Talking Screens, A Week In Chicago Film, May 12-18, 2023
Opening this week: In wide release, Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen, Mary Steenburgen, Craig T. Nelson, Giancarlo Giannini, Andy Garcia and Don Johnson take the words to Italy in”Book Club: The Next Chapter.”
“BlackBerry” is at the forefront of the new genre of object-pics, film biographies of objects (see Ben Affleck’s “Air”), a Canadian production about the groundbreaking Canadian product from Waterloo, Ontario. From Canadian indie adept Matt Johnson (“The Dirties”); with Glenn Howerton, Jay Baruchel, Cary Elwes. Opens Friday, May 12 at the Music Box.
Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin’s “Wild Life” follows conservationist Kris Tompkins on a life’s adventures and into romance. “After falling in love in mid-life, Kris and the outdoorsman and entrepreneur Doug Tompkins left behind the world of the massively successful outdoor brands they’d helped pioneer—Patagonia, The North Face, and Esprit—and turned their attention to a visionary effort to create National Parks throughout Chile and Argentina,” writes distributor National Geographic. From the Oscar-winning filmmakers of 2018’s “Free Solo.” Music Box, Saturday-Sunday, May 13-14.
Reviewed below: “Still“; “The Eight Mountains“; “De Humani Corporis Fabrica.”
In short runs, the best of the week, of course, gets only a couple of big-screen showings: Weekend matinee screenings for Bernardo Bertolucci’s lush, even drenching 1970 masterpiece “The Conformist” in a 4K digital restoration at the Music Box. A cinematic confection of near-perfection at high velocity, its stylistic prowess and textural largesse is often cited as a major influence by directors including Steven Spielberg and Barry Levinson. Essential viewing. Music Box, Saturday-Sunday, May 13-14.
The bittersweet epic “Return To Seoul” continues at Facets, Friday-Sunday. (Review here.)
Filmmaker Haile Gerima presents “Adwa: An African Victory” (35mm). Gerima’s 1999 film “tells the story of Ethiopia’s revolutionary struggle against an imposing Italian colonial project. Part autobiography and part documentary, [it’s] a sweeping account of the historical events that paved the way for Ethiopia’s liberation under the leadership of Emperor Menelik and Empress Taitu.” Block Cinema, Friday, May 12, 6:30pm.
Paul Bartel’s “Eating Raoul” and Bong Joon-ho’s “Mother” also show this week; more below.
“Sight Specific,” the May film feature is online, a brief personal venture into memory’s movie-like moments and photography.
The latest vital project from Véréna Paravel and Lucien Castaing-Taylor of the Harvard Sensory Ethnography Lab, “De Humani Corporis Fabrica” is an unflinching voyage into the human body. The “excisions and eviscerations,” in Castaing-Taylor’s words, may be more than a non-specialist surgeon might ever hope to witness, and likely unbearable to many potential viewers. The filmmakers proceed with the same intensity they applied to their best-known enterprise, “Leviathan” (2012), except the rugged landscape lies within. Says Castaing-Taylor: “Sometimes this imagery is filmed by robots that are under the control of surgeons. Our hope was to dissociate it from its purely medical instrumentality, and to allow other qualities it contained to rise to the fore. We recorded sound, mostly from outside the body, at the same time, and then synchronized it with the imagery of our interiors. The combination of sync exterior sound with interior imagery was often surreal, where each added to and often radically transformed the sensibility of the other.” Opens Friday, May 12 at Siskel.
Davis Guggenheim’s “Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie” emphatically captures that vivid, peculiar energy that has always been present in the 1980s-bred star’s performances: restlessness coupled with a bracing agitation. His public persona was considered emblematic of that decade and its popular culture, and Guggenheim says his first impression was that “careening energy” defined Fox, “a life at full speed.” Fox developed symptoms of Parkinson’s when he was twenty-nine (he’s sixty-one now) and the life lived before and since is depicted in interviews, archive material, film clips and “scripted elements,” which allows the gifted performer to tell his own story. The result is funny, heartfelt, sometimes harrowing, and whiz-bang entertaining. Opens Friday, May 12 at Siskel and soon on Apple TV Plus.
