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The Reader's Guide to the 39th Annual Chicago International Film Festival

Week Two

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* = highly recommended

Friday

October 10

What Jackie Knew

President Kennedy once jokingly identified himself as "the man who accompanied Jacqueline Kennedy to Paris," which somehow escaped the makers of this fawning French TV documentary about the reluctant First Lady. Writer Gerard Miller gushes that her intelligence "far surpassed that of average Americans"--lucky for her, I guess, since she greedily exploited the material advantages of her role, habitually shirked its responsibilities, and still reaped an outpouring of public affection. The film celebrates her much-vaunted style and carefully documents her growing intolerance of her sham marriage. But in closing with the Zapruder footage, director Patrick Jeudy both betrays his own lack of taste and overlooks Kennedy's most significant gift to her country--her husband's graceful and dignified burial. One thing Jackie definitely knew was how to plan a party. 55 min. (JJ) (Landmark, 4:00)

People Say I'm Crazy

John Cadigan's autobiographical documentary gives new meaning to the phrase "filmmaking as therapy." Afflicted with schizophrenia in college, Cadigan was institutionalized after failing to respond to shock therapy, but thanks to new medications and the encouragement of his sister, who chronicled his fight for sanity with a video camera, he made a remarkable recovery and now works as an artist in the San Francisco Bay area. The contrast between Cadigan in recovery and at his most disturbed provides an excellent antidote to romanticized and sensationalized portrayals of mental illness in Hollywood films and on TV talk shows. 84 min. (MP) (Landmark, 4:45)

Life Is Life

Moshe Ivgy plays a Tel Aviv literature professor stuck in a loveless marriage and struggling with midlife, an overactive libido, and a bad case of writer's block. Things only get worse when the affair he's having with a beautiful, soulful former student (Yael Abecassis) begins to founder. At first glance, this wistful romantic comedy seems to have taken as its muse Woody Allen in his Annie Hall mode. Fortunately, writer-director Michal Bat-Adam is interested in more than celebrating male arrested development, and the film's glibness gives way to a richer and more emotionally honest take on relationships. In Hebrew with subtitles. 87 min. (RP) (Landmark, 5:00)

Hush!

Russian director Victor Kossakovsky shot this documentary from a single perspective, training his camera out his Saint Petersburg apartment window over the course of a year, capturing the comings and goings of his neighbors and the constant tearing up and repaving of a section of street. We see people walking dogs, rolling around drunk in the rain, giving and receiving a bouquet of flowers; all the while a work crew struggles mightily with a hole in the pavement, which grows larger with each passing season. Over time the interminable construction project becomes absurdly comic. When a water main finally bursts, filling the hole and surrounding street with cascading water, it's like the climax of an extended visual gag. In Russian with subtitles. 82 min. (JK) (Landmark, 5:30)

A Talking Picture

Before turning 70 in 1978, Manoel de Oliveira had made just five features; since then he's directed another 19, some of them masterpieces and some just mannerist curiosities. A comic parable deceptively couched in the form of a 19th-century travel narrative, this film is a little of both. A young Portuguese history professor and her daughter sail from Lisbon to Bombay, tracing the roots of civilization during stopovers in France, Italy, Greece, and Egypt. Three famous women (Catherine Deneuve, Stefania Sandrelli, Irene Papas) join the voyage and dine every night with the American captain (John Malkovich). Initially this seems naive and archaic, but it conceals a Bunuelian stinger in its tail. In Portuguese, French, and Greek with subtitles. 96 min. (JR) (Music Box, 7:00)

Distant

* Clouds of May, the second feature of Turkish filmmaker Nuri Bilge Ceylan, struck some viewers as belonging to the school of Kiarostami, a mistake they wouldn't make with his masterful third feature. An industrial photographer in Istanbul (Muzaffer Ozdemir) who hasn't recovered from his busted marriage finds himself the reluctant host of a country cousin (Mehmet Emin Toprak) looking for work. Ceylan uses this slim premise to build a psychologically nuanced relationship between the men, as an uncomfortable domestic arrangement leads to irrational spats. The narrative, capped by a brief bad dream and the capture of a mouse, isn't always legible, but it feeds into a monumental, luminous visual style like no other. The nonprofessional leads won top honors at Cannes; shortly afterward Toprak died in an auto accident. In Turkish with subtitles. 110 min. (JR) (Landmark, 7:00)

Bright Future

Alienated youth is one of Kiyoshi Kurosawa's favorite themes. Bright Future is an alternately comic and macabre portrait of a deranged friendship between Mamoru (who's maniacally devoted to his pet, a luminous jellyfish) and Yuji, his veritable disciple. Action and horror enthusiasts have embraced some of Kurosawa's films--notably Cure (1997) and Pulse (2001)--but this antiformulaic movie is unlikely to exert the same appeal. Still, adventurous viewers may appreciate Kurosawa's ability to invest his psychotic antiheroes with a strange poignancy. The film closes with a parade of teenagers in Che Guevara T-shirts (Guevara has become a cult figure in Japan), signifying perhaps that their apolitical rage has the potential to spawn revolutionary fervor. In Japanese with subtitles. 92 min. (RMP) (Landmark, 7:00)

