Documenta X: The Films

Art 1998 Chicago presents continuous showings of films that debuted at the Documenta X festival in Kassel, Germany, last summer. The Final Insult is Charles Burnett’s first foray into digital video, released in 1997 and running 55 minutes. It’s a fictional story about a homeless middle-aged man (Ayuko Babu of When It Rains) interspersed with a lot of documentary footage about the homeless, including several interviews. Both blocks of material have their own strength and validity, but they seldom mesh comfortably, and their juxtaposition tends to distract one from the subject at hand. Mother and Son (1997) is by the Russian filmmaker Alexander Sokurov. Apart from the eye-filling black-and-white video Oriental Elegy Sokurov’s painterly, visionary side has seldom been more evident than in this gorgeous contemplation of a son caring for his dying mother. The story is minimal, but the color images are so breathtaking that there’s never a lax moment; even when the already slow action is reduced to a virtual standstill, Sokurov’s intensity insures that something is always happening, both on the screen and inside us. (This is only 73 minutes long, but if you’re hungry for plot, it will seem like an eternity.) In his taste and his patience, Sokurov may be our only truly 19th-century avant-gardist—which means in effect that his works are timeless. On the same program, all from 1997: Harun Farocki’s Still Life, Antonia Lerch’s Last Round, Raoul Peck’s Dear Catherina, and Abderrahmane Sissako’s Rostov-Luanda.

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