From the March 14, 2003 Chicago Reader. — J.R.
* (Has redeeming facet)
Directed and written by Gaspar Noe
With Monica Bellucci, Vincent Cassel, Albert Dupontel, Jo Prestia, and Philippe Nahon
** (Worth seeing)
Directed by Costa-Gavras
Written by Costa-Gavras and Jean-Claude Grumberg
With Ulrich Tukur, Mathieu Kassovitz, Ulrich Muhe, Michel Duchaussoy, and Fontana Ion Caramitru.
Why link an arty exploitation picture about rape, murder, and revenge with a sober adaptation of Rolf Hochhuth’s The Deputy, a 1960s German play about the failure of the Vatican to save Jewish lives during the Holocaust? One reason is to point out a critical difference between them. In Irreversible Gaspar Noe elects to show us everything — two faces being smashed to bloody messes, the heroine being raped and beaten for an agonizing ten minutes — while in Amen. (which played last week at the Music Box) Costa-Gavras shows his hero Kurt Gerstein (Ulrich Tukur), a newly commissioned SS lieutenant with a conscience, watching the gassing of Jews through a peephole with other officers but refuses to show us any part of what Gerstein sees.
The difference here concerns more than just etiquette. In the terms propounded by Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah (1985), it concerns ethics.… Read more »
Members of a farming family incessantly repeat the same lines of dialogue while a student prepares to leave home for school; guests at an interminable wedding cackle maniacally while the ghost of the groom’s lover interferes with the ceremony. Now over 70, the great Russian filmmaker Kira Muratova (The Asthenic Syndrome) seems to get wilder and more transgressive with every passing year. This updated merging of two early Anton Chekhov texts (the short play Tatiana Repina and the story Difficult Natures) veers closer to the mad lucidity of Gogol than to the wry realism of The Cherry Orchard. I found the extreme stylization mesmerizing, hilarious, and ultimately closer to hyperrealism than absurdism, though if you enter this without any warning you might wind up fleeing in terror. In Russian with subtitles. 120 min. (JR)
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I guess I do too, which is why I chose to review this program. But Micaela O’Herlihy’s 14-minute Thunder Perfect Mind, a choppy experimental film mixing found footage with elliptical glimpses of a cavorting New Age prostitute, is too arch and self-conscious for my taste. In her 58-minute video documentary Bad Girls, Marielle Nitoslawska interviews smart and articulate women on the subject of porn, including film theorist and former Chicagoan Linda Williams, French feminist Luce Irigaray, filmmaker Catherine Breillat, performance artist and porn star Annie Sprinkle, and several directors of erotic films, including some who work for Lars von Trier’s Danish porn studio. Much of this is fun and interesting, though only occasionally both at the same time. (JR)… Read more »
Two video documentaries. The shorter of the two, Tanaz Eshaghian and Sara Nodojoumi’s I Call Myself Persian: Iranians in America (2001, 27 min.), takes on a fascinating topic, but the execution is pedestrian talking-head stuff. Among the better heads on display are Edward Said and the artist and filmmaker Sharin Neshat. Lu Lippold’s The Unapologetic Life of Margaret Randall (2002, 59 min.) is an absorbing portrait of the bohemian writer and activist, an outspoken critic of U.S. foreign policy in Central and South America. After living in Cuba, Nicaragua, and Mexico for decades, Randall sued to have her American citizenshipwhich she had previously renouncedreinstated, incurring a lengthy deportation battle with the U.S. government. Randall, her mother, her daughters, and poet Adrienne Rich are better at telling Randall’s story than the awkward narration. (JR)… Read more »
Jerry Lewis’s fourth solo feature directed by his gifted mentor Frank Tashlin (1963) takes place in a department store that Lewis’s ditzy character winds up destroying. The backup cast is unusually good (Agnes Moorehead, Jill St. John, John McGiver, Ray Walston), and Tashlin exploits to the fullest his vision of appliances running amok. 90 min. (JR)… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (March 14, 2003). — J.R
Reeking with allegory, Andrew Wyeth landscapes, undigested Flannery O’Connor, variable performances, and all kinds of ambition and pretension, this 1990 first feature by English writer-director Philip Ridley is an American gothic melodrama set in the Idaho prairies. It’s typical of the overall conception that mass murderers and child molesters figure as incidental characters and as a collective deus ex machina for a plot already so full of grotesqueries that they’re barely noticed. The plot centers on an eight-year-old boy whose playmates are abused and murdered and who thinks a neighboring English widow is a vampire; his father is a weakling with a homosexual incident in his past who commits suicide, his mother is a borderline psychotic, and the local sheriff is a veritable catalog of mutilations. The story opens with an exploding frog and also makes room for an alcoholic religious fanatic and stillborn child that the hero uncovers and thinks is one of his murdered playmates. With Viggo Mortensen, Lindsay Duncan, Jeremy Cooper, and Sheila Moore. 95 min. (JR)… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (March 14, 2003). — J.R.
David Cronenberg isn’t credited often enough for his literacy, which anchors him as a filmmaker much as Method acting can anchor some performers: he seems to immerse himself so deeply in the warped visions of certain writers that he re-creates their work whereas most literary filmmakers would simply imitate it. This tour de force, which Patrick McGrath adapted from his own novel under Cronenberg’s supervision, draws us into the consciousness of a schizophrenic (Ralph Fiennes) who’s been incarcerated for most of his life and whose boyhood traumas merge seamlessly with his current existence in an east London halfway house; apparently Cronenberg’s model is not only McGrath but Samuel Beckett in his early novels. The film asks us to piece together what really happened in the past, and even after two viewings I haven’t entirely succeeded, but I was floored by Cronenberg’s mastery of the material. Fiennes gives one of his finest performances; Miranda Richardson, playing at least three characters in the protagonist’s twisted vision, is no less impressive; and Gabriel Byrne, Lynn Redgrave, and John Neville do excellent backup work. A lean and densely packed 98 minutes, this minimalist chamber thriller is at once hallucinatory and terrifyingly real.… Read more »