The Reader's Guide to the 41st Chicago International Film Festival | Festival | Chicago Reader
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R = recommended

Friday, October 14

That Man: Peter Berlin

With his Tarzan physique, Dutch-boy haircut, and cucumber crotch, model and gay erotica legend Peter Berlin set a standard for masculinity in the 70s. Jim Tushinski's video documentary reveals how the German-born Berlin cultivated his iconic image by photographing himself for magazine layouts and directing two Warholian porn features before abruptly retiring from filmmaking. Now in his 60s and living in relative seclusion in San Francisco, the proudly narcissistic star of That Boy reflects on his career in interviews that are intercut with vintage footage and the reflections of people such as Armistead Maupin and John Waters. Despite Berlin's frankness about his personal love life and his preference for being watched when he's not having sex, the Garbo of gay porn remains elusive, largely because Tushinski doesn't seem to see the ironies and contradictions in his subject's life. He's much better when exploring Berlin's aesthetic and working methods. 80 min. (JH) Digital projection. a River East, 5 PM

Brick

R For his debut feature Rian Johnson meticulously re-creates Dashiell Hammett's brand of gumshoe noir but transplants the blind-alley mystery and rat-a-tat dialogue to a modern SoCal suburban high school. Joseph Gordon-Levitt (a sitcom veteran who's been quietly building up an impressive body of work in movies) stars as a world-weary student trying to unravel the disappearance of his ex-girlfriend, and Lukas Haas is his nemesis, a ruthless, clubfooted heroin dealer who does business out of a paneled den in his parents' basement. It's a limited conceit--gone is the noir sense of being trapped by bad life choices--but it's worth seeing for the tightly coiled plot, well-realized characters, and novel take on rapacious teen culture. 119 min. (JJ) a River East, 6 PM

Grain in Ear

R A quietly chilling melodrama of alienation and repressed fury, Zhang Lu's second feature mercilessly exposes the disempowerment and dispossession that all too frequently characterize life in today's ferociously capitalist China. Cui Shunji is a poor Korean roadside kimchi seller, marginalized because of her ethnicity. She and her son, who share a small cement-block house with a group of friendly prostitutes, become entangled with a local cop and a Korean-Chinese businessman, who offer protection and sex respectively, though with dangerous conditions attached. The film's style and content are in perfect equipoise: Zhang's still camera, a constant since his stunning minimalist debut, Tang Poetry, draws perfectly calibrated frames around scenes of nearly silent tension. A precise and devastating snapshot of China today. In Mandarin and Korean with subtitles. 109 min. (SK) a Landmark, 6:30 PM

Mongolian Pingpong

A nine-year-old boy living on the Mongolian steppes finds a Ping-Pong ball floating down a stream. After concluding that it isn't an egg, he carries around the "glowing pearl" as a talisman, learns that it's China's "national ball," and winds up fighting over it with a friend. This sounds like a slender premise on which to hang a feature, but director Ning Hao is more interested in ethnography and landscapes than narrative and often holds our interest by concentrating on how folklore, technology--motorbikes, cars, trucks, films, TV--and imagination affect a nomadic way of life. In Mongolian with subtitles. 102 min. (JR) a River East, 6:45 PM

Magic Mirror

R Shot last spring, Manoel de Oliveira's lush feature premiered in Venice last month, and this will be its U.S. premiere. Adapted, like many of his other films, from a Portuguese novel by Agustina Bessa-Luis, it concerns a childless, depressive rich woman (Leonor Silveira) whose head is turned by a professor (Michel Piccoli, speaking all his lines in English) and who becomes obsessed with the idea of the Virgin Mary making a personal appearance in front of her. Meanwhile her servant (Ricardo Trepa) plots with a counterfeiter to fake an apparition. None of the melodramatic expectations set up in the story are met, but the very dry comedy makes this one of Oliveira's more accessible works. In Portuguese with subtitles. 137 min. The 96-year-old Oliveira is scheduled to attend all three screenings. (JR) a Landmark, 6:45 PM

The Devil's Miner

R Kief Davidson and Richard Ladkani's documentary is a powerful indictment of the horrendous treatment of children who toil in hellish Bolivian silver mines. The filmmakers are better at fashioning haunting images than offering hard-nosed analysis, yet they never sentimentalize their young protagonists' plight. At the center of their story is 12-year-old Basilio Vargas, who endures both a suffocating mine and the taunts of more prosperous classmates at school; his daily struggles are emblematic of the lives of hundreds of children with little hope of escaping either an accidental death or the slower agonies of silicosis. Davidson and Ladkani wisely refuse to inject any sort of moral lift into their grim tale--Basilio is never unaware of the looming presence of the "Tio," the merciless devil of the mines who offers only death and privation. In Spanish with subtitles. 82 min. (RMP) a River East, 7 PM

Entre ses mains

R French director Anne Fontaine, who explored the dark undercurrents of a father-son relationship in her excellent How I Killed My Father, ventures even further into shadow with this heartless psychological thriller. An attractive insurance investigator (Isabelle Carre) with a husband and child crosses professional paths with a contentious veterinarian (Benoit Poelvoorde), who begins to pursue her sexually, showing up at her workplace and winning her over despite her better judgment. He may also be a psychotic ripper who's been dispatching women left and right, and in the finest Hitchcockian fashion, her physical fascination with him increases with her fear. Fontaine and Julien Boivent adapted a novel by Dominique Barberis. 90 min. (JJ) a Landmark, 7 PM

