Talking Screens, A Week In Chicago Film, April 15-21, 2022
The widest release this week, commanding thousands of screens in North America after a mediocre opening in COVID-stricken China, is new product from She Who Will Not Be Named, “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore.” On a smaller number of screens—only one at any given time, with a promise of no streaming, ever—SAIC graduate Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s memorably haunted feat of vision and sound, “Memoria” opens, as does Jacques Audiard’s melancholy Paris-set adaptation of American stories by Adrian Tomine, “Paris, 13th District.”
But the biggest blast may be from the past, John Carpenter’s gloriously bleak masterpiece of paranoia and existential dread, “The Thing,” in its 4K digital restoration at the Music Box: the darkness is inside and out. (Dog lovers beware.)
Onion City announces its 2022 prizes; and Doc10 announces its May slate after last weekend’s debut of “Navalny.” Repertory is wild and wide-ranging, including memorable movies at Siskel (“Wings of Desire“), Facets (“First Reformed,” “The Worst Person In The World“) and a burst of the 1990s from Doc Films (“Swoon,” “Happy Together,” “Wolf,” “Mary Jane’s Not A Virgin Anymore“).
The bones of the story of “Memoria” are a trek by an expatriate Scot (Tilda Swinton) in Colombia, who hears an unusual and distressing sound at daybreak in Bogota. She searches for the origin of the sound, finding ghosts in the landscape and the sensations of the soundscape. Her hallucinations are those of civilizations, strange, concrete, disorienting, universal. She’s fatally curious. So are Apichatpong Weerasethakul and his wealth of collaborators, including sound designer Akritchalerm Kalayanmitr (who discusses his work here). A six-part making-of set diary from Film Comment is here. Some context for approaching “Memoria” is in Newcity’s April film feature here. Showing on 35mm at Siskel starting Friday, April 15.
Jacques Audiard’s lengthy but sparse career is filled with all sorts of diversions and surprises including the rich black-and-white of “Paris, 13th District,” an adaptation of the stories and pictorial style of American cartoonist Adrian Tomine. (Another unlikely adaptation from the French screenwriter-turned-director was 2005’s “The Beat My Heart Skipped,” transposing James Toback’s violent, very Manhattan 1979 “Fingers” to another world entirely.) The overlapping love (and sex) lives of four young Parisians is etched by a multigenerational bunch: Audiard is seventy; Tomine is forty-seven; and co-screenwriter Céline Sciamma (“Portrait of A Lady On Fire,” “Petite Maman”) is forty-three. The result is frisky and smart, very urban, very French, sexual, sensual, idiosyncratically paced, lovingly glimpsed (by cinematographer Paul Guilhaume), with impressionistic flickers of life as lived in the city by characters that are sometimes abrasive, often annoying, and a joy to watch. Was Tomine always sketching his melancholy fragments in the same bittersweet romantic genre as the singular Eric Rohmer? “Paris, 13th District” makes that case. Available on demand and in theaters starting Friday, April 15, including Landmark Renaissance Place and Friday, April 22 at Siskel.
REVIVAL & REPERTORY
Facets brings back Joachim Trier’s exuberant rom-drama “The Worst Person in the World,” April 16-17, as well as Paul Schrader’s 2017 next-to-penultimate-picture, “First Reformed.” The seventy-five-year-old writer-director has been at it for five decades, and he’s still following the darkness; after last year’s “The Card Counter,” he’s editing “Master Gardener.” Does the obstinate cuss have more to make? Doubtless! Here’s something Schrader told me, in an extended “mid-career” interview in 2000: We all know Paul Schrader by his works. But how does reputation work for or against you in today’s marketplace when you’re trying to get a production off the ground? “Well, that’s a very good question. It’s very much a double-edged sword at this juncture. Because I can no longer lie about what I do. When I was a young man I could walk into a studio and say, ‘Look, all I care about is making money. Y’know, this is the luckiest day of your life, I have walked into the room and we are going to make some money together, let’s go!’ And they would kind of believe you. I can’t do that anymore. I’ve made too many films. So that spiel really doesn’t work. I have found it to be, in fact, more difficult to raise money now than in the past. Although I still am able to raise money and still do get these rather peculiar films made. I find I spend a greater percentage of my time raising money.”
Doc Films is on a Spring roll, including a 16mm showing of the gone-too-soon “Queen of Underground Film” Sarah Jacobson’s 1996 rough-and-ready “Mary Jane’s Not a Virgin Anymore.” Doc Films, Thursday, April 21. Tom Kalin’s lustrous, long-unseen Chicago-set historical telling of the Leopold and Loeb murder story, “Swoon,” is in 35mm, showcasing Ellen Kuras’ marvelous black-and-white photography. Doc Films, Tuesday, April 19, 7pm. Intimations of mortality in the life of Mike Nichols start to show up in biographer Mark Harris’ telling of the mangled making of 1994’s “Wolf,” a romance-horror-drama with Jack Nicholson and Michelle Pfeiffer. Doc Films points out the eccentric result reintroduced uncredited screenwriter Elaine May and Nichols to collaboration, which led to better films like “Primary Colors” (1998) and “The Birdcage” (1996). 35mm. Doc Films, Wednesday, April 20, 7pm.
