Talking Screens, A Week In Chicago Film, April 9-15, 2021
Éric Rohmer’s last quartet of tender medical experiments on the heart, “Tales of the Four Seasons” opens via Music Box Direct; “Godzilla Vs. Kong” is kaiju-a-go-go, while Tim Sutton’s stark yet lush, brood-and-mood “Funny Face” atomizes developments of the soul and redevelopment of latter-day Coney Island. Plus: The Chicago Latino Film Festival breaks out a hybrid thirty-seventh cine-smorgasbord from around the world. Documentary great Victor Kossakovsky talks about his monochrome nature tone poem, “Gunda,” with the Chicago Humanities Festival; and a Blu-ray reissue of Ang Lee’s 2007 lingering, libidinous “Lust, Caution,” nearly, but not quite lost to history.
Janus Films presents “Tales of the Four Seasons,” Éric Rohmer’s recently restored 1990s final film quartet, at the Music Box. The relative estimation of Rohmer’s extended output ebbs and falls, with the “Six Moral Tales” sequence held highest through critical eras. It may be the right moment for the French writer-director’s late output, with genteel surfaces and lingering preoccupations and concerns about communication and desire. The filmmaker, write his studious biographers Antoine de Baecque and Noël Herpe, “had not yet had the opportunity to show [the seasons] in their development and their diversity. That is what he wanted to do in this new series, even if he had to rely on classical metaphors: the blossoming girls or young women of ‘A Tale of Springtime,’ the woman in love in hibernation of ‘A Tale of Winter,’ the prolonged vacations of adolescents in ‘A Tale of Summer,’ and the noonday demon in ‘A Tale of Autumn.’ These seasonal indications play somewhat the same role as the proverbs at the head of the Comedies: they are deliberately misleading points of reference, in the shelter of which the filmmaker can reinvent his freedom. The latter was to be greater than ever in ‘Tales of the Four Seasons,’ to the extent that this time Rohmer wrote his scenarios only four or five years before they were filmed and allowed himself, between each of these ‘big’ films, to indulge in less-ambitious sketches and experiments.” “A Tale of Springtime” (1990); “A Tale of Winter” (1992); “A Tale Of Summer” (1996); and “A Tale of Autumn” (1998) are presented virtually via Music Box Direct, starting April 9.
“Godzilla Vs. Kong”! Kaiju a-go-go! Kaiju crack! Of all the mega-corporate financing entities creating superhero universes, one must observe that Legendary lets its filmmakers go for fucking broke, for better, for worse, but not for the boring.
Godzilla Vs Kong – look, this scratched exactly the itch I wanted it to. You can totally tell script conferences frequently involved the following exchange:
“Wait, but why would-”
“No. Stop. Nobody cares. The movie’s called Godzilla Vs. Kong.”
— Mac Rogers (@macwrites) April 1, 2021
Indie-gone-large director Adam Wingard comes as close to the overflowing, synapse-diddling editorial strategies of the repurposed feature-length works wrought by the Racer Trash collective as you possibly can on a small-nation-sized budget: eyeballs are duly kicked in the location-leaping, neon-drenched, goofiness-garlanded raft of breathless stuff. “Godzilla vs. Kong” was made to breathe fire and break shit on big screens that lavish generous, loving arrays of sonic weapons of battle behind them. In theaters and on HBO Max through April.
Tim Sutton’s blissfully microscopic yet free-floating “Funny Face,” continues his pursuit of narrative armatures of slightest weight that can billow with darkly lyrical observational broodiness. His fifth feature is a smidge of “Taxi Driver” and “Joker,” a healthy dash of Straub-Huillet and his own recognizable canvas, as an eccentric thirtyish young man in Brooklyn who toys with and hides behind a sinister smiley mask, living with his grandparents in a history-strewn home soon to fall to developers. The grandparents’ memorabilia includes the campaign button-with-a-mistake from the fictional presidential campaign in “Taxi Driver”; the mask evokes the costuming of a nascent Joker. He meets a younger, prankish Muslim woman who has her own mask, in the form of her niqab. They’re prefigured (platonic) lovers on the run, running in place. The meeting of the pair is both preposterous and likely on the streets of Brooklyn, figures wandering a borough symphony of modest event in the foreground while glittering edifices with bright empty windows stand as militant horizon and often as stage-set-like backdrop.