Low Profile

An aimless high school graduate (Constantin von Jascheroff) in a small German town can't land a job, please his obtuse, nagging parents, or score with the girl he admires. He's jolted out of his boredom after seeing the grisly aftermath of an accident and on a whim writes an anonymous letter saying he caused it. The secret thrills he gets watching the media coverage of his false claim soon submerge his sense of failure, and he starts spinning lies about his love life and drifting into rape fantasies. Christoph HochhÅ usler's subdued drama is as much an indictment of bourgeois complacency as it is an examination of psychological crisis, but it lacks a resonant finish. In German with subtitles. 86 min. (AG) a Landmark, 7:30 PM

The Death of Mr. Lazarescu

R The last day and night in the life of a cranky, ailing 63-year-old widower in the Bucharest suburbs, with an ambulance carting him from one overtaxed hospital to another, may sound like an ordeal, but this 154-minute Romanian odyssey is anything but. Both sad and darkly funny, the film is so sharply conceived and richly populated that it often registers like a Frederick Wiseman documentary, even though everything is scripted and every part played by a professional. This is only the second feature of Cristi Puiu, who claims to have been inspired by his own hypochondria, but he's already clearly a master. In Romanian with subtitles. (JR) a River East, 8:30 PM

Well-Tempered Corpses

A black comedy set in postwar Bosnia and Herzegovina, Benjamin Filipovic's feature focuses on a bet between two coroners at a morgue in Sarajevo. In Bosnian with subtitles. 92 min. a Landmark, 9 PM

The Unseen

Following the death of his father, a black history professor (Steve Harris) returns to his rural Georgia hometown to run the family's general store, only to find himself enmeshed in his neighbors' problems and facing the fallout from a traumatic childhood incident. Lisa France wrote and directed this well-meaning drama, which tries too hard to accomplish too many things: one minute it's a drama about long-standing prejudices, then it's a road picture involving a mentally impaired blind man (though it's hard to tell if his mental problems are intentional or the consequence of Phillip Bloch's ludicrously over-the-top performance), then it's a romantic drama with dollops of heartwarming southern charm. With Gale Harold, Catherine Dent, and Judah Friedlander. 99 min. (RP) a River East, 9:15 PM

I Am a Sex Addict

Shortly before his third marriage Caveh Zahedi recounts and restages events from his life showing how his addiction to prostitutes doomed his first two. This deconstructive, minimalist comedy, like his 1990 A Little Stiff (codirected by Greg Watkins) and 1994 I Don't Hate Las Vegas Anymore, re-creates events with the vain self-deprecation of one of his role models, Woody Allen. Here he adds critical commentary, animation, and playful asides about the perils and vicissitudes of low-budget filmmaking, and his offbeat intelligence and low-burning wit recall his inspired rap on film theory in Waking Life. 90 min. (JR) a River East, 9:15 PM

Gabrielle

R Though based on a short story by Joseph Conrad, Patrice Chereau's Gabrielle brings to mind the plays of Strindberg and Albee. Chereau was of course a man of the theater before becoming a film director, and this highly stylized portrait of a loveless marriage at the beginning of the 20th century merges a claustrophobic theatricality with dazzlingly cinematic wide-screen compositions (the sumptuous cinematography is by Eric Gautier). The narrative is propelled by the decision of Gabrielle (a superb performance by Isabelle Huppert) to return to her befuddled husband, Jean (Pascal Greggory), after a passionate dalliance with another man. By the time she declares near the end of the film that she's repelled by the very idea of her husband's sperm inside her, their bourgeois household has become a minefield. In French with subtitles. 90 min. (RMP) a Landmark, 9:15 PM

Guernsey

The influence of Wenders and especially Antonioni permeates Nanouk Leopold's dour but intriguing Dutch drama, with Maria Kraakman as a Monica Vitti-like limbo dweller coming undone amid elegantly composed angstscapes. She's floating between family life in Holland and development-aid gigs in Egypt when a colleague's inexplicable suicide forces her to examine her own life. She begins tailing her husband, even though his activities seem perfectly innocent, and she gamely faces the withering resentment of the sister who was once her husband's lover. A slight and overdeliberate film, but its wide-screen mise-en-scene shimmers, and its emotional payoff packs a quiet wallop. In Dutch with subtitles. 90 min. (MR) a Landmark, 9:30 PM

Bang Bang Orangutang

Swedish filmmaker Simon Staho (Day and Night) follows a middle-class businessman who's estranged from his family and winds up losing his home and living in his taxi after the accidental death of his son. Things come to a head once he becomes involved with a much younger woman. In Swedish with subtitles. 100 min. a Landmark, 9:45 PM

Night of the Living Dorks

It might be the novelty of watching American Pie-type antics conducted in German, but Matthias Dinter's 2004 zombie comedy is a little funnier than most teen gross-out flicks. Three outcasts from Friedrich Nietzsche High School get stoned one night, plow into a tree, and wake up as the undead. Their new physical prowess feeds their confidence, and they're transformed from losers into party animals and chick magnets--until certain key body parts begin to drop off. This is not your father's Nosferatu. In German with subtitles. 89 min. (AG) a River East, 11:30 PM

Feast

A gory horror-comedy with flesh-eating monsters. The director is John Gulager; the executive producers include Wes Craven, Ben Affleck, and Matt Damon; and among the cast are Krista Allen, Balthazar Getty, and Henry Rollins. This was overseen by Miramax's Weinstein brothers, which may explain why no running time was available at press time--they're probably still recutting it. (JR) a River East, 11:30 PM

