comment

* = recommended

Friday October 12

Saturday, Sunday and Monday

The festival's opening night film is Lina Wertmuller's adaptation of an Eduardo De Filippo play from the 50s, starring Filippo's son Luca as a jealous husband suffering something of a mid-life crisis and Sophia Loren as his wife, who expresses herself mainly through her cooking. The setting is Naples in the 30s; with Luciano De Crescenzo, Alessandra Mussolini, and Pepella Maggi. (Fine Arts, 7:00 and 9:30)

*No, or the Vainglory of Command

While other long-lived directors, including Akira Kurosawa and Federico Fellini, have sadly given recent signs of failing powers, 82-year-old Portuguese director Manoel de Oliveira is still going strong. No, or the Vainglory of Command is an awesome display of style, constructed with the kind of insight into the fiction- making process that can only come from one of the few great living masters of the cinema. Oliveira cuts back and forth between hyperrealistic treatment of contemporary incidents--a lieutenant telling his men an instructional story from history on a long truck ride--and detailed, increasingly delirious flashbacks of mythic episodes that portray the history and destiny of the Portuguese nation. As uncommercial a film as it's possible to imagine, No is didactic yet uniquely entertaining, stately and profound. The lucidity of Oliveira's vision, enhanced by the hard-edged deep-focus photography, is such that by the time the film progresses to the point of introducing cherubs and nymphs bedecked in garlands of roses, it is possible to believe that one is glimpsing an alternate universe. A film executed at full power, No is one of the few to be found at any international film festival this year that can inspire socks- knocked-off humility in the viewer. (BS) (Music Box, 7:00)

Traces of the Stones

Director Frank Beyer's East German feature is an excellent example of the great backlog of banned films from Eastern Europe only now beginning to find the audiences they deserve. Only slightly less masterful than such repressed political works as the Czech The Ear (1969) and the Polish Interrogation (1982), Traces of the Stones was first released in East Germany in 1966, then hurriedly withdrawn from circulation by the Communist Central Committee after a successful three-week run. Judged too much of a risk, the director was sent to Dresden to do theater work and did not make another movie for nearly ten years. Set on a massive construction site, the film concerns the love affair between a guilt-ridden party official (who has a wife and child waiting patiently at home in Rostock) and a young female technician; completing the triangle is the popular German actor Manfred Krug, who plays an out-of-control construction foreman who dresses like a cowboy and gets things done in a most unconventional (and hilarious) way. More remarkable, however, is the explicit (and, unfortunately, at times rather talky) critique the film offers of dogmatism and party interference in the construction project. (PB) (Fine Arts, 7:00)

A Paucity of Flying Dreams

Eizo Sugawa's Japanese feature relates the strange romance that develops between a businessman who attempts suicide and the woman he shares a hospital room with and becomes acquainted with exclusively through her voice. He eventually learns that she's an old woman, but then she unexplainedly reappears as a much younger woman. (Music Box, 9:30)

Fallen From Heaven

Winner of the top prize at this year's Montreal film festival, this feature by Peru's most celebrated director, Francisco Lombardi, tells three interrelated stories: one about a pop radio personality who offers advice to the desperate, another involving an elderly couple bent on building a marble mausoleum for themselves and their dead son, and a third concerning a blind and impoverished crone, her two grandchildren, and her prize pig (1989). (Fine Arts, 9:30)

Saturday October 13

Hotel Chronicles

There's not much that's illuminating in Canadian director Lea Pool's documentary version of the cross-country USA trip that's been so irresistible to so many foreign (and American) filmmakers. From her first images of the homeless slouched against movie posters in Manhattan to her closing images of Las Vegas, she favors anything in any city that's an Obvious Symbol. Intercutting film clips of Vietnam, Martin Luther King, and police brutality, she makes it perfectly clear that she's not thrilled by U.S. capitalism. It's almost a relief when her camera takes in every bedspread and bureau in every motel or hotel room. At least these low-profile symbols of American transience don't jump in your face wearing an "American injustice" label. In the freshest section of the movie, going southwest over the old Route 66, she frames shots of the motel TV showing John Ford's Monument Valley against a picture window looking out at the real thing, and splices shots of an Indian reservation's barren desert against shots of a moon landing's terrain. She also conducts interviews, asking almost everyone to define the American dream, and holds it all together with a pretentious voice-over. "I realize your dreams are as strong as ours," she says in her final voice-over. "Must your dreams always be so different from mine?" It was my dream that Hotel Chronicles might be as interesting as Pool's no-holds-barred story of a sexual triangle, Straight From the Heart. Must my dream always be so different from hers? (KH) (Music Box, 1:00)

The King's Trial

This film attributes historical events to a curious blend of the active and the passive. In 1667, Marie Francoise, wife of Dom Alfonso, king of Portugal, accused her crippled husband of impotence. Though it was a fabrication, she was able to win her case, be confirmed a virgin, and marry his brother, who was more amenable to French schemes of war with Spain. The extent to which the characters choose their roles and their roles choose them becomes a fascinating subject in itself as the story unfolds. Unlike Rossellini's historical reenactments, to which Joao Mario Grilo's third feature bears an undeniable resemblance, the distance between audience and characters makes the characters all the more intriguing, particularly the king and queen, here mere pawns to a bishop on the chessboard of political expediency. In Grilo's Portugal, history is a play where as each curtain is raised, another is lowered, while the possibilities never explored take on the trappings if not of tragedy, then at least of eulogy. But the most important player is never credited--light, an almost mystical force, that here hides as much as it reveals. What was and what might have been are bathed in a light as kind as it is cruel, as implacable as it is compassionate. (RS) (Fine Arts, 1:00)

Good News

For its first half hour, this unclassifiable Austrian film by Ulrich Seidl is marvelously inventive, a black, deadpan "documentary" about Pakistanis who work in Vienna selling two Murdoch-like tabloids. Seidl turns his camera on other subjects, like middle-class vulgarity and a wino in a bar. But everything returns to the film's principal irony, the notion of foreigners forced by circumstance into hawking these propagandistic, hyperbolic publications. The loose, informal structure is effective in the early sequences, like a hilarious, frightening scene where the Pakis are sequestered and forced to view an industrial video on the proper way to do their job. But the film isn't very inventive, and the oppressive, tight close-ups and grainy compositions continually destroy any inner rhythm. It's a one-note film, and Seidl can't extract anything from it but the most obvious. We never get inside the workers' minds, and none of their dialogue is ever translated, so the audience is immune to their pain and displacement. Seidl works hard to find the poetry of the commonplace by placing these naive outsiders in one uncomfortable situation after another. In one too-long sequence, a vendor enters a hospital wing and relentlessly prods the sick and infirm into buying papers. Of course, he doesn't have much choice: his existence depends on being ruthless. But by this time our interest has atrophied; as one old woman tells the vendor, "We hurt all over already." (PZM) (Fine Arts, 2:00)