Moonlight

This creepily compelling film unfolds with the disordered logic of a fever dream, as a 13-year-old girl follows a blood trail that leads from her first period to an Afghan boy shot by drug dealers who've used him to smuggle coke. Dutch director Paula van der Oest, whose Zus & Zo was nominated for an Oscar for best foreign film, coolly pushes her heroine into extreme displays of teen angst as she and her "patient" flee a persistent assassin. Along their weird, picaresque journey they disguise themselves as handicapped sisters in matching first-communion gowns and later land in a deserted 15th-century Luxembourg town house, where they experiment with sex and drugs. Laurien van den Broeck's masterful unblinking performance transcends the uneasy all-English dialogue; her costar, who speaks no European language, stays largely silent. 90 min. (RS) (Music Box, 7:15)

Olga's Chignon

Jerome Bonnell's 2002 drama, about a French family coming to terms with the death of a loved one, has inspired comparisons to the films of Eric Rohmer. In French with subtitles. 96 min. (Landmark, 7:15)

This Very Moment

A chilling update of "Hansel and Gretel," German director Christoph Hochhausler's debut feature fascinates even as it repels, unfolding with the pitiless logic of the fairy tale. An exasperated woman orders her young stepchildren out of the car and drives off. By the time she returns they've vanished. Obsessively fearful of losing her husband's love, she shuts herself off in the austere emptiness of her house, denying all knowledge of the kids' whereabouts. Girl and boy wander through the woods, hooking up with a Polish handyman who leads them on a gypsy odyssey of religious pilgrimages and impromptu blackmail schemes. The characters are mostly unsympathetic, with the exception of the little boy, whose spontaneous niceness is routinely quelled by his bitchy sister. Hochhausler ruthlessly toys with his audience's fear of disaster, creating a sense of locale that functions like a hypnotic destiny while withholding the balm of empathy. In German and Polish with subtitles. 94 min. (RS) (Landmark, 7:45)

Shorts 1: Twisted

Eight short films, by Ted Gesing, Rachel Johnson of the Czech Republic, Claus Withopf of Germany, Philippe Barcinski of Brazil, Brad Peyton of Canada, and Clio Barnard, Ian Clark, and Gili Dolev of the UK. 104 min. (Music Box, 9:15)

My Life Without Me

A magnificent tour de force performance by Sarah Polley illuminates every frame of this relatively upbeat melodrama about the last days of a terminally ill young woman. Unlike the makers of Hollywood weepathons like Stepmom, Spanish director Isabel Coixet (making her first North American feature) doesn't float the schmaltz in luxury--Polley makes a convincing member of the lumpen proletariat, saddled with assorted sweet but deadbeat relatives (among them Deborah Harry's wonderfully burnt-out mama), a couple of kids conceived before she was 20, and a menial job. Even her predeath "to do" list is low budget, the items including a manicure, birthday tapes for her daughters, a new wife for her husband, and a lover for herself. Since Polley tells no one of her illness, the bittersweet moments are as muted as the silver gray Vancouver backdrops framing the film's more contemplative moments. 106 min. (RS) (Landmark, 9:15)

Fuse

This heartfelt but muddled farce from Bosnian filmmaker Pjer Zalica falls well short of its models, Emir Kusturica's Underground and Milos Forman's The Fireman's Ball. When the corrupt mayor of a Bosnian village learns that President Clinton is scheduled to visit, he and the townspeople scramble to erect a facade of communal respectability, even disguising the prostitutes as folksingers. Despite the proliferation of half-baked subplots and a grossly underdeveloped love story, the film retains a rollicking energy and a corrosive edge. In Serbo-Croatian with subtitles. 105 min. (AK) (Music Box, 9:30)

Never Get Outta the Boat

Fans of Apocalypse Now will remember "never get outta the boat" as Frederic Forrest's jittery mantra after he's charged by a tiger in the Vietnamese jungle, and it proves an apt title for this gritty, sincere drama set in a halfway house for recovering addicts. Director Paul Quinn and screenwriter Nick Gillie break new ground in their close observation of household dynamics: all the residents grapple with the resurgence of their sex drives, the veterans' hostility toward newcomers masks their fear of being dragged under, and the tension explodes into hilarity as often as rage. Eventually the film succumbs to genre conventions (a lovable character overdoses, the conclusion is a banal 12-step sermon), but it's buoyed by a strong ensemble including Gillie, Darren E. Burrows, Sebastian Roche, Lombardo Boyar, and Thomas Jefferson Byrd. 111 min. (JJ) (Landmark, 9:30)

Sexual Dependency

Though at times didactic, this punchy DV feature from Bolivian-American director Rodrigo Bellott provides a sobering look at youthful sexuality, shifting from the alcohol-fueled bed hopping of South American teens to a violent sexual assault on an American college campus. Much of the dialogue was improvised by the nonprofessional cast, a strategy that sustains the film's humanity as it turns into an upper-level seminar on male hazing rituals. Less successful is Bellott's perpetual use of split-screen gimmickry, a largely pointless distraction. Still, few movies on the subject of peer pressure offer so wide a cultural critique, even pointing a finger at underwear billboards, and Bellott's roving eye makes him a filmmaker to watch. In English and subtitled Spanish. 105 min. (JHR) (Landmark, 9:30)

Tamala 2010: A Punk Cat in Space

Hello Kitty meets Fritz the Cat in outer space might describe this truly strange Japanese animated feature, directed by the artists' collective TOL. Tamala, a cute, obscenity-spewing kitten, decides to leave dystopian Cat Earth for her ancestral home in the Orion constellation. Her spaceship is knocked off course, and she crash-lands on a planet controlled by Catty & Co., a giant corporation that turns out to be an ancient cult. She also visits a surreal museum, goes to a gay bar, gets eaten by a dog, and is deified at a concert. If you can make any sense of this you've probably been smoking whatever the animators were when they concocted it. In Japanese with subtitles. 92 min. (RP) (Landmark, 9:45)