Initial D

The title's D refers to "drifting," a racing maneuver the hero, the too-cool-to-emote Takumi, has mastered through years of driving on a mountain road to deliver tofu for his abusive but loving father. Andrew Lau and Alan Mak, the team responsible for the diabolically successful Infernal Affairs trilogy, created this slick though featherweight adolescent melodrama, and the story, based on a famous Japanese cartoon but directed and acted by a largely Hong Kong cast and crew, gives it a certain cross-cultural allure that invigorates its tightly restrictive genre. But mostly this is pallid, teched-up mush, as visually flat as a video game, and the battery of Asian hip-hop sounds and double-screen high jinks don't obscure the paternalism, reactionary politics, and crude misogyny. In Cantonese with subtitles. 109 min. (SK) a Landmark, 11:30 PM

Saturday, October 15

Shorts: Personal Revelations

A 102-minute program of short works from Canada, France, New Zealand, the UK, and the U.S. a River East, 1:30 PM

Bang Bang Orangutang

See listing under Friday, October 14. a Landmark, 1:30 PM

Grain in Ear

R See listing under Friday, October 14. a Landmark, 1:45 PM

Night of the Living Dorks

See listing under Friday, October 14. a River East, 2 PM

Initial D

See listing under Friday, October 14. a Landmark, 2 PM

I Am a Sex Addict

See listing under Friday, October 14. a River East, 2:15 PM

Guernsey

See listing under Friday, October 14. a Landmark, 2:30 PM

Look Both Ways

R Death comes ripping in this novel debut feature by Melbourne animator Sarah Watt, who integrates live-action drama with an endless array of kinetic, hand-drawn fantasies. Beset by fearful visions, a bohemian artist (Justine Clarke) witnesses a man being killed by a train, an event with profound repercussions not only for her but the guilt-ridden engineer, the victim's shell-shocked wife, and a callous tabloid reporter and his coworker (William McInnes), a photographer who's just discovered he has terminal cancer. Watt's script is a bit overstuffed, and by the end the roiling animated sequences (drawn by Emma Kelly and inked by Watt and Clare Callinan) are wearing out their welcome. But the convincing characters and hearty examination of mortality make this fresh and oddly uplifting. 100 min. (JJ) a River East, 4 PM

The Glamorous Life of Sachiko Hanai

The title heroine of Mitsuru Meike's feature is a prostitute who serves kinky tastes, gets shot in the head, has a mysterious object slipped into her handbag, discovers that she suddenly understands several foreign languages, and becomes the focus of international attention. In Japanese with subtitles. 90 min. a Landmark, 4 PM

Shorts: Animation Nations

Thirteen animated shorts from Australia, Canada, Russia, Spain, Sweden, the UK, and the U.S. 113 min. a River East, 4:15 PM

On the One

A Los Angeles rap star returns to his roots in Harlem and encourages teenagers to join the choir at his twin brother's church. Directed by Charles Randolph-Wright. 100 min. a Landmark, 4:15 PM

Animal

A visually flashy but otherwise flat-footed directing debut by screenwriter Roselyne Bosch (1492: Conquest of Paradise), set in an unspecified, vaguely futuristic Euroland. The title refers to our beastly human selves, and the Jekyll-Hyde story centers on a young scientist (Andreas Wilson, robbed by a lisping accent of the charisma he displayed in the 2003 Swedish hit Evil) who believes that man's inherently predatory nature can be eradicated through neurobiological mumbo jumbo. To prove his point, he inoculates a superstar serial killer with behavior-altering serums that reduce the once-fearsome psychopath to a blubbering, conscience-stricken girly man. Then the fledgling Faust attempts to enhance his own nerdy self with booster shots of aggressiveness. Strained and sometimes silly, Animal could have used a massive injection of the miracle drug irony. 102 min. (MR) a Landmark, 4:30 PM

The Devil's Miner

R See listing under Friday, October 14. a River East, 4:45 PM

Addictions and Subtractions

R From Colombia comes this taut 2004 thriller that explores the insidious nature of the country's drug culture. In 1980s Medellin a struggling real estate developer named Santiago needs cash fast, so he's happy to meet Gerardo, an ambitious new client who, in a show of good faith, promptly writes a big check. Trouble is, Gerardo's a loose cannon too fond of his own product, cocaine targeted for export. Santiago's own increasing drug dependency blinds him to how enmeshed he's become in his client's business. Director Victor Gaviria opts for naturalism over lurid violence, and his convincing narrative derives further power from the casting of talented, average-looking nonprofessionals. In Spanish with subtitles. 108 min. (AG) a Landmark, 4:45 PM

Bee Season

Gifted filmmakers Scott McGehee and David Siegel have directed three features over a dozen years: the unsettling Suture (1993), the less experimental but disturbing The Deep End (2001), and now Bee Season, based on the well-reviewed novel of the same name about a dysfunctional family--the father's a demanding professor of religious studies whose tight grip on the family induces the mother's fetishistic stealing and the son's attraction to a cult. The directors exercise their stylistic flourishes mainly in the imaginative sequences depicting the young daughter's trancelike state while she conjures up the correct orthography in the spelling bees her father's determined she must win, and while the film observes the same heartbreaking obsessiveness as the popular Spellbound, it has none of that documentary's cuteness. The parents, though physically unattractive in the novel, are incarnated by Richard Gere and Juliette Binoche. 104 min. (MB) a River East, 6:30 PM

Le courage d'aimer

This hopelessly convoluted romantic drama is contrived even by the standards of its director, Claude Lelouch, who long ago traded the intimacy of small-scale love stories (such as his Oscar-winning 1966 A Man and a Woman) for big-budget schmaltz. The erratic flow of the narrative may be the consequence of his decision to edit together two stand-alone stories about six love affairs, which crisscross in a Paris so antiseptically postcard perfect even its homeless are photogenic. The central relationship between two singers (one talented, the other not) justifies the inclusion of many vapid pop songs and an overly lush score by Lelouch mainstay Francis Lai. In French with subtitles. 103 min. (AG) a Landmark, 6:30 PM