Letters From Alou

A visually rapturous poem of escape and a subversive variation on the American road movie, this Spanish work from Montxo Armendariz has a rigorous simplicity and purity. It's steeped in a strong notion of cinema, constructed in elaborate long takes and wide-screen compositions. The bright and ambitious Alou has entered Spain illegally to find his friend Mulai, who's promised him a good job. Alou goes through a series of comic and dangerous adventures but is left unscathed by racism, violence, and a succession of bleak jobs. The title comes from the letters he reads over the sound track. Though the film traffics in themes of xenophobia, colonialism, and exploitation, the style is relaxed and confident, buttressed by minimalist dialogue and bright-toned cinematography. Thanks to Armendariz's skillful use of landscape and horizontal lines, the movie comes off both spacious and intimate. Also notable are the quirky, idiosyncratic secondary players, and when Alou falls for Carmen, a beautiful, intense barmaid, the scenes are so complex and emotionally honest that you can forget the film's flaws. The deft contrasts and subtle observations brilliantly merge in the final scene, so quiet and forceful it's Armendariz's own take on eternal recurrence. (PZM) (Music Box, 3:00)

Penny Ante

A repairer of gumball machines has to tangle with gangsters in order to collect his meager profits, until he finds a charismatic ally and discovers that one of the gumball machines dispenses cocaine. Gavin Wilding directed this American independent feature; with Jack Kruschen, Don Fullilove, and Ted Lange. (Fine Arts, 3:00)

L'amour

With a stretch, L'amour might be described as a puberty comedy or a tragicomedy--but it'd be a stretch as long as the one between California and France. A gaggle of boys meet a gaggle of girls, and relationships cross and recross in the last days of summer. But the uncompromising honesty that characterizes the film belongs to no genre. The French have always seemed to be as nuanced at making adolescent rite-of-passage movies as the Americans are clumsy at it. In L'amour first-time director Phillipe Faucon celebrates sex as communication, a means for defining the social codes and expressing personal insecurities. Sex allows the characters here to develop responsibility, jealousy, freedom. Since the private places are often more open to invasion than the public ones (when a new girlfriend is invited over, friends just have to drop by on one transparent pretext or another), things get worked out instead in oft-visited meeting places--backyard cafes, hockey games, Vietnamese restaurants, apartments, cars, hotels. Working it out is the name of the game in this vital, non-condescending view of life and love in the Paris suburbs. (RS) (Music Box, 5:00)

Angels

A Swiss-Belgian-Spanish production set in Barcelona and featuring American as well as Spanish characters, including a trumpet player from Brooklyn whose son runs a gang in the local red-light district. Directed by Jacob Berger. (Fine Arts, 5:00)

The Krays

The notorious Kray twins, gangsters who ruled London's East End in the 50s and 60s, are legendary figures in England, and screenwriter Philip Ridley boasts that his account of their lives and careers is blatantly unfactual, unsullied by a scrap of research. His ambitious script blames everything on the permissive matriarchy that reared them, although it isn't quite as simpleminded as it sounds. With Martin and Gary Kemp (from the pop group Spandau Ballet) as the twins--the former straight, the latter gay--and the remarkable Billie Whitelaw as their mother, this movie has a certain depth and class, although the macabre violence--dished out strategically and qualitatively (with sabers) rather than quantitatively--is extremely unpleasant. Peter Medak (The Ruling Class, The Changeling) directs this with some sweep and force, but the thoughtful dimensions of this English picture don't entirely overcome or justify the overall coldness and nastiness. Enter at your own risk; with Tom Bell, Kate Hardie, and Susan Fleetwood. (JR) (Fine Arts, 5:00)

Crossing Borders

Writer and director Hark Bohm made his reputation in Fassbinder's Lili Marleen and has worked with Schlondorff and Kluge, so you'd expect his own work to be graced with flair and psychological tension. But although Crossing Borders is constructed around provocative themes--escape, sexual longing, the need for individual expression--it lacks focus or depth. Material that demands a certain restlessness or daring is crushingly obvious and familiar. The film shamelessly uses children to set up the hero as a moral guardian. Set in 1956, Crossing Borders opens with Friedrich (Uwe Bohm), recently released from a ten-year prison stay in East Berlin, escaping into West Germany, where he quickly finds work at a reform school run by his high school principal. The school is a virtual prison, a universe of the grotesque where the mentally retarded, physically handicapped, and socially outcast are relentlessly brutalized. This action is crosscut against Friedrich's relationships with Elke Kramer (Barbara Auer), a beautiful, sympathetic teacher, and six-year-old Fritz (David Bohm), a difficult and emotionally cut off child in whom Friedrich takes a passionate interest. The film has its moments (Auer stops the movie dead with every appearance), but unfortunately Bohm insists on refracting everything through Friedrich's conventional outlook, denying any conflicting or varied responses. Outside of Christian Bussmann's production design, the movie isn't conceived with any visual vigor, and a numbing stasis sets in. The idea of school as a metaphor for political repression has been used up, and Crossing Borders never breaks new ground. (PZM) (Music Box, 7:00)

*Song of the Exile

An emotional, intimate movie by a director known mostly for action dramas such as Boat People; a Taiwanese production directed by a Hong Kong filmmaker, written by Taiwan's most gifted screenwriter (Wu Nianzhen), and shot mostly in Japan; a story that flirts with autobiography and subtly uses the multilayered estrangement between mother and daughter as a metaphor for China's complicated history and Hong Kong's uncertain future. Song of the Exile is a strangely moving film, and its director, Ann Hui--one of the most original artists of the Hong Kong New Wave--keeps us surprised and on edge after a difficult beginning. The best part of the film takes place when the protagonist, Ann (Maggie Cheung), accompanies her mother, Aiko (Chang Shwu-fen), on a long-delayed homecoming trip to Japan. There she finds herself confronted with an alien culture and a language she does not speak, while Aiko tries to unravel her own complex relationship with a family who could never accept her marriage to a Chinese interpreter. Through a series of impressionistic touches (for example, a scene in which Ann is chased by a Japanese peasant), Hui lets us experience cultural misunderstanding, emotional displacement, and historical alienation. The film ends in Canton, at the bedside of a dying grandfather once tortured by the Red Guard. (BR) (Fine Arts, 7:00)

