comment

Film Capital of the Week

Being a second rate movie town has its advantages.

By Jonathan Rosenbaum

Heaven knows what possessed the Chicago International Film Festival to adopt "Film capital of the world" as its slogan this year, but considering some of the movies that played in New York and Los Angeles recently and never made it here, it's more than a stretch. Among the remarkable films they could see and we couldn't were the subtitled, not the dubbed, version of Hayao Miyazaki's Howl's Moving Castle (2004), Abbas Kiarostami's Five (2003), Hou Hsiao-hsien's Cafe Lumiere (2003), and several 2005 films, including Tickets (with 40-minute episodes by Kiarostami, Ken Loach, and Ermanno Olmi), Hou's Three Times, Alexander Sokurov's The Sun, and Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne's L'enfant. Of course even if you lived in New York or LA you might not have heard about them, because the industry, which assumes no one's interested in such films, kept their profiles so low.

Plenty of what the industry thinks we should be interested in was on display a month ago at the 30th Toronto International Film Festival. More than ever before the industry reps casually took over the city as they previewed their latest "indie" and "art"--as opposed to mainstream--product.

American journalists these days are showing more compassion for ordinary people in dire straits, but the main headline on the Toronto-based National Post on September 15--"Ottawa's Afghan Warning: Bill Graham expected to tell nation troops will die"--was overshadowed by a huge glamour shot captioned "Cameron Diaz Snaps at Photographers." On the front page of the same edition's film-festival section was the story "Modine a casualty of the red carpet: Actor pays price for wearing open-toed shoes."

The tale about Matthew Modine's foot being stepped on by someone in high heels ended with "Read into this what you may: Modine has been in town for the screening of his new one, the not-so-serious and acquired-taste film Mary. He plays Jesus." Having seen Mary--an exceptionally serious film that won't be coming here anytime soon, if at all, even though it won the special jury prize at Venice--I suddenly found myself wanting to defend it. Abel Ferrara's film is indeed difficult and disjointed, but it also has many powerful elements, including bold ideas about religion and fine performances by Forest Whitaker, Juliette Binoche, and Modine, as a writer-director playing Jesus in his own film.

All the same, Toronto is by common consensus the site of the most important film festival in North America, having bypassed Sundance as a marketing tool of the studios, though still trailing far behind Cannes in terms of prestige. With a bit of goodwill, Chicago's festival might qualify our city as the "film capital of the midwest." The studios' lack of interest in this event may be a blessing, because we're not being bullied by celebrity journalism and advertising for a few favored films and can make our own choices.

I have to applaud the festival's faithfulness in sticking with certain filmmakers year after year, even when nobody else likes them (Claude Lelouch, Lina Wertmuller) or when they run off the rails (Tsai Ming-liang, with this year's The Wayward Cloud). I'm not sure if this is a critical position--the New York film festival does the same thing with Lars von Trier--but it's a likable one. The Chicago festival did miss Manoel de Oliveira's last feature, O Quinto Imperio (2004), but it's been showing his work with such devoted regularity for so long that the 96-year-old Portuguese master said he might turn up here this year. Whether or not he makes it, the festival deserves our gratitude for championing him--and for screening such exceptional films as The Squid and the Whale, The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, Play, and The Boys of Baraka.

Screenings this year are being held through October 20. Many directors and a few actors are scheduled to appear at screenings of their films. Check the festival Web site for up-to-date information.

Week One

R = Highly Recommended

Friday, October 7

Learning to Swallow

R For years Patsy Desmond, subject of a January Reader cover story, was an enfant terrible of the Chicago boho art scene, semilegendary for her outrageous antics. She was also bipolar and drank and did drugs--and during a paranoid delusional moment tried to commit suicide by chugging drain cleaner. In her first feature veteran PBS documentarian Danielle Beverly picks up Desmond's story after she moves to Florida to recuperate and try to put the pieces of her life back together. She then follows Desmond for several years, showing her traveling to Boston for a marathon surgical procedure that could restore her ability to swallow but doesn't and eventually moving back to Chicago, where she continues her battle with substance abuse and alcoholism while reconnecting with old friends and triumphantly exhibiting some of her photographs. 89 min. (JK) a River East, 6:30 PM

My Grandmother's House

Set in a Spanish industrial town, Adan Aliaga's documentary about aging and the relentless march of progress is vigorous and witty and never drifts toward the maudlin. Marita, a 75-year-old widow who looks after her unruly, precocious six-year-old granddaughter, resists moving when she learns her block is to be razed for a condo development. She finds solace in TV and the company of neighbors, and their lively conversations bounce from the euro to infirmity to theology. Shots are well framed and often humorously juxtaposed, as in a cutaway to a dripping faucet that eloquently conveys Marita's daughter's exasperation with her obstinate mother. In Spanish and Valenciano with subtitles. 78 min. (AG) a Landmark, 6:30 PM

