The 40th Chicago International Film Festival | Festival | Chicago Reader
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For all my desire to celebrate the 40th Chicago International Film Festival as it moves into its second week, one thing sticks in my craw. Festivals are supposed to reflect what's going on in the world of cinema, and one of the most important things going on right now is the astonishing and unprecedented success of muckraking documentaries. This year a remarkable number of films critical of the Bush administration have been released, including an astute French documentary by William Karel, The World According to Bush (which just showed up on Amazon). Yet not one of them is in the festival, a lamentable lost opportunity.

Chicago isn't the only U.S. festival to help marginalize these works. The biggest concentration of anti-Bush films I've heard about all year turned up in Rotterdam rather than in this country. Are festivals unconsciously duplicating the self-censorship of network and cable TV, which has made these documentaries so necessary? The most conclusive evidence I've seen so far of why the American war strategy in Iraq has been disastrous is an account by a Swedish journalist of an army raid in Samarra, but the only place it's available so far is as an "extra" on the DVD of Fahrenheit 9/11--with the unforgivable addition of guitar accompaniment.

Having gotten this off my chest, I want to offer a handful of recommendations. Among the remaining films that I've seen, Moolade and The 10th District Court are two masterpieces that shouldn't be missed. My next two favorites, smaller in scope but just as successful in achieving their own goals, are Dear Frankie and Sideways. Other worthy possibilities are described in the reviews and descriptions below. --Jonathan Rosenbaum

Friday, October 15

Shorts 4: Somewhere in Between

Eight shorts by Oded Binnun and Mihal Brezis (from Israel), Pascale Bal (Belgium), Korin Junger and Brigit Hillenius (Netherlands), Daniel Poliner (U.S.), Saskia Jell (Germany), Nick Ball and John Niven (UK), Catalin Mitulescu (Romania), and Duane Hopkins (UK). The program lasts 112 minutes. aLandmark, 4 PM

South of the Clouds

R Zhu Wen's second feature gently and patiently limns a subtle portrait of a pensioner (Li Xuejian) who years earlier turned down the chance to relocate to Yunnan province in southern China. Dissatisfied with his life in a big northern city, he sets off alone on a journey to re-create the Yunnan "past" he never had, only to land in a world of fantasy wish fulfillment and absurdist modern farce, of gently exoticized eroticism and sexual blackmail. This aboveground film pulls no punches as it contrasts the richness of the lives of the people who came of age during the Cultural Revolution and the spiritual emptiness of the current generation. In Mandarin with subtitles. 100 min. (SK) aRiver East, 4:15 PM

The Center

R Documentary filmmaker Stanislaw Mucha tramps through several European countries in search of Europe's precise geographical center. Like the site of a miracle, this elusive place is the subject of highly partisan disputes between dozens of small towns, each of which claims the coveted title. As Mucha's often comic and poignant interviews with various locals progress, the ever-shifting "center" develops into a metaphor for the feelings of displacement and bewilderment felt by many rural citizens of the European Union. At times the film's pacing is awkward and a bit slow, but it's a fascinating and troubling look at the people the "new Europe" is leaving behind. In German, Polish, Ukrainian, Lithuanian, and Slovak with subtitles. 85 min. (RP) aLandmark, 4:15 PM

House

A made-for-TV drama directed by Bryan Singer (The Usual Suspects) and starring Hugh Laurie as Dr. Gregory House, an infectious-disease specialist. The cast also includes Lisa Edelstein, Omar Epps, Robert Sean Leonard, and Jennifer Morrison. Admission is free. 50 min. aRiver East, 4:30 PM

Whisky

"Say whiskey," a photographer tells dour Jacobo (Andres Pazos) and dowdy Marta (Mirella Pascual) as they pose for a lovers' portrait in this deadpan comedy from Uruguay. They aren't really in love: Jacobo, the Jewish owner of a small sock factory, has enlisted Marta, his long-suffering floor manager, to pose as his wife so he can look established and one-up his visiting brother (Jorge Bolani). The witty title aside, this is a miserably dull exercise in stingy-Jew humor and post-Jarmusch nonreaction: when I saw it at the Toronto film festival the crowd seemed to find it pretty funny; I thought it was like a hangover without the drunk. Juan Pablo Rebella and Pablo Stoll directed. In Spanish with subtitles. 95 min. (JJ) aLandmark, 4:30 PM

Shouf Shouf Habibi!

Mimoun Oaissa is the main reason to see this Dutch comedy about a Moroccan family coping with assimilation in their adopted homeland. Alternately deadpan and hangdog, with a hilariously elastic physicality, Oaissa, like some of the greats who've preceded him, has a fully evolved comic persona at the start of his career. He stars as Ab, a Dutch-born Moroccan keenly aware of his marginalized status in a seemingly tolerant but subtly racist culture. Trying to find his place, he spends all his time hanging out with his slacker buddies until he decides to honor his parents by taking a traditional Moroccan wife. Oaissa assisted writer-director Albert ter Heerdt in developing the story; not surprisingly the strongest scenes are those involving him. In Dutch and Arabic with subtitles. 88 min. (JK) aRiver East, 4:45 PM

Dance Cuba: Dreams of Flight

Barbara Kopple (Harlan County, U.S.A., Wild Man Blues) and Cynthia Newport follow the Washington Ballet as it travels to Havana in October 2000 to perform in the International Ballet Festival. For the company's artistic director, Septime Webre, the trip is significant personally as well as politically: his Cuban mother and American father fled the island before he was born, when Castro took power in 1959. The filmmakers trail him around his parents' old neighborhood and interview Cuban ballet stars Alicia Alonso and Carlos Acosta, but this 105-minute documentary stubbornly refuses to ignite. Instead of drama it offers an array of talking heads explaining how dramatic this all is, and the dance sequences, while elegant, play out against the oppressive blackness of an undecorated stage. In English and subtitled Spanish. 105 min. (JJ) aRiver East, 6:15 PM

