Miguel Gomes' ARABIAN NIGHTS (New Portuguese)
Gene Siskel Film Center - Check venue website for showtimes
"This film is not an adaptation of the book The Arabian Nights," reads an onscreen title at or near the start of each episode of Miguel Gomes' three-part, six-hour, funny, sad, ambitious, and frequently bewildering epic. The text continues: "The stories Scheherazade tells acquired a fictional form from facts that occurred in Portugal between August 2013 and July 2014. During this period, the country was held hostage to a program of economic austerity executed by a government apparently devoid of social justice. As a result, almost all Portuguese became more impoverished." These titles, which recall the films of Jean-Luc Godard and Adam Curtis in their literariness and blatant political slant, promise a topical work fueled by populist outrage, and indeed, VOLUME 1: THE RESTLESS ONE (2015, 125 min, DCP Digital) is often exactly that. One of its first tales, "The Men With the Hard-Ons," is a piece of broad satire that expresses unmistakable anger towards the IMF; its last, "The Swim of the Magnificents," centers on three heart-tugging monologues by people who lost their jobs during Portugal's economic crisis. As ARABIAN NIGHTS progresses, though, the storytelling becomes more fanciful and the political content grows less obvious. VOLUME 3: THE ENCHANTED ONE (2015, 125 min, DCP Digital) begins with tales about Scheherazade and the "time of antiquity" and ends (in a rhyme with the nonfiction material about dock workers that opens VOLUME 1) with an extended documentary about lower-class Portuguese who trap and raise chaffinches. The film's evolution is as graceful as it is surprising, flowing between fiction and documentary, comedy and pathos, spoken dialogue and song. (Gomes, working with Apichatpong Weerasethakul's regular cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom, even uses both 16mm and 35mm, as he did in his previous feature, TABU. But while that film had two distinct looks, ARABIAN NIGHTS has at least a dozen, the mélange of visual styles corresponding to the array of narrative styles.) Gradually it becomes clear that Gomes isn't out to make a grand political statement, but rather to create a sweeping mosaic that reflects the confusion and vitality of life at the moment of the work's creation. In this regard, ARABIAN NIGHTS suggests a cinematic analogue to the Clash's triple album Sandinista! (1980), replete with in-jokes, sloganeering, and passages of failed experimentation. Yet even the films' lows--such as the overlong trial sequence at the heart of VOLUME 2: THE DESOLATE ONE (2015, 131 min, DCP Digital)--are invigorating in their ambition and creative energy. Gomes began his 14-month production without knowing what ARABIAN NIGHTS would be about, devising stories in response to what was happening in the world around him. This exploratory spirit can be felt in the finished film, which seems to be discovering itself as it goes along. Its curiosity is infectious. BS
More info at www.siskelfilmcenter.org.
Maurice Pialat's LOULOU (French Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center - Friday, 6pm and Saturday, 3pm
Maurice Pialat once averred that he would edit a film by cutting all footage that didn't feel true. This would explain the unique rhythm of his movies, which are propelled unpredictably from one moment of intense emotion to another and then another. Pialat never set out to capture the pace of life as it felt to those living it--the films progress too jarringly for that; it's even often difficult to parse how much time has elapsed between scenes and even cuts. What he came closer to was the sense of living under heightened awareness, be it from extreme passion, anger, or regret; and LOULOU, one of Pialat's greatest films, is revelatory in its understanding of all three. The story is of an unhappily married bourgeoise (Isabelle Huppert) who embarks on an extended affair with the title character, a petty thief played by Gerard Depardieu at the height of his charismatic appeal. The film captures the narcotizing power of ill-advised romance, but the dangerous euphoria of the early passages lead neither to tragedy nor redemptive allegory. Pialat realizes the characters so three-dimensionally that they resist easy interpretation. This is largely a result of Pialat's incredible employment of his actors, whom he encouraged to improvise to gain an immediacy of emotion that could not be pre-arranged. (All of Pialat's movies contain numerous can't-believe-they-caught-that images, as unsettling in their way as the moments of institutional cruelty Frederick Wiseman captured in his 70s documentaries.) But one shouldn't overlook the courageousness of the film's inspiration. LOULOU was suggested by an episode in Pialat's relationship with partner Arlette Langmann--his co-writer here, unbelievably--and the film's willingness to depict all the characters at their ugliest makes this a work of profound auto-critique as well as observational study. (1980, 110 min, 35mm) BS
Maurice Pialat's WE WON'T GROW OLD TOGETHER (French Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center - Saturday, 5pm and Wednesday, 7:45pm
The story is simple and repetitive: An aging, stagnant filmmaker berates his much younger girlfriend. They cycle between breaking up and then getting back together. Then she leaves for good. The story is a harshly autobiographical one based on Pialat's own novel. It's brilliantly written and performed--but once you get past the yelling, the more interesting qualities of the film stem from Pialat's great eye and rhythms. Originally a painter, and trained as a filmmaker by almost two decades of making short films and documentaries, Pialat came to narrative feature-length filmmaking with a fully developed compositional style and sense of movement and space. As for the rhythms: scenes go on for too long, or end abruptly. Emotional tones shift unexpectedly. The story is linear but still disorienting, as almost nothing but the "bad times" are shown. It's a profoundly unsettled and economic film. (1972, 110 min, 35mm) JBM
More info at www.siskelfilmcenter.org.