Garpastum

The title of this Russian drama, a Latin word for a ball game that dates back to ancient times, is a reference to a group of buddies who play pickup soccer games for money in hopes of buying a playing field. Alexei Guerman, son of the accomplished Russian filmmaker of the same name, is certainly a talented director, advancing his story in an engaging episodic fashion, even though some of the characters are blandly realized. Because it's set on the eve of World War I, there's the sense that life-altering events are imminent, but nothing much happens besides a senseless act of violence toward the end of the film. Still, cameraman Oleg Lukichov's sepia-toned, deep-focus compositions are gorgeous to look at. With Evgeny Pronin, Danila Kozlovsky, and Chulpan Khamatova. In Russian with subtitles. 116 min. (JK) a River East, 6:45 PM

La moustache

A happy Parisian couple's marriage is endangered when the husband (Vincent Lindon) shaves off his mustache--a simple act that plunges him into a web of deception and paranoia. Incensed that his wife (Emmanuelle Devos) ignores what he's done, he goads her into commenting and is further enraged that she and friends and colleagues insist he never had a mustache. It seems he might be going mad, and things get more surreal when on a whim he flees to Hong Kong. This narrative feature debut by Emmanuel Carrere, based on his own novel, is deliberately open-ended, but however one interprets the outcome, the film reminds us how fragile intimacy is. In French with subtitles. 82 min. (AG) a Landmark, 6:45 PM

Sangre

This first feature by Amat Escalante is about a routine marriage that's disrupted when the husband's daughter by a previous marriage turns up. In Spanish with subtitles. 90 min. a River East, 7 PM

Mrs. Henderson Presents

R Posh meets prole in this period drama elegantly directed by Stephen Frears (Dangerous Liaisons, Prick Up Your Ears). In Depression-era London a headstrong widowed aristocrat (Judi Dench) turns impresario, renovating Soho's vacant Windmill Theatre and hiring an innovative producer (Bob Hoskins) to run it. When their initial success staging musical revues around the clock fades, she hits upon the idea of showcasing working-class lovelies in nude tableaux. Dench crackles as the feisty dowager who finds love and true calling late in life; her bons mots and trenchant ripostes come courtesy of writer Martin Sherman (Bent, The Boy From Oz), who reaches beyond nostalgia to riff on the relationship between commerce and art and on the transcendent power of beauty. 103 min. (AG) a Landmark, 7 PM

The Buried Forest

Kohei Oguri (Muddy River) directed this story about a high school student in a mountain village who starts a storytelling relay with her girlfriends--a narrative game resembling the one Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul used in his first feature, Mysterious Object at Noon. Also on the program, Paul Bush's short While Darwin Sleeps. In Japanese with subtitles. 93 min. (JR) a Landmark, 7:15 PM

Johanna

Directed by Kornel Mundruczo, this Hungarian feature adapts an opera about a modern-day Joan of Arc (Orsi Toth): she starts off as a morphine addict and winds up as a promiscuous nurse who heals through sex. In French with subtitles. 83 min. a Landmark, 8:30 PM

Kissing on the Mouth

This huge, messy blob of a movie by Chicago director Joe Swanberg intentionally wallows in amateur digital verite. Improvised and photographed by its four actors in uncomfortably close, warts-and-all intimacy and filled with uneroticized nudity and sex (genitals exhibited up close and personal in both bathroom and bedroom modes), it almost forces us to ask how much reality is too much. Yet the combination of all-too-corporeal naked human bodies and inchoate ruminations on the nature of relationships ultimately becomes an affirmation of unfetishized flesh that harks back to Warhol and his memorable experiments in cinematic transparency, achieving Swanberg's avowed purpose of "reclaiming images from pornography" and placing them squarely in the realm of the banal. 78 min. (RS) a River East, 8:45 PM

Tuning

Slovene director Igor Sterk's worthy venture into Bergman territory, a stylized contemplation on a disintegrating marriage, makes for heavy sledding, the couple's winsome blond daughters providing the only grace notes of their sterile bourgeois co-dependency. Each partner drifts into infidelity. The husband's surprise encounter with a high school sweetheart awakens long-dead emotions, which soon perish because he doesn't act on them. The wife, given to nightly sobbing jags, essays an affair with a poet via cell phone messaging. Ennui, silence, and stasis weigh heavily as the husband and wife drag their baggage around like dysfunctional tortoises. In Slovene with subtitles. 68 min. (RS) a Landmark, 8:45 PM

It's Not You, It's Me

Juan Taratuto's feature, reportedly the biggest domestic commercial hit in Argentina this year, tracks the woes of a surgeon and disc jockey in Buenos Aires who plans to move to the U.S. to join his girlfriend. When he discovers she's been two-timing him he decides to stay where he is and buy a dog. In Spanish with subtitles. 105 min. a River East, 9 PM

