Daily Archives: April 6, 2007

Two Takes on the Truth

From the April 6, 2007 issue of the Chicago Reader. — J.R.




There are ways both official and unofficial to describe “the movies.” There’s the new releases the industry decides to push in the malls, and then there’s everything else, which we’re obliged to root out for ourselves. A schoolteacher I know in the wilds of Argentina selects and projects DVDs on a regular basis, and some of the stuff he shows — old experimental shorts, recent features by Abbas Kiarostami, Alexander Sokurov, and Gus Van Sant — is pretty specialized. But he must know his audience at least as well as any studio, because his screenings draw about 800 people a week.

I’d like to think that kind of niche viewing is the wave of the future, something that will put a lot of mall fare to shame. And applying this notion to a couple of features opening this week, I’d like to think that a quietly precious piece of artfully arranged storytelling like The Cats of Mirikitani and a brassy piece of bluster like The Hoax represent respectively the future and present of movies.… Read more »

Grace Kelly, Destiny Of A Princess

This English-language version of a French documentary by Patrick Jeudy is mediocre celebrity journalism, offering less insight or information than breathless speculation about why Kelly gave up Hollywood stardom to marry the prince of Monaco when the couple was never even seen kissing in public. There’s no analysis of Kelly’s career (her best movie, Rear Window, isn’t even mentioned), and most of the narrative consists of voice-over by an actress pretending to be a real-life journalist who interviewed Kelly a few times. 59 min. (JR)… Read more »

Chernobyl: The Invisible Thief

Bernard Debord’s Sun and Death, a recent French documentary on victims of the 1986 nuclear power plant explosion in Chernobyl, was scathing in its treatment of the Soviet government’s lies and cover-ups. There’s less finger-pointing and more personal sadness in this 2007 German documentary by Christoph Boekel: his wife, whom he met when she served as his Russian interpreter on another film project, died from exposure to Chernobyl radiation. The most memorable interviews here are with a talented painter who worked on the mop-up team after the disaster (and has also since died) and a former science editor at Pravda who’s followed the story for two decades. In German with subtitles. 59 min. (JR)… Read more »

First Snow

A fast-talking salesman with a shady past (Guy Pearce) idly visits a fortune-teller in the southwest and learns he hasn’t long to live, news that sends him into a tailspin. Some viewers may be irritated by the deliberate ambiguity of this 2006 psychological thriller, the debut feature of director-cowriter Mark Fergus, but part of the overall mystery is wondering how much of it takes place in the hero’s imagination. I was beguiled by both the eerie moods and the striking compositions, which incorporate large stretches of empty space. With Piper Perabo and William Fichtner. R, 101 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Wind That Shakes The Barley

Unusually noisy and violent for a Ken Loach feature, this melodramatic period picture about the messy birth of the Irish Republic in the early 1920s won the top prize at Cannes in 2006. Scripted by Loach regular Paul Laverty (Sweet Sixteen), it corresponds to leftist agitprop in some particulars but confounds predictable political agendas in others. Much of the violence registers as futile, regardless of where it’s coming from or whether or not it’s retaliatory. The drama revolves around two Irish brothers (Cillian Murphy and Padraic Delaney) whose ideas begin to diverge; both actors are good, but the ensemble playing predominates. As frequently happens in both Loach films and history, the betrayal of ideals, socialist and otherwise, leaves a harsh aftertaste, which made me feel sadder but not much wiser. 127 min. (JR)… Read more »

Classic Jazz Performances

Four short films, including two by Dudley Murphy that will knock your socks off: St. Louis Blues (1929), featuring the only film appearance by Bessie Smith, and Black and Tan (1929), a haunting avant-garde narrative featuring Duke Ellington’s orchestra and several dancers. A Bundle of Blues (1933) features Ellington’s group with vocalist Ivy Anderson and Symphony in Black (1935) memorably pairs the band with an uncredited Billie Holiday. (JR)… Read more »

The Cats of Mirikitani

Linda Hattendorf, a longtime documentary editor, met a homeless, 80-year-old Japanese-American artist a block from her SoHo apartment in early 2001, and after the World Trade Center attacks made living on the street impossible for him, she put him up, helped him find work and housing, and made him the subject of this impressive 2006 feature, her directorial debut. The fascinating narrative covers the artist’s long stretch in a U.S. internment camp during World War II (ironically, he’d fled Japan to escape the rising tide of militarism) and his ensuing tangles with the government, while simultaneously charting his reconciliation with his checkered past. The storytelling is so masterful that Hattendorf doesn’t have to spell out the striking parallels between the persecution of Japanese after Pearl Harbor and the harassment of Muslims after 9/11. In English and subtitled Japanese. 74 min. Reviewed this week in Section 1. a Facets Cinematheque. … Read more »