George Stevens' SWING TIME (American Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) - Monday, 7pm
Of all the Astaire & Rogers musicals, SWING TIME has been the most emphatically embraced by the dance community, with Arlene Croce referring to it as the "miracle of the film series," and Robert Gottlieb adding, "In no other film in the world is dancing used so persuasively as a simulacrum of adult passion and serious sexual commitment." Previous installments of the series toyed audiences with the anticipation of the dance partners finally taking the stage, but in SWING TIME the dancing serves as the dramatic stakes--Astaire's Lucky Garnett, doomed to marry the wrong woman, mourns that he will, "never dance again." Dance numbers in these films aren't simply--as has often been lazily assumed--a substitution for sexuality, but a sacred ritual of courtship, the most immaculate form of communication (it is no coincidence that Lucky finds himself unable to explain himself with words throughout the picture). SWING TIME's climactic action involves Astaire losing his orchestra and doomed to wed a woman who doesn't dance, thereby ensuring that the eventual fulfillment of his romantic promise with Rogers also restores music and dancing to the picture. In utilizing dance as a necessary means of expression, no other film in the Astaire & Rogers cycle creates a better argument for their craft as an art form. Featuring the memorable geometric surrealism of "Bojangles of Harlem" and the duo's most sumptuous ballroom number in "Never Gonna Dance" (which brilliantly reprises the entire plot of the film), SWING TIME is the most seductive and accomplished of the team's pictures, and it is the best argument for their unusual genius. (1936, 104 min, 35mm) EF
More info at www.docfilms.uchicago.edu.
William Wyler's DEAD END (American Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center - Friday, 2pm and Tuesday, 6pm
If DNAInfo had existed during the Great Depression, they would have had a field day reporting on the happenings of New York's Lower East Side in William Wyler's DEAD END. Gentrification, unionization, prostitution, and...an elusive gangster who's had radical plastic surgery to mask his true identity? Okay, so that last thing may be more at home in the National Enquirer, but the rest are as timely as ever. Adapted by the infamous Lillian Hellman from Sidney Kingsley's eponymous Broadway play, it's set over a day in a riverside slum that's recently been overrun by luxury condominiums and their snooty inhabitants. At the center of the drama are Drina (Sylvia Sidney) and Dave (Joel McCrea), who have "high-class" aspirations of their own: she's picketing in order to get higher wages, and he's trying to become an architect after having graduated from both high school and college. In between them are Dave's wealthy girlfriend and a gangster, "Baby Face" Martin (Humphrey Bogart), whose unexpected presence puts into motion the film's chain of events. But at the heart of it are the Dead End Kids (later known as the East Side Kids and the Bowery Boys), a group of young actors who originated the roles on Broadway. Wyler was reportedly adamant about casting them in the film, and he allegedly had a good relationship with them on set. These boys are the real stars of the film, eclipsing Sidney's fierce determination, McCrea's good-boy relatability, and even Bogie's Bogartness. They provide the film's "frame" story, serving not only to introduce the main characters, but also to move the narrative along; Drina and Dave might have been forever hopeless had those little rascals not been around. "Baby Face" Martin's childhood sweetheart (Claire Trevor) also has this effect on his story, though more despairingly so. He seems to realize his hopelessness only when he finds out that she's turned to prostitution in hard times. A return to his old ways, which he'd hope to escape with a new face and his old lady, is his downfall, though Dave wisely observes that it was inevitable in light of his upbringing. Wyler, who's referred to by Martin Scorsese as being "perhaps the most honored director in Hollywood history," was known for his solid filmmaking, and DEAD END is indeed a solid film, with exceptional performances and notable cinematography by Gregg Toland. Pamela Robertson Wojcik lectures at the Tuesday screening. (1937, 93 min, 35mm) KS
More info at www.siskelfilmcenter.org.