Campfire

New York-born Israeli filmmaker Joseph Cedar (A Time of Favor) combines romantic comedy and social criticism in this story of a widow, Rachel (Michaela Eshet), in 1981 Jerusalem who seeks to repair her family by joining a settlement in the occupied territories--a prospect that appalls her secularized teenage daughters. There's also pressure from the myopic settlers, who view her single-mom status as a threat. Blind dates with middle-aged bachelors ensue, and Rachel's trouble with her increasingly unsupervised kids escalates when the youngest (Hani Furstenberg) is assaulted during an overnight camping trip. The darker aspects of tribalism come under scrutiny here as nonconformists (unmarried men, women alone) are shown being marginalized, but by setting its tale before the start of the intifada, the movie only alludes to another group of outsiders--Palestinians are nowhere to be seen. In Hebrew with subtitles. 95 min. (AG) aRiver East, 6:30 PM

The Taste of Tea

Katsuhito Ishii, who put together the animated sequence for Kill Bill Vol. 1, directed this live-action comedy-fantasy, with many special effects, about an eccentric family living in a small mountain village outside Tokyo. In Japanese with subtitles. 143 min. aLandmark, 6:30 PM

The Time We Killed

R "Terrorism brought me out of the house--the war on terror sent me back inside," muses Robyn (Lisa Jarnot), the introspective, severely agoraphobic heroine of Jennifer Todd Reeves's debut feature. Suffused with subdued political outrage, it movingly evokes the daily paranoia that continues to plague post-9/11 New York. Robyn hopes to insulate herself from the dreary political climate by holing up in her Brooklyn apartment and working on a novel, but she can't escape her own neuroses or her neighbors' despondency. Reeves's film is distinguished by its formal rigor--she makes beautiful use of an array of avant-garde techniques, including overexposed footage and an elliptical voice-over--and by its acute sensitivity to the way we live now in Bush's America. 94 min. (RMP) aLandmark, 6:45 PM

In Casablanca Angels Don't Fly

Young men from a Moroccan mountain village work in a cafe in Casablanca, struggle to send money home, and dream about buying things they can't afford. Mohamed Asli directed. In Arabic and Berber with subtitles. 94 min. aRiver East, 7 PM

Unknown Soldier

Ferenc Toth's directorial debut examines the fate of Ellison (Carl Louis), an amiable but unambitious, unskilled, and unemployed young African-American in Harlem who becomes homeless after his father's sudden death. He's forced to seek shelter from a succession of less and less enthusiastic well-wishers, including his college-bound girlfriend, whose mother has made it her life's work to keep her daughter from getting pregnant. At its best the film is sharply observed, as in the scenes involving the girlfriend and her mother and in the wry detailing of the criminal misadventure that marks the last stage of Ellison's decline. But too often Toth's tone of deadpan pity comes off as uncertain and strained. 78 min. (CF) aLandmark, 7 PM

Rolling Family

Several generations of a Buenos Aires family pile into a tiny camper and take off for a wedding near the Brazilian border, and long before they reach their destination the cramped quarters have forced buried resentments and unspoken lusts into the open. Directed by Pablo Trapero (Crane World, El bonaerense) and acted mostly by nonprofessionals, this Argentinean comedy is short on plot and leisurely in its character development, though by the end it's become a modest and genial portrait of a dysfunctional family. In Spanish with subtitles. 103 min. (JJ) aLandmark, 7:15 PM

Battleground: 21 Days on the Empire's Edge

R Add this engrossing and informative documentary by director Stephen Marshall to the growing list of films that reveal more about the war in Iraq than anything in the mainstream American news media. Marshall, acting as his own cameraman, spent three weeks in Iraq toward the end of last year. Beginning with Frank, an exile returning home for the first time in 13 years, he talks to a number of people from disparate backgrounds, among them a former reporter for Al Jazeera who describes the U.S. military's attack on the Palestine Hotel, where she and more than 100 members of the press were staying, and a U.S. army corporal who asserts that there is no grassroots insurgency in Iraq--a claim not even the Bush administration can proffer at this point. In English and subtitled Arabic. 82 min. (JK) aRiver East, 8:45 PM

Nathalie...

This 2003 melodrama stars Fanny Ardant as an elegant middle-aged doctor who learns her husband (Gerard Depardieu) is unfaithful. Desperate to make sense of his betrayal, she hires a young prostitute (Emmanuelle Beart) to bed him and give her the details. For this undercover investigation the hooker assumes the name Nathalie, but she's really more of a Scheherazade; as she spins her tales of seduction to the wife the older woman's psyche gradually heals. Depardieu, a great actor who in recent years has delivered several overblown performances, is here measured and naturalistic, a sympathetic match for Ardant's icy obsessive, and Beart is suitably mysterious as a spy in the house of love. Anne Fontaine's restrained direction gets a welcome boost from Michael Nyman's score. In French with subtitles. 100 min. (AG) aRiver East, 9 PM

Moolaade

R The second film in a trilogy celebrating African women--after Faat Kine, a 2000 comedy about a sassy, self-made city woman--this is a masterwork by Ousmane Sembene, the 81-year-old father of African cinema and one of Senegal's greatest novelists. It focuses on the defiant second wife of an elder in a West African village, who refuses to allow four little girls to undergo the traditional circumcision ceremony. Among Sembene's strengths as a storyteller are his deceptive simplicity and apparent looseness, which allow his drama to steadily gather momentum and political force. His ambiguous, multilayered treatment of a flirtatious local merchant who partially represents the world outside the village is emblematic of his virtuosity. In Bambara with subtitles. 120 min. (JR) aLandmark, 9 PM

Rule No. 1

This amiable Danish comedy holds one's attention by virtue of its unpredictability, and while its message is upbeat, it doesn't pander. After Caroline undergoes a kidney transplant she becomes estranged from her sister, Sarah. She finally decides to attend a party that Sarah throws, only to discover her own callow husband having sex in a bathroom stall. This frees her to start anew, and under the tutelage of her more outgoing sister she reenters the dating scene with a vengeance. If director Oliver Ussing's message--that dating is not all it's cracked up to be and most men are inconsiderate jerks--is trite, he still does a credible job of creating a quirky cast of characters and depicting Caroline's self-discovery in a way that's relatively free of cliches. In Danish with subtitles. 87 min. (JK) aRiver East, 9:15 PM

NOVEMBER

A first feature by Swiss director Luki Frieden about a middle-class couple and their 11-year-old daughter, whose routine lives are disrupted when the mother wins the lottery. In German with subtitles. 89 min. aLandmark, 9:15 PM