Saturday

October 11

Golden Chicken

This vehicle for one of Hong Kong's most underrated comediennes, Sandra Ng, tells the story of a prostitute whose life--from adolescence to riches to poverty--parallels the history of Hong Kong from 1978 to the present. A rambunctious comedy with a sentimental heart that at times turns surprisingly passionate, the film never quite clicks. Most of the creative team seems hobbled by the allegorical ambitions; only the overdesigned set and costumes, Ng, and Hu Jun (as a mysteriously sexy gangster) rise to the occasion. Hong Kong-savvy filmgoers might also enjoy the star cameos and the lovingly nostalgic re-creations of old songs, hairstyles, and attitudes. In Cantonese and Mandarin with subtitles. 106 min. (SK) (Landmark, 12:15)

Maria

* A unique blend of seemingly incompatible tones distinguishes this extraordinary tale of postcommunist Romania, where poverty, disability, unemployment, and prostitution are an accepted part of the landscape. The film's luminous heroine, a pregnant woman living in an unheated, unlit basement with six kids (one of them disabled) and an abusive, drunken husband, finds only happiness in her love for her growing brood. All around her black humor reigns. Workers are paid off in balloons when their factory closes. Weird capitalist schemes abound, but the only viable commodity is flesh: nuns offer $5,000 for unborn children, pipsqueaks offer personal pit service to Valkyrie-esque truck drivers, and the mayor and the media celebrate the heroism of a hooker. Based on a true story, Peter Calin Nexter's first film surprises at every turn. In subtitled Romanian, French, and Russian as well as English. 97 min. (RS) (Landmark, 12:30)

Hush!

See listing under Friday, October 10. (Landmark, 1:00)

A Talking Picture

See listing under Friday, October 10. (Music Box, 1:30)

Olga's Chignon

See listing under Friday, October 10. (Landmark, 2:15)

People Say I'm Crazy

See listing under Friday, October 10. (Landmark, 2:30)

A Taste for Murder

The latest feature by Chilean-born director Raul Ruiz (Time Regained) is a French drama set in the 1950s, about an aspiring novelist who's befriended by a self-professed serial killer. In French with subtitles. 101 min. (Music Box, 2:45)

Threads

* This striking and poetic experimental feature was shot in Morocco, but its maker, Hakim Bellabes, is a former graduate student at Columbia College who did much of the pre- and postproduction work in Chicago. This seems appropriate, because the film is constructed as an urgent dialogue between Moroccan traditionalism and Western modernity--or should we say, given the current state of the world, between Moroccan modernity and Western traditionalism? This conversation is expressed formally as well as thematically through several interwoven stories. Beautifully shot in vibrant colors, the film shifts between characters, story lines, and perspectives with the prismatic grace of a kaleidoscope. In Arabic and French with subtitles. 92 min. (JR) (Landmark, 2:45)

Shorts 2: Where You Stand

* I've seen only one of these eight shorts, but Tsai Ming-liang's 23-minute The Skywalk Is Gone (2002) is probably better than most full-length features showing at the festival. A minimalist sequel to his 2001 What Time Is It There?, it features the same two characters in approximately the same Taipei setting where they last met--only this time they don't meet. As usual with Tsai, less is, if not necessarily more, still a great deal. I'd love to see Nanni Moretti's The Last Customer, with the same running time, about the closing of a family-run pharmacy. Also screening: Gemma Carrington's Coming Home (UK, 7 min.), Mervi Junkkonen's Barbeiros (Finland, 12 min.), Julio Robeldo's The Trumouse Show (Spain, 6 min.), Robias Bechtloff's To Impress the Girl Next Door (Germany, 7 min.), Ezra Krybus and Matthew Miller's The School (Canada, 13 min.), and Annemarie Jacir's Like Twenty Impossibles (U.S./Palestine, 17 min.). (JR) (Landmark, 3:00)

My Life Without Me

See listing under Friday, October 10. (Music Box, 3:30)

Life Is Life

See listing under Friday, October 10. (Landmark, 4:30)

Josee, the Tiger and the Fish

A group of men in an Osaka mah-jongg parlor speculate that a mysterious old woman who pushes a baby carriage through the streets just before daybreak is a drug courier or worse. Tsuneo, a university student, finds himself face-to-face with her one morning and discovers that she is actually transporting her handicapped granddaughter, Josee, a charming and bookish young woman who took her name from a character in a Francoise Sagan novel. Director Isshin Inudo limns this unlikely love story with folktale elements, and the combination works quite well. The cast is uniformly excellent, especially Satoshi Tsumabuki as Tsuneo and Ikewaki Chizuru as Josee. In Japanese with subtitles. 116 min. (JK) (Landmark, 4:45)

The Agronomist

Jonathan Demme's liberal politics, glimpsed in his features, find fullest expression in his documentaries, four of which concern the struggle for democracy in Haiti. Years ago, Demme fell in love with the elegant face, bearing, and voice of Jean Dominique, charismatic owner of Haiti's sole independent radio station, and started filming him to demonstrate Dominique's star potential to Hollywood producers. As a political dissident, Dominique incurred the wrath of dictator "Papa Doc" Duvalier and his successor, "Baby Doc" (named "president for life" at 19). Twice exiled, Dominique returned to resume his role as a political commentator until he was assassinated outside the station in 2000. Demme's moving documentary turns the story of his dead friend into the story of Haiti. In English and subtitled Creole. 90 min. (MB) (Music Box, 5:00)