Two Auroras

The 1948 classic Letter From an Unknown Woman inspired this pitch-black melodrama (2004) by Mexico's Jaime Humberto Hermosillo. Maria Rojo plays the elder Aurora, a successful career woman and unwed mother who comes home to Guadalajara to care for her suicidal son. Besotted since her teen years with the young man's father, a world-renowned tenor, and scarred by his abandonment of her, she spends lavishly on a reunion she hopes will help her son and repair her relationship with him. She's so emotionally stunted that her obsession with her son becomes devouring, yet she has no interest in the illegitimate granddaughter named for her. In Spanish with subtitles. 90 min. (AG) a River East, 9:15 PM

The Wayward Cloud

The first Tsai Ming-liang film I've disliked recycles its predecessors' main actors (Lee Kang-sheng, Chen Shiang-chyi), physical elements (water, Taipei), themes (loneliness, alienation), and stylistic tropes (symmetrical compositions, absence of dialogue). It does offer more lavish musical numbers than The Hole, including choreographed Chinese versions of "Sixteen Tons" and "The Wayward Wind," and two key additions are watermelons and hard-core sex, sometimes used in conjunction. Tsai's obvious disgust at the sex is part of what makes the film so unpleasant; he remains a brilliant original, but this is a parody of his gifts. In Mandarin with subtitles. 112 min. (JR) a Landmark, 9:15 PM

The Masseur

In Filipino director Brillante Mendoza's first feature a gay massage-parlor worker has to cope with the death of his father, look after his mother, and manage new clients. In Tagalog and Pampango with subtitles. 76 min. a Landmark, 9:30 PM

The Dark Hours

R Lean, smart, and relentless, this Canadian nail-biter by director Paul Fox recycles familiar plot elements but twists them into a psychological pretzel all its own. An officious psychiatrist (Kate Greenhouse) takes time off from her work at a treatment center for violent sex offenders to relax with her husband and younger sister at a country house, where they're captured and terrorized by an escaped patient (Aidan Devine) who has an ax to grind with the doctor (literally). Sadistic games follow, though screenwriter Wil Zmak focuses mostly on the war of wills between doctor and patient, which is freighted with all manner of secrets. 76 min. (JJ)

a River East, 11:30 PM

P

The object of some controversy as the first Thai movie directed by a Westerner, Paul Spurrier's horror tale about a young bar girl who channels dark spirits is altogether more generic, gorier, and sleazier than the Pang brothers' Bangkok-based chillers, but it hooks neatly into the Asian fascination with nubile young women as portals to the vengeful, primal forces of nature. The first half focuses on the psychology of its Khmer heroine and her slow indoctrination into the infamous glitzy squalor of Thailand's bar scene. The supernatural elements enter slowly, as she calls on paranormal forces to improve her exotic pole dancing and better please her Eurotrash customers. Her murderous impulses soon peak, and the film descends precipitously into a run-of-the-mill gorefest. In Thai with subtitles. 109 min. (RS) a Landmark, 11:30 PM

Saturday, October 8

Garpastum

See listing under Friday, October 7. a River East, 2 PM

The Masseur

See listing under Friday, October 7. a Landmark, 2 PM

Kissing on the Mouth

See listing under Friday, October 7. a River East, 2:15 PM

The Consequences of Love

Holed up in a Swiss-Italian hotel, Titta di Girolamo, the dour protagonist of Paolo Sorrentino's leisurely thriller, seems like the last person on earth to be involved in criminal intrigue. Whether eyeing the hotel's beautiful bartender with stony detachment or fighting bouts of insomnia with grim stoicism, he seems the essence of boring propriety. But we gradually discover that he's a furtive junkie being pursued by members of the underworld. Toni Servillo's portrayal of the chilly Titta is the film's one unassailable asset. Unfortunately Sorrentino's often playful assault on genre conventions is sabotaged by an ostentatious visual style that alludes to the work of such disparate directors as Antonioni and Scorsese but is little more than a bag of empty tricks. In Italian with subtitles. 100 min. (RMP) a Landmark, 2:15 PM

Future Filmmakers

A program of films and videos by Illinois artists under 20 that screened at Columbia College in May. 97 min. a River East, 2:30 PM F

The Buried Forest

See listing under Friday, October 7. a Landmark, 2:30 PM

My Grandmother's House

See listing under Friday, October 7. a Landmark, 3 PM

Shorts: Homegrown

Ten short works by Chicago and other Illinois directors, including some newcomers: Paul Cotter, Bob Blinn, Hannah Dallman, Serena Moy, Wenhwa Ts'ao, Jason Winer, Junko Kajino, Ed M. Koziarski, Josh Hyde, Oliver Hockenhull, and Justin Hayward. 90 min. a River East, 4:15 PM