Guillermo del Toro's CRIMSON PEAK (New American)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) - Saturday, 7 and 9:30pm and Sunday, 4pm
Guillermo del Toro's CRIMSON PEAK was released in theaters just before Halloween and is being released on DVD just before Valentine's Day. The day of horror and the day of love--all things considered, very appropriate for del Toro's Gothic romance. Or is it Gothic horror? Perhaps a date between these holidays would have been better, as the film similarly toes the line between the two subgenres of Gothic fiction. (Jessica Kiang astutely pointed out in a piece for the Playlist that the distinction "ultimately means less than you might think: it's more a difference of degree than of actual type.") However, it was a hot-as-hell topic in the weeks leading up to the film's release, as del Toro gave interview after interview asserting that it is indeed a Gothic romance in spite of its marketing, which many critics felt was misleading. Or was it? Set in the late nineteenth century, the film is about the virginal daughter of a wealthy American businessman who marries a dashing English baronet and goes to live with him and his sister in their decaying mansion. She's an aspiring writer and he's a failed inventor, while the sister is something of a career lunatic. The plot itself surrenders to atmosphere; there isn't a single set, costume, or special effect that doesn't move the story along better than any line of dialogue. The trailers--and, to a lesser extent, the posters--certainly highlight the artistry of the film's production design. In fact, the official trailer on Legendary's YouTube channel begins with almost thirty seconds of shots of the macabre mansion. In most every other trailer, Mia Wasikowska can be heard breathlessly exclaiming in a voiceover that "ghosts are real." The romantic bits weren't minimized, either; a rather provocative waltz is featured in several versions of the trailer, and I think one or two even hint at the steamy sex scene. Gothic architecture plays a central role in Gothic texts (both romance and horror), as do supernatural elements like ghosts and spirits, and while the trailer doesn't give away the twist in regards to the bizarre love triangle, it definitely hints at the sexy stuff. So was CRIMSON PEAK misleadingly marketed as a horror film--Gothic or not--or simply misunderstood as a work of Gothic romance, which contains many of the same elements of its scary counterpart? Perhaps both, but neither is a reason not to see it. And even though many critics and filmgoers alike claim it isn't that scary, this critic begs to differ. Certainly nothing terrifies me more than watching two people engaged in a protracted knife fight...in the snow...while wearing white! (2015, 119 min, DCP Digital) KS
More info at www.docfilms.uchicago.edu.
Martin Scorsese's CAPE FEAR (American Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) - Friday, 7 and 9:30pm and Sunday, 1:30pm
Scorsese's remake of the J. Lee Thompson's 1962 thriller seems to occupy a lower tier of his filmography among fans of his work, falling into a gray area as that weird thriller the great filmmaker made in between canonical works GOODFELLAS, CASINO, and THE AGE OF INNOCENCE. But it's a joy to watch--an intricately constructed and satisfying genre exercise--and features some of the most exciting performances and moments that the director ever created. Some of these happen in the blink of an eye, like Robert De Niro's psychotic Max Cady sucking on a cigar and breathing out "You're gonna learn about suffering" as the camera rapidly tracks backwards from Nick Nolte's car window. Some of them are drawn out and milked to nail-biting surrealism, as in Joe Don Baker's tense plot to try and catch Cady entering the house; and during the film's triumph, the incredible and haunting meeting of Juliette Lewis' character Danielle Bowden with Cady in the basement of her high school, under the premise that Cady is her new drama teacher. But beyond these moments, there is a sense of longing, of tense sexual desire, and of reflection on the passing of time that CAPE FEAR's raw genre material brought out of Scorsese--much like what happened when other great filmmakers dipped their toes into more straightforward material, like Quentin Tarantino did a few years later with JACKIE BROWN and David Fincher the following decade with ZODIAC. (1991, 127 min, 35mm) MF
More info at www.docfilms.uchicago.edu.