The Hot Spot

The Toronto film festival's program naively described this scuzzy, heavy-breathing, heavy-grunting noir creation as "Faulknerian," and many reviewers have invoked James M. Cain. But for my money, sleazier sources--hacks aspiring to the level of, say, Erskine Caldwell--are closer to the mark. If you're expecting something on a par with Dennis Hopper's other directorial efforts--Easy Rider, The Last Movie, Out of the Blue, Colors--you'll probably feel cheated, and since he actually professes to be proud of this movie, one shudders to think what his disowned, recut, and still unreleased fifth feature must be like. But for a bad movie, this is pretty enjoyable--especially for the first half hour, before the story telling starts to dawdle. At the point one hopes the scumbag characters--including a footloose hustler (Don Johnson) who sidles into a job as a car salesman in a sleepy Texas town, his boss's amoral sexpot wife (Virginia Madsen), a seedy, bemused banker (Jack Nance), and an apparently innocent accountant (Jennifer Connelly)--will develop beyond their cliches, they become sillier. Certain viewers may see some of the film's liabilities (e.g. the inexpressive Johnson, cluttering up the foreground like a block of wood) as assets; the steamy sex is fun on a campy level, and Hopper's eye for color and composition is still sharp. The script--the late Charles Williams's adaptation, written with his wife Nona Tyson, of his novel Hell Hath No Fury--has been around for about 30 years (Robert Mitchum was considered for the lead in the 60s), and the novel's title gives you a good idea of the movie's rank misogyny. (JR) (Fine Arts, 7:00)

*Time of Vengeance

Former cinematographer Anton Peschke knows how to shoot ominous landscapes, and the tension and disorientation he conjures up with the opening tracking shot of contemporary Vienna establishes the movie's cool, ironic tone. A remarkable debut work on cultural displacement and racism, Time of Vengeance is compressed but lyrical. It follows the story of Orhan (Cumhur Vural), a ten-year-old boy who leaves his remote Turkish village to find the man responsible for the death of his father, an immigrant worker killed accidentally. Orhan befriends Mirko (Alexander Milovanovic) and falls into a dangerous, exciting life-style, drifting into petty crime and into the personal lives of a sensual belly dancer and the two men who violently struggle for her attention. Peschke doesn't condemn Orhan but rather presents an unorderly, frightening world of loneliness, romantic despair, and economic exploitation. The camera records the action with grace and authority, and Peschke's invigorating use of high overhead shots and loose, informal framing and cutting establishes a peculiar mood and rhythm. Michael Riebl's color compositions have a feverish intensity, and the key visual reference, an abandoned amusement park, is particularly bittersweet and elegiac, an unmistakable symbol of loss and separation. The amazing, wholly natural performance by Vural holds the action together. (PZM) (Fine Arts, 9:30)

A Matter of Degrees

Shot on location at Brown University, W.T. Morgan's American independent feature focuses on a disaffected senior there. (Fine Arts, 9:30)

Bwana Devil

Chicago's own Arch Oboler made a career of junky action and exploitation films packed with gimmicks. He rushed this one, the first feature film made in 3-D, to steal the spotlight from Warner's better-produced House of Wax. Bwana Devil made a fortune ("A Lion in Your Lap, a Lady in Your Arms" screamed the posters), and the 3-D race was on. But aside from the film's place in history, it doesn't have much value--even as camp. The action takes place at a railroad construction site in Africa at the end of the last century, where two man-eating lions are gobbling the help. The film throws at the audience everything not nailed down, which at least provides momentary jolts from boredom. Barbara Britton thrusts her breasts into the auditorium, while Robert Stack walks through the standard heroics (1952). (DO) (Music Box, 9:30)

Coming Out

For years, Heiner Carow has been the boldest of East German directors. His long-banned The Russians Are Coming, for example, shows opportunistic Germans at the end of World War II throwing away their swastikas and welcoming the Soviet invaders with red flags unfurling. Coming Out, made in the edgy months just before the Wall came down, is simply the most overtly gay film ever made in Eastern Europe. It's a conventional story about a closeted schoolteacher who must learn to deal openly with his homosexuality, but what is remarkable about Coming Out is the semidocumentary look at East Berlin's gay underworld, from real-life leather bars to cruising scenes in the parks to a depressive old effeminate homosexual, sad from a life of hiding, who identifies himself as a member of the Communist Party. Remarkably, Coming Out opened in East Berlin the same night that the East Germans surprised the world by opening up the Wall. Cast and crew slipped into West Berlin and returned for the opening party with western beer. (GP) (Music Box, 11:30)

Small White House

Richard Newton's U.S. feature about three teenagers, a resort town, Mexico, Greek gods, and American legends. (Fine Arts, 11:30)

Sunday October 14

Award-Winning Documentaries: Arts/Humanities

Gary Pollard's Going Up, David and Cyndee Wing's Pride and Power to Win, Gei Zantzinger's Susumu, Peggy Stern's Debut, and Unknown Secrets, by Daniel Keller, Charles Light, and Rob Okun. A three-hour program. (Fine Arts, noon)

The Year of Black Butterflies

One could leaf through dozens of textbooks on cinema and not find a better example of a misguided attempt at filmmaking than this black-and-white German wartime drama. Like so many other German films of the recent past, The Year of Black Butterflies attempts to probe the country's psyche by focusing on the atrocities perpetrated by the Nazi regime. In order to show the full extent of the Nazi brutality, director Alexandra von Grote chose to deal with its effects on its most vulnerable victims: handicapped children, who were routinely either used for medical experiments or killed. Given the emotional nature of the story, one would expect the film to be moving, but somewhere along the way the director forgot that even a true story has to be told with skill and sensitivity to be effective. The film bounces back and forth between wooden conversations and contrived hysteria, and the decision to shoot it in English is completely ludicrous, not only detracting from the film's authenticity but also making many of the actors clearly uncomfortable with their lines. The film deteriorates rapidly; the only bright spot (both literally and figuratively) is its use of color animation to depict the children's dreams of freedom. But both the children in the film and the audience watching it realize soon enough that the faint hope such scenes generate is a mere illusion, and the film returns time and time again to the horrid--and horridly told--reality of its story. (ZB) (Fine Arts, 1:00)