Goodbye, Dragon Inn

* For all its minimalism, Tsai Ming-liang's 81-minute masterpiece manages to be many things at once, including a Taiwanese Last Picture Show, a failed heterosexual love story, a gay cruising saga, a melancholy tone poem, a mordant comedy, and a creepy ghost tale. A cavernous Taipei movie palace on its last legs is (improbably) showing King Hu's groundbreaking 111-minute 1966 hit Dragon Inn to a sparse audience (which includes a couple of that film's stars) while a rainstorm rages outside. As King's martial arts classic unfolds on the screen, so do various elliptical intrigues in the theater--the limping cashier, for instance, pines after the projectionist, even though she never sees him. Tsai has a flair for skewed compositions and imparts commanding presence to seemingly empty pockets of space and time. In Mandarin and Cantonese with subtitles. (JR) (Landmark, 5:00)

Little Men

The friendship between two small-time con men in Kazakhstan is tested when one falls in love with a mysterious woman in red. Nariman Turebayev makes his feature-directing debut with this French-Kazakh production. In Russian and Kazakh with subtitles. 92 min. (Landmark, 5:30)

Chokher Bali: A Passion Play

Bollywood gets all the attention, but there's more to Indian cinema than colorful dance numbers, as evidenced by Rituparno Gosh's long (167 minutes) but engrossing film based on a popular 1906 novel by Nobel Prize-winning author Rabindranath Tagore. Going the classic love triangle one better, the story concerns two close friends, hedonistic Mahendra and studious Behari, and their romantic entanglements with two beautiful women. After rejecting the beautiful Binodini as a bride, Mahendra marries Ashalata, once intended for Behari. Married and widowed within a year, Binodini joins Mahendra's household as a companion for the women, initiates an affair with him, is banished, and offers herself to Behari. An analogy could perhaps be drawn between Binodini's struggle for independence and India's, but most viewers will be too bewitched by the amazing face of the actress who plays her, Aishwarya Rai, to bother. In Bengali with subtitles. (MB) (Music Box, 6:00)

The Island

Costanza Quatriglio set her first feature on a beautifully sparse island near Sicily, where she follows the two children of an authoritarian fisherman as they struggle to gain some independence from their father and their tightly knit fishing community. The stoic eldest son (Ignazio Ernandes) dreams of trading the drudgery of work among the fishermen for the freedom of a sailor's life, while his tomboyish younger sister (Veronica Guarrasi) desperately wants to be accepted on a fishing crew. Quatriglio's gritty, detailed look at the fishing community's daily work has a dreamlike quality that's reminiscent of Terrence Malick--she too creates a world in which the land and water are as essential to the story as the characters. Her emotional detachment keeps us from truly connecting with the children, but the movie is still superior to the syrupy coming-of-age stories one often sees at film festivals. In Italian and Sicilian with subtitles. 99 min. (RP) (Landmark, 6:45)

At Five in the Afternoon

A young woman in a nomadic family in post-Taliban Kabul, grudgingly permitted by her father to attend a religious school, sneaks off instead to a secular school, where she expresses her dream of becoming president of Afghanistan and inspires a poet trying to woo her to print up her campaign posters. This is 23-year-old Samira Makhmalbaf's third feature; it won the jury prize at Cannes, but it's far less exciting than her first, The Apple. Attractively shot, it has moments of wit and poetry (the title comes from Lorca) but arguably adds less to what we know about contemporary Afghanistan

than her 14-year-old sibling Hana Makhmalbaf's documentary about its casting, Joy of Madness (see separate listing). In Farsi and Dari with subtitles. 106 min. (JR) Also screening, Anna Fraser's short Press Any Button. (Landmark, 7:00)

Don't You Worry, It Will Probably Pass

Director Cecilia Neant-Falk follows three lesbian teenagers for three years in this occasionally affecting but not very substantial Swedish documentary. The most compelling moments concern the girls' relationships with their parents, none of whom are initially aware of their daughters' sexual orientation or the film's true subject. Neant-Falk captures the emotional struggles of adolescents who feel forced to hide their sexual identities, but her hyperactive approach never allows anything meaningful to develop, and her overuse of artsy, unrelated visual filler only detracts from the subjects. In Swedish with subtitles. 74 min. (RP) (Music Box, 7:15)

Strayed

Andre Techine (Wild Reeds, Thieves) directed this period drama about a young widow (Emmanuelle Beart) in wartime France who flees into the woods with her two young children as the Nazis invade the country, forming a close bond with an illiterate 17-year-old boy who comes to her assistance. In French with subtitles. 95 min. (Landmark, 7:15)

Time of the Wolf

Added to the schedule as a last-minute replacement for Tamar Simon Hoff's Red Roses and Petrol, this latest feature by Michael Haneke (Funny Games) stars Isabelle Huppert as a woman who returns home from a trip with her family to find her house occupied by interlopers. In French with subtitles. 110 min. (Landmark, 7:30)

Skin Deep

Anthony (Mailon Rivera), a black businessman, is in a pickle, torn between his gorgeous but icy white wife and his sexy but psychotic black mistress, who's impatient for him to commit. To make matters worse, he must contend with difficult dinner guests: his best friend, Michael (Steve White), who's brooding over bad investments, and his oversexed wife (A.J. Johnson). Director and cowriter Sacha Parisot initially has a few things to say about racial profiling and the problems of interracial couples, but bad acting, cornball dialogue, and some unbelievably imbecilic decision making on the part of the male leads soon turn this into an unintentional hoot. 84 min. (JK) (Landmark, 9:00)

