism. "In the world there are rescuers and people who need to be rescued. It is humiliating to be on the side of those who need to be rescued," says a Jewish woman to Zofia, a university teacher known for having saved Jews during the war. Ironically, Zofia also refused in 1943 to help a little Jewish girl who needed a fake certificate of baptism, sending her off to probable death. The girl, Elzbieta, managed to survive, however, and emigrated to the United States. A professor of ethics, Zofia has a worldwide reputation as a highly intelligent scholar and a morally irreproachable person. What happened 45 years ago does not make sense, and Elzbieta finally decides to confront the older woman. Without melodramatic climaxes or shouting matches, the episode quietly but densely unravels the meeting between the two women. There is a subtle touch of femininity, even sensuality, in their encounter. When Zofia invites Elzbieta to stay overnight, the younger woman admires the peaceful atmosphere of the apartment and recognizes the "unmatched but beautiful china cups" she remembers from that traumatic event in her childhood. To my knowledge, it is also the first time that Kieslowski describes a credible, warm relationship between two women. In addition to its flawless mise-en-scene, its subtle mode of conveying anxiety (as in a scene when Zofia looks for Elzbieta, who has disappeared in the dark corridors of a building), the episode shows Kieslowski's recurring use of enigmatic and anonymous figures throughout Decalogue's (often played by the same actor), In the first episode, it was a homeless man keeping a fire by the frozen lake; in the third, a neighbor greeted by the protagonist at the entrance of his building; in A Short Film About Killing, a youth gazing with vacant curiosity through the taxicab window. in this episode, there is a drunk who stumbles into Zofia's lecture hall, and later, when she jogs in the park, a contortionist exercising. These fleeting characters do not play a part in the narration per se; in fact, they are like airy space between dense molecules, allowing the latter to move among and react to one another. They are also an important component of Kieslowski's universe: the most complex moral choices are always presented against a background in which "blind chance" is an important component, in which mankind, far from being the master of its own fate, has to cope with the sometimes tempestuous forces of history, nature, or plain coincidence. (BR) Screening with Decalogue, Seven. (Music Box, 7:00)

White Lies

Arturo Ripstein's latest Mexican feature, to be shown with voice-over English translation, about a famous actress, her lover, and a lesbian who is a friend of the latter. (Village, 7:00)

First Date

Taiwan's current box-office favorite Chang Shi is erotic, subtle, funny, and moving as a young man coming of age in the Taiwan of the 50s. Peter Wang's beguiling third film might be called "Taiwan Graffiti," but that would be an injustice. It is a deceptively simple portrait of Taiwan moving from traditional values to "modernization" through the inroads of American popular culture. While much of the narrative seems a romp (adolescent pranks, puppy love, etc), satiric arrows are directed at government repression, official corruption, the class system, and the American way. The inevitable happy ending is a delight worth waiting for. (DO) (Three Penny, 7:00)

Save and Protect

Alexander Sokurov expands world cinema's limited vocabulary for sensuality (as opposed to sexuality) in Save and Protect, a recasting of Flaubert's Madame Bovary. This unusual film stars a French Greek woman, Cecile Zervoudaki, as a restless soul who truly belongs to no man or country but her own. Following the success of his much appreciated Days of Eclipse (1987), Sokurov continues his exploration of the seemingly irreconcilable gap between the material and spiritual worlds, locating his tale in landscapes that look at times like Europe and at other moments like Asia or the Middle East. If Little Vera heated the screen with the first taste of Soviet sexuality, Sokurov moves on, allowing his minimalist camera to dwell on dimensions of physicality that have never been so well expressed before. Besides the expected passionate moments, there are the quiet pauses before or after contact, there is the shaping of the sound track (especially a constantly buzzing fly in several scenes), and moments that are refreshingly original: a naked Bovary quietly holding her equally naked daughter. The framing of the film with Russian Orthodox chants and the extended funeral at the end lifts Flaubert's narrative far beyond provincial France and deep into the Russian soul as Sokurov proves once again that, as many Soviet critics feel, he is the spiritual descendant of that most spiritually anguished of Soviet directors, Andrei Tarkovsky. (AH) (Univ. of Chicago, 8:30)