The Unseen

See listing under Friday, October 14. a River East, 6:45 PM

Magic Mirror

R See listing under Friday, October 14. a Landmark, 6:45 PM

The Boys of Baraka

R In 2002, 20 black seventh graders from Baltimore's inner city, many of them from troubled homes, were sent to Baraka, an experimental boarding school in Kenya. Filmmakers Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady spent three years following four of them, and the resulting documentary is sensitive, intelligent, enlightening, and sometimes surprising. Ewing and Grady give us a nuanced sense of these boys' options, and it's typical of their attention to detail that during a long-distance phone call cameras in Baraka and Baltimore record both sides of the conversation. 85 min. (JR) a River East, 7 PM

Low Profile

See listing under Friday, October 14. a Landmark, 7 PM

Behind the Mirror

Writer-director Rajkumar Bhan follows a boy who lives in Bombay but is sent to stay temporarily with his father's mother in the country. Unfamiliar with the slower pace of rural living, the boy quickly bonds with his grandmother and a painter who encourages him to draw, and it's soon apparent that, like his late grandfather, he's a talented artist. In a direct and unfettered style, Bhan contrasts the chaos and alienation of the city with the warmth and tranquillity of the country and stresses the importance of family and tradition. At times his approach seems overly simplistic, but it's also utterly sincere. With Sulabha Deshpande and Omkar Lele. In Hindi with subtitles. 88 min. (JK) a Landmark, 7:15 PM

The Fever

Nice-guy hero Mario manfully embarks on a dreaded government career to finance the nightclub he dreams of opening with friends. His cheery helpfulness arouses only vindictive envy--the fever of the title--in his boss, who implicates him in a political scam involving a dug-up cemetery. But Alessandro D'Alatri's gently incisive satire of government bureaucracy is balanced by an equally jaundiced view of entrepreneurial initiative, as Mario's fair-weather business partners jump ship. Set in the spectacular heart of Cremona, this joyfully sneaky film posits a clear-cut opposition between bourgeois conformity and youthful aspirations only to take delightfully unexpected detours as Mario's love affair with a gorgeous grad student-cum-go-go dancer improbably blossoms over the graveyard of civic corruption. In Italian with subtitles. 108 min. (RS) a River East, 9 PM

Constellation

The members of an extended family, reunited in the deep south for the funeral of the matriarch, confront racial and sexual issues and the legacy of the older generation. Directed by Jordan Walker-Pearlman; with Gabrielle Union, Billy Dee Williams, Daniel Bess, and David Clennon. 105 min. a River East, 9 PM

Cache

This brilliant if unpleasant puzzle without a solution about surveillance and various kinds of denial finds writer-director Michael Haneke near the top of his game, though it's not a game everyone will want to play. The brittle host of a TV book-chat show (Daniel Auteuil) and his unhappy wife (Juliette Binoche) start getting strange videos that track their comings and goings outside their Paris home. Once the husband traces the videos to an Algerian he abused when they both were kids, things only get more tense, troubled, and unresolved. Haneke is so punitive toward the couple and his audience that I periodically rebelled against--or went into denial about--his rage, and I guess that's part of the plan. In French with subtitles. R, 117 min. (JR) a Landmark, 9 PM

October 17, 1961

The title of Alain Tasma's earnest if occasionally creaky drama refers to one of the most traumatic--and scandalously overlooked--atrocities in France since World War II. A peaceful demonstration, organized by the Front de Liberation Nationale to protest a curfew imposed on Algerian Muslims living in Paris, culminated in a police riot during which countless demonstrators were beaten and anywhere from 48 to 200 were killed. Tasma astutely chronicles the activities of the state and its police accomplices and of the Algerian militants and French leftist fellow travelers battling the status quo. Though well acted and competently directed, this is a rather cautious docudrama that relies on stock melodramatic contrivances. Viewers who want a more comprehensive account of these events should seek out Philip Brooks and Alan Hayling's 1992 documentary Drowning by Bullets. In French with subtitles. 106 min. (RMP) a River East, 9:15 PM

Black Brush

R The first feature of Roland Vranik, assistant director on Bela Tarr's elusive masterpiece Werckmeister Harmonies, is a black-and-white absurdist comedy that plays like a bad drug-induced dream. The four principal characters work as chimney sweeps in Budapest, mostly because the job gives them lots of time to get high and plot get-rich-quick schemes, and they lurch from one disaster to the next like somnambulists. A strong first film, immensely popular in Hungary, with a tight minimalist script by Vranik and Gergely Poharnok. In Hungarian with subtitles. 80 min. (JK) a Landmark, 9:15 PM

The Matador

Recently bounced by the Bond franchise, Pierce Brosnan tweaks his old alter ego and becomes a burned-out international assassin who crosses paths with a struggling Denver yuppie (Greg Kinnear) down Mexico City way. The engaging first act channels Strangers on a Train, with the dangerously charming Brosnan playing Bruno to Kinnear's square but susceptible Guy. But rather than sticking to Patricia Highsmith country, writer-director Richard Shepard descends to the lower, safer road of schmuck-and-schlub buddy comedies like Planes, Trains & Automobiles and Analyze This. If he'd gone a few notches darker and deeper he might have had a formidable post-cold war thriller. Still, there's much to enjoy in Brosnan's enthusiastic scruffing up of his Bond/Steele image and in Shepard's energetic, if lightweight, direction. 97 min. (MR) a Landmark, 9:15 PM

