Talking Screens, A Week In Chicago Film, January 20-26, 2023
What a week! Masterpieces: And how! Major movies old and new provide more choices than any Chicago moviegoer could possible handle. Start with one of the greatest movies in film history: Jean Renoir’s bittersweet comedy of class and things to come, 1939’s “Rules Of The Game” (La regle du jeu); another top choice, from John Carpenter, who’s just turned seventy-five, “Assault on Precinct 13,” his crackerjack 1976 take on action in confined spaces, a variation on Howard Hawks’ “Rio Bravo” (1959); a one-sitting showing of Kieslowski’s 572-minute “Dekalog“; in limited suburban release including the Wilmette, Jesse Eisenberg’s Julianne Moore-starring, eighty-eight minute drama, “When You Finish Saving The World“; “No Bears,” the latest and one of the greatest from Jafar Panahi, behind bars in the Iranian regime’s notorious Evin prison in Tehran for speaking up for other filmmakers; another told-entirely-on-a-computer screen thriller, “Missing,” from producer Timur Bekmambetov; “The Son,” a drama about teen middle illness from Florian Zeller, award-winning director of “The Father”; and a portrait of an author and his book editor, “Turn Every Page: The Adventures of Robert Caro and Robert Gottlieb.” Geezers bicker after fifty years, even as readers await the final volume of the LBJ biography from the two Bobs: the painstaking Caro (age: eighty-seven), under the stern pencil of editor Gottlieb (age: ninety-one).
And repertory, a partial list: a depressed Philip Seymour Hoffman follows the loss of his partner by turning to huffing in “Love, Liza“; Billy Wilder’s acrid, sexually compulsive murder tale that co-stars a fetching ankle bracelet, “Double Indemnity” as the Music Box’s weekly Billy Wilder matinee in 35mm; the ludicrously delirious action of Russ Meyer’s “Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!” preceded by Kenneth Anger’s “Scorpio Rising” on the big screen at the Music Box; and at Doc Films, pre-Code wickedness with Barbara Stanwyck in “Baby Face“; and another Jean Renoir great, “The Crime Of Monsieur Lange.” And there are more than a dozen other notable revivals all around the city!
The hands-down masterpiece “No Bears” continues the pattern of Jafar Panahi’s recent work, even as the authoritarian government of Iran has cancelled a 2010 sentence that mandated home confinement and not making movies for decades. (Panahi has made movies for the past decade.) Panahi usually stars himself as a filmmaker caught in multiple metafictional moral dilemmas; in “No Bears,” Panahi has constructed another coruscating brutally intelligent tale that is readily one of the top three or four films of 2022. Distributor Sideshow’s synopsis: “Panahi plays a fictionalized version of himself, in this case relocated to a rural border town to remotely direct a new film in nearby Turkey—the story of which comes to sharply mirror disturbing events that begin to occur around him. As he struggles to complete his film, Panahi finds himself thrust in the middle of a local scandal, confronting the opposing pulls of tradition and progress, city and country, belief and evidence, and the universal desire to reject oppression.” Opens Friday, January 20 at Siskel.
With full-throttle drama “The Son,” Florian Zeller does not repeat the success he and playwright-translator-collaborator Christopher Hampton had with the consciousness-slipping “The Father.” The screen version of his 2018 play is awash in blunt, anguished drama awash in guilt and indicated mental illness. A father and teenage son—Hugh Jackman and Zen McGrath, both strenuous yet fine in the face of the membrane-thin screenplay—cannot live in the same world. Man, shit happens. It’s sad! Opens Friday, January 20 in theaters.
REPERTORY & REVIVALS
The Siskel’s “Settle In” attraction of the week is a digitally restored version of Krzysztof Kieslowski’s “Dekalog.” Kieslowski’s glorious masterpiece, “Dekalog,” could be the best films ever made. Made for Polish television for a 1989 broadcast, the ten short films are loosely based on the Ten Commandments, loosely enough that the forty-seven-year-old filmmaker resisted identifying which installment was based on which commandment. “Dekalog” unfolds in a common setting, a large Warsaw housing project. Kieslowski, often a slippery or perverse interview subject, insisted that “Dekalog” was not a religious film. “I simply wanted to show that life is complicated. Nothing more.” In their simplest form, each of the ten episodes are about the diversity of failure that humans suffer as they try to give and receive love, rooted in the reality of the Poland of 1989. There’s a grave, serene beauty to each installment. They all exhibit the same dry deadpan as “Three Colors: White” (1994), a biting Polish wit. The key to the tenderness of Kieslowski’s film is how he reveals, suggests, nudges interior states to the surface through concrete gestures that resist interpretation. Siskel, Saturday, January 21, 11am.
John Carpenter’s powderkeg “Assault on Precinct 13“: the one time you really don’t want a little girl going to the neighborhood truck for an ice cream. Music Box, opens Friday, January 20.
“Rules of the Game” has been further restored: a 1939 antiwar film the negative of which was destroyed by Nazi bombing during World War II was rediscovered in 1959, and most recently restored around the turn of the century when a better copy of a reel of the film was found in France. This edition is a 4K digital restoration, which should raise the visual quality to the high gloss of its original design, as a romantic melodrama filled with comedy that also functions on a half-dozen other levels. Every moment is a revelation, including Renoir’s own performance as a tender, lovelorn sap. Music Box, opens Friday, January 20.
“Honey, we don’t like anything soft. Everything we do is hard.” In “Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!,” men have seldom been more stupid nor women so ferocious: the brute rhythms of World War II cameraman Russ Meyer’s filmmaking chops are on glorious display as women in leather and on motorcycles run circles around the rural rubes on display. “John Waters has called it the greatest movie ever made, and Quentin Tarantino has long promised to remake it,” says the copy for Dean J. DeFino’s monograph on the picture, rightfully calling it “an enigma.” “It has the coherence of a dream, and the improvisatory daring of a jazz solo… A box-office failure when initially released on the grindhouse circuit, it has since been embraced by art-house audiences, and referenced in countless films, television series, and songs. A riot of styles and story clichés lifted from biker, juvenile delinquency, and beach party movies.” From a 1995 look back by Meyer collaborator Roger Ebert: “Take away all the jokes, the elaborate camera angles, the violence, the action and the sex, and what remains is the quintessential Russ Meyer image: a towering woman with enormous breasts, who dominates all the men around her, demands sexual satisfaction and casts off men in the same way that, in mainstream sexual fantasies, men cast aside women.” The inspired opener is a rare showing in 16mm of Kenneth Anger’s twenty-eight-minute “Scorpio Rising,” (1963), which preceded “Pussycat” by two years, and which the Chicago Film Society aptly describes as “alternately sumptuous and seamy portrait of 1960s motorcycle culture coursing with libidinal energy, Anger’s film became an underground cause célèbre for its frenetic editing, provocative juxtapositions of Christian and Nazi iconography with long-forgotten bits of American cultural detritus, and revolutionary use of pop music.” “Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!” plays Monday, January 23 at 7pm at the Music Box.
Per DOC Films, Alfred E. Green’s 1933 “Baby Face” (35mm) is “one of the films whose edginess brought about the Hays Code,” in which Barbara Stanwyck “plays a daughter of a speakeasy owner who is inspired by Nietzsche to sleep her way to the top.” DOC Films, Monday, January 23, 7pm.
Also at DOC: Renoir’s “The Crime of Monsieur Lange” (DCP), a 1936 Jean socialist fairytale about workers saving a small publishing concern that specializes in pulp with characters like the cowboy hero “Arizona Jim.” DOC Films, Wednesday, January 25, 7pm.