Shorts 1: Twisted

See listing under Friday, October 10. (Music Box, 9:15)

16 Years of Alcohol

Episodic and patchy, but well acted and heartfelt, this film follows a young Scottish man as he struggles to stop abusing alcohol and the women in his life, habits he's inherited from his charismatic but feckless father. Director Richard Jobson--an ex-punk rocker (vocalist for the Skids), model, and film critic--wrote the screenplay, which is heavy on poetic narration and influenced by A Clockwork Orange and the angry-young-men dramas of the 50s and 60s. Echoes of Trainspotting are also impossible to ignore in the casting of lead actor Kevin McKidd and of Ewan Bremner, who's nearly wasted in a minor role. (MB) (Landmark, 9:15)

The Triplets of Belleville

* Just when Jeffrey Katzenberg has loudly declared the death of 2-D animation, along comes this sly, inventively drawn, brilliantly executed cartoon that blows the cumbrous studio leviathans out of the water. While 3-D epics scramble to attach themselves, pixel by pixel, to clunky "realism," Sylvain Chomet's dashingly grotesque, hilariously imaginative flights of fancy soar unencumbered by overshading and redundant celebrity voice work, the cacophonous sound track as free of recognizable dialogue as a Road Runner chase. The richness of character owes everything to the drawing. Chomet's mordant mix of the obese and the skeletal is unlikely to launch a new line of action figures, but his gallery of unclassifiable eccentrics is unforgettable: Champion, the semiautistic bicyclist whose calves are larger than his head, his indefatigable little Portuguese grandmother, and their aging, overweight dog, whose dreams and nightmares propel the action. There are also zoot-suited villains, black-garbed malevolent twin packs, and the triplets of the title--a desiccated trio of elderly vaudeville tunesters whose clever use of household appliances as musical instruments is matched by their culinary resourcefulness in their all-frog diet. 82 min. (RS) Also screening, Aristomenis Tsirbas's short Terra. (Music Box, 9:30)

Reconstruction

Alex, the protagonist of Christoffer Boe's showy debut, meets Aimee, the wife of a famous author, and is immediately smitten. But after a night of passion, he discovers that his life has somehow been erased--his friends and family no longer recognize him. But then everything, intones a portentous narrator, is a construction. Scripted by Boe and Dogma 95 maven Mogens Rukov, impressively shot in wide-screen on a mix of DV and 35-millimeter, and winner of the Camera d'Or prize at Cannes, Reconstruction is directed with confidence, but it's extremely pretentious--the boy-meets-girl equivalent of Lars von Trier's The Element of Crime. In Danish and Swedish with subtitles. 90 min. (MP) Also screening: The Most Beautiful Man in the World, a short by Alicia Duffy. (Landmark, 9:30)

Golden Chicken

See listing this date above. (Landmark, 9:45)

Sunday

October 12

Little Men

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

Jealousy Is My Middle Name

South Korean filmmaker Park Chanok's feature debut is an intelligent portrait of a young man whose personal life is out of control. Recently dumped by his girlfriend, Lee Won-sang (Hae-il Park) undertakes to write a magazine article on Marguerite Duras, then discovers that his ex was having an affair with the magazine's married publisher. On the rebound, he falls for a freelance photographer and gets her a job at the magazine--but then she too is seduced by the publisher. Though the film sometimes slips into soap opera territory, Chanok is an acute observer of the subtle shifts of power in romantic relationships. In Korean with subtitles. 124 min. (JK) (Landmark, noon)

The Agronomist

See listing under Saturday, October 11. (Landmark, 12:15)

Shorts 2: Where You Stand

* See listing under Saturday, October 11. (Landmark, 12:30)

Chokher Bali: A Passion Play

See listing under Saturday, October 11. (Music Box, 1:30)

The Island

See listing under Saturday, October 11. (Landmark, 2:00)

Joy of Madness

I'm not sure I fully understand the title of 14-year-old Hana Makhmalbaf's documentary account of the casting of her sister Samira's At Five in the Afternoon (see separate listing), but it's not inappropriate. The Makhmalbafs, an Iranian family of filmmakers, trek through Kabul a bit like an invading army, trying to acquire actors from a reluctant populace for a progressive film about a young Afghan woman. Mutual misunderstandings and suspicions proliferate, often to telling and comic effect, with Samira and her father, Mohsen, sometimes playing bad cop and good cop to their prospective actors. In Farsi and Dari with subtitles. 73 min. (JR) (Landmark, 2:15)

Don't You Worry, It Will Probably Pass

See listing under Saturday, October 11. (Music Box, 2:30)

Threads

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

Time of the Wolf

See listing under Saturday, October 11. (Landmark, 3:00)

16 Years of Alcohol

See listing under Saturday, October 11. (Landmark, 9:00)

Wild River

The Tennessee branch of the Mississippi, that is, where TVA agent Montgomery Clift is faced with the job of evicting a matriarch (Jo Van Fleet) from her family island in order to complete a dam project. This 1960 drama is probably Elia Kazan's finest and deepest film, a meditation on how the past both inhibits and enriches the present. Lee Remick costars as Van Fleet's widowed daughter, giving one of the most affecting performances of her underrated career. The tone shifts from hysteria to reverie in the blink of an eye, but Kazan handles it all with a sure touch. Scripted by Paul Osborn, and adapted in part from books by Borden Deal and William Bradford Huie. 110 min. (DK) (Landmark, 4:15)

