Daily Archives: October 13, 1989

To Kill a Priest

This film in English by the gifted Polish writer-director Agnieszka Holland (who wrote Anna and directed A Woman Alone), receiving its exclusive U.S. premiere here, is a fiction film based on the real-life assassination of Solidarity chaplain Father Jerzy Popieluszko by secret police in 1984. While there’s a certain awkwardness inherent in making what is essentially an English-language Polish film on a Polish subject in France with English and American actors, this is a far cry from simple Solidarity agitprop. Holland is interested in exploring the moral complexity and ambiguity of Poland in the early 80s, and sets about this task with a great deal of intelligence and imagination, devoting even more attention to the police captain (Ed Harris in one of his better performances) who kills the priest (Christopher Lambert) than she does to the priest himself. In contrast to the kindergarten-level philosophizing of Woody Allen’s new Crimes and Misdemeanors, this is a film of some depth with a genuine sense of ethical nuance. Holland is generally well served by her cast, which also includes Joanne Whalley, Joss Ackland, Tim Roth, and Peter Postlethwaite (the father in Distant Voices, Still Lives). (Broadway, Commons, Plaza, 900 N. Michigan, Ridge, Bricktown Square, Hillside Square)… Read more »

The Fabulous Baker Boys

Real-life brothers Jeff and Beau Bridges play Jack and Frank Baker, a second-rate cocktail-lounge piano duo with staying power who hire Susie Diamond, a sexy vocalist (Michelle Pfeiffer), to beef up their act, in the impressive directorial debut of screenwriter Steve Kloves (Racing With the Moon), who also wrote the script. Frank is the square brother who handles the business–he’s married, with kids, and not very musically inspired; Jack is remote, relatively irresponsible, and gifted–he plays jazz in his spare time and sounds like a leaner version of Bill Evans (his piano solos are dubbed by Dave Grusin, the film’s music director, and the dubbing is for the most part expertly done). Susie is a former call girl who brings some soul to the group, as well as some problems when she and Jack develop a mutual attraction, and Pfeiffer turns out to be a terrific singer. This pared-away comedy-drama, which concentrates exclusively on the three characters, has plenty of old fashioned virtues: deft acting, a nice sense of scale that makes the drama agreeably life-size, a good use of Seattle locations, fluid camera work (by Michael Ballhaus), a kind of burnished romanticism about the music, and a genuine feeling for the characters and their various means of coping.… Read more »

Big

The 25th Chicago International Film Festival celebrates its longevity by offering more films this year than ever before. Not counting several special programs, about 130 films are being offered–and once again, quantity rather than quality is the festival’s principal calling card.

With the public tolerance for subtitles shrinking every year, and the number of foreign-language films distributed in this country decreasing correspondingly, any event that offers cinematic evidence of what is happening in other countries has to be valuable. Despite this built-in advantage, however, the Chicago festival unfailingly goes about its task with distressing unevenness. The number of insignificant-to-awful items set to be screened–along with some undeniably good and important films–continues to rankle, if only because festival director Michael Kutza doesn’t seem to have assembled this hodgepodge with any consistent aesthetic, historical, or political position in mind. If you entered a well-stocked bookstore and grabbed the first 130 titles in sight, you’d come up with a collection something like the films in this festival.

Thanks to this year’s large amount of retrospective items, and (one suspects) the critical input of Kutza’s assistant John Porter, who made some of the selections, the number of good films at the festival does seem higher than usual.… Read more »

Ashik Kerib

The latest film of Sergei Paradjanov (1988), a loose adaptation of a story by Mikhail Lermontov about a Turkish minstrel and maiden, is a relatively minor work with much personal and autobiographical significance. But minor Paradjanov qualifies as something very close to major from most other filmmakers. The style is somewhat akin to the frontal tableaux vivants of The Color of Pomegranates with the addition of some camera movement, dialogue, and offscreen narration; the Azerbaijani dialogue and the subtitled Georgian narration tell the story proper, and the limitation of the visuals in this case is that they tend to be more illustrative than is usual with Paradianov. But even if Ashik Kerib were only a collection of beautiful shots (and it is clearly more than that), they would still be some of the most beautiful shots to be found in contemporary Soviet cinema–richly colored, mysterious, and magical. (Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Friday, October 13, 6:00, and Saturday and Sunday, October 14 and 15, 4:00, 443-3737)… Read more »