Dealer

This Hungarian 25th Hour on downers follows a day in the life of a drug dealer as he pedals from client to client--a religious leader whose coke habit has made him swell to leviathan proportions, a friend who nodded off in a tanning bed and got fried, a junkie mother who suddenly alleges that he's the father of her child. Benedek Fliegauf's debut film, the "Hansel and Gretel"-like Forest, shown at last year's festival, at least added drama to the landscape of anomie. Here the camera crawls over every surface of people's damaged lives in excruciatingly deliberate, if technically impressive, 360-degree pans, showing rooms leached of all color but greenish shades of gray. The cumulative feeling is less outrage than despair. In Hungarian with subtitles. 160 min. (RS) aLandmark, 9:30 PM

Buffalo Boy

Set in French Indochina in 1940, Minh Nguyen-vo's debut feature looks at a way of agrarian life that has largely disappeared from Vietnam. To save his family's farm from disaster after annual rains have flooded their land and nearly starved their buffalo, teenage Kim (Le The Lu) leaves his elderly parents to join a cattle drive to verdant mountain pastures. Along the way he survives run-ins with rival herders and strikes up a friendship with a Khmer loner, among other rites of passage; his association with the sinister trail boss eventually sheds light on his own origins. The elegiac tone here isn't set just by nostalgia for a vanished lifestyle: bereavement, lost love, and the ever present floodwaters add poignancy to the elliptical story, whose characters float in and out unbidden, and sometimes unexplained. In Vietnamese with subtitles. 102 min. (AG) aLandmark, 9:30 PM

Arakimentari

Japanese photographer Nobuyoshi Araki is a cross between Robert Mapplethorpe, with his controversial embrace of sex as subject matter, and Andy Warhol, with his clever self-promotion and unbelievable productivity--Araki has published more than 300 books of photographs. In this documentary first-time director Travis Klose focuses on the things you'd expect: sequences of Araki at work, some art experts and renowned photographers praising his work, and a bit of biographical background to explain his need to photograph every second that passes. Getting short shrift is any thought about the troubling nature of some of his photos, which feature bondage and tableaux of violence against women. The film is engaging, but doesn't offer much insight. In English and Japanese with subtitles. 85 min. (HSa) Also on the program: John Rice's Escape (8 min.). aLandmark, 11:30 PM

Saturday, October 16

Rolling Family

See listing under Friday, October 15. aLandmark, 1 PM

The 10th District Court: Judicial Hearings

R Raymond Depardon's riveting documentary about various routine cases brought before a woman judge in a Paris courtroom may be as brilliant as some of its advocates claim, but only if one's sufficiently alert to read at least some of the proceedings against the grain of her judgments. Through this procession of middle-class drunk drivers, alienated and/or dysfunctional individuals, and illegal aliens ranging from a pickpocket to an African whose only crime is never having the correct papers, a fascinating glimpse of contemporary France emerges--made apparent as much through the weary responses of Judge Michele Bernard-Requin and various fatuous court-appointed defenders as by the accused. The editing is brilliant. In French with subtitles. 105 min. (JR) aLandmark, 1:45 PM

Shorts 4: Somewhere in Between

See listing under Friday, October 15. aLandmark, 2 PM

The Waiting Room

Turkish writer-director Zeki Demirkubuz is also the star in this feature about a morose filmmaker who's determined to make an epic adaptation of Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment and decides that a young thief who tried to break into his house would make an ideal Raskolnikov. In Turkish with subtitles. 94 min. Also on the program: Chel White's Magda (6 min.). aRiver East, 2:15 PM

Buffalo Boy

See listing under Friday, October 15. aLandmark, 2:15 PM

Dance Cuba: Dreams of Flight

See listing under Friday, October 15. aRiver East, 3 PM

Four Shades of Brown

R Scripted by Killingganget, a popular Swedish comedy troupe, this sprawling three-hour film caroms heedlessly in several directions, among them ribald comedy, social satire, and genuine tragedy. Director Tomas Alfredson doesn't always maintain sharp control over his material, but there's so much going on I wasn't bored for a moment. Unspooling four simultaneous narrative lines that never intersect, Killingganget and Alfredson's jaundiced yet hopeful riff on humanity is reminiscent of Paul Thomas Anderson's work, especially Magnolia. The story lines include a middle-aged couple coping with their distressingly alienated son, a pathologically anal hotel owner and his magician parents, a therapy group whose oldest participant reveals a dark secret, a corpse that sums up its lavish life postmortem. In Swedish with subtitles. 190 min. (JK) aLandmark, 3:30 PM

Rule No. 1

See listing under Friday, October 15. aRiver East, 4 PM

Moolaade

R See listing under Friday, October 15. aLandmark, 4:15 PM

In Casablanca Angels Don't Fly

See listing under Friday, October 15. aRiver East, 4:30 PM

The Center

R See listing under Friday, October 15. aLandmark, 4:30 PM

The Time We Killed

RSee listing under Friday, October 15. aLandmark, 5 PM

Bob Kennedy, the Man Who Wanted to Change America

An hour-long 2003 documentary by French filmmaker Patrick Jeudy (What Jackie Knew) about the life and career of Robert F. Kennedy. aRiver East, 5:45 PM

Head On

The Golden Bear winner at the 2004 Berlin festival, Head On concerns a strange marriage of convenience between two Turks in Hamburg (Birol Unel and Sibel Kekilli) who meet in the waiting room of a psychiatric clinic. He's a burly, glum middle-aged loner with violent tendencies. She's a high-strung young nightclub habitue with a controlling family and a fondness for picking up random men for sex. Improbably, the two bond, and their relationship takes the film on a jolting, sometimes funny tour of seedy urban locales and turbulent emotional zones. Director Faith Akin has skill and panache, and the lead actors are likable. But the film's high energy can't compensate for the muddled conception. In subtitled German and Turkish, as well as English. 122 min. (CF) aRiver East, 6:15 PM