Everlasting Regret

R Stanley Kwan makes Hong Kong's smartest "women's pictures" and most provocative nostalgia films, so the release of his latest, an adaptation of Wang Anyi's novel tracing the life of a Shanghai beauty queen from the 1940s to the '80s, is automatically a major event. Never a slave to Hollywood's narrative conventions, Kwan privileges mood, ambience, light, and character over storytelling, skirting the obscurities of Shanghai gang warfare and Maoist revolutionary upheaval to bear in on the indomitable Wang Qiyao as she's pulled toward a series of dangerously glamorous men who exemplify the seductive lure of the eras in which they live. The incandescent Sammi Cheng, a Hong Kong diva and light comedy star, is a revelation as Qiyao. In Mandarin with subtitles. 115 min. (SK) a Landmark, 4:15 PM

It's Not You, It's Me

See listing under Friday, October 7. a River East, 4:30 PM

The Wayward Cloud

See listing under Friday, October 7. a Landmark, 4:30 PM

Borderline Lovers

R An intimate documentary portrait of three couples in the former Yugoslavia as they battle the forces trying to separate them. Miroslav Mandic unobtrusively observes his subjects as they go about their daily lives, juggling finances, jobs, children, and danger, and he deftly intercuts their stories--the non-Muslim truck driver and his Muslim girlfriend who live in Mostar but must meet clandestinely to avoid their families' anger, a Catholic woman from Croatia and her Eastern Orthodox boyfriend from Montenegro who for three years have been rendezvousing at the border, and a happily married couple with a young daughter whose families were literally at war with each other several years earlier. In Serbo-Croatian with subtitles. 84 min. (JK) a River East, 4:45 PM

La moustache

See listing under Friday, October 7. a Landmark, 4:45 PM

Tuning

See listing under Friday, October 7. a Landmark, 5:15 PM

Free Zone

This Israeli feature by Amos Gitai opens with a ten-minute close-up of Natalie Portman weeping--a grandstanding scene that was apparently enough to win her a best actress award at the Cannes film festival. Her character, a young New Yorker visiting Tel Aviv, has just broken up with her Israeli boyfriend after hearing of his loathsome actions in a Palestinian refugee camp, and on a whim she accompanies a tough-minded Israeli cabdriver (Hanna Laslo) who's going to Jordan to collect some money owed her disabled husband. Gitai uses fluidly superimposed shots to fill in the story as they make their journey, but the exposition consistently overshadows the action, and despite a provocative climax, the movie settles into a ponderous collection of soliloquies. In English and subtitled Hebrew. 90 min. (JJ) a Landmark, 6:30 PM

Sunflower

Zhang Yang, who's directed several semicommercial films that connected with Chinese audiences, stretches here as he tries to cover the last four decades of Chinese history through the story of one Beijing family. Intergenerational conflict, with paternal authority pitted against youthful freedom, powers the family story. The father is played impressively by Sun Haiying, his son is played unconvincingly by a different young actor in each decade of the story, and Joan Chen appears as a quietly effective if underused mother. This ambitious film offers a fascinating close-grained view of Beijing's disappearing old neighborhoods, but it suffers from a strained melodramatic tone and insufficient structure. In Mandarin with subtitles. 129 min. (SK) a River East, 6:45 PM

Border Cafe

R Iranian director Kambozia Partovi--celebrated screenwriter of The Circle, Deserted Station, and I Am Taraneh, 15--creates a feminist heroine in a less tragic mold in this story of a widow determined to survive on her own. Local custom demands that the recently bereaved Reyhan (Fereshtei Sadre Orafaei) marry her brother-in-law; having no desire to become his second wife, she resists the pressure and reopens the cafe she ran with her husband. Taking in strays and cooking her heart out, she soon attracts a devoted international trucker clientele, stealing business away from her enamored in-law in the process. A well-observed script, faultlessly nuanced acting, and a sharply delineated sociopolitical sense make this film as enjoyable as it is intelligent. In Greek, Farsi, and Turkish with subtitles. 111 min. (RS) a Landmark, 6:45 PM

How to Eat Your Watermelon in White Company (and Enjoy It)

Melvin Van Peebles made his mark on American movies with the angry Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song (1971), whose chaotic production and unexpected commercial success were lovingly chronicled by his son Mario's 2003 drama Baadasssss! But as Joe Angio shows in this lively documentary, Van Peebles also made a name for himself on Broadway in the early 70s with productions such as Ain't Supposed to Die a Natural Death, and later in life he launched a career as a Wall Street trader. This has its narrative lapses (an awful mock-newsreel segment summarizes Van Peebles's early years), but its framing motif--in which he has his head cast in polyurethane for a sculpture and ultimately poses beside it at an exhibition--nicely captures the artist's fierce powers of self-invention (and self-regard). 85 min. (JJ) a River East, 7 PM

