Monthly Archives: May 1998

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. Read more

Casanova’s Big Night

Bob Hope disguises himself as Casanova (Vincent Price) and bores the hell out of everyoneincluding 1954 audiences, who stayed away in droves. With Joan Fontaine, Audrey Dalton, Basil Rathbone, and Raymond Burr; Norman Z. McLeod directed. (JR) Read more

Post Coitum, Animal Triste

Brigitte Rouan’s 1997 comedy-drama opens with an image of a cat in heat. A 40ish book editor, wife, and mother (Rouan) falls in love with a hydraulics engineer about half her age (Boris Terral) and goes slightly gaga during and after their short-lived affair. In a contrapuntal subplot her lawyer husband (Patrick Chesnais) is defending an older woman who’s murdered her adulterous husband, and then goes gaga himself once he finds out about his wife. The film is pretty good at suggesting various mental states in physical and cinematic termsthe heroine floating on a motorized cloud, the husband experiencing a growing chasm between himself and his clientyet its greatest virtue could be its low-key reasonableness in showing how everyone copes with crisis, a modest and affectionate detachment that approaches wisdom. Rouan has acted in films by Alain Resnais, Jacques Rivette, and Bertrand Tavernier, among many others; as director, screenwriter, and star, she Read more

Thousand Cranes

An intriguing but not entirely successful 1969 ‘Scope feature by the idiosyncratic Yasuzo Masumura, adapted from a famous novel by Yasunari Kawabata about a tea ceremony master (Mikijiro Hira) who becomes sexually involved with two of his late father’s girlfriends (one played by the great Machiko Kyo). Masumura (1924-’86) clearly had a feeling for kinky subjects of this kind, but here his mise en scene tends to be relatively flat and predictable. (JR) Read more

Where Is The Friend’s House?

It’s entirely possible that Abbas Kiarostami, who’s been making films in Iran for about three decades, is our greatest living filmmaker. The problem isn’t that his films are esoteric, simply that they’re different from Western and other Iranian films alike, in the way they’re put together (without scripts and in most cases without professional actors), in the way they address us, and in what Kiarostami includes and leaves out. Where Is the Friend’s House? (1987, 85 min.), one of his most popular films in Iran, is a miniature epic about a schoolboy trying to return a classmate’s notebook. Like the somewhat related Life and Nothing More (1992; also known as And Life Goes On . . .) and Through the Olive Trees (1994), both shot in the same section of northern Iran, this is a sustained meditation on singular landscapes and the way ordinary people live in them; an obsessional quest that takes on the contours of a parable; a concentrated inquiry that raises more questions than it answers; and a comic as well as cosmic poem. It’s about making discoveries and cherishing what’s in the worldincluding things that we can’t understand. In Farsi with subtitles. (JR) Read more

Automatic Writing

Canadian filmmaker Ann Marie Fleming, a child of Chinese and Australian parents, directed this intriguing and original 1996 film about her Chinese great-great-grandfather. An orphan in 19th-century Hong Kong, he was kidnapped, put to work in a brothel, and taken to San Francisco; there he converted to Christianity, worked as a servant to a Jewish family, and returned to Hong Kong, where he worked for a doctor and eventually became a surgeon. Fleming’s approach to this colorful material is extremely playful and ironic, mixing fiction and documentary as she uses both actors (including Kwok Wing Leung, George Chiang) and herself to recount the story in a highly stylized manner. (JR) Read more