Schizo

If one discounts the facile and unconvincing ending, this first feature by Guka Omarova, a former actress and writer for Sergei Bodrov (who collaborated with her on the script for this film), offers a convincingly bleak view of how a 15-year-old boy could get ahead in rural Kazakhstan in the early 90s. Hired by a hood to find miners willing to participate in murderous amateur boxing matches, he winds up delivering the prize money of a fighter who dies to the boxer's girlfriend and son, and eventually gets pushed into crime. 86 min. In Russian with subtitles. (JR) aLandmark, 6:45 PM

The Syrian Bride

Eran Riklis's Israeli comedy drama, which won prizes at film festivals in Locarno and Montreal, concerns an arranged marriage in the Golan Heights between an Israeli woman and a Syrian TV star she's never met. In Arabic, Hebrew, and Russian with subtitles. 97 min. aRiver East, 7 PM

The Missing

In his directorial debut, Taiwanese actor Lee Kang-sheng follows closely in the footsteps of his mentor Tsai Ming-liang. The plot of this almost dialogue-free feature is minimal: a grandmother frantically searches for the grandson she lost in a park in Taipei. Meanwhile an adolescent who's spent his day at an Internet bar tries to find his missing grandfather, who suffers from Alzheimer's. Tsai knows how to infuse his long takes with tension and vitality, but Lee's long takes are, for the most part, merely long. Except for a stunning ten-minute shot of the grandmother running in circles early on, Lee's clean, crisply composed shots are formal impositions. This is a Tsai-lite world, whose cold solitudes are leavened with a playful sense of humor. In Mandarin with subtitles. 88 min. (SK) aLandmark, 7 PM

Buena vida

This Argentine comedy uses that country's recent economic woes as the catalyst for a series of increasingly brazen acts by the principal characters as they try to alleviate their financial straits. Herman, a motorcycle courier whose family's emigration has left him with an empty house, meets pretty gas station attendant Pato at her job. He asks her out, immediately offers to rent her a room, and is soon in bed with her. The next day Pato's entire family--father, mother, and her young daughter from a previous relationship--take up residence in his humble abode. Then her parents start a churro factory in his living room. Director and cowriter Leonardo Di Cesare structures the plot twists in a way that renders them believable despite their outlandishness, balancing the plight of desperate people against their comic dysfunction. In Spanish with subtitles. 93 min. (JK) aLandmark, 7:15 PM

Arrested Development

Jason Bateman plays the most normal member of a family of southern California eccentrics in the TV pilot and an episode of the 2003 Emmy winner for best comedy. With Jessica Walter, Will Arnett, Michael Cera, and Tony Hale. 50 min. aRiver East, 7:30 PM

Flashback Shorts

Prizewinning short films from earlier editions of the Chicago Film Festival: Theodore Gershuny's American Roulette (1966), from the U.S.; George Coe's Ingmar Bergman parody The Dove (1968), from Sweden; Peter Folds's animated Hunger (1974), from Canada; Graham Drysdale's Lovely (1998), from Scotland; Aditya Assarat's Motorcycle (2000), from Thailand; Don Hertzfeld's Rejected (2000), from the U.S.; and Reza Parsa's Meeting Evil (2002), from Sweden. The total running time is 93 minutes. aLandmark, 7:30 PM

Adam and Eve (Still)

What if Adam and Eve had eaten not only from the tree of knowledge but also from the tree of life, and gained immortality? What would they do with themselves in the modern world after all this time? This film posits that they would wander from city to city, cruise for pickups, and regularly change their hairstyles and wardrobe, like a pair of disaffected club kids. Director Ivan Avila Duenas knows how to work the existential gloom, but there's only so much you can get from a pair of numb, nearly mute main characters staring off into the distance, cutting pictures out of magazines, and having sex. In Spanish with subtitles. 100 min. (HSa) aRiver East, 9 PM

In the Battlefields

Danielle Arbid's first feature is set in 1983 Beirut, where the isolated 12-year-old heroine and her dysfunctional, middle-class Christian-Arab family periodically rush off to bomb shelters. I have a hard time relating to narrative films shot largely in close-ups, even when they're directed by Carl Dreyer or Sergio Leone; Arbid's picture is so claustrophobic I couldn't process all the emotional interchanges. In Arabic with subtitles. 90 min. (JR) aLandmark, 9 PM

Shouf Shouf Habibi!

See listing under Friday, October 15. aRiver East, 9:15 PM

Kontroll

R This working-class black comedy is all the darker for never leaving the bowels of the Budapest subway system. A sad-sack squad of ticket checkers--homespun philosopher, gullible greenhorn, intellectual dropout, and narcoleptic hothead--strap on their red armbands and ply their dead-end trade, despised by fare payers and dodgers alike. In a world of peculiar battles, allegiances, perils, and thrills, the can't-get-any-lower status of the guys glues them together. Hallucinations and a hooded killer haunt the intersecting tunnels and passageways of the blacked-out or harshly lit subterranean system, but nothing seems more deadly than survival itself in Nimrod Antal's stylish, wry, vaguely Kafkaesque view of gainful employment. In Hungarian with subtitles. 106 min. (RS) aLandmark, 9:15 PM

Arakimentari

See listing under Friday, October 15. aRiver East, 9:30 PM

Primer

R Former engineer Shane Carruth makes an impressive debut with this low-budget, low-tech suspense film about two ambitious inventors (played by himself and David Sullivan) who stumble onto the secret of time travel. With no whiz-bang effects at its disposal, the movie sticks to the fever of inquiry and the practical complications that ensue as the young men try to figure out what they've got and how to exploit it. Carruth has cited paranoid 70s thrillers like The Conversation and All the President's Men as his models, and their influence is evident in the movie's hushed tone and oppressively overlit institutional spaces. A half-baked conspiracy subplot in the last third makes Carruth's knotty narrative even harder to follow, but this is still scary, puzzling, and different. 80 min. (JJ) aLandmark, 9:30 PM

Trash

R Probably the best of the Andy Warhol-Paul Morrissey desultory comedies (1970), with Joe Dallesandro as an impotent stud and Holly Woodlawn as his oblivious confidant. Morrissey's slow, slow direction and the druggy, schizoid stare of his camera represent the height of noninvolvement, yet the effect is curiously intimate. The humor is that of total paralysis--of being overwhelmed by the petty demands of daily existence and not really giving a damn. The 60s end here. 109 min. (DK) aLandmark, 10 PM

