This appeared in the Chicago Reader (September 16, 1994). — J.R.
**** THE BLUE KITE
Directed by Tian Zhuangzhuang
Written by Xiao Mao
With Zhang Wenyao, Chen Xiaoman, Lu Liping, Pu Quanxin, Li Xuejian, Guo Baochang, Zhong Ping, and Chu Quanzhong.
Covering 15 years of modern Chinese history, from 1953 to 1968, The Blue Kite is powerful less for what it says about continuity in history than for what it implies about history disrupting people’s lives. The two things that matter most to Tietou, the fictional hero, apart from his mother, are the courtyard just off the Dry Well Lane apartment where his parents move in the opening scene and the title toy — actually a series of toys — he’s given to play with by his father. Each blue kite we see over the course of the film winds up getting stuck in one of the courtyard’s trees and needs to be replaced; more or less the same thing happens with the Tietou’s father (eventually supplanted by two stepfathers) and Tietou’s sense of home, not to mention his sense of identity. All that he retains, and only after a struggle, is a certain sense of morality bequeathed by his mother and a certain sense of place bequeathed by the courtyard.… Read more »
From the January 29, 1999 Chicago Reader. — J.R.
This 1992 French feature by Leos Carax (Boy Meets Girl, Bad Blood) could be the great urban expressionist fantasy of the 90s: like Sunrise and Lonesome in the 20s and Playtime and Alphaville in the 60s, it uses a city’s physical characteristics to poetically reflect the consciousness of its characters. Carax daringly and disconcertingly begins the film as a documentary portrait of the homeless in Paris, but it becomes a delirious love story between two people (Denis Lavant and Juliette Binoche) who live on one of Paris’s most famous bridges and experience the whole city as a kind of enchanted playground, a vision that reaches an explosive apotheosis during a bicentennial fireworks display over the Seine. To realize his lyrical and monumental vision, Carax built a huge set in the French countryside that depicted Pont-Neuf and its surroundings, making this one of the most expensive French productions ever mounted. So the film seems an ideal subject for a lecture by former Chicagoan Stuart Klawans, film critic for the Nation and author of Film Follies: The Cinema Out of Order, a new book with a witty and highly original sense of film history.… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (December 24, 1999). — J.R.
Apparently Woody Allen can no longer even conceive of making a movie that isn’t derived from Bergman or Fellini; this one echoes the latter’s La strada in everything from Samantha Morton’s pantomime performance as a smiling mute to the melancholic ending. (To a smaller degree Allen also imitates his own Zelig imitating Warren Beatty’s Reds, by enlisting various jazz experts, himself included, to comment on his fictional hero.) But this absorbing picture is still about as good as Allen gets, a persuasive, nuanced, and relatively graceful portrait of an egotistical yet talented jazz guitarist of the swing era, astutely played by Sean Penn, with some pretty good solos dubbed by Howard Alden and lots of unobtrusive period flavor. The jazz milieu, combined with the fact that the Penn character is obsessed with Django Reinhardt just as Allen is obsessed with Bergman and Fellini, makes this one of his more personal projects as well. With Uma Thurman, Anthony LaPaglia, Brian Markinson, Gretchen Mol, James Urbaniak, and a bit by John Waters. Pipers Alley, Wilmette. — Jonathan Rosenbaum
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