*Meeting Place

Belgrade director Goran Markovic's seventh film is his masterpiece, the most gratifying, successful work from Yugoslavia since When Father Was Away on Business. Meeting Place swept all the awards at Yugoslavia's Pula festival in August, and at this year's Montreal festival it was the film that won the most sustained, heartfelt audience applause. No wonder. No one could resist being moved by Markovic's poignant, genuinely philosophical ending, a bittersweet threnody for the dead residing forever in a limbolike underworld. An aging archaeologist overturns a Roman stone that leads directly to the dead. For the next hour, people run back and forth between life and beyond the grave, with sometimes hilarious and sometimes tragic results. Markovic populates his film with farcical Yugoslavian peasants, comic Shakespearean grave diggers, but also deep-thinking characters searching for the Meaning of It All. The mood shifts deftly from slapstick to Chekhovian tragicomedy, with a sprinkle of Hollywood via Heaven Can Wait and It's a Wonderful Life. Everyone will marvel at the Dantean gallop through the underworld, an obstacle course passing the Crucifixion, the Inquisition, and Joan at the stake. Yugoslavian cinema never gets distribution, even a picture as wondrous as this one, so it's important to see this film. (GP) (Music Box, 9:30)

The Moonchild

The second feature of Spanish director Agustin Villaronga (In a Glass Cage) concerns a European orphan in north Africa convinced that he has psychic powers, who is adopted by a secret fascist organization that is interested in breeding a perfect human being. (Village, 9:30)

Tolerance

Pierre-Henri Salfati's period comedy-drama about a religious hermit adopted by a noble French family. A review appears under Saturday, October 21. (Three Penny, 9:30)

Monday October 23

A Woman of Paris

Charles Chaplin wrote and directed this sophisticated comedy-drama for his longtime leading lady, Edna Purviance, in 1923. Chaplin's themes are emotional failure and moral blindness, effectively worked out through a tightly structured story of a girl who leaves her provincial hometown to become the mistress of a Parisian millionaire (Adolphe Menjou). Because the film was unavailable for decades, it has acquired a reputation that it doesn't quite deserve. But it is a moving and entertaining work, executed with high finesse by a master cineast. (DK) (Music Box, 7:00)

Winter's Child

Young French director Olivier Assayas' second film, Winter's Child, treats a hot and dirty subject--complicated sexual allegiances and betrayals--with coolness and elegance, a detachment that might even be called Gallic. His attractive, beautifully dressed young actors mistreat each other in interesting rooms in a glamorous theatrical milieu. The picture could also be called "Bad Timing": nobody is ever in love with anybody else at quite the right moment. Handsome, blank-faced Stephane breaks up with Nathalie, with whom he's lived for several years, at the singularly infelicitous moment of the birth of their child. He's already seeing Sabine, a stylish designer who's embroiled in a folie a deux with a sadistic, charismatic actor. Time passes, but all wounds are not healed: the ending, while sentimental, is bittersweet. Assayas, a painter who wrote for Cahiers du Cinema, has made a sophisticated and disturbing film. (MB) (Village, 7:00)

*The Icicle Thief

A review of Maurizio Nichetti's comedy appears under Saturday, October 21. (Univ. of Chicago, 7:00)

Autumn Milk

This film was a hit in West Germany last winter and it's not hard to understand its appeal. Based on a popular autobiography by Anna Wimschneider, it portrays the life of a farm girl from her childhood in the 30s through her early married years in the 40s while her husband is away at war. In its re-creation of the past it offers harsh images and harsher themes with a grace that makes the film feel as if it had been filtered through someone's memory, but with honesty rather than nostalgia. Joseph Wilsmaier, a Bavarian cameraman directing his second film, has a cameraman's eye for beauty and a rare restraint in the way he exercises it. Anna's mother dies when she is eight, and the child becomes surrogate mother to nine siblings, cooking, cleaning, and doing the chores. Falling in love at 18, she gets married and moves to the farm of her inlaws for more of the same, except that she is thoroughly resented, especially by her severe, humorless mother-in-law. It sounds dreary but isn't, particularly because Anna is portrayed as a child and woman of strength, capable of wonder and able to savor life even under cruel circumstances. The director has an evenhandedness that lets the tragedies of the barnyard and the tragedies of history find their own levels in the viewer's estimation, which in itself subtly conveys the core of the old rural values that shape the heroine's life. (BS) (Three Penny, 7:00)