Too Much Romance . . . It's Time for Stuffed Peppers

Sophia Loren and F. Murray Abraham costar in a Lina Wertmuller comedy about a dysfunctional family's reunion. In Italian with subtitles. 104 min. a Landmark, 9:30 PM

Night of the Living Dorks

See listing under Friday, October 14. a River East, 11:30 PM

Feast

See listing under Friday, October 14. a River East, 11:30 PM

The Glamorous Life of Sachiko Hanai

See listing this date above. a Landmark, 11:30 PM

Sunday, October 16

The Unseen

See listing under Friday, October 14. a River East, 1:30 PM

The Fever

See listing under Saturday, October 15. a River East, 1:30 PM

Low Profile

See listing under Friday, October 14. a Landmark, 1:30 PM

The Boys of Baraka

R See listing under Saturday, October 15. a River East,

1:45 PM

Initial D

See listing under Friday, October 14. a Landmark, 1:45 PM

Black Brush

R See listing under Saturday, October 15. a Landmark, 1:45 PM

Magic Mirror

R See listing under Friday, October 14. a Landmark, 2 PM

October 17, 1961

See listing under Saturday, October 15. a River East, 3:45 PM

Le courage d'aimer

See listing under Saturday, October 15. a Landmark, 3:45 PM

Constellation

See listing under Saturday, October 15. a River East, 4 PM

Brick

R See listing under Friday, October 14. a Landmark, 4 PM

Shorts: Personal Revelations

See listing under Saturday, October 15. a River East, 4:15 PM

Too Much Romance . . . It's Time for Stuffed Peppers

See listing under Saturday, October 15. a Landmark, 4:15 PM

Behind the Mirror

See listing under Saturday, October 15. a Landmark, 5 PM

The Devil's Miner

R See listing under Friday, October 14. a River East, 6:15 PM

After Innocence

Like Katy Chevigny and Kirsten Johnson's Deadline (2004), which examined Illinois governor George Ryan's mass commutation of death sentences, this video documentary by Jessica Sanders shows that America's criminal justice system may be more criminal than just. She profiles more than a dozen men who've been exonerated by DNA evidence after serving years, even decades, for crimes they didn't commit. (Since the late 80s, more than 150 convictions have been overturned on the basis of DNA tests.) Compounding these injustices is the fact that only 19 states offer compensation to the wrongly convicted; in many cases the released prisoners can't even get their records expunged, and their neighbors still view them as ex-cons. 95 min. (JJ) a Landmark, 6:15 PM

Look Both Ways

R See listing under Saturday, October 15. a River East, 6:30 PM

Animal

See listing under Saturday, October 15. a Landmark, 6:30 PM

In Memory of My Father

Christopher Jaymes directed and stars in this American independent black comedy about a young filmmaker who grants the wish of his dying father by filming him, while his older brothers (Jeremy Sisto and Matt Keeslar) explore their own sexual issues and take drugs. 96 min.

a River East, 6:45 PM

Poet of the Wastes

Technical problems prevented me from viewing all of this charming first feature by Mohammad Ahmadi, written and produced by the great Mohsen Makhmalbaf (Salaam Cinema). But I saw enough to know that the festival's claim that the film intends "to steer absolutely clear of political commentary" is inaccurate--an Iranian friend reports that even the script had problems with the censors. This is a satirical comedy about a hapless young garbage collector and two of the people on his route--a poet he wants to emulate and a woman he has a crush on--and it comments on questionable civil service exams and Iran's high rate of unemployment. In Farsi with subtitles. 81 min. (JR)

a Landmark, 6:45 PM

Pale Eyes

In the first half of Jerome Bonnell's accomplished if uneven drama Fanny, a mentally unbalanced Frenchwoman in her 30s (Nathalie Boutefeu, in a sublimely detailed performance), lives in a room in her married brother's house, playing classical music to quiet the voices inside her head. In the much calmer second half of the film she flees in her brother's car after discovering that her sister-in-law's having an affair, driving to Germany to search for her long-dead father's grave and eventually finding solace with a man she meets there (Lars Rudolph, in a nicely understated performance). Bonnell doggedly tracks Fanny's meanderings in numerous long shots, depicting her as both a naive child trapped in a woman's body and as an adult who can't quite exit childhood. In French with subtitles. 87 min. (JK) a Landmark, 7 PM

The Puffy Chair

Jay Duplass directed this slight but engaging road movie about a couple, Josh and Emily (Mark Duplass, who also wrote the script, and Kathryn Aselton), trying to jump-start their stagnant relationship while transporting the used armchair Josh has bought as a surprise birthday gift for his father. Their romantic rekindling is threatened by a series of mishaps and diversions, including the appearance of Josh's brother, a blissfully untroubled slacker (Rhett Wilkins). The movie may not amount to much, but the genial tone and exceptionally good performances from the three leads make for a winning debut by the Duplass brothers. 84 min. (RP) a River East, 8:30 PM

Guernsey

See listing under Friday, October 14. a Landmark, 8:30 PM

The Trouble With Dee Dee

Lisa Ann Walter plays the title character, a daffy, foulmouthed socialite who spends her days purchasing odd stuff for favorite charities and taking photos of herself accomplishing items on her "to-do-in-life" list. Dee Dee's whimsical lifestyle comes to a screeching halt when her wealthy father (Kurtwood Smith) cuts the purse strings, forcing her to rely on her moxie. Second City alumnus Mike Meiners wrote and directed this good-natured comedy, which leans heavily on Walter's high-voltage performance to compensate for some pretty thin and predictable material. Shot in Chicago and Wilmette, the movie features plenty of local actors, including Jeff Clampitt, Mason Gamble, and Ora Jones. 81 min. (RP) a River East, 8:45 PM

