Talking Screens, A Week In Chicago Film, July 7-13, 2023
The immodest yet modest-sized filmography of French filmmaker Jean Eustache, “described by Oliver Assayas as a ‘provincial cousin’ of the French New Wave,” is encompassed in a mere week’s worth of showings at Siskel, under the umbrella, “The Dirty Stories Of Jean Eustache.” The rare occasion to see a filmmaker’s work complete is led, of course, by his long-unavailable four-hour black-and-white intimate epic of a man and women in Paris after 1968, “The Mother And The Whore” (“La maman et la putain,” 1973). (More below.)
A stellar Richard E. Grant and a superb Julie Delpy lead “The Lesson,” a slim, tart echo of the Patricia Highsmith world of writerly misanthropy and a portrait of a monstrous man at frayed finality. (More below.) In theaters.
Wide releases include the latest of the horror Insidioverse from Wan-Whannel world, “Insidious: The Red Door,” directed by Patrick Wilson. Opens Thursday, July 6 in theaters.
The dark comedy “Joy Ride,” directed by Adele Lim, written by Lim, Cherry Chevapravatdumrong and Teresa Hsiao, is reportedly the classic coming-of-age tale told as ferocious debauch, both raunchy and heartfelt. Opens Friday, July 7, in theaters.
Sorcery and happenstance and hope after World War I in a changing world: “Scarlet” by documentarian-turned-footloose fantasist Pietro Marcello is a romance of the French countryside that traffics in stream-of-consciousness more than pallid fact. All its elements are swaddled in an oft-beguiling lyrical fancy.
Vadim Perelman’s “Persian Lessons” is a World War II drama of twisty plotting and widescreen intimacy set in a Nazi concentration camp; despite the easy allure of the contrivances, the conviction of characters and filmmakers alike (especially lead Nahuel Pérez Biscayart) carries through. Opens Friday, July 7 at Landmark Century.
Alex Winter’s cautionary doc “The YouTube Effect” is showing at the Music Box. “The story of YouTube is both inspirational and cautionary; the video-sharing website appeared in 2005 and quickly grew to become one of the most ubiquitous and powerful media platforms in the world. It is impossible to overstate its impact on global culture by providing easy and immediate access to news, entertainment media and other vital forms of information. It has, however, helped radicalize some of its viewers with right-wing propaganda and other dangerous forms of media.” More here. Winter will appear. Music Box Theater 1, opens Wednesday, July 12, 7pm,
It might as well count as a Chicago theatrical premiere: an HDCAM copy of Claire Denis’ coming-of-age “U. S. Go Home” (1994) is showing as half of a “Highs & Lows” double feature with the American coming-of-age “Can’t Hardly Wait” by Deborah Kaplan and Harry Elfont. Denis’ film, set in 1960s Paris, is part of the series of short features that included Olivier Assayas’ “Wild Reeds.” Music Box Theater 1, Tuesday, July 11, 7pm.
Opening Wednesday, July 12, “Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One,” where once again sexagenerian Tom Cruise flies to the rescue of theatrical exhibition.
For the Southport Art Fest on Saturday and Sunday, the Music Box features a Bloody Mary bar and drink tastings in the Music Box Lounge and Garden, along with four hours of Looney Tunes in 35mm in the big house from 11am-3pm, with free admission for come-and-go smash-stick.
In repertory and revival in listings below, Béla Tarr and Agnes Hranitzky’s “The Turin Horse“; Greta Gerwig’s “Lady Bird“; Frank Pierson’s “A Star Is Born” (1976); John Ford’s “The Searchers“; Jaume Collet-Serra’s 2016 “The Shallows“; and Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Boogie Nights” blasts open the “New Adventures In 70mm” pre-“Oppenheimer” extravaganza week at the Music Box.