Margarit and Margarita

Bulgaria, like the rest of Eastern Europe, is currently busy sorting out the social and political problems that have accumulated over several decades of communist rule. Filmmakers are not exempt from this national frenzy, but while most use somber dramas to convey their accusatory messages, Nikolai Volev has wisely decided to add a touch of comedy to his otherwise deadly serious film. The title characters are a pair of high school lovers who dare to challenge the oppressive rules set by every institution of authority around them. Not surprisingly, repercussions hit them from every possible direction, slowly undermining their relationship and eventually making for a tragic resolution. Both the tragedy and the comedy are realistic; their often dissonant blend confounds a bit at first, but over time proves successful in showing the social volatility and chaos in today's Bulgaria. Since the communist system was far from extinct when the film was completed, it is quite natural that darker tones prevail at the end. But a ray of hope, a hint that things are about to change, is unmistakably present as well, and recent events in Bulgaria seem to support the director's predictions. Margarit and Margarita is not without its flaws: some of the scenes seem contrived, and the quality of acting occasionally leaves much to be desired. Still, the sheer urgency of the film's social message coupled with deft tonal variations and unexpected plot developments more than compensate for the shortcomings. (ZB) (Music Box, 1:00)

*Child of the Terraces

Also known as Halfaouine--Boy of the Terraces, this lovely first feature from Tunisia is the work of Ferid Boughedir, the best-known film critic in the Arab world, whose documentaries Camera d'Afrique and Camera arabe are models of their kind. This film concerns the coming-of-age of a 12-year-old boy named Noura who lives in the working-class section of the old part of Tunis. Traditionally he accompanies his mother to the women's baths, but his elders begin to wonder whether he's too old now to continue with this practice. Exquisitely sensual without being prurient, sensitive without being arch or affected, this portrait of Noura's life, family, and community is packed with humor and perception, and the film's feeling for the labyrinthine architecture of the neighborhood is a source of wonder and fascination. With Selim Boughedir, Mustapha Adouani, and Rabia Ben Abdallah. (JR) (Fine Arts, 3:00)

The Night of the Pencils

The power and value of this docudrama--about the kidnapping, imprisonment, and torture of half a dozen high school activists by Argentina's military dictatorship in the mid-70s--are almost exclusively a matter of its effectiveness as agitprop. Made by Hector Olivera (Funny Dirty Little War) in 1986, the film is marred by an obtrusive music score that needlessly underlines melodramatic moments and an occasional reliance on raw effect over logic (for instance, when the activists who demonstrate in favor of cheaper bus fares and against certain restrictions at school first learn that two of their members have been taken away, they don't even mention the names of these martyrs). Based on the testimony of Pablo Diaz, a student who was eventually released after four years in prison, this horror story of torture, rape, and Kafka-esque totalitarian bureaucracy certainly has a brutal impact. One is made to share the pain and confusion of these bound and blindfolded teenagers (and the frustration of their parents, who try to learn their whereabouts) as well as their few moments of respite when they are able to communicate with one another from their separate cells (1989). (JR) (Music Box, 3:00)

Cresta Run

The directorial debut of English filmmaker Terry Winsor. The title alludes to a footrace organized by a group of disaffected teenagers who are guided and promoted by an eccentric disc jockey. (Fine Arts, 4:00)

Abraham's Gold

Contemporary German cinema generally pivots on two subjects: the American colonization of the German soul (Fassbinder's obsession) and guilt over the Nazis. This West German film (reportedly based on actual events) by director/writer Jorg Graser concerns Third Reich horrors, poachers, religious persecution, suicide, and freedom. Set in a small Bavarian village, Abraham's Gold is centered on Alois Hunziger (Robert Dietl), a former Auschwitz guard who convinces his taciturn friend Karl (Gunter-Maria Halmer) to enter Krakow and help him recover a chest containing gold teeth removed from dead Jews during the war. The parallel story concerns the fate of Hunziger's daughter Barbel (Hanna Schygulla), a wild, reckless hippie who abandoned her illegitimate daughter Annamirl (Daniela Schotz) years earlier. Though studded with some stunning transitions and contrasts, the film is pretty disappointing visually. Graser has adopted a rigorous aesthetic, working mostly in tight, punishing close-ups and still camera placement, and combined with the mostly brown and yellow color compositions, the effect is oppressive. Still, the ideas expressed are intense and pure, and the unrelenting forward thrust and lack of subtlety becomes Graser's most politically courageous act; it makes detachment impossible. Even when it descends into melodrama, honesty, immediacy, and anger inform every scene, building to an emotionally devastating denouement. (PZM) (Fine Arts, 5:00)

Sons

By the time the words "dedicated to John Cassavetes" pop up in the final credits, this gentle character study by Alexandre Rockwell has already evoked the late filmmaker's improvisational style and thematic preoccupation with male bonding. Three quarrelsome American brothers (Robert Miranda, William Forsythe, and D.B. Sweeney) liberate their aged father from his nursing home and take him to France in search of the woman he loved when he was a soldier in World War II. Their quest leads them down the back alleys of Paris's Arab quarter and finally to Normandy, where they confront their own inexperience and mortality and forge a new bond of affection while their father has a reunion with his former girlfriend on the beach where he once fought Nazis. Rockwell's keen eye for casting pays off in affecting performances by his three leads and by veteran director Samuel Fuller as the craggy and enigmatic father, William Hickey as his rest home roommate, Shirley Stoller as a lonely housewife, and Stephane Audran, who plays the father's long-lost love with what can only be described as radiant severity. (There's also a ridiculous cameo appearance by Rockwell's Chicago-bred wife, formerly promising actress Jennifer Beals, as an Arab male transvestite prostitute.) Where Cassavetes's meditations on troubled love among families and friends had the intensity of a personal diary, watching Sons is like flipping through the scrapbook of a stranger. Still, the images in that scrapbook--the faces of the film's confused and quirky characters and the history-heavy landscape of the beach at Normandy, symbol of a long-absent purposefulness in the American psyche--are intriguing and affecting. (AW) (Music Box, 5:00)

