Critical guide to the 1997 Chicago International Film Festival
by Ray Pride
Directed by Sidney Lumet (USA) 8:00. While screenwriter Steven Schwartz's words never rumble onto the screen like Paddy Chayefsky's did in Lumet's 1975 "Network," there is enough outrage at contemporary managed-health fiascoes here to fill several movies and a couple of op-ed columns. James Spader is a third-year intensive-care resident at a slightly futuristic, money-driven urban hospital, who becomes enmeshed in the legalities surrounding the case of a comatose man being kept alive for his estate rather than whether he has any chance of recovery. Some of the acting is awful -- turn your eyes away from Kyra Sedgwick as a gold-digging airhead -- and a subplot involving Wallace Shawn as an emissary from hell is subpar. But there is the spectacle of Albert Brooks as a doddering alcoholic who runs the ICU, cutting to the heart of the film's concerns behind old-age makeup and with vaudeville-sharp timing. With Helen Mirren, Jeffrey Wright, and behind a wimple and lofting, winged white headgear, Anne Bancroft.
McClurg Court, $12.50
Directed by Alexe• Balabanov (Russia) 6:45. Of two similar films on show at the Toronto Film Festival, I preferred Ukrainian Viatcheslav Krichtofovitch's subtle, beautiful "Friend of the Deceased" as a sorrowful view of the post-Communist era. But another worthy examination of the deterioration of the former Soviet Union is Alexe• Balabanov's "The Brother," starring Serge• Bodrov Jr. (who appeared in his father's "Prisoner of the Mountains.") Young Danila returns from the Army to St. Petersberg and after several painful experiences finds his older brother, who has become a Mafia hitman. The tormented city glistens. Life goes on. Violence is just the way things happen.
Directed by Jennifer Alleyn, Manon Brian, Marie-Julie Dallaire, Arto Paragamian, Andr Turpin, Denis Villeneuve (Canada) 9:15. A black-and-white Quebecois anthology film, a sleeper among critics at this year's Toronto Film Festival, offering a portrait of contemporary Montral through the eyes of Greek immigrant Cosmos, a cab driver with a knack for picking up the strangest of strangers.
Directed by Youssef Chahine (Egypt-France) 6:45. There's charm in this clunker, a ripe melodrama from a 71-year-old director with a half-century career. Chahine's esteemed elsewhere, but has never had a film commercially released here. This particular heart-tugger starts in twelfth-century France, where heretics are being burned at the stake, but quickly moves to Andalusia, where the Caliph Al Mansour shelters freethinkers, including the French philosopher Averršes (Egyptian star Nour El Cherif). Dead-serious philosophical entreaties might be followed by nutty comedy, or, most engagingly, musical numbers. (There's one exceedingly energetic production number to Gypsy music that kept me in my seat longer than I would have expected.) At his New York Film Festival press conference this weekend, Chahine said, "In a single day, I expect to cry, laugh, sing, I may even be locked up in a jail. A film should contain all those things." And so he tries.
Directed by Michael Haneke (Austria) 9:30 The dead-serious hauteur-auteur of movies such as "Benny's Video" and "71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance" once again attacks his favorite subject, violence as it is portrayed in the media. I truly despised Haneke's earlier films and hadn't any intentions of seeing more. The word-of-mouth on "Funny Games," involving the torture of a family, makes it sound like "Haneke: Portrait of a Serial Killer" is only a heartbeat away.
Directed by Scott Saunders (USA) 9:30 See Feature.
Kini and Adams
Directed by Idrissa Ouedraogo (Zimbabwe-France-England) 1:00, 3:00, 7:00 Zimbabwean road movie, with widescreen African scenery, from the talented director of "Yaaba."
Kiss or Kill
Directed by Bill Bennett (Australia) 7:00
Directed by Berit Nesheim (Norway) 7:15 Young Maria chafes at the restrictions her father, a priest, places upon her.
Directed by Liv Ullmann (Sweden) 12:30, 3:00, 9:00 Ingmar Bergman wrote the script for this film by his former actress and lover, a story based on five conversations between Bergman's parents over a twenty-five-year period. With Pernilla August, Max von Sydow, Samuel Froler.
Directed by Michael Winterbottom (England-USA) 9:30 Set alongside the whacked-out splendor of Emir Kustirica's "Underground," Winterbottom's latest movie might suffer, but his combination of understated drama, star turns and actual news footage to depict the aftermath of the war in Bosnia, has cumulative power. With Stephen Dillane as a veteran English reporter, Woody Harrelson as an American showboat of a correspondent, Emily Lloyd, Marisa Tomei and Emira Nusevic.