The 4K restorations of “The Dirty Stories Of Jean Eustache” is highlighted by “The Mother And The Whore“: I’ve tried a dozen ways to write about this four-hour street-level male-smashing, heat-seeking, psychosexual-cosmography—including my favorite collaboration on an unproduced screenplay—and I come up only wanting to face it—like watch it, like write after it, rather than write about it. James Quandt began his introduction to the 2008 incarnation of this retrospective in Toronto: “Few retrospectives promise the revelations of this, a look at one of postwar cinema’s most legendary bodies of work: the films of Jean Eustache (1938-1981), which have gained an almost mythical status due to their unavailability in North America. Influenced by the French New Wave, which he was both a part of and apart from, Eustache has exerted a profound influence on the following generations of French filmmakers, with his confessional, often raw and desperately sexual portraits of a generation adrift, including the monumental ‘The Mother and the Whore.’ Both tender and vehement, much like their maker, Eustache’s films provoke and inspire in equal measure. His volatile, brilliant career was short-lived; ‘the most independent of French directors and the least understood’ (David Braun), Eustache committed suicide at the age of forty-three… Eustache has long been treated as the outlaw poet of French cinema… Those he has been frequently compared with—Rimbaud, Artaud, Cassavetes, Pialat, Garrel—are all in some way associated with risk, pugnacity, or madness; with perilously personal and, in the extreme cases, self-annihilating art. (David Braun calls Eustache’s films ‘violently intimate.’) So merciless is Eustache’s examination of his self—he was ‘an ethnologist of his own reality’ in Serge Daney’s memorable phrase—that he. turns autobiography into auto-excoriation, especially in the flaying portrait of the glib, narcissistic Alexandre in ‘The Mother and the Whore,’ which was shot in his own apartment.” Two words: essential viewing. Siskel, Friday, July 7-Sunday, July 9; Thursday, July 13.
Neatly beveled noir of mentoring, envy and class, idol worship and idolatry, “The Lesson,” directed by Alice Troughton from a screenplay by Alex MacKeith, is a snack of “The Talented Mr. Ripley” and a pocketful of other influences—the filmmakers cite Sofia Coppola’s “The Beguiled,” “The Shining,” “Misery” and “The Edge.” A younger writer, Liam (Daryl McCormack), comes to a country redoubt to assist a famous author, Sinclair (Richard E. Grant) whose life is tided by his sculptor wife, Hélène (Julie Delpy) as he struggles to finish the last pages of a novel.
Troughton is also fixed on damaged, damaging ties between artists, saying that she’s “really fascinated by creative partnerships,” working from relationships between the painters Dorothea Tanning and Max Ernst, and writers Martha Gellhorn and Ernest Hemingway, as well as “the tumultuous, coercive relationship between authors Philip Roth and Claire Bloom.” “The Lesson” wears its lessons lightly. Largely confined to one Italianate estate, the tensions lie largely in simple, if freighted exchanges. Lighting swaddles and swallows and prompts.
Grant is at his most wicked (and sometimes wacky) within the suited carapace of the wit’s-end writer, taking a taste—and literal sniffs—of everything around him. Even soup is a meal. Look at those two sup at table: Grant and Delpy, both of whom have also directed, work with a precision where the smallest gesture can reveal volumes and prompt knowing laughter at what they display.
The costumes are quietly apt, draped just so, costly and costlier, but it is the joy of production designer Seth Turner and the props person in lining writers’ nooks and desks with tools of use rather than random-ish clutter of a disordered mind (whether of the character or the artisan). Within the idyll of the estate, the writers squirrel into their spaces, surrounded by writing products, whether a novel handwritten by nib into a bound volume, an Airbook to one side, the composition finished by a modest tape dispenser. Those settings are very writerly and have-written-ly, where the clutter of the house suggests the mind of Hélène. The genre elements are familiar and fate’s waiting everywhere, yet this sylvan and silken and sinister confection is clever to a fault. “The Lesson” opens wide Friday, July 7, including at River East.
REPERTORY & REVIVALS
Godard famously quipped that a movie has a beginning, a middle and an end, but not necessarily in that order. A Béla Tarr movie has rain, wind and despair, but not necessarily in that order. The Hungarian director of “The Werckmeister Harmonies” and “Sátántangó” said in 2012 he was chucking it in, at the age of fifty-six, with this Last Testament of High Miserabilism, heavy yet ethereal, and it’s an epic (and intimate) place at which to choose one’s final filmic act. It’s a fierce, glorious slog. In thirty shots that comprise the 146-minute running time of “The Turin Horse,” cinematographer Fred Kelemen, an ace director of the dark and brooding in his own right (“Abendland”) charts the light and dark of six days of increasingly dismal weather as an elderly farmer and his daughter watch their workhorse lose its will to live on their isolated rural homestead. It’s 1889, and it’s always, and it’s never. It’s a lustrous hell on earth, an apocalypse both minor and major, with little but boiled potatoes and plum brandy to stave off extinction. Kelemen has said that the production worked with theater-style dimmer boards for the lighting, enabling unusual flexibility across the extended duration of the takes. “In this world there is no other world than this one,” Kelemen told Robert Koehler in Cinema Scope magazine. “There is no escape. It does not matter where you are, but who you are and how you deal with yourself and others, and the conditions of life of which death is surely an integral part.” And yet! It’s one of the most fascinating film experiences of the past decade. I couldn’t imagine it without Mihály Vig’s score, which gives the cumulative horror a pulse, and perhaps even its heart. Co-written by László Krasznahorkai (“Sátántangó”); co-directed and edited by Tarr’s partner, Ágnes Hranitzky. With Janos Derzsi, Erika Bok, Mihaly Kormos and the horse, Risci. 35mm. Chicago Film Society at the Music Box, Monday, July 10, 6:30pm.