Shooting Range

Hungarian director Arpad Sopsits's first feature is based on a true story about a boy who killed his own father, and in pursuit of the story Sopsits visited the house where the murder took place. "I broke out in a sweat," he recalled later. "It wasn't fear so much that took all the words away from me but the sudden realization that you can only kill in this place and perhaps I would have done the same myself . . . " In Shooting Range, the more one investigates the violence, the more one becomes both sympathetic with the murderer and perplexed by his actions. The frustrated policeman whose job it is to investigate the killing moves back and forth between sympathy and violence himself. In variously tinted black and white, father, mother, girlfriend, and friends move in and out of the frame and the boy's life. Causality is no longer operative in this no-man's-land, this house that was literally, before the murder, a traveling shooting gallery. (RS) (Fine Arts, 6:30)

I, the Worst of All

Maria Luisa Bemberg's Argentinean feature set in colonial Mexico recounts the life of the famous poet Juana Ines de la Cruz (Dominique Sanda), a devout nun who had to cope with the misogyny and intolerance of an archbishop. (Music Box, 7:00)

Korczak

Director Andrzej Wajda and screenwriter Agnieszka Holland, two of Poland's greatest talents, tell an incredible but true tale about Dr. Janusz Korczak, a Polish-Jewish pediatrician whose intense love of his informal family of orphan children led him to follow his fold into the walled-in Warsaw ghetto and finally, tragically, to Treblinka. Filmed in solemn black and white by master cinematographer Robby Muller, Korczak is an often moving and deeply emotional rendering of the Nazi invasion of Warsaw, including harrowing sequences that re-create the hellish conditions in the Warsaw ghetto. The actor Wojciech Pszoniak, who played Robespierre in Wajda's Danton, is just right as the fussy bachelor doctor, who can strike the fear of God even into Nazi brutes by his refusal to be intimidated. Korczak is marred, however, by the subplots' TV-movie-of-the-week feel and the philosophically problematic ending. The uprising in the Warsaw ghetto against the Germans is a stellar moment in Jewish history for its heroic military stand. In contrast, the makers of Korczak seem to applaud Dr. Korczak for his stubborn pacifism. In leading his children into the boxcars without a struggle, he becomes, well, a Christian martyr. Interestingly, he is regarded as a national hero in today's Poland. (GP) (Fine Arts, 7:00)

The Storyteller

Rainer Boldt's adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's novel isn't wholly successful--the parts are too disparate--but the themes and attitudes surveyed are striking and ambitious. A psychological drama on writer's block, adultery, and voyeurism, the film lacks subtlety and motivation, and it doesn't move, it drifts. The failure of the script renders the stylized framing and cutting and the point-of-view shots (used to frenzied, delirious effect) useless, and by its strained conclusion, you're left pondering the missed opportunities. Nico, a celebrated young writer blocked over his second novel, turns his energy to writing a television series called The Shadow and arguing violently with his wife Helen. Frustrated and bored, Helen befriends her neighbor, a mediocre artist and a paraplegic, and enters into an affair with the woman's lover. Then she mysteriously disappears. The brazenly cynical heart of the movie is blackly entertaining until the absurdities mount and the resolution descends into melodramatic extremes. The details aren't terribly convincing, too much is vague and unregistered, and the most compelling angle of the film, Helen's transformation from neglected housewife to unrestrained vixen, is never amplified. Compelling secondary characters are introduced and then casually discarded. The Storyteller can't follow through its own ambition, and everyone ends up disappointed. (PZM) (Fine Arts, 9:00)

Hidden Agenda

If you have a big stake in the Northern Ireland question, Hidden Agenda is a must-see. If you don't, you'll probably think the movie plays like a long news report. British investigator Peter Kerrigan (Brian Cox) is sent to Dublin to investigate the murder of an American civil liberties lawyer. Before becoming a victim of it, the lawyer had been about to discover the Royal Ulster Constabulary's shoot-to-kill assassination policy approved in the mid-70s. He had also almost stumbled onto an even more damning tape that connected the shoot-to-kill directive with a conspiracy to destabilize the Labour government and bring Margaret Thatcher into power. Hidden Agenda goes on to uncover Belfast's paid informers, RUC house raids, no-jury trials, and seven-day interrogations. The movie's central actors--Cox and Frances McDormand as the murdered lawyer's coworker and fiancee--are both quite good. But because director Ken Loach--who's had four films banned by the BBC--has such a political agenda, there's little time for drama. The most dramatic thing about this film was the Cannes film festival press conference, which had conservative British journalists shrieking that Loach was a liar and Irish journalists offering to punch the Brits in the nose. Only those equally absorbed in the Troubles will be brought to fist fight level by Loach's movie. (KH) (Fine Arts, 9:30)

The Bubble

Perhaps the major reason why 3-D never caught on (unlike such competing processes as CinemaScope and VistaVision) is that most of the movies made in 3-D were awful. Arch Oboler, who directed the first 3-D feature (Bwana Devil) in the 50s, had some distinction as a radio writer, but when it came to directing features he was strictly from hunger. The Bubble (1966), his second foray into 3-D, utilizes a color process known as Space-Vision that is unusually effective in making objects and people appear to float off the screen and into the audience. Unfortunately, the movie itself--an SF effort about a young couple (Michael Cole and Deborah Walley) trapped in an apparently empty town enclosed within a giant bubble--is wretched beyond belief, in script and acting as well as direction. It's been about 20 years since I staggered out of this film after a screening at the Cannes festival, and it's hard to remember many films I've seen that are worse; but admittedly, the 3-D effects are pretty good. Note: In a flat version, this movie went out under the misleading title Fantastic Invasion of the Planet Earth. (JR) (Music Box, 9:30)

Monday October 15

Fallen From Heaven

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

I, the Worst of All

See listing under Sunday, October 14. (Fine Arts, 4:30)