People Say I'm Crazy

See listing under Friday, October 10. (Music Box, 4:30)

Crimson Gold

* Having taken his formalist bent to extremes in The Circle (2000), Jafar Panahi switches to lumpy neorealism with minimal loss of force. The script by Abbas Kiarostami (who also wrote Panahi's 2000 The White Balloon) was inspired by a news story about a pizza deliveryman in Tehran who shot a jeweler and then himself in the course of a robbery attempt. Panahi cast a real pizza deliveryman, Hossain Emadeddin, as the robber, only to discover that his overweight, middle-aged lead was a paranoid schizophrenic, which may account for his deadpan, oddly commanding presence. The film's candid treatment of the class resentments brewing in contemporary Tehran have made the film unshowable in Iran, where the government has branded Panahi an American agent--a painful irony given that he can't even enter this country. In Farsi with subtitles. 97 min. (JR) (Landmark, 4:45)

Broken Wings

Nice enough but far from extraordinary, this 2002 Israeli domestic drama has won awards at film festivals around the world, perhaps because it eschews politics in favor of universal family problems. Obliged to return to work as a night nurse after the death of her husband, a mother of four neglects her troubled kids. Her eldest teenage daughter tries to keep the family from unraveling completely while pursuing her dream of becoming a singer-songwriter. Writer-director Nir Bergman sticks cautiously to a middle path with bland characters facing resoluble conflicts. In Hebrew with subtitles. 84 min. (JH) (Music Box, 5:00)

Hush!

See listing under Friday, October 10. (Landmark, 5:30)

Josee, the Tiger

and the Fish

See listing under Saturday, October 11. (Landmark, 6:15)

Moonlight

See listing under Friday, October 10. (Music Box, 6:45)

Goodbye, Dragon Inn

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

Pieces of April

The directorial debut of novelist-screenwriter Peter Hedges (What's Eating Gilbert Grape, About a Boy) is a slight comic drama about familial reconciliation. Katie Holmes stars as April Burns, a young East Village misfit trying to win back her estranged family by cooking them Thanksgiving dinner. Finding her oven is broken, she seeks help from her neighbors, a panoply of stock characters (a snippy gay man, a black yuppie couple, etc) that Hedges develops with a shallow but professional shorthand. Patricia Clarkson is wonderfully acerbic as April's cancer-afflicted mom, and the finale is surprisingly subtle and sweet, but the rest of this DV feature is as contrived as a sitcom. 81 min. (AK) (Music Box, 7:00)

Skin Deep

See listing under Saturday, October 11. (Landmark, 7:15)

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

The politics of oil are as murky in Venezuela as anywhere, and the country's have-nots are deeply resentful of its haves, who profit from oligopolies that pay lip service to free-market principles. Hugo Chavez, a military man who embraced democracy but wasn't above Castro-like moves, tapped into the popular discontent when he was elected president in 1998, and Kim Bartley and Donnacha O'Briain's documentary chronicles the last days of his first term, when he was ousted by a coup led by an industrialist before returning in triumph. The filmmakers are sympathetic, which gained them access not only to Chavez but to others in the presidential compound, and to their credit, he emerges as a complicated firebrand, high on rhetoric and slow to act. Still, this isn't as in-depth as a first-rate Frontline special, except when it's showing how the privately owned media manipulated images to sabotage Chavez. In subtitled Spanish as well as English. 74 min. (TS) (Landmark, 7:30)

The Hours of the Day

Jaime Rosales directed this tense character study about a store owner named Abel (Alex Brendemuhl), whose dutiful blandness masks some very dark impulses. His superficial decency is betrayed by an almost willful indifference to his girlfriend's distress about their crumbling relationship and his foundering business. This ominous detachment is nicely mirrored by Rosales's highly formal visual compositions, which often distance or obstruct the action. His craftsmanship and the performances are admirable, but it's frustrating to watch such talent in the service of yet another story about how modern ennui breeds evil. In Spanish with subtitles. 97 min. (RP) (Music Box, 8:45)

Maria

* See listing under Saturday, October 11. (Landmark, 9:00)

Strayed

See listing under Saturday, October 11. (Landmark, 9:00)

Sex Is Comedy

This 2002 provocation from director-writer Catherine Breillat is so perversely enjoyable it gives the lie to her image as a serious, politically incorrect purveyor of pornographic instincts. Here she parodies herself, casting Anne Parillaud (La femme Nikita) as the demanding director of an erotic film who's after the money shot, encouraging her actors (Gregoire Colin of Beau travail and Roxane Mesquida of Fat Girl) to do their simulated best--one bit involves Colin trying on fake erect penises for size. It's all layered with the kind of delectable philosophizing and psychologizing only the French can get away with, but as with most films about filmmaking, the wrap is what counts. In French with subtitles. 92 min. (TS) (Music Box, 9:15)

Tamala 2010: A Punk Cat in Space

See listing under Friday, October 10. (Landmark, 9:15)

The Magic Gloves

Director Martin Rejtman (Silvia Prieto) has invoked Howard Hawks and Preston Sturges in describing his Argentinean comedy about two friends in economically depressed Buenos Aires who plan to get rich importing supposedly magic gloves from Canada. In Spanish with subtitles. 90 min. (Landmark, 9:30)

Monday

October 13

Skin Deep

See listing under Saturday, October 11. (Landmark, 4:30)