Unknown White Male

R The extraordinary subject and the filmmaker's near total access make for a singular documentary. Rupert Murray turned his camera on close friend Douglas Bruce, a well-heeled British stockbroker turned photographer who one night left his Manhattan loft only to resurface on Coney Island having lost his memory. He's suffering from a rare form of retrograde amnesia, and though his intellect remains intact, he has to relearn skills and reenter long-standing relationships with family and friends: absolutely everything he encounters is new. It's as though he's stepped into a parallel universe, not so much rebuilding his life but becoming a different person in the same skin--and our empathy and fascination grow as he finds his way. 88 min. (AG) a Landmark, 8:45 PM

I Am a Sex Addict

See listing under Friday, October 14. a River East, 9 PM

The Hidden Blade

R The cataclysmic upheavals Japan underwent when forced to open its doors to the West in the late 19th century inform this quietly stirring 2004 tale of a lower-caste samurai at loose ends. Befuddled by the unwieldy new firearms he must adopt, Munezo (Masatoshi Nagase) also faces pressure from his clan to marry. But his heart belongs to the former maidservant he rescues from an abusive marriage, and as she settles again into his household, tongues wag. A threat arises from another corner when a renegade samurai escapes from prison. Director Yoji Yamada (The Twilight Samurai) is more concerned with internal battles than swordplay, and the relative absence of violence makes the climactic duel all the more powerful. In Japanese with subtitles. 132 min. (AG) a Landmark, 9 PM

Additions and Subtractions

R See listing under Saturday, October 15. a Landmark, 9:15 PM

Monday, October 17

In Memory of My Father

See listing under Sunday, October 16. a River East, 4 PM

Pale Eyes

See listing under Sunday, October 16. a Landmark, 4:45 PM

Play

R Chilean writer-director Alicia Scherson, who won the Tribeca film festival's "new narrative filmmaker" award, went to college in Chicago but shot this delightfully fresh first feature in Santiago. She's remarkably inventive, with a surrealist eye and a sense of rhythm in her editing. Her film starts with boldly styled opening credits over exciting street photography, and it goes on to explore alternative lifestyles, cutting between a wealthy man who's lost in swift succession his wife, his job, and his briefcase, and a live-in nursemaid from the sticks who finds the briefcase shortly before losing her ailing patient. In Spanish with subtitles. 105 min. (JR) a River East, 6:15 PM

Once You're Born You Can No Longer Hide

Writer-director Marco Tullio Giordana's follow-up to his 2003 The Best of Youth concerns a well-to-do 12-year-old boy rescued from an accident on his parents' yacht by immigrants bound for Italy. In Italian with subtitles. 115 min. a Landmark, 6:15 PM

Housewarming

Carole Bouquet brings a lot of verve to her part as a successful lawyer, single mother, and illegal-alien activist whose liberal convictions are tested when she hires a team of immigrants without papers to renovate the second floor of her apartment and they wreck it. This farce (the original title is Travaux) is limited mainly to variations on a single premise, apart from a few fantasy interludes that work only fitfully (such as Bouquet's impromptu dance steps, which seem to stand in for her legal maneuvers). But at least the premise is a good one, and writer-director Brigitte Rouan manages to sustain her light touch through all the broad turns of her secondary cast. In French with subtitles. 90 min. (JR) a River East, 6:30 PM

Nordeste

R Juan Solanas's first feature tackles the same topic as John Sayles's Casa de los Babys--first-world ladies hungry for third-world babies--but from a tougher, less gringocentric perspective. A maternally unfulfilled French businesswoman (the excellent Carole Bouquet), distraught when a Buenos Aires adoption goes sour, heads for the northern Argentine outland, the hub of a thriving child-trafficking trade. There she befriends a peasant woman and her 13-year-old son, whose desperate lives counterpoint their well-meaning visitor's. Solanas is also credited as director of photography, and the heart of the film is the subtle rapport between the actors and the unobtrusive handheld camera. His understated approach risks dulling the film's political edge, but his avoidance of easy judgments and neat resolutions gives it an engaging openness. In Spanish and French with subtitles. 104 min. (MR) a Landmark, 6:30 PM

October 17, 1961

See listing under Saturday, October 15. a River East, 6:45 PM

Animal

See listing under Saturday, October 15. a Landmark, 6:45 PM

After Innocence

See listing under Sunday, October 16. a Landmark, 7 PM

Constellation

See listing under Saturday, October 15. a River East, 8:30 PM

Linda & Ali: Two Worlds

Within Four Walls

Halfway through this compelling video documentary by Belgian filmmaker Lut Vandekeybus the American-born Linda--who married Ali 20 years ago, converted to Islam, moved to Qatar, and had seven children--discusses her abiding love for her adopted culture with a group of women. Vandekeybus teases out some of the personal motives for her conversion--she reveals that she was just 14 when she became disenchanted with Catholicism and turned to the teachings of Muhammad--but it remains largely a mysterious act of courage as well as faith. He does balance her steadfast idealism with glimpses of the tensions that exist between her and her husband, the result of cultural differences that clearly will never entirely disappear. In English and subtitled Arabic. 94 min. (JK) a River East, 8:45 PM