László Nemes's SON OF SAUL (New Hungarian)
Music Box Theatre - Check Venue website for showtimes
From the opening, an out of focus long take that slowly adjusts its gaze on Saul Ausländer (Géza Röhrig) as he follows an incoming transport of Jewish people into a gas chamber at Auschwitz, it's easy to see that László Nemes's Holocaust film will be deeply intimate. SON OF SAUL strives for authenticity in its historical source material with its unflinching portrayal of the atrocities committed during World War II. Saul works as a member of the Sonderkommando (a group of prisoners tasked with sorting through incoming prisoners goods, cleaning out gas chambers, and disposing of human remains). While at hand with his duties, he discovers the body of a boy he believes to be his son and sets out to find a rabbi so that he can give the boy a proper burial. Nemes's mise-en-scčne only focuses on Saul, framing him almost entirely in close up shots while the peripheries are blurred due to the shallow focus employed. These tight frames and close angles show that the film is solely invested in Saul's personal hell. There is no reprieve from the despair. Truthfully, this technique ponders the question of how many other fascinating, individual stories are occurring just off frame. Röhrig's performance is exceptional in portraying a man who is so dead inside, with nothing but a few words and a thousand yard stare. Despite the myriad of abuses Saul is subjected to, he remains steadfast in his goal to bury the boy he believes to be his son; an apt metaphor for the nearly impossible task of remaining hopeful and willing to stay alive during a time when hope was nowhere to be found for so many. SON OF SAUL is a harrowing, cinematic tour de force on one of history's deplorable chapters. (2015, 107 min, 35mm) KC
More info at www.musicboxtheatre.com.
Rene Laloux's FANTASTIC PLANET (French Animation Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) - Sunday, 7pm
In this Dali-esque animation, based on the Cold War-era novel Oms en Serie (1957) by Stefan Wul, the earth is ruled by the "Draags," a giant race of blue neutered technocrats with a passion for meditation. Domestic humans known as "Oms" are the "little animals you stroke between meditations" while wild humans/Oms are hunted like cockroaches. The surreal and perilous world of FANTASTIC PLANET (originally LA PLANETE SAUVAGE) is rendered in beautiful (very 70s) cut out stop motion. Highlights include a glow-orgy induced by an aphrodisiac communion wafer and a cackling anthropomorphized Venus flytrap. The soundtrack is a near-constant synth jam that oscillates from moody and spacey to raunchy porn funk. The film was begun in Czechoslovakia but finished in France for political reasons, and the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Soviet Union looms over the story. Themes of repression, rebellion, and the dangers of technocracy permeate FANTASTIC PLANET. The film seems to suggest that excessive rationality can make the ruling class blind to its cruelty, but also that solidarity can flourish in the midst of persecution and degradation. (1973, 72 min, 35mm) ML
More info at www.docfilms.uchicago.edu.
Orson Welles' CITIZEN KANE (American Revival)
Park Ridge Classic Film Series (at the Pickwick Theater, 5 S. Prospect Ave., Park Ridge) - Thursday, 7:30pm
What's left to say about CITIZEN KANE? These days, it's difficult to imagine anyone sitting down to watch it without first being warned that they are about to view The Greatest Film of All Time, an accolade so frequently affixed that it should by now count as a subtitle. Yet it remains a master class in aesthetic design in which all the production elements (bustling staging, overlapping dialogue, choose-your-own-adventure plotting, lighting so chiaroscuro that most of the shadows fall on the ceiling, editing so fluid it is better described as rhythm) work together so seamlessly as to seem impossible without one another. Famously the first and last studio project the boy wonder had final cut on, this boasts an unusually tidy rise-and-fall narrative for Welles; if his later, compromised studio films (THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS, LADY FROM SHANGHAI, TOUCH OF EVIL) ultimately prove more rewarding, it is perhaps because their Rosebuds are obscured and their mysteries preserved. Orson Welles historian Michael Dawson in person. (1941, 119 min, DCP Digital) MK
More info at http://parkridgeclassicfilm.com.