Earthbound

The well-oiled German social machine has never been known for trying much to accommodate nonconformists. German artists have often shown their dismay at such attitudes by attacking specific incidents (e.g. films by Schlondorff, Fassbinder, Hauff), but every now and then someone tries to deal with the subject in a more poetic universal way. This year's heir to the romantic tradition is screenwriter-director Oliver Herbrich, whose first film is Earthbound. Its story revolves around Seeliger, an elderly patient in a mental institution who sets out to construct a flying machine. Undaunted by the skepticism of everyone around him, he perseveres in building several models and eventually gets released from psychiatric care. Of course, it would be naive to conclude that Seeliger thus becomes "free," for the concept of freedom encompasses much more than the unimpeded ability to move from one place to another. Herbrich carefully develops this idea, and out of a potentially banal story spins a life-affirming tale that shows sensitivity toward the feelings of isolated people and an understanding of the dynamics of human relationships. In Herbrich's hands, Seeliger's story becomes a moral discourse on group conformity and the near impossibility of transcending social limits. Herbrich has managed to assemble a great cast for this low-budget production (Rudiger Vogler, Hark Bohm, Vera Tschechova, Hannes Thanheiser), and only the film's visual side seems to suffer. (ZB) (Fine Arts, 6:30)

Wings of Fame

Peter O'Toole and Colin Firth star as a former movie star and a former writer, both dead, who meet in a large hotel on an island where the ghosts of celebrities continue to compete for position and media attention. A Dutch fantasy directed by Otakar Votocek; other celebrity ghosts include Einstein, the Lindbergh baby, and Lassie. (Fine Arts, 7:00)

Sophisticated Lady

David Robinson, film critic for the London Times, directed (with David Mingay) this British documentary about the 1989 concert tour of the black American singer Adelaide Hall--who became famous through her rendition of "I'm Just Wild About Harry" in 1921 and created a sensation in Paris in the late 20s and early 30s. (Music Box, 7:00)

The Guard

This powerful attack on the Soviet military (which was in competition at this year's Berlin film festival), directed by Alexander Rogozhkin, was shot in black and white, for the most part with a hand-held camera, using only natural light, giving it the feel of a documentary and the ring of truth. Though the techniques may make the film seem murky and badly executed at times, it also makes it intensely real. Except for the very end, the entire film takes place in the narrow corridors of an army train that moves prisoners from one place to another, and the effect is purposefully claustrophobic. The very repetitiousness of the young soldiers' actions induces a similar numbness in the audience, occasionally interrupted when some new outrage is visited upon the hapless prisoners. Drugs, alcohol, sex, and gunplay make their inevitable appearances, army discipline quickly disappears, and the horrific ending seems completely justified. The Guard was expressly made to show that army life remains to this day unbearably primitive and brutal, but its larger purpose, clearly, is to criticize an entire society that has been fatally overcome by corruption and hopelessness. (PB) (Fine Arts, 9:00)

An Imaginary Tale

Marc-Andre Forcier's film revolves around the most unlikable mother-daughter team since Joan and Christina Crawford. Florence (Louise Marleau), an alluring but aging beauty infamous for her many affairs, is obsessed by Gaston (Jean Lapointe), a jazz trumpet player, although her fascination for the old musician seems to be based more on his repeated refusals of her offered affections than on his musical talents. Florence's daughter Soledad (Charlotte Laurier) breaks off a romance with her Othello costar and, much to her mother's consternation, finds solace in the arms of Gaston. Florence is constantly trailed by former lovers, and her apparent support for Soledad's accomplishments is overshadowed by her ravenous need to be the world's center. Like mother like daughter. Soledad toys with Gaston--apparently the only male in Quebec who doesn't want to sleep with her mother. When Florence and Soledad aren't busy competing with each other, they occasionally turn their attention to the men who gather around them like dogs waiting to be kicked. In the end, mother and daughter overcome their jealousies and renew their love for each other. This play within a play has more tightly wound subplots than Knots Landing. One reviewer noted that the film doesn't work for those not familiar with Quebecois humor. Maybe. Or maybe a mother and daughter leading men around by their penises falls flat after a while. Surprisingly, this film was selected for the Director's Fortnight at Cannes and voted audience favorite at Montreal. (NR) (Fine Arts, 9:30)

*Kiss Me Kate

This is one of the classiest and most experimental 3-D efforts from Hollywood--as well as one of the best MGM musicals of the 1950s that didn't come from the Arthur Freed unit--so it's good to see it revived in its original form, complete with a stereo sound track. Adapted by Dorothy Kingsley from the successful 1948 Cole Porter stage musical and directed by the underrated George Sidney, it does interesting things with mirrors, windows, and the relationship between stage and audience, always making sure that a lot of things get thrown at the spectator and often paradoxically exploiting 3-D as an artificial and antirealistic effect. Kathryn Grayson and Howard Keel play an estranged couple, an actress and director who uneasily join forces in a musical version of Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew, with much confusion and comic overlapping of life and art. The use of 3-D exploits the ambiguous place between these realms by playing on artifice and the differences between theatrical space and film space. In addition, the cast (which also includes Ann Miller, Tommy Rall, Bobby Van, Bob Fosse, and Carol Haney) and the score (which includes a showstopper by Keenan Wynn and James Whitmore, "Brush Up Your Shakespeare") are consistently pleasurable (1953). (JR) (Music Box, 9:30)

Tuesday October 16

Shooting Range

See listing under Sunday, October 14. (Fine Arts 4:00)

Angels

See listing under Saturday, October 13. (Fine Arts, 4:30)

Falling Over Backwards

This reactionary and not very funny comedy about a Jewish family in Montreal proves that writer/director Mort Ransen is no Mordecai Richler. Dumpy, middle-aged, and divorced, Mel Rosenbloom (Saul Rubinek) tries to regress to a simpler time. He takes an apartment with his gruff wheelchair-bound father in the neighborhood of his youth. Enter new landlady Jackie, a curvaceous blond shiksa with a cute French Canadian accent (and a secret sideline as a stripper). She is soon on familiar terms with the elder Rosenbloom, sending the younger into a tizzy of longing. When Mel's stepfather dies unexpectedly, his mother decides to join her menfolk, and the Rosenblooms, lacking only the pitter-patter of little feet, attempt to coerce the pregnant and unmarried Jackie into forgoing her scheduled abortion and moving in with her child. While paying lip service to interracial and interfaith relationships, Falling Over Backwards really falls flat in its treatment of women. Mel's casual cruelty to a date, his father's bitter rejection of his former wife, and the family's judgmental stand on Jackie's job and self-righteous posture toward abortion give this TV sitcom masquerading as a feature film an underlying attitude that is disturbingly cavalier and definitely right wing. (AS) (Fine Arts, 6:30)