The Magic Gloves

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

What Jackie Knew

See listing under Friday, October 10. (Landmark, 5:30)

Pieces of April

See listing under Sunday, October 12. (Landmark, 6:30)

The Barbarian Invasions

* A jovial, randy academic in his 50s (Remy Girard) is dying of cancer. His estranged son (Stephane Rousseau) has returned from abroad to take care of him, and his close friends gather to say farewell. Some of the characters in this bittersweet autumnal drama by writer-director Denys Arcand are from his 1986 The Decline of the American Empire, which resembled The Big Chill but was more probing and sophisticated. These well-to-do intellectuals are still bantering 17 years later, and their conversation remains scintillating, biting, and civilized, though it's now tinged with the sad wisdom of middle age. Arcand obviously identifies with them, and he seems ambivalent toward the younger generation and toward foreigners. His fondness for the good old 60s can be cloying, but despite an uneven cast, he finds a tonal balance between sentimental and cynical that keeps the conversations real and heart wrenching. In French with subtitles. 99 min. (TS) (Music Box, 6:45)

Reconstruction

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

Spare Parts

* A bracing and novel take on the horrors of human trafficking, Damjan Kozole's Spare Parts focuses on the plight not of illegal immigrants but the traffickers themselves. In the drab Slovenian city of Krsko, home to both a motorcycle speedway and the nation's only nuclear power plant, a once-celebrated racer now ravaged with cancer teaches a young accomplice the trade of smuggling human cargo into Italy. In their off-hours the two lost and lonely criminals inhabit a pathetic raceway subculture of has-beens and hangers-on. Though unsparingly bleak, it's also poignant, human, and almost funny. In Slovenian with subtitles. 87 min. (AK) (Music Box, 7:00)

The Island

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

Little Men

See listing under Saturday, October 11. (Landmark, 7:15)

Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself

Danish director Lone Scherfig's first English-language feature falls short of the affecting, mordant wit of her celebrated Dogma 95 effort Italian for Beginners. Wilbur, a morose Glaswegian, and Harbour, his older, more stable brother, both fall in love with Alice, a shy single mother; the love triangle collapses into tired melodrama when Harbour is diagnosed with a terminal illness. Scherfig aims at bittersweet irony, but Wilbur's suicide attempts yield neither pathos nor humor, although some of the supporting players--notably Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen as a disaffected doctor whose cynicism masks deep empathy--give glimpses of what this could have been in surer hands. 100 min. (AK) (Landmark, 8:30)

Moonlight

See listing under Friday, October 10. (Music Box, 9:00)

Goodbye, Dragon Inn

* See listing under Saturday, October 11. (Landmark, 9:00)

S21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine

Rithy Panh's moving documentary revisits the horrors of the Khmer Rouge's Stalinist campaign against city dwellers and "politically incorrect" intellectuals in the 70s, focusing on the brutal torture inflicted on political prisoners at a notorious detention center, Security Office 21. The survivors' testimony and the confessions of their captors (who, in time-honored fashion, insist that they were only following orders) are presented without a smidgen of sensationalism. The efforts of victims and victimizers to come to terms with historical trauma are admirable, but the film is too tough-minded to espouse a facile discourse of "healing" in the face of genocide driven by ideology run amok. In Khmer and Vietnamese with subtitles. 101 min. (RMP) (Landmark, 9:15)

A Taste for Murder

See listing under Saturday, October 11. (Music Box, 9:30)

Dark

Dark Freeman, the protagonist of D.A. Bullock's debut feature, is repelled by the condescension of his professors at the University of Chicago, intimidated by the streetwise aplomb of his cocky friends, and irrationally jealous of his attractive, empathetic girlfriend. Unlike many films about black men, Dark steers clear of machismo and the stale cliches of gangsta rap and the blaxploitation genre. But the good intentions of this psychological drama don't compensate for the amateurish acting and a script that telegraphs every turn of the plot. It's a pity, because the travails of upwardly mobile black men are a subject that merits the attention of both Hollywood and independent filmmakers. 97 min. (RP) (Landmark, 9:30)

Tuesday

October 14

The Hours of the Day

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

Shorts 3: Moment of Impact

Ten short films, by Jay Rosenblatt, Victor Bellomo and David Pace, Kim Wood, Seith Mann, Wong Kar-wai of Hong Kong, Glendyn Ivin of Australia, Agnes Varda of France, Henry Moore Selder and Sara Lunden of Sweden, and Jason Tammemagi and Deva Palmier of the UK. 110 min. (Landmark, 4:30)

Salt

Despite its international trappings--a Korean producer, American director, Icelandic cast and locales--Salt, with its bleached imagery and up-close and shaky handheld camerawork, looks like nothing so much as a Dogma wannabe. A tomboyish teen excitedly accompanies her older sister's fiance to the big city to visit the sister. Their car breaks down en route, occasioning much kicking-stones-around ennui, a short neorealist stint at a fish-packing plant, and a desultory sexual relationship. Freckle-bespattered Brynja Thora Gudnadottir makes a wonderfully winsome heroine, but even her radiant improvisations can't save the catch-as-catch-can proceedings. Bradley Rust Gray directed. In Icelandic with subtitles. 85 min. (RS) (Landmark, 5:00)

Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself

See listing under Monday, October 13. (Landmark, 6:30)

Broken Wings

See listing under Sunday, October 12. (Landmark, 6:45)