MORE SCREENINGS AND EVENTS
The Northwest Chicago Film Society (at Northeastern Illinois University - The Auditorium, Building E., 3701 W. Bryn Mawr Ave.) screens David Butler's 1929 film SUNNYSIDE UP (121 min, 35mm Archival Print) on Wednesday at 7:30pm. Also screening will be a TBA short.
At Block Cinema (Northwestern University) this week: Films by Paul Sharits is on Friday at 7pm (Free Admission). Screening are WORD MOVIE (FLUX FILM 29) (1966, 4 min, Digital Projection), EPISODIC GENERATION [single screen version] (1978, 30 min, 16mm), RAZOR BLADES Razor Blades (1965-68, 25 min, 16mm double projection); and the program The Aesthetics of Decay: Jack Smith and Dick Higgins' New York, on Thursday at 7pm, features Jack Smith's SCOTCH TAPE (1959-62, 3 min, 16mm) and Dick Higgins' 1963 feature THE FLAMING CITY (Dick Higgins, 1963, 121 min, 16mm) and will be introduced by Professor Hannah Higgins (University of Illinois at Chicago).
Chicago Filmmakers (5243 N. Clark St.) presents An Evening with Eyeworks (68 min total, all 16mm), a program of animated shorts from Chicago Filmmakers' Distribution Project collection, curated by Eyeworks Festival directors Alexander Stewart and Lilli Carré, on Saturday at 8pm. Screening are JUMPING (Ozamu Tezuka, 1984), MIRROR PEOPLE (Kathy Rose, 1974), SYNCHROMY (Norman McLaren, 1971), MAKE ME PSYCHIC (Sally Cruikshank, 1978), THE BEHOLDER (Chris Sullivan, 1983), OBJECT CONVERSATION (Paul Glabicki, 1985), YOURS FOR THE TAKING (Karen Aqua, 1984), SUNSTONE (Ed Emshwiller, 1979), IMPETIGO (James Duesing, 1984), and TWO SPACE (Larry Cuba, 1979). Repeat screening at Columbia College (Hokin Hall, 623 S. Wabash) - Tuesday, 6:30pm.
Facets Cinémathčque plays Mohsen Makhmalbaf's 2014 international production THE PRESIDENT (119 min, Unconfirmed Format) for a week-long run.
The Film Studies Center (Logan Center for the Arts, 915 E. 60th St., University of Chicago) presents a lecture by Ashish Rajadhyaksha on Friday at 5pm entitled Slow Descent into Digital Hell: How the Moving Image Is Coping with Digital India.
Wretched Nobles presents Love Hurts! The Wretched Nobles 15th Film & Video Series & Young Camelot Resurrection Dance Party on Sunday at 9pm at Beauty Bar Chicago (1444 W. Chicago Ave.).
Black World Cinema screens Christopher Kirkley's 2015 Nigerian film RAIN THE COLOR OF BLUE WITH A LITTLE RED IN IT (75 min, Digital Projection - Unconfirmed Format) on Thursday at 7pm at the Studio Movie Grill Chatham 14 (210 W. 87th St.). http://blackworldcinema.net/blog/
The Spertus Institute (610 S. Michigan Ave.) screens Yari Wolinsky's 2015 documentary RAISE THE ROOF (85 min, Video Projection - Unconfirmed Format) on Sunday at 2pm.
The Significant Surfaces Screening Series presents Elizabeth Barret's 2000 documentary STRANGER WITH A CAMERA (62 min, Video Projection - Unconfirmed Format) at the Leland Apartment Community Room (1207 W. Leland) on Sunday at 3pm. Sponsored by Heartland Alliance and the Photography Department at Columbia College Chicago. Free admission, but RSVP at http://tinyurl.com/stranger-with-a-camera.