Resurrected

A soldier reported as dead in the Falklands war and memorialized as a hero returns seven weeks later, apparently a victim of amnesia, in an English feature directed by Paul Greengrass. (Univ. of Chicago, 9:15)

Decalogue, Nine

In this episode of Krzysztof Kieslowski's ten-parter for Polish television, the protagonist Roman is brutally told that he is impotent: medicine can't help him and he should think of divorcing his attractive wife Hanka. But she convinces him that "love is more than a few minutes of exercise in a bed," so they decide to stay together. As the story unfolds, however, they experience a sort of descent into hell--giving a new twist to the notion of "sexual impasse" coined by Lacan's psychoanalysis: the sexual relationship is, in essence, an impossibility. In A Short Film About Love (part six of Decalogue), it was physical desire that made Tomek's love for Magda both moving and despicable, In Decalogue, Nine, Roman's love becomes unbearable, turning him into a jealous, spiteful monster, and casting Hanka, in spite of herself, in the role of a femme fatale. Yet, specifically because this episode questions the existence of love without reference to sex, it is the most passionate of the series. Roman's sometimes abject obsession, made more poignant by his physical condition, belongs to the classical register of romantic passion; and the character of Hanka, torn between the equally impossible demands of both her husband and her lover, is drawn with finesse, subtlety, and tenderness. (BR) Screening with Decalogue, Ten. (Music Box, 9:30)

Decalogue, Ten

In Europe, stamp collecting is a popular form of male bonding, and it seems to be a national passion in the Eastern bloc countries. All his life, my father dreamed of acquiring a particularly rare and expensive stamp, but, facing my mother's reluctance to mortgage the house, eat boiled potatoes every day, and find a cheaper school for us, he had to postpone it indefinitely. In Krzysztof Kieslowski's Decalogue, Ten, from his series for Polish TV, Artur and Jerzy are two brothers. Artur is shown in the first shot shouting anarchistic rock lyrics (something like "Cheat, lie, and steal, copulate with your sister . . ." etc) in front of a crowd of screaming teenagers. Jerzy is a cautious, selfish, unimaginative businessman. Their mother has been out of the picture for a long time, so there is nothing to prevent their father, locked in a bachelor's apartment, from pursuing his hobby of stamp collecting. When he dies, his estranged sons discover his entire collection, without grasping at first its significance or value. When they finally realize it, it is their turn to get hooked. These two unlikely bedfellows experience their first real tremor of interest and are ready to give up everything at the thought of acquiring a particularly rare and expensive stamp. The multiple-twist ending gives the episode an exhilarating irony. (BR) Screening with Decalogue, Nine. (Music Box, 9:30)

Blank Wedding

Jean-Claude Brisseau's French feature about the tumultuous affair that develops between a 49-year-old philosophy teacher and one of his young students. (Village, 9:30)

Save and Protect

Alexander Sokurov's version of Madame Bovary. A review appears under Sunday, October 22. (Three Penny, 9:30)

Tuesday October 24

*The Kid

The tramp, out for his morning stroll, threading his way through a rain of refuse from surrounding tenement windows, finds a baby abandoned next to a garbage can. Seeking in vain to discover from which window this piece of refuse may have fallen, the tramp is about to put it back where he found it when the frown of a passing policeman inspires him to hastily pick the baby up again. He then espies a slightly more probable source--a woman with a baby carriage. Depositing the infant in the already-occupied pram, Charlie courteously explains "you dropped something," then manfully resists all attempts on the part of the irate mother to make him take it back until the arrival of the policeman forces him to reshoulder his burden. His subsequent efforts to get rid of his charge backfire in ever-narrowing concentric circles--all escape routes blocked by the cop, all roads leading back to the baby. Charlie now sits down resignedly on the curb, briefly considers then rejects the possibility of a convenient sewer grate, then finally turns his attention to the human life he holds in his hands. From its inception, Chaplin's first feature, described by him as "something of an innovation" in its length and its odd mix of "raw slapstick and sentiment" was a risky proposition. Yet it is the way in which slapstick and sentiment are inextricably intermingled that makes The Kid unique and ultimately so successful. For even before the amazing five-year-old Jackie Coogan bursts upon the screen, the film is a masterpiece of gesture, social commentary, and timing, wherein the process of living hand to mouth--and moment to moment--becomes the process of thought itself. (RS) Screening with The Circus. (Music Box, 7:00)