Infernal Affairs II

R The second installment of Andrew Lau and Alan Mak's Hong Kong-based trilogy is a prequel that brings two of the previous film's characters, police inspector Wong (Anthony Wong) and triad underboss Sam (Eric Tsang), to the forefront, revealing how their guarded respect for each other deteriorated into a bitter personal feud. The original film's two protagonists--Yan, a cop working as a mole in the triad, and Ming, a triad member working as a mole in the police department--are also back (played by younger actors). The film doesn't have quite the taut suspense of its predecessor, overreaching at times in attempts at epic grandeur. But it's still pretty lively and features charismatic performances from Wong and Tsang. Highly recommended to fans of the first film. Newcomers are likely to be confused since there's virtually no recapping. In Cantonese and Mandarin with subtitles. 109 min. (RP) aLandmark, 11:30 PM

Sunday, October 17

Exiles

R Tony Gatlif, whose Gadjo dilo completed his lyrical "Gypsy Trilogy" in 1997, has made a career of finding formally inventive ways to use music as a principal narrative element in his films. But in Exiles the ways in which it propels the narrative are not nearly as profound as in his previous films. An Algerian-born couple who barely know each other impulsively decide to leave France for their native land, employing assorted modes of transportation to get there. Most of the film concerns their travels through Spain, giving Gatlif a fine excuse to show some mesmerizing flamenco dancing and guitar playing. With Romain Duris, who also starred in Gadjo dilo. In Arabic, French, and Romany with subtitles. 105 min. (JK) aRiver East, 1 PM

In the Battlefields

See listing under Saturday, October 16. aLandmark, 1 PM

Battleground: 21 Days on the Empire's Edge

R See listing under Friday, October 15. aRiver East, 1:15 PM

Shorts 4: Somewhere in Between

See listing under Friday, October 15. aLandmark, 1:15 PM

Bob Kennedy, the Man Who Wanted to Change America

See listing under Saturday, October 16. aRiver East, 1:30 PM

NOVEMBER

See listing under Friday, October 15. aLandmark, 1:30 PM

Schizo

See listing under Saturday, October 16. aLandmark, 1:45 PM

The Missing

See listing under Saturday, October 16. aLandmark, 3 PM

Dance Cuba: Dreams of Flight

See listing under Friday, October 15. aRiver East, 3:15 PM

Dealer

See listing under Friday, October 15. aRiver East, 3:30 PM

Adam and Eve (Still)

See listing under Saturday, October 16. aRiver East, 3:45 PM

Flashback Shorts

See listing under Saturday, October 16. aLandmark, 3:45 PM

Oxygen

Another in the recent cycle of Greek "grunge" movies, showing the seamier sides of city and family lives--necessary antidotes to such sentimental entertainments as the popular A Touch of Spice. Codirected by Thanasis Papathanassiou and Michalis Reppas in a predominantly naturalistic mode, it's a relentless expose of Greek racism, sexism, chauvinism, and materialism that follows the complicated bisexual trail of Christos (Yannis Tsimitselis), a gormless young man available for exploitation. The plot involves a shady real estate deal that results in blackmail and violent melodrama. Aka Blackmail Boy. In Greek with subtitles. 100 min. (AM) aLandmark, 4 PM

The 10th District Court: Judicial Hearings

R See listings under Saturday, October 16. aLandmark, 4 PM

Four Shades of Brown

R See listing under Saturday, October 16. aLandmark, 5 PM

The Syrian Bride

See listing under Saturday, October 16. aRiver East, 6 PM

Sheer Madness

Margarethe von Trotta (Sisters, Marianne and Juliane) brings her glacial stylistics to a didactic tale of friendship between two women (1983): an assured, self-confident professor of literature (Hanna Schygulla) and a neurotic, suicide-prone artist (Angela Winkler), whose work consists of meticulous black-and-white copies of work by old male masters (the blunt symbolism is typical of von Trotta's approach). The film seems to strike the same chord as Marleen Gorris's feminist cult film A Question of Silence, and it leads to a similarly extreme conclusion--that there's only one solution to the problem of male oppression, and that's the Final Solution. Still, von Trotta makes movies like Mack makes trucks: there isn't a second in this heavy, heavy film that hasn't been built out of boilerplate to fit her ideological program. Peter Striebeck costars as Winkler's dementedly possessive husband, a character allegedly based on von Trotta's own spouse, director Volker Schlondorff (The Tin Drum). In German with subtitles. 108 min. (DK) Von Trotta will introduce the film. aLandmark, 6 PM

Imaginary Heroes

Those who do not remember Ordinary People are condemned to repeat it. For his feature directorial debut, Dan Harris--whose screenplay credits include the action title X2 and a forthcoming remake of Logan's Run--chose to tell the story of a dysfunctional American family in crisis. The tone is wackier than that of Redford's opus, but the stand-up performance is still that of the mom--Sigourney Weaver, making the most of the meatiest part she's had in years: She feuds with a neighbor! She smokes dope! She trips! Emile Hirsch, Jeff Daniels, and Kip Pardue all dutifully labor away to show that four people can live together and still not communicate very well. Harris is only 25, but that's no excuse. 117 min. (MB) aRiver East, 6:15 PM

South of the Clouds

RSee listing under Friday, October 15. aLandmark, 6:15 PM

Rolling Family

See listing under Friday, October 15. aLandmark, 6:30 PM

After Midnight

R A sexy car thief, his gamine lover, and the shy film buff who rescues her form a romantic triangle in Davide Ferrario's beguiling valentine to the movies. Turin landmark the Mole Antonelliana houses the national Museum of Cinema, where lonely custodian Martino (Giorgio Pasotti) whiles away his night watch unspooling archival treasures; he has screened Buster Keaton so often he's internalized the silent star's body language. Enter Amanda (the luminous Francesca Inaudi), a damsel in distress whose boyfriend Angelo (Fabio Troiano) regularly cheats on her. The movie self-consciously compares itself to Jules and Jim, but this is much breezier fare than the Truffaut classic. Gorgeous high-definition digital photography adds to the rapture; the museum resembles a cavernous magic lantern with its seductive plays of light and shadow. In Italian with subtitles. 89 min. (AG) aRiver East, 6:45 PM