Animation

Shorts from countries all over the world, including Canada, Cuba, Great Britain, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Switzerland, and the U.S. (Music Box, 7:00)

The Nasty Girl

A witty manifestation of Germany's ongoing obsession with its Nazi past, Das schreckliche Madchen (better translated as That Horrible Girl to avoid the misleading sexual innuendo) got 52-year-old director Michael Verhoeven the prize for best director at this year's Berlin film festival. It tells the true story of an ambitious, well-respected Bavarian girl (played from girlhood to motherhood with perfect pitch by Lena Stolze) who enters a nationwide essay contest and innocently chooses as her topic "My Town During the Third Reich." Not surprisingly, she discovers in the course of her investigation that all of the town's present-day leading citizens were deeply implicated in the regime's wrongdoings, and the local burghers are not amused. Censorship and harassment only spur the horrible girl to do more research, and finally the townspeople even threaten her family. Verhoeven's directorial control is so sure that he can stress the situation's humor and remain deeply serious at the same time. The film's amusing depiction of life in a Catholic girls' school is terrific, but even better are the delicious, lightly Brechtian distancing effects (Verhoeven's background is in the theater) that punctuate the film. The Nasty Girl is that rarity of a movie that takes intellectual and emotional chances while remaining wonderfully entertaining at the same time. (PB) (Fine Arts, 7:00)

End of the Night

This uneven first feature by Keith McNally follows the mishaps of a morose office worker who is fired from his job. Frustrated by his inability to find similar work that will support him and his pregnant wife, he takes a job as a waiter in a sleazy New York City diner. After a one-night stand with one of the diner's female customers, he tries to locate her again only to find that she has disappeared. He pursues any woman who vaguely resembles her, abandoning his responsibilities to his work and his wife. The enjoyable things about this film include a wonderful, largely unknown cast and some very amusing moments early on as the office worker does his best to fit in with his coworkers in the diner. Unfortunately, much of the film's humor and charm vanishes as it begins to focus on the man's obsession with pursuing women, which becomes more tiring and obnoxious than compelling. The film features the black-and-white cinematography of Tom DiCillo, Jim Jarmusch's cameraman on Stranger Than Paradise, and editing by former Fassbinder colleague Ila von Hasperg. (RP) (Fine Arts, 9:00)

Domo Arigato

Arch Oboler's third feature in 3-D and second in his refined Space-Vision process is such a rare item that we can't even determine when it was made. A love story between two Americans set in Japan during the Vietnam war, it has reportedly been screened publicly only twice prior to this showing. (Music Box, 9:30)

Coming Out

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

Wednesday October 17

An Imaginary Tale

See listing under Monday, October 15. (Fine Arts, 4:00)

Wings of Fame

See listing under Monday, October 15. (Fine Arts, 4:30)

Mother

Considering the wide exposure of Mother on the festival circuit, most notably at Cannes and Toronto, it is astonishing how few people have actually bothered to see it. Perhaps the film's length or its subject matter (the struggle of Russian workers around the turn of the century) turned people off. Too bad. From a purely technical standpoint, Gleb Panfilov's epic is nothing less than masterful, with spectacular cinematography and first-rate acting (the director's wife, Inna Tchourikova, mesmerizes in the title role). The three-and-a-half-hour running time doesn't feel nearly that long. Still, it's unclear why Panfilov, who is generally regarded as an antiestablishment figure in Soviet cinema, would choose this particular moment to create a faithful film version of a Maksim Gorky novel that has been despised by generations of Soviet people. Had Panfilov made this film 20 years ago, it would have been hailed as a masterpiece of socialist realism. Years from now, when communism is long forgotten, it may be praised as an almost perfect screen adaptation of a literary classic. But for today, it's hard to tell whether Panfilov is playing the role of a maverick yet again, this time under different political circumstances, or paying a bona fide homage to one of the pillars of a failed ideology. Whatever his reasons, Panfilov has managed to create a haunting visual spectacle. (ZB) (Fine Arts, 6:30)

*Evenings

Dutch director Rudolph van den Berg is known in this country for his first feature, Bastille, and a series of sociopolitical documentaries, but Evenings marks a startling and successful departure from the tone and subject matter of his earlier films. His carefully stylized adaptation of Gerard Reve's semiautobiographical novel works brilliantly, bringing to the screen the anxiety, alienation, and frustration felt by the young protagonist during a dismal series of evenings between Christmas and New Year's Eve, 1946. The film mirrors Reve's first-person narration so that the audience shares the viewpoint of the perversely engaging Frits (superbly played by Thom Hoffman), experiencing his horrified fascination at the idiosyncrasies of his aging parents, his dark musings about sex (both homo and hetero), and his sardonic and overactive imagination, which he indulges in conversations with God and other fantasies. Brimming with intelligence and nervous energy, Evenings makes palpable a time and a mood. Not for all tastes, but audiences seeking a special sensibility will not be disappointed; fans of The 4th Man, another Reve adaptation by director Paul Verhoeven, will find even more to like here. (AS) (Music Box, 7:00)

Paper Wedding

Outstanding performances, moments of humor, and imaginative filming combine to rescue Paper Wedding from its improbable plot. The film centers on a Montreal literature professor, Claire (Genevieve Bujold), who is persuaded by her lawyer sister to enter into a marriage of convenience with Pablo, a Chilean client in danger of deportation. An independent but lonely woman involved with a married man, Claire finds her life changed forever when interference by an overeager immigration inspector prompts her cohabitation and unexpected intimacy with Pablo. Bujold brings intelligence, dignity, and a mature sensuality to the role of Claire. She expertly conveys her mixed feelings when circumstances transform the paper wedding at city hall into a full-blown church ceremony and catered reception orchestrated by her socialite mother and attended by her current lover. Slow motion and music are put to unconventional use, and veteran Quebec director Michel Brault (Les ordres), working with his cinematographer son Sylvain, uses the techniques of cinema verite to add depth to ordinary situations. (AS) (Fine Arts, 7:00)

Phantom of the Rue Morgue

By both reputation and my 35-year-old recollection, this is one of the lesser 3-D pictures, somewhere between bad and awful. It's a remake of the relatively respectable Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932), with Karl Malden in the Bela Lugosi part and Poe's original story still lurking vaguely in the background. Roy Del Ruth directed, and trivia buffs should look closely for Merv Griffin as a college student. With Patricia Medina and Claude Dauphin (1954). (JR) (Music Box, 9:30)