Le courage d'aimer

See listing under Saturday, October 15. a Landmark, 8:45 PM

Devils on the Doorstep

R A Grand Prix winner at Cannes, this darkly comic antiwar film (2000) is masterfully directed by actor Wen Jiang (Red Sorghum), who stars as a hapless peasant in 1944 China. His coastal village is occupied by the Japanese, and he's terrified when a mysterious stranger orders him at gunpoint to hide and interrogate a foulmouthed Japanese POW (Teruyuki Kagawa) and his Chinese translator. Much of the comedy derives from the interpreter's deliberate mistranslations, but the humor takes a macabre turn when the villagers decide their secret guests have outstayed their welcome. As the war winds down, an attempted rapprochement between occupied and occupiers leads to a shocking conclusion, searing in its irony. In Mandarin and Japanese with subtitles. 139 min. (AG) a Landmark, 9 PM

Manderlay

R Lars von Trier is back, so to speak--he's never visited the States, which makes his snide anti-American allegories even more infuriating to some. This Danish feature picks up where his brilliant Dogville left off, with the young heroine (Bryce Dallas Howard, replacing Nicole Kidman) and her gangster father (Willem Dafoe, no substitute for James Caan) driving across the Depression-era U.S. in a heavily fortified auto caravan. After they stumble on an Alabama plantation where blacks are still held as slaves, the daughter uses daddy's muscle to free them, then installs herself as a Great White Mother bringing the fruits of democracy. The stage-play artifice--black backdrops, floor markings, minimal sets and props--has less impact the second time around, and Manderlay's former slaves aren't characterized as forcefully as Dogville's townspeople were. But the story holds up well enough to deliver a pointed critique of establishing self-rule at gunpoint. With Isaach de Bankole, Danny Glover, and Lauren Bacall. 139 min. (JJ) Landmark, 9 PM

Shorts: Animation Nations

See listing under Saturday, October 15. a River East, 9:15 PM

Be With Me

R There's little dialogue in most of this absorbing biography-drama hybrid by Singapore filmmaker Eric Khoo. It has three intersecting fictional story lines--a shopkeeper is haunted by his wife's ghost, a security guard spends hours alone, sometimes stalking a glamorous executive who works in the building, and a teenager finds first love through an Internet chat room--and these characters' silence reflects their apartness. Significantly, the words of the real-life protagonist, Theresa Chan, a deaf, formerly mute memoirist who learned to speak English and read braille on a U.S. scholarship, link them as they confront their loneliness. This elliptical, poetic movie is filled with yearning, humor, and warmth. In English and subtitled Mandarin, Cantonese, and Hokkien. 90 min. (AG) a Landmark, 9:15 PM

Tuesday, October 18

Linda & Ali: Two Worlds Within Four Walls

See listing under Monday, October 17. a River East, 4 PM

The Puffy Chair

See listing under Sunday, October 16. a River East, 4:30 PM

Poet of the Wastes

See listing under Sunday, October 16. a Landmark, 4:30 PM

Be With Me

R See listing under Monday, October 17. a Landmark, 4:45 PM

In Memory of My Father

See listing under Sunday, October 16. a River East, 6:15 PM

The Trouble With Dee Dee

See listing under Sunday, October 16. a River East, 6:30 PM

Lola Montes

R A baroque masterpiece by Max Ophuls, his last film (1955) and his only work in color and wide-screen. The producers were expecting a routine melodrama with Martine Carol (a bland French star of the period); when they saw what Ophuls had made--with its exquisite stylization, elaborate flashbacks, and infinite subtlety--they cut it to ribbons. The film was restored in the 60s and impressed some critics, including Andrew Sarris, as "the greatest film ever made," and certainly this story of a courtesan's life is among the most emotionally plangent, visually ravishing works the cinema has to offer. With Peter Ustinov, Anton Walbrook, Ivan Desny, and Oskar Werner. In French and German with subtitles. 110 min. (DK) This is Michael Wilmington's selection for the festival's Critic's Choice category. a Landmark, 6:30 PM

Once You're Born You Can No Longer Hide

See listing under Monday, October 17. a Landmark, 6:30 PM

A Year Without Love

Anahi Bemeri's feature explores the gay S-M scene in Argentina through the journals of a poet, French teacher, and AIDS patient who's based on the film's cowriter, Pablo Perez. In Spanish with subtitles. 95 min. a River East, 6:45 PM

Pale Eyes

See listing under Sunday, October 16. a Landmark, 6:45 PM

Cold Showers

Judo rarely figures in serious movies, but together the martial arts are the third most popular sport in France, according to director Antony Cordier, an enthusiast. His working-class hero, Mickael (first-time actor Johan Libereau), is a high school competitor challenged to drop weight quickly so that he can replace a smaller, injured teammate in an important tournament. Sacrifice isn't new to Mickael, as his bohemian parents are always scrimping, but he faces distractions. The biggest is the sexy girlfriend (Salome Stevenin) he edges into a three-way with a rich pal, in a scene pretentiously choreographed as if it were a judo match. Struggle and self-knowledge are the themes here, but we realize long before Mickael does that much of his suffering is self-inflicted. In French with subtitles. 100 min. (AG) a Landmark, 7 PM

The Boys of Baraka

R See listing under Saturday, October 15. a River East, 8:30 PM

Play

R See listing under Monday, October 17. a River East, 8:45 PM

Innocence

Sure to spark controversy, Lucile Hadzihalilovic's feature debut, based on Frank Wedekind's disturbing turn-of-the-century novel, depicts an isolated pastoral enclave inhabited by prepubescent girls. In an atmosphere of vague unease and lingering enigmas, the girls, divided by age and color-coded by hair ribbons, take care of one another, the only adults in attendance being two women who teach ballet and biology. Groomed for some mysterious, unspoken purpose, the older girls are summoned at night for special "lessons." The community is introduced through the eyes of a six-year-old who arrives in a coffin via watery underground passages. Hadzihalilovic, the wife of cinematic agent provocateur Gaspar Noe and his sometime collaborator, has created a work of limpid beauty and eerie menace that some undoubtedly will dismiss as kiddie porn. In French with sutbtitles. 115 min. (RS) a Landmark, 8:45 PM