Distant Lights

Set in two towns flanking the Polish-German border--Slubice and Frankfurt-on-the-Oder--this drama by Hans-Christian Schmid comprises a series of stories, some loosely connected, that take place over a period of 48 hours. Some of the characters are barely eking out a living or poised to flee their present circumstances; others are getting by, but at the cost of making morally reprehensible choices. Schmid does a fine job juggling his various narratives, the most poignant of which involves a young Polish couple with a newborn child trying to illegally cross the river into Germany. The portrayal of Slubice, with its underworld of hustlers preying on those who seek a better life, is nightmarish. In German, Polish, and Russian with subtitles. 104 min. Also screening: Hans Petter Moland's United We Stand (2003, 8 min). (JK) (Music Box, 7:00)

Spare Parts

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

Don't You Worry, It Will Probably Pass

See listing under Saturday, October 11. (Music Box, 7:15)

Maria

* See listing under Saturday, October 11. (Landmark, 7:15)

Niki and Flo

Fathers-in-law of a young couple trying to conceive their first child, Niki and Flo couldn't be more different. Niki (Victor Rebengiuc) is a retired army colonel proud of his career; Flo (Razvan Vasilescu) is a vegetarian anarchist, vehemently critical of church, state, and all other institutions. The two are brought together by the funeral of Niki's other son, who was electrocuted in a freak accident. Director Lucian Pintilie adroitly and gradually exposes the ostensibly free-spirited Flo as a domineering fascist who continually denigrates the unassuming old soldier. Unfortunately, a violent conclusion upsets the balance of what comes before. In Romanian with subtitles. 99 min. (JK) (Landmark, 8:45)

All Tomorrow's Parties

Condemned by the Chinese Film Bureau, this feature by Yu Lik Wi (Love Will Tear Us Apart) is set in a futuristic Asia ruled by a "political-religious-militarist" sect called the Gui Dao. In Mandarin and Korean with subtitles. 96 min. (Landmark, 9:00)

16 Years of Alcohol

See listing under Saturday, October 11. (Landmark, 9:00)

Shorts 1: Twisted

See listing under Friday, October 10. (Music Box, 9:15)

Golden Chicken

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

The Tulse Luper Suitcases, Part 1. The Moab Story

Peter Greenaway is setting out to prove that cinema is dead by fashioning a massive, multimedia personal history of the 20th century. Standing in for Greenaway is Tulse Luper, a Gump-like globetrotter who comes to possess 92 suitcases--92 being the atomic number of uranium. In this first installment of what's sure to be an endless river of self-referential upchuck, Tulse grows up on a film set in southern Wales, cavorts among idiot Mormons in Utah, and pisses off some Nazis in Antwerp. More than ever, Greenaway tests the audience's annoyance threshold with multiple overlapping images and sounds. Supposedly a signpost to the future of visual media, this is really a model of what a film shouldn't be. 127 min. (MP) (Music Box, 9:30)

Wednesday

October 15

Shorts 2: Where You Stand

* See listing under Saturday, October 11. (Landmark, 4:15)

Distant Lights

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

Dark

See listing under Monday, October 13. (Landmark, 6:30)

Jealousy Is My Middle Name

See listing under Sunday, October 12. (Landmark, 6:45)

The Hours of the Day

See listing under Sunday, October 12. (Landmark, 6:45)

At Five in the Afternoon

See listing under Saturday, October 11. (Music Box, 7:00)

The Barbarian Invasions

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

All Tomorrow's Parties

See listing under Tuesday, October 14. (Music Box, 7:15)

Shorts 3: Moment of Impact

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

Spare Parts

* See listing under Monday, October 13. (Landmark, 9:00)

Joy of Madness

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

Salt

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

The Magic Gloves

See listing under Sunday, October 12. (Music Box, 9:30)

The Tulse Luper Suitcases, Part 1. The Moab Story

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

thursday

October 16

Dark

See listing under Monday, October 13. (Landmark, 4:45)

Niki and Flo

See listing under Tuesday, October 14. (Landmark, 5:00)

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 www.chicagofilmfestival.com. (Music Box, 6:30)

Salt

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

Distant Lights

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

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 www.chicagofilmfestival.com. (Music Box, 7:00)

Shorts 4: Homegrown

This 107-minute program of nine short films by Chicago and Illinois filmmakers includes Duane Edward's Hit & Run, Julie Lofton's The Parody of the Giving Tree, and Joe Denk's I Was a Mathlete Until I Met Margo Marris. (Landmark, 7:00)

Niki and Flo

See listing under Tuesday, October 14. (Landmark, 7:00)

Threads

* See listing under Saturday, October 11. (Landmark, 8:30)

Shattered Glass

Although I gave up reading the New Republic with any regularity long before it acquired master fabricator Stephen Glass as a reporter in the late 90s, I appreciate writer-director Billy Ray's agenda, which is to show how ready and willing Glass's colleagues and readers were to be duped by him--and how we as spectators are too. Hayden Christensen plays Glass with just the right amount of flattering charm, and Peter Sarsgaard, Hank Azaria, and Chloe Sevigny all do well as his fellow staffers. Given recent, similar incidents of young con artists posing as journalists, this is a timely and compelling film, but I wish the filmmakers had widened their focus to address the kinds of journalistic corruption that go beyond simple fibbing. 99 min. (JR) (Music Box, 9:00)

A Taste for Murder

See listing under Saturday, October 11. (Landmark, 9:00)

All Tomorrow's Parties

See listing under Tuesday, October 14. (Music Box, 9:15)

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 www.chicagofilmfestival.com. (Landmark, 9:15)

Shorts 3:

Moment of Impact

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

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