The Waiting Room

See listing under Saturday, October 16. aRiver East, 8:30 PM

The Time We Killed

R See listing under Friday, October 15. aLandmark, 8:30 PM

In Casablanca Angels Don't Fly

See listing under Friday, October 15. aRiver East, 8:45 PM

Rule No. 1

See listing under Friday, October 15. aLandmark, 8:45 PM

Unknown Soldier

See listing under Friday, October 15. aRiver East, 9 PM

Infernal Affairs II

R See listing under Saturday, October 16. aLandmark, 9 PM

Buena vida

See listing under Saturday, October 16. aLandmark, 9 PM

Monday, October 18

Arakimentari

See listing under Friday, October 15. aRiver East, 4 PM

Flashback Shorts

See listing under Saturday, October 16. aLandmark, 4 PM

Bob Kennedy, the Man Who Wanted to Change America

See listing under Saturday, October 16. aRiver East, 4:30 PM

Buena vida

See listing under Saturday, October 16. aLandmark, 4:30 PM

Unknown Soldier

See listing under Friday, October 15. aRiver East, 5 PM

Nathalie...

See listing under Friday, October 15. aRiver East, 6:15 PM

Kings and Queen

R Arnaud Desplechin's best movie to date is this moving and unpredictable character study of two seemingly unrelated people: an art gallery worker (Emmanuelle Devos) attending to her dying father and a brilliant but quite possibly insane musician (Mathieu Amalric). One of the film's striking characteristics is the gradualness of its exposition--the relationship between Devos and Amalric isn't revealed until midway, and each piece of information about the hero and heroine has us reassessing our attitudes toward them. The superb performances by Devos and Amalric (star of Desplechin's My Sex Life...or How I Got Into an Argument) are rich and nuanced, and Catherine Deneuve has a nice supporting turn as Amalric's shrink. Desplechin's wonderful music includes "Moon River" and bits of scores from Truffaut films. In French with subtitles. 150 min. (JH) aLandmark, 6 PM

Battleground: 21 Days on the Empire's Edge

R See listing under Friday, October 15. aRiver East, 6:30 PM

Grey Gardens

The cinema verite movement finally unveiled its exploitative heart with this unpleasant 1976 documentary on Edith Bouvier Beale and her daughter Edie--two relatives of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis living in squalor and oblivion amid the ruins of their East Hampton estate. David and Albert Maysles (Gimme Shelter) directed, with an attitude of curdling condescension clearly emerging from their vaunted "blank" style. 94 min. (DK) Also on the program: the Maysleses' Meet Marlon Brando (28 min.). Albert Maysles will introduce the program. aLandmark, 6:30 PM

In the Battlefields

See listing under Saturday, October 16. aRiver East, 6:45 PM

Brother to Brother

Rodney Evans's ambitious attempt to explore divisions within the African-American community over such issues as homosexuality and interracial romance is set against the backdrop of the Harlem Renaissance. The framing story is a rather standard tale of a contemporary gay college student's collision with his conservative father and homophobic classmates. But the young man has a chance encounter with Bruce Nugent, a member of the charmed circle that included Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston, and Evans evokes the rebellious days of the 20s with wit and spirit. Evans's admirable desire to introduce a misunderstood era's legacy to a wider public helps to excuse the film's occasional clunky dialogue and narrative longueurs. 90 min. (RMP) aRiver East, 7 PM

NOVEMBER

See listing under Friday, October 15. aLandmark, 7 PM

Dealer

See listing under Friday, October 15. aRiver East, 8:30 PM

Exiles

R See listing under Sunday, October 17. aRiver East, 8:45 PM

The Missing

See listing under Saturday, October 16. aLandmark, 9 PM

Dear Frankie

R It's preferable to know as little as possible in advance about the plot of cinematographer Shona Auerbach's subtle and graceful directorial debut, written by Andrea Gibb. So let's just say that the main characters are a single mother (Emily Mortimer), her deaf nine-year-old son (Jack McElhone), his mysteriously absent father, a sailor hired by the mother to briefly impersonate him, and the Scottish port setting. If you combine this film with the recent Young Adam, it appears that an exciting new Scottish cinema is taking shape. 105 min. (JR) aRiver East, 9:15 PM

Oxygen

See listing under Sunday, October 17. aLandmark, 9:15 PM

Schizo

See listing under Saturday, October 16. aLandmark, 9:30 PM

Adam and Eve (Still)

See listing under Saturday, October 16. aLandmark, 9:30 PM

Tuesday, October 19

Shorts 3: Driven

A 123-minute program of shorts by Jonathan Nix (from Australia), Jun Watanabe (Japan), Matthew Gravelle (UK), Richard Goleszowski (UK), Rachel Davies (UK), J.J. Villard (U.S.), Chris Cherot (U.S.), Robert Mowen (U.S.), Laurence Coriat (UK), Andrew Gura (U.S.), Seth Grossman (U.S.), and Jay Rosenblatt (U.S.), the only one I've seen--a documentary about his little girl devouring an ice cream cone that's much less compelling than his previous work with found footage. (JR) aRiver East, 4:15 PM

The Syrian Bride

See listing under Saturday, October 16. aRiver East, 4:30 PM

Infernal Affairs II

RSee listing under Saturday, October 16. aRiver East, 6 PM

Kings and Queen

RSee listing under Monday, October 18. aLandmark, 6 PM

Sideways

I can't go along with my mainstream colleagues who regard Alexander Payne's entertaining but familiar comedy as one of the year's best movies: it lacks the insolence of his Election and the freshness of his work with Kathy Bates in About Schmidt. A depressive, divorced, unpublished novelist (American Splendor's Paul Giamatti) and a cheerful, horny former TV star (Thomas Haden Church) who's about to be married embark on a tour of the California wine country that includes sexual adventures. The performances of both leads (especially Church), Virginia Madsen, and Sandra Oh are effective, and Payne does know how to capture two kinds of male menopause. But I can't say he ever surprised me. R, 123 min. (JR) aRiver East, 6:45 PM