Belgian filmmakers Felix van Groeningen and Charlotte Vandermeersch’s “The Eight Mountains” comes with the Sideshow and Janus Films imprimatur, and the distributor continues a solid track record that began with the art-house phenomenon “Drive My Car.” Winner of the Jury Prize at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival, it’s the latest film from the couple who made 2012’s “The Broken Circle Breakdown,” a tragic and perhaps doomed romance with a female protagonist who has her own tattoo parlor. “Eight Mountains,” from the fact-based novel by Paolo Cognetti, traces a four-decade friendship between Pietro (Luca Marinelli), from Turin, and Bruno (Alessandro Borghi), whose childhood was spent in a remote mountainside village. They met as children, reunite as adults and eventually set about the project of building a cabin together. “The Eight Mountains,” write the directors, “is about friendship, but we approached it as a love story. We are not only friends but also lovers, partners, and parents. Developing the film enabled us to explore our protagonists: how they grow up, discover friendship, lose it, cut family ties, reconnect, find forgiveness, accept the other’s choices, face death, and surrender to life.” That’s a lot to pack into two-and-a-half-hours, but the filmmakers (including cinematographer Ruben Impens) deliver with grace: sweeping if sometimes grandiloquent, “The Eight Mountains” is a patient, uncommonly tender triumph. Opens Wednesday, May 17 at Siskel.
REPERTORY & REVIVALS
“Eating Raoul” is a taut, ninety-minute black comedy classic of brackish verve starring writer-director-actor Paul Bartel and artist-actor Mary Woronov as a pair of L. A. prudes who bond over the murder of swinger neighbors. It also bore one of my favorite single minutes from an episode of “Fresh Air” where Terry Gross and a nimble guest saved her bacon after a flub:
You and your wife star in your movies. “Well, she’s not my wife.”
She’s not your wife? “No, she’s a good friend.”
Oh! “She’s only my wife in the movies.”
Gosh, I really thought you were married. “No.”
That means you’re not lovers either? “No, I’m gay and she’s a painter.”
Gosh, it’s really funny. I thought you were a couple. “Well, we are a couple, but different kind of people, right?”
So I won’t ask you about what it’s like to direct her having affairs with Robert Beltran. “No, you should ask me if I’d had an affair with Robert Beltran.”
Well, did you? “Well, I wish I could say I had, but I haven’t. He’s wonderful, though. God, I wish I could make him a star. I wish that this movie would catapult him up there to the place where the studios would take a serious interest in him.”
35mm. Chicago Film Society at the Music Box, Monday, May 15, 7pm.
A rude attraction for this particular weekend: “Mother” (2009), Bong Joon-ho’s follow-up to “The Host,” surfaces a different monster: perhaps it’s a clutching mom, perhaps the unknowability of even those closest to you. In “Mother,” years before “Parasite,” Bong demonstrated his confidence in mixing tones, from terror to comedy, from pity to pitiful, from delight to fright. He even opens with a Kitano-esque sequence where the never-named mother (the enthralling Hye-ja Kim, known for maternal roles in her country, harrowingly intense and vital here) is crossing a vast field of dry grass, a foggy field where some yet-unspecified sorrow turns to a privileged moment where she begins to dance in a kind of techno-calypso music only she (and we) can hear. “Mother” will return to that scene, but first we learn of her uncommon devotion to her grown, simple son (played by Bin Won, whose cuteness is used with great irony). From her feudal-seeming herb shop, the mother watches over her son through a doorway into the modern world: chopping sheafs of sage, a drop of her blood falls as her son is lightly struck by a passing car. Sound and light and frame deepen every scene. Complications grow, and he’s accused of killing a young girl. As he’s jailed, she conducts her own investigation of the murder. “Mother” approaches the intensity of Shohei Imamura’s great “Vengeance is Mine,” but Bong’s mix of bumptious humor and strong plotting makes for a more eccentric mix, leading to a musical climax that’s the cinematic equivalent of acupuncture, releasing all the knots, gliding into a glorious sunset. Alamo Drafthouse, Saturday, May 13, 2pm.
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His multimedia history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” will be published soon. Previews of the project are on Twitter and on Instagram as Ghost Signs Chicago. More photography on Instagram.