The Squid and the Whale

R This big step forward by comic writer-director Noah Baumbach (Kicking and Screaming, Mr. Jealousy) is a tragicomic autobiographical account of the breakup of his parents' marriage. The father (Jeff Daniels) and mother (Laura Linney) are both fiction writers living in Brooklyn, and their determination to remain liberated about sexual matters as they separate and divorce drives their two sons (Jesse Eisenberg and Owen Kline) nuts. The implied critique of progressive, bohemian parenting is devastating--wise and nuanced, with the painful hilarity of truth. With William Baldwin and Anna Paquin. R, 88 min. (JR) a Landmark, 7 PM

Sangre

See listing under Friday, October 7. a River East, 7:15 PM

Net

R Robert Thalheim's comedy drama, in which a down-and-out father reunites with his 15-year-old son after several years, has as much to say about the continuing economic fallout following the merger of east and west Germany as it does about father-son relationships. Milan Peschel gives a complex, engrossing performance as the father, who fantasizes about getting into the security industry after his small electronics repair shop goes under. He's pathetically clueless about even formatting a resume, and roles are reversed as his son coaches him on getting a job. Thalheim peppers his story with indifferent, nearly silent characters who listen as the father rants about Western influences destroying the heart and soul of Germany. Ironically, his idol is a German country-and-western singer whose poster hangs on the wall of his decrepit apartment, and Clint Eastwood becomes his role model he as tries to shake his low self-esteem. With Sebastian Butz. In German with subtitles. 87 min. (JK) a Landmark, 7:15 PM

Summer in Berlin

Nothing much is original in this soggy tale of two German women whose friendship persists despite adversity and their own bad choices. Katrin (Inka Friedrich) is a divorced mother who, though attractive and educated, can't land a job; her best pal, Nike (Nadja Uhl), is a bombshell who labors as a home health-care worker. Nike's most self-destructive tendency is her poor taste in men, soon demonstrated when she enters a romance with a boorish trucker (Andreas Schmidt). But the movie ambles for a full hour before we learn what holds Katrin back, and the revelation feels like it's been tacked on just to give the narrative a much-needed arc. Directed by Andreas Dresen. In German with subtitles. 105 min. (AG) a Landmark, 8:45 PM

Learning to Swallow

R See listing under Friday, October 7. a River East, 9 PM

Carmen in Khayelitsha

This South African rendering of Carmen is only the latest attempt to make Bizet's chestnut more palatable to contemporary audiences. Sung and spoken in Xhosa, Mark Dornford-May's frenetic adaptation features solid performances by the leads (especially Pauline Malefane as Carmen, singing with gusto and carrying her large frame with considerable grace) and a shantytown setting that places this tale of fatal passions in a hardscrabble postapartheid Cape Town. The film is never dull and often rousing, but this is essentially a conventional version of a classic opera--the attempt to transform it into a critique of macho hubris comes off as an afterthought, and the poverty is just a backdrop. With subtitles. 120 min. (RMP) a Landmark, 9 PM

Havoc

From its opening scene, of kids from LA's wealthy Pacific Palisades enclave banging heads with street toughs, the first narrative fiction feature of Oscar-winning documentarian Barbara Kopple (Harlan County, U.S.A.) recycles almost every tired cliche from the urban-teen genre. Anne Hathaway plays a bored high school sex kitten enamored of a white-bread gangsta wannabe, until he's humiliated during a showdown with a Latino drug dealer (Freddy Rodriguez). Then she and her high-strung best friend (Bijou Phillips) head to East LA looking for more--which they find, with predictable results. Any sociopolitical issues raised about the gap between haves and have-nots are undercut by a sour, inept ending. In English and unsubtitled Spanish. 91 min. (AG) a River East, 9:15 PM

Stories of Disenchantment

The visual effects in this Mexican extravaganza--with orgies staged like music videos and lavish conceits involving devils, mirrors, vampires, and filmmaking--are so attention grabbing it takes a while to see how shallow their narrative pretexts are. It's hard to know whether writer-director Alejandro Valle and codirector Felipe Gomez love decadence because of how it looks or because they want to squeeze some esoteric content out of their images, but the atmosphere is psychedelic 60s minus the cruelty of El topo and the sheer nerve of Performance. Basically it's all nonsense, but I thoroughly enjoyed it until it wore me down. In Spanish with subtitles. 120 min. (JR) a Landmark, 9:15 PM

Two Auroras

See listing under Friday, October 7. a River East, 9:30 PM

Hiding Behind the Camera, Part 2

Part one isn't a film but a book of photographs by the director of this work, Carl Johan De Geer, who documents his travels and reflections after hearing about the death of a childhood servant. In Swedish with subtitles. 76 min. a Landmark, 9:30 PM