The Foliage

R The puffy-lipped Shu Qi is the current reigning beauty queen of Chinese cinema: even dressed in olive drab fatigues, she's the main attraction in this drama about jealousy during the Cultural Revolution. As one of the young revolutionary intellectuals sent to the countryside to work as a laborer, her character crosses paths with a young man who's being sent to a nearby reeducation camp, and sparks fly. But she's already betrothed to another worker, who delights in attacking and humiliating his rival, and passions escalate to a dangerous level. Director Lu Yue was the award-winning cinematographer of Zhang Yimou's Shanghai Triad, and here the hot emotions play out under exquisitely shot leafy canopies of cool green. In Mandarin with subtitles. 99 min. (MB) aLandmark, 6:15 PM

Those Who Love Me Can Take the Train

R Inspired in part by the death of French filmmaker Francois Reichenbach, this 1998 feature by Patrice Chereau focuses on the funeral of a bisexual Parisian painter (Jean-Louis Trintignant) who'd asked to be buried in the city of Limoges, adding "Those who love me can take the train." The train takers consist of former lovers, friends, a brother (Trintignant again), and their current mates, and emerging from the crowded comedy drama is a portrait of the painter and his largely gay circle. Cinematographer Eric Gautier won a deserved Cesar for his graceful handheld 'Scope camerawork, which seems both spontaneous and assured, and the directorial orchestration of the portmanteau plot by Chereau (who also won a Cesar, along with supporting actress Dominique Blanc) is also impressive. Daniele Thompson and Pierre Trividic collaborated with Chereau on the script. In French with subtitles. 122 min. (JR) Chereau will introduce the film. aLandmark, 6:45 PM

Lipstick & Dynamite, Piss & Vinegar: The First Ladies of Wrestling

R If you thought the dramatics of professional wrestling were all in the ring, check out the stories told by female wrestlers in this enjoyable digital video documentary by Chicagoan Ruth Leitman. She shows us the origins of women's wrestling at carnivals and charts its rise to "respectability" by mixing wrestling footage, clips from the 1951 B movie Racket Girls, and interviews--introducing us to some true eccentrics without turning them into a freak show. The women, many in their 70s and 80s, are still tough and proud--and nursing grudges that go back decades, something Leitman plays up by crosscutting between rivals' accounts. 77 min. (HSa) aRiver East, 7 PM

Turtles Can Fly

At the Turkish-Iraqi border in the days before the 2003 American invasion, a 13-year-old Kurd convinces his village elders to install a satellite dish to pick up news of the coming conflict. Meanwhile he pursues a romance with a suicidal young girl whose brother has lost both arms to a land mine. It's hard not to be moved by this tale of children and war--but that doesn't stop Iranian director Bahman Ghobadi (A Time for Drunken Horses, Marooned in Iraq) from laying on the stirring music and centering much of the action on an adorable cross-eyed orphan toddler. Still, there's no denying his talent for suspense or his ability to get riveting performances from nonprofessionals. In Kurdish with subtitles. 95 min. (JH) aLandmark, 7 PM

Come and See

Where would we be without the Nazis? They're such obliging moral targets, so beyond the pale of ordinary human consideration, that we can batter them around with impunity and still feel good about ourselves. No muss, no fuss, the perfect tomato-can adversary. Director Elem Klimov, onetime head of the Soviet Filmmakers Union, gets a lot of mileage out of this coarse imbalance, and the result is a film that's longer on satisfied outrage than on complex understanding. This 1985 story of a Belorussian youth whose village is destroyed by a band of Nazi savages (even Erich von Stroheim's commandant in Lewis Milestone's The North Star, a 1943 paean to Russian anti-Nazi resistance, seems more recognizably human than his bestial counterpart here) was commissioned by the Soviet government to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Allies' victory over Hitler. Some commemoration. I suppose that never forgetting has its place, but not when it insists on such narrowly righteous fantasies of revenge. In Russian with subtitles. 140 min. (PG) This is Michael Wilmington's selection for the festival's Critic's Choice category. aLandmark, 8:30 PM

After Midnight

RSee listing under Sunday, October 17. aRiver East, 8:45 PM

Poster Boy

In this fair-to-middling drama an ultraconservative senator's closeted gay son is caught in the political cross fire when he has a fling with a political protester. Screenwriters Ryan Shiraki and Lecia Rosenthal cop most of the standard moves of coming-out movies--neatly schematic conflict, secondary characters with distinctive quirks, a gestural plotline--then juice up the melodrama, but they redeem themselves somewhat by refusing the pat happy ending. Director Zak Tucker is a bit too fond of jump cuts as signifiers of edginess. Still, when the material doesn't get in the way he's pretty good at getting across the emotional content. Leads Matt Newton and Jack Noseworthy have genuine chemistry, which certainly helps. Digital video. 98 min. (HSa) aRiver East, 9 PM

The Journey

Chicagoan Ligy J. Pullappally wrote and directed this earnest tale of forbidden love set in India, in which two childhood friends, Kiran (Suhasini Nair) and Delilah (Shrruiti Menon), daughters of wealthy neighboring families, find their idyllic lives shaken as their friendship turns into romantic love. Cultural and religious taboos against lesbianism force the girls to hide their relationship, until they're discovered by a nosy, love-struck male classmate. Melodrama occasionally threatens to bury the film in cheese, but the intense emotional relationship between the girls is honest and affecting, thanks in part to fine performances from the two leads. In Malayalam with subtitles. 107 min. (RP) aLandmark, 9 PM

Ma mere

You'd think a movie with this much copulating would be erotic, but writer-director Christophe Honore's graphic adaptation of Georges Bataille's novel is so clinically detached it borders on absurd. The Canary Islands provide a sun-drenched backdrop for some very dark games initiated by a jaded French sophisticate (Isabelle Huppert) who feels her son's moral education will benefit from a little rough stuff with her girlfriend, followed by some S and M with a local tart and a compliant young man. For most of the film the theological and philosophical concerns plaguing mother and son seem more a rationalization for their joyless liaisons than a quest for fundamental truths, but ultimately the story achieves coherence with a climax that takes this woman's maternal devotion to its logical extreme. The outrageous final scene is horrifically funny and sad. In French with subtitles. 110 min. (AG) aLandmark, 9:15 PM

