Daily Archives: June 19, 2020

The Film Festival That Got Away

From the Chicago Reader (October 12, 1990). — J.R.


The 26th Chicago International Film Festival includes, at the latest count, 110 features and ten additional programs, spaced out over 15 days in two locations –a somewhat more modest menu than last year’s. Apart from this streamlining, it would be a pleasure to report some major improvements in the overall selection, but I’m afraid wanting isn’t having, and from the looks of things, this year’s lineup is not very inspiring.






About six weeks ago, when the festival issued a list of about 100 “confirmed and invited” films, I was hopeful. Based on what I’d already seen or heard about, the list was, barring some omissions, a fair summary of what was going on in world cinema, which is more than one could say for previous Chicago festival lineups. I pointed this out to a colleague, who replied, “Yeah, but let’s see how many of these actually turn up,” and I’m sorry to say his skepticism was warranted. Gradually, irrevocably, over half of the hottest titles were dropped from the list, including Kira Muratova’s remarkable The Asthenic Syndrome, Jean-Luc Godard’s La nouvelle vague, Nanni Moretti’s Palombella Rosa, Pavel Lounguine’s Taxi Blues, Charles Burnett’s soon-to-open To Sleep With Anger, Aki Kaurismaki’s The Match Factory Girl, Bertrand Tavernier’s Daddy Nostalgy, Otar Iosseliani’s Et la lumiere fut, and Patrice Leconte’s The Hairdresser’s Husband.… Read more »


From the Chicago Reader (October 27, 2000). — J.R.

Alain Resnais’ first feature in English (1977, 110 min.) focuses on the imagination, dreams, and memories of an aging British novelist (John Gielgud) over one night as he mentally composes and recomposes his last book, using members of his immediate family — Dirk Bogarde, Ellen Burstyn, David Warner, and Elaine Stritch — as his models. Although David Mercer’s witty, aphoristic script can be British to a fault, the film’s rich mental landscape is a good deal more universal, with everything from H.P. Lovecraft’s werewolves to a painted seaside backdrop providing the essential textures. Like all of Resnais’ best work, this is shot through with purposeful and lyrical enigmas, but the family profile that emerges is warm and penetrating, recalling the haunted Tyrones in Long Day’s Journey Into Night rather than the pieces of an abstract puzzle. The superb performances and Miklos Rozsa’s sumptuous Hollywood-style score give the film’s conceit a moving monumentality and depth, and Resnais’ insights into the fiction-making process are mesmerizing and beautiful. This is showing in a 16-millimeter print, but later in the evening the Film Center will present 35-millimeter prints of Hiroshima, mon amour (1959) and Muriel (1963).… Read more »

The Prisoners Of Buñuel

From the Chicago Reader (November 1, 2000). — J.R.


Land Without Bread (1932), Luis Buñuel’s only documentary, examines the hopeless living conditions of an impoverished village in western Spain; Ramon Gieling’s 73-minute Dutch documentary The Prisoners of Buñuel reveals what the village’s people think of the film 60-odd years later, and while it’s hardly the last word on Buñuel, it does offer a thoughtful and provocative reflection on the intricate cross-purposes of life and art — not to mention accuracy and truth. One can’t necessarily believe everything the villagers say about the film, especially because some of them contradict one another. But conversely, to take Buñuel’s masterpiece entirely at face value would be to misread it: it’s a metaphysical statement more than anything else, and its offscreen narration mocks the touristic documentary in countless ways. It’s impossible to evaluate The Prisoners of Buñuel adequately if you haven’t seen Land Without Bread, and Gieling, who jokingly draws attention to the way portions of his own documentary are staged, seems well aware of the problem. (Several extracts appear when he screens the film in the village square, but hardly enough to allow for any final verdict.) Unfortunately this U.S. premiere, which Gieling will attend, doesn’t include Land Without Bread on the program, but Facets Multimedia Center will show it on Friday, November 17, as part of a Buñuel retrospective.Read more »

The Anti-Capitalist Aftermath of George Floyd’s Murder

The Chiseler, June 6, 2020. — J.R.



Once again, The Chiseler’s Daniel Riccuito fires off an adrenal email to Jonathan Rosenbaum. It would seem that current protests, spreading globally, fuel both men with hope – as opposed to handwringing dismay.

DR: One of my pet worries has been that Me Too operates within the same bourgeoise comfort zone that always seems to define (and even helps establish adamantine parameters around) the most represented form of “Feminism” – the word itself has historically been equated with American whiteness, racism and elitist “glass cieling” (a metaphor that reveals all) politics. Ask Angela Davis. The glorious thing about our current global “crisis” (I call it “OPPORTUNITY!”) is that we can no longer avoid socio-economic class – i.e., the intrinsic relationship between capitalism and racism. When we focus on black people and ask “What could possibly make life fairer,” ALL the issues automatically come into play: environmental racism, mass incarceration, unacceptable poverty rates, race-based joblessness, lack of medical care, defunded education – we are COMPELLED to attack capitalism at its roots.

JR: I share your optimism. This is anti-capitalism without much of the privileged white delusion of 60s radicals that we need to wipe the slate clean and start all over again from scratch (as if any of us even knew what scratch consisted of).

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National Stereotypes and Expatriates (2008)

This is my fifth column for Cahiers du Cinéma España, which ran in their February 2008 issue. Incidentally, any Americans who might still be skeptical about the multiracial and multicultural composition of the Iranian population are urged to check out the CIA’s web site on this matter: page down to Iran’s ethnic groups, where you’ll find “Persian 51%, Azeri 24%, Gilaki and Mazandarani 8%, Kurd 7%, Arab 3%, Lur 2%, Baloch 2%, Turkmen 2%, other 1%,” and compare this to their 2007 estimates for the U.S. (“white 79.96%, black 12.85%, Asian 4.43%, Amerindian and Alaska native 0.97%, native Hawaiian and other Pacific islander 0.8%, two or more races 1.61%” — something I wish I’d known about when I was having my editorial dispute at the Reader. — J.R.

After reflecting in my last column about the “attractions and perils of internationalism,” I’ve been pondering how to distinguish these concerns from those of language, race, and ethnicity. The lack of a common ground in discussing some issues only adds to the confusion. Some months ago, I was shocked when my editor at the Chicago Reader, a weekly “alternative” newspaper where I’ve worked since 1987 (and from which I’m preparing to retire as a staff member in early 2008), eliminated a phrase from an article in which I asserted that Iran was just as multicultural and as multiracial as the U.S.,… Read more »