The Dark Hours

R See listing under Friday, October 7. a River East, 11:30 PM

P

See listing under Friday, October 7. a Landmark, 11:30 PM

Sunday, October 9

The Phantom of the Operator

Canadian filmmaker Caroline Martel pieced together found footage from more than 100 industrial films to show the role women telephone operators played in the development of global communication. In English and subtitled French. 66 min. Also on the program are two hours' worth of prizewinners from INTERCOM, the International Communications Film and Video Competition. a River East, 1 PM Free

Border Cafe

R See listing under Saturday, October 8. a Landmark, 1 PM

Sunflower

See listing under Saturday, October 8. a River East, 1:15 PM

Carmen in Khayelitsha

See listing under Saturday, October 8. a Landmark, 1:15 PM

Net

R See listing under Saturday, October 8. a Landmark, 1:30 PM

Havoc

See listing under Saturday, October 8. a River East, 2:15 PM

Hiding Behind the Camera, Part 2

See listing under Saturday, October 8. a Landmark, 2:15 PM

Summer in Berlin

See listing under Saturday, October 8. a Landmark, 3:15 PM

Stories of Disenchantment

See listing under Saturday, October 8. a Landmark, 3:30 PM

Sangre

See listing under Friday, October 7. a River East, 4 PM

Free Zone

See listing under Saturday, October 8. a Landmark, 4 PM

Garpastum

See listing under Friday, October 7. a Landmark, 4:15 PM

The Dark Hours

R See listing under Friday, October 7. a River East, 4:30 PM

Shorts: Behind Closed Doors

A 107-minute program of international shorts about secrets, including works from Belgium, France, the UK, and the U.S. a River East,

5:30 PM

My Nikifor

R In the most extraordinary cross-dressing performance since Linda Hunt's in The Year of Living Dangerously, 85-year-old character actress Krystyna Feldmann incarnates the wizened, semiautistic Polish "primitive" painter Nikifor. Krzysztof Krauze's oddball biopic shows Nikifor wandering into the neat studio of the bureaucrat-sanctioned brush pusher Marian Wlosinski in 1960. Serenely oblivious to most of the social niceties of hygiene and behavior, he silently commandeers art supplies and a desk while offhandedly denigrating Wlosinski's work, eventually derailing the young man's career and marriage. As Nikifor obsessively paints buildings, villagers, and saints, crafting some 40,000 works, Wlosinski sacrifices everything to care for him, and the communist bureaucracy of the picturesque mountain resort town scrambles to cope with the decidedly problematic folk artist and his fame. In Polish with subtitles. 100 min. (RS) a River East, 6 PM

The Wayward Cloud

See listing under Friday, October 7. a Landmark, 6 PM

La moustache

See listing under Friday, October 7. a Landmark, 6:15 PM

Two Auroras

See listing under Friday, October 7. a River East, 6:30 PM

Carmen in Khayelitsha

See listing under Saturday, October 8. a Landmark, 6:30 PM

My Grandmother's House

See listing under Friday, October 7. a Landmark, 6:45 PM

How to Eat Your Watermelon in White Company (and Enjoy It)

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

North Country

R Charlize Theron, in nonglam mode, dominates this powerful drama about sexual harassment at a Minnesota iron ore mine in the early 90s. Physically abused by her husband, she hits the road with her two kids, finds shelter with her parents (Richard Jenkins and Sissy Spacek), and takes advantage of a recent Supreme Court ruling to hire on at the mine where her father works. The women there are mercilessly hazed, and eventually Theron begins prodding them to act. Michael Seitzman based his script on Clara Bingham and Laura Leedy Gansler's nonfiction book Class Action, indulging in some Hollywood tropes (a melodramatic courtroom drama that frames the action) but anchoring the story in reality with Anita Hill's 1991 testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Niki Caro (Whale Rider) directed; with Frances McDormand, Sean Bean, and Woody Harrelson. 123 min. (JJ) a River East, 8:30 PM

It's Not You, It's Me

See listing under Friday, October 7. a Landmark, 8:30 PM

The Masseur

See listing under Friday, October 7. a River East, 8:45 PM

Tuning

See listing under Friday, October 7. a Landmark, 8:45 PM

The Squid and the Whale

R See listing under Saturday, October 8. a Landmark, 9 PM

Monday, October 10

Shorts: Behind Closed Doors

See listing under Sunday, October 9. a River East, 4 PM

My Nikifor

R See listing under Sunday, October 9. a River East, 6:30 PM

Net

R See listing under Saturday, October 8. a Landmark, 6:30 PM

Mrs. Henderson Presents

R See listing under Friday, October 7. a River East, 6:45 PM

The Protocols of Zion

R A hoax concocted in the late 19th century, the anti-Semitic text The Protocols of the Elders of Zion keeps circulating, and its resurgence after the 9/11 attacks prompted Marc Levin (Slam) to direct this engrossing digital documentary. Using a single camera and his father as soundman, Levin proves an intrepid investigator, quizzing a Palestinian publisher of the book in the U.S., a representative of the white supremacist National Alliance, the creator of the Web site Jew Watch, and Arabs outside a New York memorial for Hamas chief Sheikh Ahmed Yassin. (Hoping to pick apart the evidence for Jewish control of Hollywood, he phones Norman Lear, Larry David, and Rob Reiner but gets the royal runaround.) Levin's curiosity and evenhandedness distinguish the movie, though he's largely silent about the pro-Israel lobby's influence on U.S. foreign policy, the basis for some of his subjects'

paranoia. 93 min. (JJ) a Landmark, 6:45 PM

The Consequences of Love

See listing under Saturday, October 8. a Landmark, 6:45 PM

How to Eat Your Watermelon in White Company (and Enjoy It)