Directed by Matthieu Kassovitz (France) 1:30, 9:00
The director of "Metisse" and "Hate" stirred up some controversy with "Assassin(s)," an ultra-violent story of a 25-year-old television addict whose life changes when he meets an aging hitman. A box-office disaster in Europe, Kassovitz's film also elicited cries that French cable broadcaster Canal Plus, which invests in most French movies, had irresponsibly placed their money in far too many pictures like this one.
Directed by Victor Mignatti (USA) 7:00 Marc and Robert, two friends fresh from NYU, settle into their respective Greenwich Village apartments, pursuing "perfect 10" boyfriends, Broadway musical tickets and blurbs from Rex Reed like "One of the most joyous American films of the year!"
See Fri 10. 2:30, 9:15
Directed by Kjell-Ake Andersson (Sweden) 4:30 Winner of the Swedish Film of the Year Award, Andersson's movie follows the years of grieving that follows the death of a young girl bicycling to a rural church for a rehearsal of Bach's Christmas Oratorio.
See Fri 10. 5:00
See Fri 10. 3:00
The Headhunter's Sister
See Fri 10.2:00, 4:30
Directed by Mark Waters (USA) 9:30
Parker Posey shines in Mark Waters' wonderfully calibrated black comedy, based on Wendy MacLeod's play, that features family madness, reenactments of the JFK assassination, incest and Tori Spelling (who's good!). With Genevieve Bujold, Josh Hamilton, Freddie Prinze Jr. $10.
Directed by Joe Marsden (USA) 6:45 A black-and-white story of an 1869 rebellion aboard an illegal slave ship awaiting more passengers off the shore of Africa.
Directed by Andreas Kleinert (Germany) 5:15 A woman suffering from depression leaves an asylum to track down her daughter's killer.
Directed by Harish Saluja (USA) 5:00 A retired, newly widowed schoolmaster leaves India to join his son, Raj, in Pittsburgh, leading to conflicts with Raj's wife, waspy poet Laura, who does not appreciate the old man's Old World ways.
Directed by Martin Walz (Germany) 9:45 German bad-taste comedy, based on a best-selling comic by Ralph Konig, has been picked up for distribution by those titans of trash, Tromafilm. Gay New York cop Luigi Mackaroni is called in to investigate the mutilations around Times Square's Hotel Quickie, all due to a killer condom. (Luigi, it says here, even loses a testicle in the course of his investigation.)
Directed by Yim Ho (Hong Kong) 9:15 Hipster comedy filled with hairdressers, world-class chefs, philosophers and fathers-turned-moms after sex-change operations.
Directed by Werner Schroeter (Germany) 2:30 Long-time Chicago Festival favorite Schroeter, a lifelong operaphile, asks a group of legendary divas and thespians a question from the work of Roland Barthes: "Why and how do singers find their emotions in their voices?"
Directed by Gustavo Mosquera R (Argentina) 7:00 A two-year workshop with forty-five students produced this story of a detective called in to deal with the disappearance of a trainload of passengers in the subway system; the train has vanished, but it can still be heard, much like the words "political allegory."
Directed by Marco Bellochio (Italy) 7:15 From the director of "Fists in the Pocket," and the fellatio-fest "The Devil Is a Woman" comes a period story of a military leader who commanded the German cavalry during the Thirty-Year War and whose family honor and private lusts lead to strange and suicidal choices.
Directed by Montxo Armend‡riz Barrios (Spain) 5:15. A 9-year-old in a 1960s Spanish village becomes fascinated with death.
Directed by Waris Hussein (England) 7:15. A Bombay-set story of a boy with a disease that makes his bones brittle who will never grow and his dreams of his place in the world. Based on the "fictional autobiography" of star-screenwriter Firdaus Kanga.
Directed by Anna Nicholas (USA) 3:00. A documentary-style story of the impact of the 1992 riots on a South Central L.A. strip mall populated by African Americans, Vietnamese, Swedes, Iranians, Koreans and Mexicans.
World of Animation
1:00. At least fifteen shorts from around the word, including "Stiffy," the story of a young boy and his dead dog; a romp through a Bulgarian folk song, "Landed a Beetle on a Thistle," and new work from the one-trick Bill Plympton.