The Circus

Chaplin's last silent has the high refinement and simplicity of a final statement--a sense of farewell that marked many American films in the watershed year of 1928. Though it seems less ambitious than The Gold Rush, it is ultimately more satisfying, with its perfectly pointed pathos, its sustained bits fully integrated into the dramatic development, and its poetic imagery. When the wagons finally pull away, the tramp is left to contemplate the circular imprint the ring has left in the sand--an image of transitional eternity as moving as the last shot of Limelight. With Allan Garcia and Merna Kennedy. (DK) Screening with The Kid. (Music Box, 7:00)

Force majeure

A French feature by Pierre Jolivet. A review appears under Sunday, October 22. (Village, 7:00)

Never, Nowhere, to No One

Ferenc Teglasy's Hungarian feature about a relocated family in the 50s. A review appears under Sunday, October 22. (Univ. of Chicago, 7:00)

By the Will of God

The life of Hungary's last crown prince told in newsreel and documentary footage. A review appears in last week's issue under Saturday, October 14. (Three Penny, 7:00)

Blank Wedding

Jean-Claude Brisseau's French feature about the tumultuous affair that develops between a 49-year-old philosophy teacher and one of his young students. (Univ. of Chicago, 9:15)

Australia

Pastoral Australia and pastoral Belgium circa 1955 are the antipodes in this Belgian-French-Swiss coproduction between which Belgian director Jean-Jacques Andrien (The Son of Amr Is Dead, The Endless Land of Alexis Droeven) tries to bridge the distances (emotional as well as geographical). Jeremy Irons plays Edovard Pierson, scion of an industrial family, who left the old, gray Belgian wool capital of Verviers and his family before World War II to begin a new life in sunny, egalitarian South Australia. Now he receives a summons to come rescue the failing family enterprise. Leaving behind a 12-year-old daughter (from a mysterious wartime romance) and the lonely outback landscape (broodingly captured by cinematographer Yorgos Arvanitis), Pierson reluctantly returns to the tradition-bound, stuffy, upper-class society he left. Adventures in the wool trade vie with family attempts to have the laconic Pierson meet an adventurous and ardent Jeanne (Fanny Ardant), who is tied to a proper provincial lawyer (Patrick Bauchau). Their tryst leaves the viewer aching for more. Both Irons and Ardant, always interesting to watch in themselves, are not successfully woven into a team here, more the fault of the script than Andrien's direction. One's response will depend on bridging many gaps left by disparate, little-explained plot gambits in this nonetheless beautiful drama. (AM) (Music Box, 9:30)

*My 20th Century

An award-winning first feature by Hungarian Ildiko Enyedi about a pair of orphaned identical twins who grow up around the turn of the century. A review appears under Sunday, October 22. (Village, 9:30)

It's So Much Nicer Wherever We Are Not

The title of this somewhat tepid West German film refers to the painful realization on the part of two young Polish emigres that the quality of their lives in the West falls far short of expectations. Jerzy and Ewa, two casual acquaintances from Warsaw, arrive in West Berlin with little money and great hopes for the future. Having no work permits, however, and only a rudimentary knowledge of German, the two are forced to perform degrading work: Jerzy becomes a small-time enforcer for the mob, while Ewa tries her hand at the world's oldest profession. In the short run, the situation is not unacceptable to them--both are survivors willing to suffer through temporary humiliation if that's what it takes to realize their dreams. Yet the kind of prolonged degradation they experience in West Berlin is more than they can handle. Once again, Jerzy and Ewa end up placing all their hopes on emigration--this time to America--and, once again, the reality of life proves much less fulfilling than anticipated. Considering the film's low budget, the results are not half bad. Sharp black-and-white photography works well in conveying the protagonists' feelings of alienation from the hostile environments of Warsaw, West Berlin, and New York City. Still, with a sketchy dramatic structure that barely sustains the feature-length format, the film turns out to be less of an insightful investigation than an often repetitive collage of broken emigrant dreams. (ZB) (Three Penny, 9:30)