See listing under Saturday, October 8. a River East, 7 PM

The Buried Forest

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

Border Cafe

R See listing under Saturday, October 8. a Landmark, 8:30 PM

Johanna

See listing under Friday, October 7. a River East, 8:45 PM

Transamerica

Duncan Tucker's first feature is an occasionally touching, more often clumsy variation on the formula of crusty oldster and problem child bonding on a road trip. The main reason to see it is Desperate Housewives star Felicity Huffman and her buzz-gathering performance as an anxious pre-op trannie, which tops Dustin Hoffman's Tootsie role--he was just a guy trying to play a woman. But like Hoffman, Huffman offers a quaintly prim, prissy vision of womanhood, one that ties into the film's anachronistic roadside America of wigwam motels and retro eateries and its 50s-style fingering of monstrous mom as the root of family dysfunction. The best thing besides Huffman is Graham Greene's graceful cameo as a courtly rancher. 100 min. (MR)

a River East, 9 PM

Summer in Berlin

See listing under Saturday, October 8. a Landmark, 9 PM

Free Zone

See listing under Saturday, October 8. a Landmark, 9 PM

Shorts: Homegrown

See listing under Saturday, October 8. a River East, 9:15 PM

Stories of Disenchantment

See listing under Saturday, October 8. a Landmark, 9:15 PM

Tuesday, October 11

Borderline Lovers

R See listing under Saturday, October 8. a River East, 5 PM

Shorts: Homegrown

See listing under Saturday, October 8. a River East, 6:15 PM

The Consequences of Love

See listing under Saturday, October 8. a Landmark, 6:15 PM

Shopgirl

A curiously bloodless effort from the usually reliable Steve Martin. He wrote the script, based on his similarly flat novella about a romantic triangle between a Saks glove salesclerk (Claire Danes), a boyish slacker (Jason Schwartzman), and a wealthy Internet entrepreneur (Martin). They not only don't connect, they seem to exist in different universes, the slacker's being the liveliest, if only fitfully amusing. Director Anand Tucker (Hilary and Jackie, producer of Girl With a Pearl Earring) moves the three around the LA and (ostensibly) Seattle locations at a measured pace, creating a romantic comedy with precious little romance and even less comedy. 106 min. (MB) a River East, 6:30 PM

CCTV

The conceit of Vassilis Katsikis's experimental Greek feature, which mixes documentary and fiction, is that a video camera that works only intermittently is passed from one person to another and we see everything shot on it. In Greek with subtitles. 81 min. a Landmark, 6:30 PM

My Nikifor

R See listing under Sunday, October 9. a River East, 7 PM

Watermarks

This 2004 Israeli documentary by Yaron Zilberman profiles a group of Jewish women who became international swimming champs as part of Hakoah, an Austrian league founded in 1909 after racial laws excluded Jews from gentile sporting associations. Unfortunately their story ends just as it becomes most provocative: Judith Deutsch, who defied Hitler by refusing to compete in the Berlin Olympics in 1936, recedes from view as her other teammates convene for a reunion in Vienna, facing not only painful memories but younger generations who can't resist reminding them of their otherness. In English and subtitled German, Hebrew, and Yiddish. 77 min. (AG) a Landmark, 7 PM Free

The Protocols of Zion

R See listing under Monday, October 10. a Landmark, 7 PM

Kissing on the Mouth

See listing under Friday, October 7. 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, 8:30 PM

Mutual Appreciation

R The first feature of young indie writer-director-editor Andrew Bujalski, Funny Ha Ha (2002), already has a cult following, and his second is equally bright and assured. Working here in 16-millimeter black and white blown up to 35-millimeter, he warmly observes another set of young adults tentatively moving toward--or passively avoiding--serious relationships with the opposite sex. The central figures are a charismatic but noncommittal single musician (Justin Rice) and his two best friends, a couple (Rachel Clift and Bujalski) who've just moved in together. One of Bujalski's gifts is his ability to give every part, no matter how big or small, a sense of intelligence and life that extends beyond the frame and running time, and in this his work recalls the best of both Mike Leigh and Richard Linklater. The supporting cast includes

experimental filmmaker Bill Morrison and Funny Ha Ha's lead, Kate Dollenmayer, who appears at a memorable "wig party." 110 min. (JH) a Landmark, 8:45 PM