Directed by Ira Wohl (USA) 4:30. Subtitled, "`Best Boy' and All of Us Twenty Years Later." Eighteen years after the Oscar-winning documentary about Wohl's mentally retarded cousin Philly. Now in his seventies, Philly prepares for his bar mitzvah.
Directed by Tom Collins (Northern Ireland) 3:00. The first independent film out of Northern Ireland in many years, "Bogwoman" begins in 1958 and ends as British soldiers arrive in 1968. It's the story of a resilient woman and her attempts to build a better life for herself and her son.
See Sat 11. 2:15
See Fri 10. 9:30
See Fri 10. 4:15
Directed by Bernie Casey (USA) 7:00. A long evening at an upscale Savannah, Georgia, restaurant is the occasion for three accomplished African-American men to share their ideas, dreams and concerns. Casey, the actor and former pro football star, writes, produces, stars and directs.
Directed by George Hickenlooper (USA) 9:00
Directed by Pierre Jolivet (France) 9:15. An unemployed man, two years on the dole, takes a job driving a truck for an old friend. Fred finds himself thrown into a series of half-comprehensible underworld intrigues, finally being accused of killing a man.
The Ice Storm
Directed by Ang Lee (USA) 7:00. Ang Lee's chilly, exquisite portrait of two suburban Connecticut families in 1973 is a triumph of mood over material, a work of immense texture and behavioral acuity. Kevin Kline, Joan Allen and Sigourney Weaver are among the adults; the adolescents include Tobey Maguire, Elijah Wood, Adam Hann-Byrd, and in a marvel of a performance as a driven, disturbed, sexually precocious 14-year-old, Christina Ricci. The cinematography by Frederick Elmes and the music by Mychael Danna dazzles. Take one elegant, enigmatic shot for example: from the perspective of a commuter train reaching its stop-signed deadhead at the end of the line, Danna's score sprinkles bell-like gamelan music of great beauty as we see a row of middle-aged white men, clutching briefcases, hats clamped to heads, swaddled in their identical tan Burberry raincoats. The elegiac forward motion, the odd choice of music, the sudden register of the men's plight -- haunting. $10.
Ill Gotten Gains
See Sat 11. 5:00
In the Name of Innocence
See Sat 11. 7:15
See Sat 11. 3:15
See Sat 11. 9:30
Directed by Wolfgang Becker (Germany) 9:20. Contemporary Berlin is the site of love among the underemployed, with brushes with the law, casual flings and that ol' debbil, HIV.
Directed by Jerzy Stuhr (Poland) 2:00. One of Krzysztof Kieslowski's favorite actors dedicates this writing-directing-starring vehicle to the late director. Stuhr plays four different 45-year-old men, each of whom find themselves flummoxed by the mysteries of love.
See Sat 11. 4:30
See Sat 11. 5:00
Other Side of Sunday
See Fri 10. 2:45
The Prince of Homburg
See Sat 11. 5:30
Secrets of the Heart
See Sat 11. 5:15
Directed by Naomi Kawase (Japan) 7:30. A quiet, graceful film, "Suzaku" traces the deterioration of a family and a village over a fifteen-year period, as the town moves from being a self-sustaining village noted for its cedars to an atomized collection of individuals who find whatever work they can.
Directed by J‡nos Sz‡sz (Hungary) 9:15. An atmospheric psychological horror film, of sorts, set in a provincial Hungarian town in 1914.
See Sat 11 9:00
See Sun 12. 5:15
Directed by Caroline Link (Germany) 9:20. The life of an 8-year-old girl who "hears" for her two deaf parents changes "with the arrival of Aunt Clarissa, a jazz clarinetist with a zest for life."
See Sat 11. 6:45
See Feature. 2:30, 7:00
See Sun 12. 5:00
(USA) Directed by Andrew Niccol. 7:00. Genetic engineering is the subject of this twenty-first-century distopian thriller, starring Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman, Alan Arkin, Jude Law, Gore Vidal and Ernest Borgnine. $10.
Directed by Stanley Donen (1958, USA) . Cary Grant's an American playboy in London, Ingrid Bergman's the actress who romances him. Charming fluff. 3:00
See Sun 12. 2:30
6:30. Sam Peckinpah's "The Ballad of Cable Hogue" is shown, but the important part of the program comes first -- Paul Seydor's thirty-four-minute documentary, "The Wild Bunch: An Album in Montage." In a film that will only be available on laserdisc, Seydor, a film editor who also wrote the seminal "Peckinpah: The Western Films: A Reconsideration" combines stills, black-and-white archival footage of Peckinpah directing and clips from the film itself.