Wednesday October 25

Modern Times

Charlie Chaplin's definitive portrait of the depression (1936) gives us a feistier and more flexible tramp than the one encountered in City Lights five years earlier--leaping from one job and living situation to another in the midst of social chaos with a new toughness and resilience. The tramp appears successively as a factory worker, unwitting communist agitator, convict, night watchman, and singing waiter (the latter occasioning the first time his voice was ever heard on-screen, singing in a language of his own invention), and the story line is correspondingly restless and episodic, although after he meets the gamine (Paulette Goddard), the film assumes some romantic continuity. A sound film with intertitles but no dialogue, Modern Times can be viewed as both advanced and archaic in the context of the mid-30s--anticipating the Big Brother concept of Orwell's 1984 by well over a decade, but sticking to virtuoso balletic pantomime when other Hollywood comedies of the same period (My Man Godfrey, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, A Day at the Races) were veritable gabfests. Essential viewing. (JR) (Music Box, 7:00)

*American Stories

In Chantal Akerman's English language feature American Stories the audience will recognize, among largely anonymous New York-based theater actors, some figures from the American counterculture: Judith Malina, the queen mother of the Living Theater, and the astonishing Eszter Balint, the stubborn Hungarian immigrant of Jim Jarmusch's Stranger Than Paradise. Composed of static frontal shots, the film alternates powerful moments (stories about love, immigration, family quarrels, painful memories of pogroms or death camps) with seemingly hackneyed elements (street-smart philosophy, ghetto humor, Freudian wit, Jewish jokes), before reaching a sort of deliberate vacuity, with an almost-too-long scene in an open-air restaurant. A film about the phantom of language (the memory, the oblivion, the vacuousness of language), American Stories is haunted by a sense of the void--challenging the viewer's desire to be seduced. The film's structure is grossly similar to that of Akerman's earlier Toute une nuit, but, with muted violence, it deals with the symbolic work of death. Here and there, with the tenderness she loves to display in "absurd" couples, the director shows moments of physical attraction, or brief erotic meetings, but more often than not her characters are excruciatingly lonely. Even in the presence of others, they talk to (and for) themselves. They do not feel like inhabitants of the city where they sought shelter, but as barely tolerated refugees. Events that took place years ago, "in Moscow, or maybe in Budapest," undermine the possibility of love, the unity of a family, the ability to open up to others. With American Stories, Akerman comes back to the scene of the crime--the city where she shot Hotel Monterrey and Letters From Home--not only because it is a city of dumps, refuse, dirt, weed-filled empty lots, and dark street corners, but because it is a city that does not exist. At the end of the film, an old man asks the way to a street in the old Jewish ghetto; the other characters, having unsuccessfully tried to give him an answer, eventually give up. Akerman takes us across the East River, where the buildings of contemporary Manhattan are reflected--as if it were the mythological Styx. Challenging traditional expectations of what should or should not be in a film, she stubbornly asks the question: "How is it possible to make movies--after Auschwitz?" (BR) (Village, 7:00)

*The Death of a Tea Master

An inquiry by four disciples into the death by hara-kiri of a tea master set in the early 17th century--a Japanese film directed by Kei Kumai. A review appears under Sunday, October 22. (Univ. of Chicago, 7:00)