Stoned

The 1969 drowning death of Rolling Stones founder Brian Jones has long been the most mysterious of 60s rock-star flameouts, and this UK drama by Stephen Woolley, a longtime producer for Neil Jordan making his directing debut, presents a fairly convincing version of what might have happened. Leo Gregory plays Jones as a psychedelic Pan, resplendent in jodhpurs and feather boas and banging every woman in sight (especially head turning: a Nazi-gear S-M session between Jones and Anita Pallenberg). Paddy Considine (In America) costars as Frank Thorogood, a construction supervisor at Jones's palatial home who's drawn into the licentiousness and develops a crippling envy of his famous party pal. Produced by Finola Dwyer, who also did the Beatles biopic Backbeat, this is of interest mostly to rock fans, though there are no genuine Stones tracks. 102 min. (JJ) River East, 9 PM

Cache

See listing under Saturday, October 15. a Landmark, 9 PM

Too Much Romance . . . It's Time for Stuffed Peppers

See listing under Saturday, October 15. a Landmark, 9:15 PM

April Snow

This story of two attractive young South Koreans who fall for each other after discovering their spouses have had an affair inevitably brings to mind Wong Kar-wai's In the Mood for Love. But comparisons will be favorable only if you're a fan of rising Seoul cinema star Bae Yong-joon (Untold Scandal), who plays a concert-lighting director called away to the remote town where his wife and her lover lie comatose after a car crash. He's thrown together with the wife (Son Ye-jin) of the lover, and what begins as a strained acknowledgment of each other soon blooms into mutual appreciation. Unfortunately, little in this leisurely paced drama is compelling beyond the skill and cosmetic appeal of its leads. Directed by Hur Jin-ho. In Korean with subtitles. 105 min. (AG) a Landmark, 9:15 PM

Wednesday, October 19

Devils on the Doorstep

R See listing under Monday, October 17. a Landmark, 4 PM

April Snow

See listing under Tuesday, October 18. a Landmark, 4:15 PM

Linda & Ali: Two Worlds Within Four Walls

See listing under Monday, October 17. a River East, 6:30 PM

The Hidden Blade

R See listing under Sunday, October 16. a Landmark, 6:30 PM

Poet of the Wastes

See listing under Sunday, October 16. a River East, 6:45 PM

Be With Me

R See listing under Monday, October 17. a Landmark, 6:45 PM

Housewarming

See listing under Monday, October 17. a Landmark, 6:45 PM

Play

R See listing under Monday, October 17. a River East, 7 PM

The Fever

See listing under Saturday, October 15. a Landmark, 7 PM

The Trouble With Dee Dee

See listing under Sunday, October 16. a River East, 8:45 PM

Cold Showers

See listing under Tuesday, October 18. a Landmark, 8:45 PM

The Puffy Chair

See listing under Sunday, October 16. a River East, 9 PM

Manderlay

R See listing under Monday, October 17. a Landmark, 9 PM

Stoned

See listing under Tuesday, October 18. a River East, 9:15 PM

Once You're Born You Can No Longer Hide

See listing under Monday, October 17. a Landmark, 9:15 PM

Nordeste

R See listing under Monday, October 17. a Landmark, 9:30 PM

Thursday, October 20

Housewarming

See listing under Monday, October 17. a Landmark, 4:30 PM

Nordeste

R See listing under Monday, October 17. a Landmark, 4:45 PM

Shorts: Animation Nations

See listing under Saturday, October 15. a River East, 6:30 PM

Cold Showers

See listing under Tuesday, October 18. a Landmark, 6:30 PM

Additions and Subtractions

R See listing under Saturday, October 15. a River East, 6:45 PM

April Snow

See listing under Tuesday, October 18. a Landmark, 6:45 PM

Stoned

See listing under Tuesday, October 18. a River East, 7 PM

Devils on the Doorstep

R See listing under Monday, October 17. a Landmark, 7 PM

The Weather Man

R Nicolas Cage isn't a meteorologist, but he plays one on local TV, a dishonorable act that makes him a cosmic magnet for drinks thrown from passing vehicles. His wife (Hope Davis) has divorced him, and his daughter is unhappily obese. But the bitch goddess of big money and national stardom beckons when a network morning show begins courting him. Cage's character is too much of a loser to be interesting for long, but Michael Caine is magnificent as his troubled and acerbic father, a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet who correctly sees the son's unearned privilege as the root of his emotional difficulties. Written by Steve Conrad, this is the smartest script director Gore Verbinski has ever had, and he makes the most of it, aided by a strong cast. 102 min. (JJ) a Harris Theater, 7 PM

A Year Without Love

See listing under Tuesday, October 18. a Landmark, 7:15 PM

WHERE: River East 21 (322 E. Illinois), Landmark's Century Centre (2828 N. Clark), Harris Theater for Music and Dance (205 E. Randolph)

PRICE: $11 after 5 PM ($8 for Cinema/Chicago members), $6 weekday matinees (before 5 PM). Passes for multiple screenings also available. Special presentations, which include "Critic's Choice" and eight other programs, are $15 ($12 for Cinema/Chicago members).

ADVANCE SALES: Cinema/Chicago, 30 E. Adams, suite 800; Borders, 2817 N. Clark and 830 N. Michigan. By fax: 312-683-0122. By phone: 312-332-3456; Ticketmaster, 312-902-1500.

INFO: 312-332-3456 or chicagofilmfestival.com

LISTINGS ONLINE: chicagoreader.com

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