The stark, impressionistic beauty does not endorse these capital-burning, life-trashing vistas. Trains cat-cradle Kings County by night and the understated Coney Island atmosphere is exquisite. Lives intersect, certainly, but not always with narrative certainty. A subplot-superplot of a randy, overextended property developer is a sustained burn by Jonny Miller as a nub of masculinity driven bats by the cries of “MONEY! MONEY! MONEY!” that suffuse his mind. Sutton’s earlier movies—“Pavilion,” (2012); “Memphis” (2013); “Dark Night” (2016); “Donnybrook” (2018)—drive at worlds that surround us, suffuse us, but are hardly noticed by us. “Working in an intangible yet hardly vague fashion, Sutton captures liquescent mood and evokes languor, slightly oblique, just shy of readily-put-to-language meaning,” I wrote on first sight of “Pavilion.” Sutton savors the sustenance of mood. “Funny Face” is available from providers including Amazon Prime, Vudu, Google Play and YouTube from $4.
The thirty-seventh edition of the non-competitive Chicago Latino Film Festival begins April 8, virtually and with opening, closing and centerpiece presentations at the drive-in at ChiTown Movies at 2343 South Throop. The expected expansive list of attractions from around the world, this year comprising forty-four features and thirty-six shorts from Latin America, Spain, Portugal and the U. S., includes ten North American premieres and six U.S. debuts, from April 9-18, and can be found here. “In making our films available outside of Illinois we are not only expanding our audience but giving the growing Latino communities and others in those states the opportunity to have access to films they might not otherwise see,” Pepe Vargas, founder and executive director of the International Latino Cultural Center, producer of the Chicago Latino Film Festival, says in a release. Chicago Latino Film Festival, April 8-18.
The Chicago Humanities Festival presents the great documentarian Victor Kossakovsky in conversation, free with registration, about “Gunda,” which is Newcity’s film feature in the April issue of the magazine. (The review will publish online the day before the film’s April 16 opening. ) Victor Kossakovsky in conversation, Tuesday, April 13, 7pm.
I once heard an agent (who later became a successful film executive) demanding more verbal foreplay between characters flirting toward fucking in an undercooked screenplay: “I want to know more about why they’re going to fuck, and if not, why the fuck not.” That movie was not Ang Lee’s “Lust, Caution” (2007), which has much in mind, not limited to the fucking. Lovely and nearly lost from cultural memory, made at its own style and pace, within a budget that allows it, Lee lights afire the goodwill earned from “Brokeback Mountain” (2005). Lee’s NC-17 chamber drama with bursts of a larger world, drawn from a short story by Eileen Chang, adapted by “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” co-writers Wang Hui Ling and James Schamus (who co-produces and was also head of distributor Focus Features at the time), is a Chinese-language art movie and proud of it. An espionage thriller set in World War II Shanghai, with literal invocations of Hitchcock, among other filmmakers, presents its noir elements with a blush, in the sexual grappling between a Hong Kong acting student, Wang Chia-chih (Tang Wei) who is sent to befriend, bed and kill a political figure in charge of torture, Mr. Yee (Tony Leung). The sex scenes were shot on padded sets as in the filming of hand-to-hand combat, an indication of how power is depicted. Wei’s expressions are more evocative than the clean, simple lines of the narrative: her eyes tend to travel a bit when her character dissembles, followed by a purse of her small mouth. Still, there is an explosive moment that follows the key, definitive decision of one of the characters, that all the talk and fuss (and mah-jongg games) add up to: it is like the launch of a rocket and is the most masterful instant of a closely observed, luxuriously mounted, languorous movie. There are fragrant details galore, including a grammar of shots on the backs of characters after the style of Danish master Carl Dreyer (a favorite of Schamus); Wei weeping at a close-up of Ingrid Bergman in a battered 16mm projection of “Casablanca”; the interiors of cafes and bars that emulate lost Kowloon; and the last shot holds its breath, and shadow, for the proper, illuminating moment. KL Studio Classics Blu-ray, $30.
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” in words and images will be published in Spring 2022.