The Way Through the Bleak Woods | Movie Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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The Way Through the Bleak Woods

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Don't expect much of a conventional plot from this 1997 feature from the Czech Republic, the dramatic debut of veteran documentarian Ivan Vojnar. A Viennese dentist, seeking spiritual refuge on the eve of World War I, journeys deep into the Bohemian woods and arrives at a tiny village, describing it in voice-over as if recalling random memories. Silenced by solitude and familiarity, the villagers barely speak to one another, but Vojnar is less interested in character development than in charting the seasons and capturing a world whose isolation is about to be shattered by war. Shooting in black-and-white 'Scope, he skillfully frames both the majestic forest and the villagers' claustrophobic rooms, his dreamy images suggesting the crisp photography of 60s Scandinavian pastorals. He overreaches when he equates the villagers' violence and prejudice with the approaching global conflict, but this pat theorizing is easily absorbed by the labyrinthine narrative and the film's eerie visual beauty. Facets Multimedia Center, 1517 W. Fullerton, Friday, December 18, 9:00; Wednesday, December 23, 8:45; and Thursday, December 24, 7:00; 773-281-4114. --Ted Shen

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): film still.

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