From the Chicago Reader (June 14, 2002). — J.R.
*** (A must-see)
Directed by Henry Bean
Written by Bean and Mark Jacobson
With Ryan Gosling, Summer Phoenix, Theresa Russell, Billy Zane, A.D. Miles, Glenn Fitzgerald, Elizabeth Reaser, and Dean Strober.
The Believer, an independent feature, premiered on cable nearly three months ago, after failing to get a distributor. But it was recently picked up and is opening this week at Landmark’s Century Centre. It’s already created a good deal of buzz, most of it justified.
Inspired by the real-life story of a 28-year-old Jew in Queens named Daniel Burros, who became a high-ranking member of the American Nazi Party and then of the New York chapter of the Ku Klux Klan before fatally shooting himself when the New York Times ran a front-page story revealing that he was a Jew, the film makes a few educated guesses about the possible origins of such a divided identity, yet it’s entirely to the credit of Henry Bean, the writer-director, and Mark Jacobson, who collaborated on the story, that satisfying psychological explanations aren’t what the film is after. As Bean, a Reform Jew, has suggested in various statements, the film is more precisely an exploration of what it means to be Jewish and what it means to hate — two separate subjects that happen to overlap in this case.… Read more »
Earth (1930) is the most famous of Alexander Dovzhenko’s masterpieces, but this white-hot war film, made the previous year and screening only once in the Gene Siskel Film Center’s invaluable Dovzhenko retrospective, is in many ways his most dazzling silent picture. Though it was commissioned to glorify the 1918 struggle of Bolshevik workers at a Kiev munitions factory against White Russian troops, Dovzhenko’s view of wartime and battlefront morality is too ambiguous and multilayered to fit comfortably within any propaganda scheme. More clearly influenced by Sergei Eisenstein than any of Dovzhenko’s other pictures, it’s certainly the one that uses fast editing in the most exciting fashion, and some of the poetic uses of Ukrainian folklore that were Dovzhenko’s specialty have an almost drunken abandon here–as in the singing horses. A 35-millimeter print will be shown, and David Drazin will provide live piano accompaniment. 92 min. Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State, Saturday, June 15, 4:15, 312-846-2800.… Read more »
This is the most accessible film to date by Iranian master Abbas Kiarostami, though some people have been mistakenly scared away by its subject matter: the enormous number of Ugandan children orphaned by the AIDS crisis. In fact, much of this 2001 digital-video documentary focuses on the kids singing and dancing–at times it resembles a musical–which has led some critics to fault Kiarostami for failing to address the crisis adequately. But the video is only superficially superficial, and it grows in meaning and resonance as it progresses. A brief scene in a hospital and a few interviews tell us all the disturbing facts we need to know, and the second half moves beyond conventional documentary into Kiarostami’s brand of provocative philosophical inquiry. One scene set in almost complete darkness recalls Taste of Cherry and The Wind Will Carry Us, and a sequence set in a ruined house in the rain is as lovely as anything in Life and Nothing More. Like virtually all of Kiarostami’s mature work, this centers on the issues raised when a well-to-do filmmaker interacts with poor people and expresses his admiration for their resilience. This is Kiarostami’s first film that’s mainly in English; the balance is subtitled.… Read more »