From the Chicago Reader (August 26, 2005). — J.R.
** (Worth seeing)
Directed by Michael Winterbottom
With Kieran O’Brien and Margo Stilley
Sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll used to be a commercially surefire package that today seems less automatically reliable. Which is presumably why Michael Winterbottom’s 9 Songs arrives in Chicago 15 months after its Cannes premiere — during the dog days of summer, when art-house films that distributors aren’t quite sure what to do with tend to surface. Sex is the main course, the side dishes are nine concert performances given by rock bands, and the spices are a few glancing references to cocaine and prescription drugs.
Even though it has few of the narrative elements we usually expect, this 69-minute movie is surprisingly fresh and original. The mise en scene, the editing (by Winterbottom and Mat Whitecross), and the camerawork by Marcel Zyskind keep it lively and attractive. The lighting is often exquisite, and the actors sometimes seem like inspired jazz players.
9 Songs is intermittently arousing, but though the sex is real, it isn’t really porn. Jonathan Romney offers a pretty precise description in the London Independent: “Essentially, 9 Songs bets us that it can make sex stand for all the other things that routinely convey character.” It’s a scriptless improv for two actors, one professional (Kieran O’Brien), one not (Margo Stilley), and whether what we’re watching when they’re getting it on qualifies as fiction or documentary is part of what keeps the film interesting.… Read more »
This adaptation of the John Le Carre best seller by Jeffrey Caine plays like Graham Greene redux. Ralph Fiennes stars as a mild-mannered member of the British High Commission in Kenya whose radical activist wife (Rachel Weisz) is brutally slain; investigating her murder, he gradually pieces together a tale of corruption involving the pharmaceutical industry that’s every bit as horrific as (and much more timely than) Harry Lime’s killing of babies with diluted penicillin in The Third Man. Fernando Meirelles, codirector of City of God, stresses old-fashioned storytelling and takes full advantage of his cast, including Danny Huston. R, 129 min. (JR)… Read more »
I’ve never been a fan of Larry Clark’s pornographic features about fornicating teenagers. But this scuzz-and-skateboard fest (2002) is probably his best work, if only because it seems to have the greatest number of characters and outrages (besides the usual share of screwed-up parents). Clark shares director and cinematographer credits with the skillful Ed Lachman (who shot Far From Heaven); Clark’s sleazemeister-in-arms Harmony Korine (Gummo, Julien Donkey-Boy) based his script on Clark’s stories, and it has plenty of melodrama and disturbing southern California folkways. 96 min. (JR)… Read more »
Working without a script, the edgy British independent Michael Winterbottom (24-Hour Party People) shoots a young couple (played by Kieran O’Brien and American nonprofessional Margo Stilley) having real sex and alternates these scenes with numbers from nine London concerts (mostly rock) that their characters attend over a few months. Beautifully shot on DV by Marcel Zyskind, with minimal dialogue but voice-over narration from O’Brien, this 2004 feature is short on story and character yet usually holds its own as spectacle. The music and the body types may be familiar to a fault, but the performances are expressive. 69 min. (JR)… Read more »
This brisk, free-falling fantasy about the famous collators of German fairy tales, played here as a kind of comedy act by Matt Damon and Heath Ledger, is Terry Gilliam’s most entertaining work since the glory days of Time Bandits, Brazil, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, and The Fisher King. Screenwriter Ehren Kruger (Reindeer Games, The Ring and its sequel) is completely indifferent to the true story of the real-life brothers; he doesn’t so much adapt their tales as use them to inspire Gilliam’s goofy and/or creepy-crawly period adventures. With Lena Headey, Monica Bellucci, Peter Stormare, and Jonathan Pryce, the latter two giving some of their broadest turns as comic grotesques. PG-13, 118 min. Century 12 and CineArts 6, Chatham 14, Crown Village 18, Davis, Ford City, Gardens 7-13, Lawndale, Lincoln Village, Norridge, North Riverside, River East 21, 62nd & Western, Webster Place.… Read more »
This week the Film Center will screen all three parts of Indian director Satyajit Ray’s Apu trilogy, derived from the novels of Bibhutibhusan Banerjee. This second installment (1956), fully comprehensible on its own terms, suffers at times from its episodic plot, which follows Apu from the age of ten in the holy city of Benares (now Varanasi) to his early adulthood in Calcutta. But it’s my favorite of the three, and the reported favorite of Ray’s fellow Bengali directors Ritwik Ghatak and Mrinal Sen. Its treatment of death–Apu’s father dies toward the beginning of the film and his mother dies near the end–is among the most beautiful, mystical, and precise handlings of that subject in all of cinema, worthy of Mizoguchi; in a way the film is little more than a careful contextualizing of these two astonishing sequences. Like the rest of the trilogy, Aparajito benefits from the ravishing “commentary” of Ravi Shankar’s music. It’s a masterpiece for which terms like simplicity and profundity seem inadequate. In Bengali with subtitles. 113 min. Sat 8/27, 5:15 PM, and Tue 8/30, 6 PM, Gene Siskel Film Center.… Read more »