The Iguazu waterfall in Argentina is a South American counterpart of Niagara Falls: vast, thunderous, wet. In “Happy Together,” Wong Kar-Wai’s story of two Hong Kong gay men who drift to Argentina to try to start a new life, Wong uses Iguazu as a potent symbol of the romantic disaffection of Ho (Leslie Cheung) and Lai (Tony Leung) and how their lives never fit together. The general melancholy—Buenos Aires looks as fiendishly inviting as any filthy Hong Kong back alley Wong might have filmed in any of his earlier pictures—concludes with five or ten minutes of the most full-to-bursting jumble of color and incident you could imagine. Wong and his tremendously talented cinematographer Chris Doyle were rebelling against the trademark style the film ends with, a gorgeous, idiosyncratic grammar of slow-motion and canted angles and blur and streaks of neon. Yet when the strains of “Happy Together” finally hit the screen at the very end, the effect is deliriously good. (Contrariness and perversity, from shot to shot, are trademarks of the profligately inventive Wong and Doyle.) One of the movie’s earliest scenes is a helicopter shot pitching into the roaring acres of water, a voiceover describing the romantic notion the two have of somehow reaching this vast landmark. One of the movie’s characters does reach Iguazu, but the impact is far different than one might have expected at the start of the story. Wong’s work alternates energy and stasis, with lingering moments usually succeeded by jittery slivers of ka-POW! His love of pop culture within urban congestion, clutter and detritus as frenzy and color and motion finds new patterns in “Happy Together,” and those who relish his lush yet brash style have much to admire within the harsh love story. While “Happy Together” isn’t the easiest movie to watch, its images and mood stay with you, lingering like the stink of smoke in a sweater or the face you put to the last heartbreak. Wong Kar-Wai is an insecure romantic who reaches out for the moment before him, to capture the space that both his camera and his characters can occupy for a few frames and if they’re lucky, dance. Doc Films, Friday, April 15, 7pm.
Doc10 has announced its full slate, a succession of powerful punches from the roster of nonfiction films seen at festivals around the world in the past year. Ten documentary shorts have been added to the established format of ten features. “Doc10 strives to bring new ideas and compelling stories to audiences every year,” Doc10 founders Paula Froehle and Steve Cohen say in a release. “This year’s slate of films continues our tradition of giving a platform to important, timely, and well-crafted documentaries, and expands on that mission with our first-ever shorts program.” The full slate of films featured in Doc10 2022 includes “Descendant” (Margaret Brown); the volcano-loving “Fire of Love” (Sara Dosa); Simon Lereng Wilmont’s day in the life of a halfway house in Ukraine, “A House Made Of Splinters”; Tia Lessin and Emma Pildes’ “The Janes,” an account of the Chicago-based, underground network Jane Collective that facilitated affordable care in pre-Roe America; “Let The Little Light Shine,” capturing the fight of Chicago parents and stunts to keep an elementary school open, by Kevin Shaw; “Navalny” (Daniel Roher); an examination of the vastly profitable diamond industry, “Nothing Lasts Forever” (Jason Kohn); “Riotsville, USA” (Sierra Pettengill); “The Territory” (Alex Pritz); and Ron Howard’s portrait of chef José Andrés and the first twelve years of work by his nonprofit World Central Kitchen, “We Feed People.” Doc10, presented by CMP, runs May 19-22 at the Davis and the Siskel Film Center. Tickets are $16 each with packages available. Tickets and more details here.
Chicago Filmmakers announced the winners of the thirty-second annual Onion City Experimental Film + Video Festival, which took place in-person and online from March 31-April 3. A jury selected three “Best of the Festival” award winners among the five competition programs, which featured thirty-five films from the United States, France, Canada, South Korea, Ethiopia, Mexico, India, Lebanon and Hong Kong. The winners: “I’m At Home” by Philip Thompson, which has “a unique take on how isolation and burnout affect the creative process”; Kayla Anderson’s “Stay With The Body,” which “presents a methodical approach that narrates a sobering account of how the sense of self can collapse and be erased within the small space of a circle”; and Sky Hopinka’s “Kicking the Clouds,” which “overlaps oral history and remembrance to tap into generational memory as a way of tending to grief and loss of a loved one and that of one’s cultural history.” More here.
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His multimedia history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” will be published later this year.