The End of Old Times

A leftover from the 1989 film festival circuit, The End of Old Times makes a belated bow in Chicago. Old Times shares the nostalgic and somewhat sentimental outlook of director Jiri Menzel's My Sweet Little Village and uses several of the same actors (longtime collaborators Rudolf Hrusinsky and Marian Labuda). Though lightweight compared to the Menzel classic Closely Watched Trains, social criticism underlies its good-natured buffoonery. The action takes place at an estate in south Bohemia following World War I; a man claiming to be Duke Alexei Magalrogov arrives uninvited at the house party of the chateau's none-too-bright nouveau riche tenant. His presence is a catalyst for exposing the pretensions and schemes of the attendant bourgeois wannabes and hangers-on. As the charming impostor succeeds in seducing all the women and alienating all the men, Menzel again proves his mastery of elaborate sight gags. (AS) (Fine Arts, 9:30)

Thursday October 18

The Guard

See listing under Monday, October 15. (Fine Arts, 4:00)

Paper Wedding

See listing under Wednesday, October 17. (Fine Arts, 4:30)

Larks on a String

This 1969 feature by Jiri Menzel (director of Closely Watched Trains and My Sweet Little Village is one of a long string of Eastern European films banned at the time of their release that are just now coming out of the closet. Why this film, as opposed to any number of others, should have set off an alarm must be left to the bureaucratic imagination, if there is such a thing. Larks on a String is a film with no villains, only victims. In the industrial town of Kladno in the 50s, "reeducation" is in full swing. A motley group of leftover bourgeoisie--a professor, a shopkeeper, a musician, etc--are sent to work in a scrap yard. (The only worker who actually gave up his job voluntarily to work there soon disappears, guilty of actually voicing the demands of workers.) If the work is not particularly inspirational, the interaction is--particularly when a crew of would-be-escapee women are laboring virtually next door, separated only by a guard nicknamed Angel. We see another kind of reeducation at work when Angel's control over the male/female fraternization, and his will to control it, gradually erodes. Angel is undergoing a transformation at the hands of his Gypsy bride, who, in his upscale apartment, camps out in the kitchen or sleeps atop a wardrobe or on the nearest available floor space. The Stalinist "learning experience" turns into a humanist fable, and it is perhaps fitting that this film be shown now, when the word "humanist" carries far more negative connotations in this country than it does in Czechoslovakia. (RS) (Fine Arts, 6:30)

After the Storm

Tristan Bauer's Argentinean feature about the plight of a contemporary working-class family in Buenos Aires after the father loses a factory job and is unable to find comparable work. (Music Box, 7:00)

Bethune: The Making of a Hero

Americans have probably escaped all the controversy over Bethune, but it hit Canadians with flood force, making it impossible to judge the film based on the finished product alone. Troubles between the Chinese and Canadian coproducers, a lack of adequate food and water, terrible living conditions, and the disgruntlement of the cast and crew (leading at one point to their refusal to continue) were just the beginning. Actor Donald Sutherland made no bones about his dissatisfaction and wandered off to do other films before returning for important scenes and dubbing. Director Phillip Borsos and the producers have been wrangling in private and in the newspapers about the editing and structure of the film (he wanted a straightforward chronological narrative; they went for flashbacks). Ted Allan gets full screenplay credit, but the director now claims there was another writer who reworked the Allan script. After all of that, it is a bit of a letdown that the film is neither that bad nor that good. Bethune was a young Canadian doctor who worked for the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War. When the Japanese invaded China, Bethune joined Mao's army, tending the wounded in the Wu Tai mountains. He is a huge hero to the Chinese; he was also cruel and insensitive to those around him, an egoist, and a hard-drinking womanizer. Much of the man is here on-screen (although his Chinese sexual adventures have been ignored, seemingly because the Chinese don't want their hero besmirched). Part of the problem with the film is that Bethune, one of Canada's few active heroes, is made just a trifle dull, although Sutherland pulls out most of his stops in creating the character. The flashback structure muddies the waters, but the film remains an exciting epic (in the Canadian manner). (DO) (Fine Arts, 7:30)

Secret Agent 00

In the old TV series The Fall Guy, an aging Hollywood stuntman free-lances as a bounty hunter. Ex-stuntman Julius LeFlore surely could be no less inept at that profession than he is at film directing, to judge from this amateurish spy spoof. Billy Dee Williams, still pretty but terribly stiff on-screen, plays James Brown III, "Secret Agent Double-O-Soul," as a cross between James Bond, Shaft, and Inspector Clouseau, but he lacks the light touch needed to pull off such a caricature. The screenplay, written by the director and his wife Amanda LeFlore--she's also the female lead--is a hodgepodge of references to 1970s blaxploitation flicks, Charlie Chan and Sherlock Holmes mysteries, Mission: Impossible and The Man From U.N.C.L.E., and Michael Jackson's Thriller video. But unlike the bursts of comic inspiration that made films like The Naked Gun so successful, this film's scattershot silliness quickly wears thin, and the potentially funny stunt-heavy physical slapstick is ruined by flaccid direction and incompetent editing. The only real moments of fun come from the outrageous clowning of Jaime Cardriche as Brown's dumb slob of a number-one son and Chino Fats Williams as the sleazebag owner of the soul-food restaurant above which Brown sets up his spy shop. (AW) (Fine Arts, 9:00)

Street Boys

Marco Risi's sequel to Mary Forever about seven Italian juvenile delinquents released from a detention center in Palermo who try, with difficulty, to lead a new life without crime. (Fine Arts, 9:30)

*Dial M for Murder

Alfred Hitchcock's adaptation of Frederick Knott's dinner-theater war-horse about a fading tennis champion (Ray Milland) who arranges the murder of his wife (Grace Kelly). The film is confined almost entirely to a cramped apartment set--a constricted space that takes on a highly expressive quality in the picture's original 3-D version (the version to be shown). The screenplay tends to constrain rather than liberate Hitchcock's thematic thrust, but there is much of technical value in his geometric survey of the scene and the elaborate strategies employed to transfer audience sympathy among the four main characters. With Robert Cummings and John Williams (1953). (Dave Kehr) (Music Box, 9:30)

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