Fateless

Respected Hungarian cinematographer Lajos Koltai (Being Julia) makes his directing debut with this long, heavy, and not particularly edifying Holocaust drama, adapted by Imre Kertesz from his own novel. The opening scenes, set in a middle-class Jewish home in Budapest, are beautifully shot; the closing ones, which show the young protagonist (Marcell Nagy) trying to adjust after coming home from Auschwitz, are the most emotionally complex. Separating them is an hour and a half of shapeless blue gray misery in the camps, which eventually devolves into a series of blackouts. The hero's intriguing claim near the end, that he was able to find happiness in the camps, might have distinguished this from other Holocaust films, but Koltai never shows us any evidence. In Hungarian with subtitles. 140 min. (JJ) a River East, 9 PM

Sunflower

See listing under Saturday, October 8. a Landmark, 9 PM

Havoc

See listing under Saturday, October 8. a River East, 9:15 PM

Transamerica

See listing under Monday, October 10. a Landmark, 9:15 PM

Wednesday, October 12

Mutual Appreciation

R See listing under Tuesday, October 11. a Landmark, 4 PM

Learning to Swallow

R See listing under Friday, October 7. a River East, 4:30 PM

CCTV

See listing under Tuesday, October 11. a Landmark, 5:30 PM

Fateless

See listing under Tuesday, October 11. a River East, 6:30 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, 6:30 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, 6:30 PM

Shorts: Behind Closed Doors

See listing under Sunday, October 9. a River East, 6:45 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, 6:45 PM

Borderline Lovers

R See listing under Saturday, October 8. a River East, 7 PM

Hiding Behind the Camera, Part 2

See listing under Saturday, October 8. a Landmark, 7:30 PM

Platform

R My selection for the festival's Critic's Choice category is Jia Zhang-ke's second feature (2002), his best work to date and one of the most impressive Chinese films I've ever seen. Its theme is the great theme of Chinese cinema, the discovery of history, which links such otherwise disparate masterpieces as The Blue Kite, Blush, Actress, The Puppet Master, and A Brighter Summer Day. Platform is as ambitious as any of these predecessors, and its style is no less magisterial. The story charts the course of the Cultural Revolution for about a decade, noting the shifts in values and lifestyles, culture and economy as China moves inexorably from Maoism to capitalism and acquires glitzy Western accoutrements--all as witnessed by five actors in a provincial traveling theater troupe. Many episodes unfold in single long takes, and the beautifully choreographed mise en scene recalls the fluid Hungarian pageants of Miklos Jancso in the 60s and 70s. The political implications are at times sinister: one memorable sequence is punctuated by offscreen gunshots as prisoners are being executed. Originally 192 minutes long, the film was recut by its writer-director to its current 155 minutes. Essential viewing. In Mandarin with subtitles. (JR) a Landmark, 8:30 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 Landmark, 8:45 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 River East, 9 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 PM

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, 9:15 PM

Everlasting Regret

R See listing under Saturday, October 8. a River East, 9:15 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, 9:15 PM

Thursday, October 13

Well-Tempered Corpses

See listing under Tuesday, October 11. a Landmark, 4:15 PM

Shorts: Personal Revelations

A 102-minute program of short works from Canada, France, New Zealand, the UK, and the U.S. a River East, 6:30 PM

On the One

See listing under Wednesday, October 12. a Landmark, 6:30 PM

Gates of Heaven

Errol Morris's widely admired first documentary feature (1978) is a detailed look at pet cemeteries. His use of talking-head interviews initially appears cool and conventional, but there's a lot more to it in terms of form and attitude than initially meets the eye, and the apparent cruelty of the deadpan satire gradually gives way to something more compassionate, as well as deeper and stranger. 85 min. (JR) This is Roger Ebert's selection for the festival's Critic's Choice category. a Landmark, 6:45 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 for 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, 7 PM

Gabrielle

R See listing under Wednesday, October 12. 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 River East, 7:15 PM

Entre ses mains

R See listing under Wednesday, October 12. a Landmark, 7:15 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

That Man: Peter Berlin

See listing under Wednesday, October 12. a River East, 9 PM

CCTV

See listing under Tuesday, October 11. a Landmark, 9 PM

Everlasting Regret

R See listing under Saturday, October 8. a Landmark, 9 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, 9:15 PM

The Great Yokai War

Prolific cult schlockmeister Takashi Miike tries his hand once again at Japanese folklore, complete with magic and black humor. In Japanese with subtitles. 124 min. (JR) a River East, 9:15 PM

Mutual Appreciation

R See listing under Tuesday, October 11. a Landmark, 9:30 PM

NEXT WEEK: The rest of the fest

Add a comment