Invincible Lovers

This small, throwaway film from Greek writer-director Stavros Tsiolis is saved by a remarkably appealing performance from Tassos Millotis. He's a 12-year-old orphan who runs away, primarily to visit his grandmother, but also we suspect to escape his bleak living conditions. On the road he comes across a pretty, enigmatic woman (Olia Lazaridou), and she's drawn to the world of this tough child of the streets, a natural survivor. With her vague offers of comfort, wealth, and excitement, the kid reluctantly joins up with her. Running just 80 minutes, the film is surprisingly relaxed and measured; Tsiolis is content to advance the story slowly. But it lacks depth and imagination. Even if you accept the inconsistencies in the plot and premise, there are still unanswered questions--in particular the psychological motivations of the woman. The role is badly written and poorly defined, and the way Lazaridou plays her, she's opaque. What makes it watchable is Miliotis's nervy, complex performance. The role depends on the unexplained (he has maybe 15 lines of dialogue), on physical actions that shape each scene. He's bitter and resigned, but he has a wild, almost subversive streak (his expressive face seems like a road map of anger and loneliness). The sociopolitical criticism and strong, uncompromising ending serve the film well, but your attention wanders. Thanks to cinematographer Vassilis Kapsouros, the framing is clean, functional. But Tsiolis never explores the dislocation or alienation of the orphan's condition, or the repercussions of his running away. Early on there's a beautiful, extended shot of him walking along the railroad tracks after he's abandoned the train because he a couldn't afford the fare. Invincible Lovers crumbles in the memory shortly after seeing it, but the name Tassos Miliotis bears remembering, (PZM) (Three Penny, 7:00)

Mary Forever

Set in Palermo and based on Aurelio Grimaldi's semiautobiographical novel of the same name, this film draws on not unfamiliar generic elements. Like Pixote, its milieu is that of the socioeconomically disadvantaged. Like Dead Poets Society, the story's galvanizing force is an instructor who pursues educational reform through unconventional means. But where his students were apprentices of creativity's muse, this teacher's charges have a much more immediate curriculum--survival. In an approach reminiscent of neorealism, Italian director Marco Risi draws a grim portrait of young Sicilians with few means to stave off a dead-end existence. (A geography lesson soberly illustrates the extent to which the Mafia impacts on their lives.) Behind the strutting bravado of violence, Risi exposes victims of chronic abuse nevertheless driven by needs and desires endemic to human nature. It is this full-rounded sense of character--a composite of fear, loneliness, love, humor, cruelty--that give the juvenile offenders credibility and poignancy. Amid this tempest of tauntings, seductions, and threats is Marco Terzi, the teacher who attempts to provide options to his students' almost primal mano a mano approach to life. If the story sometimes errs on the side of melodrama, it is tempered by scenes handled with humor and great sensitivity. Washed in cool blues and grays, its gritty realism is distilled in the dialogue--a litany of four-letter words and salacious combinations thereof--spoken in authentic dialect. Regrettably, Michele Placido offers a distractingly opaque interpretation of the teacher; his resolute mysteriousness--i.e., what motivates this apparently well qualified teacher to volunteer for this highly undesirable job--begins to irritate as it wears thin. However, the film boasts terrific performances by an ensemble of nonprofessional, mostly young actors (some of whom are former juvenile offenders). This is their story. Appropriately, they have given it a life that carries it beyond the reform-school genre. (LT) (Univ. of Chicago, 9:15)

Three Seats for the 26th

For viewers like myself who harbor passionately fond memories of Jacques Demy's 1967 tribute to the American musical, Les demoiselles de Rochefort, his latest musical clearly has something to recommend it, even if this recommendation has to come with reservations. While Michel Legrand's score for Les demoiselles is one of the greatest ever written for any musical, his comparably jazzy and airy work for the new movie is only a pale reflection of his best music; similarly, the references here to touchstones, like Silk Stockings, Singin' in the Rain, and The Band Wagon are all too fleeting, in striking contrast to the full-scale tributes to West Side Story, An American in Paris, and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in the earlier film. The difference is partly a matter of scale and budget, plus the fact that Trois places pour le 26 is centered around Yves Montand, an eminence grise who is looking more and more like Milton Berle these days. Playing himself, Montand arrives in Marseilles to launch an autobiographical musical revue that he plans to take on a world tour. In his spare time he looks for an old lover, a onetime prostitute he hasn't seen in 22 years. She proves to be a baroness whose husband is in jail for theft and whose 22-year-old daughter--a gamine clearly meant to suggest Cyd Charisse and Leslie Caron--has a burning desire to make it in show biz. Unbeknownst to her mother, she assumes the female lead in Montand's show when the original actress drops out at the last minute (apparently taking her cues from Busby Berkeley musicals); this being a Demy movie, people are blissfully unaware of what's happening right under their noses, which in this case eventually includes even some happy incest. In short, all the Demy hallmarks are present here--his silly but charming plot symmetries and coincidences, his lushly colored wallpaper, and his innate capacity to make real locations look like artificial sets but the pity is that he's largely going through the motions here rather than letting his poetic conceits take flight. (JR) (Music Box, 9:30)