The Sixth Happiness
See Sat 11. 3:00, 9:30
See Sun 12. 4:30, 9:15
Directed by Viktor Kossakovsky (Russia) 5:00. The director returns to St. Petersburg, where he was born on July 19, 1961, and seeks out as many of the 100 souls born that day in that city as he can find. Seventy of them are on view in his film.
Welcome to Sarajevo
See Fri 10. 9:00
The Witman Boys
See Sun 12. 3:30, 6:45
Directed by Jonathan Kaufer (USA)
See Mon 13. 4:30
See Sun 12. 7:15
7:00. The aging but ever-youthful megamillionaire and schlockist is saluted with two of his features: "Bucket of Blood" and "X: The Man With the X-Ray Eyes." Corman will attend. On Wednesday, a Corman tribute will be presented. For more information on that program, call 312.425.9400.
See Sun 12. 7:00
Four Days in September
Directed by Bruno Barretto (Brazil) 9:15. An adaptation of a novel, based on a true story, about the events leading up to the kidnapping of the American ambassador to Brazil in 1969. With Alan Arkin.
See Sun 12. 9:15
See Fri 10. 9:00
Directed by Andrew Kotting (US) 7:00. Kotting takes a trip around the coast of the UK with his opinionated grandmother and his daughter, who can only communicate in sign language. Kotting fools around with film grammar and sound in an attempt to depict their growing bond.
Life is All You Get
See Sun 12. 3:00, 9:00
Directed by Mireia Ros (Spain) 6:45. Ros conflates tall tales told by her mother and creates the story of "a colorful woman with a mysterious past" in 1930s Barcelona.
Directed by Tsai Ming-Liang (Taiwan) 6:30. A prize-winner at Berlin, Tsai extends his experiments with long takes in the story of a young man whose family begins to disintegrate.
See Mon 13. 3:00
See Feature. 4:30
See Mon 13. 9:15
Clandestine Stories in Havana
Directed by Diego Musiak (Cuba-Argentina) 7:15
Four love stories in Havana: an Argentine woman falls in love with a cabbie who lives at home with mom; a filmmaker comes to Cuba to kill himself; a closeted gay couple eye the city; and two journalists grow closer as they shoot a documentary on the city.
Directed by Thor Fridrik Fridriksson (Iceland) 6:45
As a follow-up to his wonderfully loopy "Cold Fever," Fridriksson travels back to 1950s Reykjavik, where an abandoned barracks fills up with the homeless, who are mesmerized when one of their own returns from the United States with stories about the wealth of pop culture to be found there. Gloomy yet effervescent, absurd yet tender, Fridriksson continues to amuse, charting the fantasy life of his odd homeland.
See Tue 14. 3:30
House of Yes
See Sat 11. 9:00
See Tue 14. 3:30, 8:45
The Life of Jesus
Love in the Afternoon
Directed by Billy Wilder (USA) 3:00. Audrey Hepburn works on her daddy-complex with old man Gary Cooper. Charming, funny, creepy.
See Sun 12. 9:00
Post Coitum, Animal Triste
Directed by Brigitte Rouan (France)9:15. A middle-aged woman, Diane (Rouan), has an affair with a twentyish engineer. When it eventually runs its course, she finds herself adrift. Extremes of passion are promised.
Directed by Jeff Myers (USA) 9:00. There's a terrific short film here: in the first twenty-five minutes or so, Chicagoan Myers depicts an absurd roundelay of car theft and appropriation, as an Evanston couple in search of a salad bar leave their yellow Alfa Romeo convertible with a trio of hapless car parkers. They joyride; it gets stolen; sold to an impotent drug dealer; borrowed by the dealer's girlfriend; parked at the same restaurant. Myers and writer Kris Konrad manage to spin out the complications even further, but the mix of comedic tones starts to jar at that point, particularly when a cartoon goombah restaurateur is made the equivalent of a Christian couple. Anybody's ripe for comedy when the jokes are funny, but once "The Ride" gets out of its low-life circles, condescension and implausibility take over. Nice views of Chicago as a semi-barren industrial wasteland.
See Tue 14. 3:00
See Mon 13. 7:00
World of Animation
Wings of the Dove
Directed by Iain Softley (USA) 7:00
Copyright 1997 New City Communications, Inc.