I was about to fall asleep during Jaume Collet-Serra’s “The Shallows” (2015) when I encountered it high above the Atlantic Ocean, but I was transfixed by his survivalist shark suspenser. Simple craft that had me struggling to keep my eyes open: throw a strong woman (Blake Lively) in the sea and see her swim or drown. Akin to movies like Joe Carnahan’s “The Grey” and Alfonso Cuarón’s “Gravity,” “The Shallows” is aswim with surfaces and suggestiveness and elemental filmmaking craft in the service of survival. Eighty-six minutes, and nothing wrong with it, that suggests there’s a place for self-effacing filmmaking in the greater marketplace, and not just for a week at the Music Box or Siskel or Facets or drowning in the ocean of weekly video-on-demand attractions. And then I fell asleep without a struggle, tranquilly dreaming of light and color and the possibility of sun-streaked salvation for everyone, ready to arrive in a transformed America where Donald Trump had just been elected president. Music Box Garden, Tuesday, July 11, 8:45pm.
When I saw “Lady Bird,” the rich, heartfelt, light-on-its-feet debut feature of writer-solo director Greta Gerwig, a woman in the industry who loves it truly wondered what kind of audience it could draw, this bright, funny, nuanced, personal-if-not-autobiographical 2002-set movie that, to her eyes, would be anathema to any scale of male audience. (Even on dates!) Enthusiasm abounded before its release: “’Lady Bird’ is a fantastic first film,” the always-generous Guillermo del Toro typed in a Reddit AMA. “Such intelligence and acute eye for drama and cinema. Deceivingly natural, full of style.” A female friend called it “‘Rushmore,’ but for girls.” And another after a second visit called it the John Hughes movie John Hughes could never have made, a platonic notion of memories of Hughes’ movies rather than the imperfect experience of a revisit as a grownup.
As its release went wide, “Lady Bird” found its grateful audience, and it isn’t men or even young women who might identify with Saoirse Ronan’s teen central character. On 1,550-plus screens, “Lady Bird” ended 2017 with a gross over $32 million; it was a rare and gratifying hit in an anemic marketplace for independent features. Who’s going? Not the men who would steal it if it were pirated. Grown-ups. Women. It’s not the Lady Birds who are seeing the movie, it’s the moms of Lady Birds, and anecdotal reports say they’re packing the place: women of the age and experience of Laurie Metcalf’s not-central but not secondary character of the girl’s mother. Set in Gerwig’s hometown—the movie opens on a black screen with a quote from fellow escapee Joan Didion, “Anybody who talks about California hedonism has never spent a Christmas in Sacramento”—“Lady Bird” hits the mark of the American teen movie while quietly reaching toward literary effect. The characters’ collisions and elisions, their ultimate kindred needs and hopes are drawn with sweet delicacy. (The scenes of the football coach dragooned into directing a school play may be passed over in silence.) Telling and comic and rueful details are there by the fistful, and for two, a set of sequences of driving in Sacramento fall into place with the weight of a two-story house, and I treasure the way Tracy Letts (playing Ronan’s father) releases the words, “bag of Doritos.” Enter: “Barbie.” Drafthouse, Saturday, July 8, noon.
“Boogie Nights.” Big. Loud. 70mm. Music Box, July 13, 15, 16, 17.
Two wellspring pictures at Doc: the doom-drenched musical romance in Frank Pierson’s “A Star Is Born” (1976) Doc Films, Friday, July 7, 7pm; Saturday, July 8, 4pm.
And the Western that birthed “Taxi Driver” and “Hardcore” and so many variations on the myths of the American West and patriarchal weakness and overreaction, John Ford’s “The Searchers” (35mm). Doc Films, Friday, July 7, 4pm; Saturday, July 8, 7pm.