Black Cinema House (7200 S. Kimbark Ave.) presents Global Girls, a program of dance, performance, and film, in celebration of the titular youth arts performance organization, on Friday at 7pm; and Gordon Douglas' 1973 film SLAUGHTER'S BIG RIP-OFF (94 min, Unconfirmed Format) on Sunday at 4pm, with author Gerald Butters (From Sweetback to Super Fly: Race & Film Audiences in Chicago's Loop) and Sergio Mims (programmer of Chicago's Black Harvest Film Festival and writer of Indiewire's Shadow and Act blog) in person for discussion. Free admission for both. www.blackcinemahouse.org.
Also at the Gene Siskel Film Center this week: Alę Abreu's 2013 animated Brazilian film BOY AND THE WORLD (80 min, DCP Digital) and Roxanne Benjamin, David Bruckner, Patrick Horvath, and Radio Silence's 2015 film SOUTHBOUND (89 min, DCP Digital) both play for a week; Morteza Farshbaf's 2015 Iranian film AVALANCHE (85 min, DCP Digital) screens on Saturday at 7:45pm and Sunday at 4:45pm; and in the "Radiant Visions: Media Art from SAIC, 1965-Now" series the shorts program Identities (75 min total, Digital File except where noted) is on Monday at 6pm and includes WHITE TRASH GIRL (Jennifer Reeder, 1995), BOUNCING IN THE CORNER #36DD (Dara Greenwald, 1999), 3275 (Tatsu Aoki, 1980, 16mm), DELIRIUM (Mindy Faber, 1993), THE BLAZING WORLD (Jessica Bardsley, 2013), HAND AND BODIE TRANSFORMATIONS (Byron Grush, 1973, 16mm), BREATHE DEEP (Katie Torn, 2014), THE BASEBALL PROJECT (Oli Rodriguez, 2009), with Jennifer Reeder, Jessica Bardsley, Mindy Faber, Tatsu Aoki, and Oli Rodriguez in person; and Tom Kalin's 1992 film SWOON (82 min, 35mm) is on Thursday at 6pm, with Kalin in person.
Also at Doc Films (University of Chicago) this week: Scandar Copti and Yaron Shani's 2009 Israeli film AJAMI (124 min, 35mm) is on Tuesday at 7pm; Mel Brooks' 1974 film YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN (106 min, DCP Digital) is on Wednesday at 7 and 9pm; Luca Guadagnino's 2009 film I AM LOVE (120 min, 35mm) is on Thursday at 7pm; and Robert Wise's 1963 film THE HAUNTING (112 min, Blu-Ray) is on Thursday at 9:30pm.
Also at the Music Box Theatre this week: The 2016 Oscar Nominated Documentary Shorts: Programs A + B open; and Quentin Tarantino's 2015 film THE HATEFUL EIGHT (167 min, DCP Digital) continues in the slightly shorter digital version.
The Northbrook Public Library (1201 Cedar Lane, Northbrook) screens the 1957 CBS television production THE SOUND OF JAZZ (54 min, Video Projection - Unconfirmed Format) on Tuesday at 1 and 7:30pm; and Jules Dassin's 1950 film NIGHT AND THE CITY (96 min, DCP Digital) on Wednesday at 1 and 7:30pm. Free admission for both. www.northbrook.info/events/film
The Goethe-Institut Chicago (150 N. Michigan Ave., Suite 200) screens Ayse Polat's 1999 film TOUR ABROAD (91 min, Video Projection - Unconfirmed Format) on Tuesday at 6pm. Free admission, but RSVP required: call 312-263-0472 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Italian Cultural Institute (500 N. Michigan Ave.) screens Francesca Archibugi's 2009 film QUESTION OF THE HEART (100 min, Video Projection - Unconfirmed Format) on Tuesday at 6pm. Free admission.
Chicago Public Library screenings: Due to the frequency of late-additions (past our deadlines) and to their frequent inability (due to licensing restrictions) of publicly listing the titles of films they are screening, we will no longer be listing specific CPL screenings. Check their website for any films that may be showing.
The Patio Theater and the Portage Theater calendars have been confusing and constantly shifting--adding and removing events with little notice--and reportedly have been unexpectedly closed for scheduled events. We will no longer attempt to list any screenings there.