Autumn Milk

The hard life of a German farm girl. A review appears under Monday, October 23. (Village, 9:30)

Zerograd

Surrealist satire from Soviet director Karen Shakhnazarov. A review appears in last week's issue under Sunday, October 15. (Three Penny, 9:30)

Thursday October 26

The Great Dictator

As Gilbert Adair has pointed out, Chaplin doesn't really belong to the history of cinema, he belongs to history. What for another artist might only come across as misjudgment, naivete, or bad taste registers here as personal and historical testimony of the most candid and searing sort. Chaplin's 1940 attempt to ridicule Adolf Hitler out of existence (with Billy Gilbert as "Herring," Jack Oakie as a lampoon of Mussolini, and Paulette Goddard as a Jewish waif) isn't the funniest or the most dramatically successful of his features, though it has some unforgettable sequences, but his first full talkie is probably the most fascinating from a historical viewpoint. Chaplin, himself plays both a Jewish barber (a variation of the tramp) and the dictator Adenoid Hynkel, but when he steps up to the podium to speak in the raw and convulsive final sequence, it is the tramp, the barber, and Chaplin himself directly speaking to the public and trying to change the course of history. (Although Chaplin was not Jewish himself, throughout his career he consistently refused to deny rumors that he was in order to show solidarity.) Being brave and foolish enough to think that he can save the world, he winds up breaking our hearts in a way that no simple entertainer ever could. (JR) (Music Box, 7:00)

Maicol

Mario Brenta's Italian drama describes what happens when a poor woman and her five-year-old son get separated on a big-city subway. (Village, 7:00)

Suddenly One Day

An Indian family tries to piece together the reasons for a disappearance. A review appears under Sunday, October 22. (Univ. of Chicago, 7:00)

After the Rain

Camille de Casabianca is writer-director and star of a new French feature about a young woman who sets off to Africa on a humanitarian mission. (Three Penny, 7:00)

Itinerary of a Spoiled Child

Jean-Paul Belmondo plays a disillusioned business tycoon who decides to fake his own death in a new feature by Claude Lelouch. A review appears under Sunday, October 22. (Univ. of Chicago, 9:15)

The Front Woman

For fans of Suzanne Schiffman's debut The Sorceress (screened at the 1987 Chicago festival), time travel from 13th-century rural France to contemporary downtown Paris might be jarring, but it's well worth the trip. Schiffman, who previously assisted both Francois Truffaut and Jacques Rivette, presents a comic look at the lies men and women tell each other under the guises of masculinity and femininity. A publisher of romance novels, Marc (Jean-Pierre Leaud), decides that women want to hear about love from women, and persuades his live-in girlfriend to pose as an author. While Paule (Helene Lapowier) is happy signing paperbacks in supermarkets and drugstores, her relationship with Marc is not what she had hoped for--especially now that she is a nationally recognized love expert. At a book signing, she meets Mr. Courtois, the real author of her book. A retired military officer writing under a nom de plume, Mr. Courtois has yet to see a penny from his best-seller but cannot complain for fear of charges of machismo. Could Marc be a crook as well as a nonromantic pig? Paule enlists the questionable detective expertise of Julie, her hairdresser girlfriend (Caroline Loeb), who is an avid reader of mystery novels and the chase is on. Like Rivette's Celine and Julie Go Boating, The Front Woman is great fun as it uses the paperback best-seller list for its script and the war between the sexes as its slapstick battleground. Among its wonderful comic touches is Helene Lapowier's goofy screen presence. (NR) (Music Box, 9:30)

Streets of Yesterday

An Israeli thriller set in Israel and Berlin, this feature by Judd Ne'eman focuses on the relationship that develops between an Israel law student and a Palestinian Arab. (Village, 9:30)

A House for Two

Milos Zabransky's Czech feature about two brothers of opposite temperaments who are United in both life and death. A review appears in last week's listings under Saturday, October 14. (Three Penny, 9:30)

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