Torremolinos 73

In this Spanish comedy set in 1973, written and directed by Pablo Berger, a struggling encyclopedia salesman (Javier Camara) is offered the opportunity to boost his earnings when his boss announces that the company's next project will be "The Audiovisual Encyclopedia of Human Reproduction," featuring sex films for Scandinavian subscribers. The salesman is thrilled until he discovers the catch: he has to perform in some of the films with his wife (Candela Pena) or lose his job. The cash-strapped couple reluctantly agree to participate, only to become the unwitting stars of Scandinavia's porn circuit. Camara and Pena are perfectly cast as the bewildered couple, and early on Berger gets some laughs from the one-note premise. But the material grows increasingly stale as the film drags on to its unintentionally creepy finale. In Spanish and Danish with subtitles. 93 min. (RP) aRiver East, 9:30 PM

Head On

See listing under Saturday, October 16. aLandmark, 9:30 PM

Wednesday, October 20

Poster Boy

See listing under Tuesday, October 19. aRiver East, 3:45 PM

Turtles Can Fly

See listing under Tuesday, October 19. aLandmark, 4:30 PM

Shorts 3: Driven

See listing under Tuesday, October 19. aRiver East, 6 PM

Dear Frankie

R See listing under Monday, October 18. aRiver East,

6:30 PM

Eeny Meeny Miney Moe

An early effort by Jan Troell (1968), the director of The Emigrants. In a small town in Sweden, an unhappy schoolteacher takes his frustrations out on the children in his class. In Swedish with subtitles. 110 min. Troell will introduce the film. aLandmark, 6:30 PM

The Journey

See listing under Tuesday, October 19. aLandmark, 6:45 PM

P.S.

Dylan Kidd's first film, Roger Dodger (2002), was praised by many critics as an unsparing study of an unapologetic cad, but it struck me as unconvincingly glib. In this syrupy new romantic comedy Louise (Laura Linney), an admissions officer for Columbia University's fine arts program who's languishing in a bad marriage, undergoes an enormous romantic and sexual awakening after she receives an application from a student with the same name as her long-lost teenage love. She eventually wins over the bemused student (Topher Grace), but not before we've seen plenty of unlikely plot entanglements, including the revelation that one of her close friends (Marcia Gay Harden) has tried to seduce him. Even the always radiant Linney can't save this misbegotten film. 97 min. (RMP) aRiver East, 7 PM

Ma mere

See listing under Tuesday, October 19. aLandmark, 7 PM

Best of Fest 1

A repeat screening of an award winner or audience favorite, to be announced. For information call 312-332-3456 or see chicagoreader.com or chicagofilmfestival.com. aLandmark, 7 PM

Sideways

See listing under Tuesday, October 19. aRiver East, 8:45 PM

Bereft

An amateur photographer in a small town (Vinessa Shaw of Eyes Wide Shut) is trying to recover from the death of her fiance and joins forces with two local outcasts, a man (Tim Blake Nelson) and his uncle (Timothy Daly), in an American independent feature codirected by J. Clark Mathis and Daly. R, 98 min. aRiver East, 9 PM

Best of Fest 2

A repeat screening of an award winner or audience favorite, to be announced. For information call 312-332-3456 or see chicagoreader.com or chicagofilm

festival.com. aLandmark, 9 PM

Torremolinos 73

See listing under Tuesday, October 19. aRiver East, 9:15 PM

Oxygen

See listing under Sunday, October 17. aLandmark, 9:15 PM

The Foliage

RSee listing under Tuesday, October 19. aLandmark,

9:15 PM

Brother to Brother

See listing under Monday, October 18. aLandmark, 9:30 PM

Thursday, October 21

Shorts 3: Driven

See listing under Tuesday, October 19. aRiver East, 3:15 PM

The Journey

See listing under Tuesday,

October 19. aLandmark, 3:30 PM

P.S.

See listing under Wednesday, October 20. aRiver East, 6 PM

Sofie

A sensitive and worthy if long and occasionally dull account of a young Jewish woman (Karen-Lise Mynster) in Copenhagen at the end of the 19th century, Liv Ullmann's directorial debut is her own adaptation (cowritten by Peter Poulsen) of Henri Nathansen's 1932 Danish novel Mendel Philipsen & Son. The title heroine falls in love with a Christian painter (Jesper Christensen) who paints her parents' portrait, but her family frowns on the match and forces her into a marriage with her cousin (Torben Zeller), a dull Orthodox Jew. After a move to the Swedish countryside, she has a son and her husband gradually descends into madness. The most interesting and accomplished performance here is given by Erland Josephson as Sofie's father, but Ullmann does a creditable job with all the actors, and the period settings are well handled (1992). In Danish with subtitles. 145 min. (JR) Ullmann will introduce the film. aLandmark, 6 PM

Poster Boy

See listing under Tuesday, October 19. aRiver East, 6:15 PM

Turtles Can Fly

See listing under Tuesday, October 19. aLandmark, 6:15 PM

Ma mere

See listing under Tuesday, October 19. aRiver East, 6:30 PM

The Foliage

RSee listing under Tuesday, October 19. aLandmark,

6:30 PM

Best of Fest 3

A repeat screening of an award winner or audience favorite, to be announced. For information call 312-332-3456 or see chicagoreader.com or chicagofilmfestival.com. aLandmark, 6:45 PM

The Polar Express

An adaptation of Chris Van Allsburg's children's book using the performance-capture process to combine live action and animation. Tom Hanks stars, and Robert Zemeckis directed. 99 min. aCadillac Palace, 7 PM

WHERE River East 21 (322 E. Illinois), Landmark's Century Centre (2828 N. Clark), Cadillac Palace Theatre (151 W. Randolph)

PRICE $11 after 5 PM ($9 for Cinema/Chicago members), $6 weekday matinees (before 5 PM). Passes for multiple screenings also available. Special presentations, which include "Critic's Choice" and "Flashback" programs, are $15 ($13 for Cinema/Chicago members).

ADVANCE SALES Cinema/Chicago, 32 W. Randolph, suite 600; Borders, 2817 N. Clark and 830 N. Michigan. By fax: 312-425-0944. By phone: 312-332-3456; Ticketmaster, 312-902-1500.

INFO 312-332-3456 or chicagofilmfestival.com

LISTINGS ONLINE chicagoreader.com

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