Also known as Memory and Memorandum, this 2001 documentary by Mostafa Razzagh Karimi and Mojalal Varahram about the geography, history, and diverse cultures of Iran proceeds without narration or dialogue. It certainly offers an eyeful (as well as an earful, considering the striking music score), though there are times when one feels a propagandistic tourisman all-too-official rubber stamp of approvalcalling some of the shots. The running time is 97 minutes, though as I recall, the film ran somewhat longer when I saw it at the Fajr film festival. (JR) Read more
To understand the status of poet and filmmaker Forugh Farrokhzad in Iran, one would have to combine the mythologies of Maya Deren, Marilyn Monroe, Sylvia Plath, and Bessie Smith, but even that might not communicate her importance as a feminist martyr and literary pioneer. Nasser Saffarian’s two fascinating hour-long video documentaries about Farrokhzad (1935-’67), Forugh Farrokhzad: The Green Cold (2001) and The Mirror of the Soul, ultimately do more for her legend than for her work. Speaking to Farrokhzad’s mother, siblings, friends, and fellow poets (but not to Ebrahim Golestan, her friend, lover, fellow writer, and filmmaking mentoronly a son is interviewed), Saffarian presents a wealth of valuable material, though his tendency to cut between the shortest of sound bites often limits the discourse. I was grateful to hear Farrokhzad reading from her work, to see snippets of Bernardo Bertolucci’s TV interview with her, and to learn that filmmaker Darius Mehrjui once translated some of her work for the Paris Review. But practically every clip from her great short The House Is Black is mutilated in some fashion (usually by replacing the sound track with voice-over), and her poetry is mainly represented by scattered lines quoted out of context. (From this standpoint, The Mirror of the Soul is an improvement over The Green Cold.) Read more
Claire Denis’ first-rate documentary (1990) about filmmaker Jacques Rivette, produced for French television, has many things to recommend it. The main interviewer is the great critic Serge Daney, who, two years before his death, converses with Rivette while relaxing in a cafe and strolling around Paris (Denis interjects a few questions toward the end); since both men were former editors of Cahiers du Cinema, not to mention groundbreaking and highly articulate critics, they have a lot to discuss apart from Rivette’s filmmaking. Clips from many of Rivette’s major films (some of which remain difficult to see, like the legendary Out 1) are included, as are interviews with some of Rivette’s actors, such as Bulle Ogier and Jean-Francois Stevenin. Best of all, the film beautifully captures Rivette the man, as both solitary cinephile and exploratory filmmaker. Showing as part of the Block Museum’s invaluable series “Serge Daney: 10 Years After,” which started last month and ends in early December. In French with subtitles; to be projected from Beta SP video. 125 min. Northwestern Univ. Block Museum of Art, 40 Arts Circle Dr., Evanston, Saturday, October 26, 3:00, 847-491-4000. Read more
It’s been over a quarter of a century since I saw Robert Kramer and John Douglas’s epic 16-millimeter feature about the American counterculture (1975, 195 min.) at the New York Film Festivalfar too long ago for me to summon up a coherent account or opinion of it today (which is why, contrary to the Block Museum schedule, I won’t be introducing this rare screening). But at the very least, this highly ambitious political film on 60s communal lifestyles should be a provocative and revealing period piece. A radical independent influenced in part by Jacques Rivette, Kramer wound up living in Paris when his early films (In the Country, The Edge, Ice) had a much bigger impact there than in the U.S. He returned home on occasion to make some of his most memorable work, such as Route One (1989), though tragically his films are scarcely known here. The great French critic Serge Daney was especially taken with Milestones, calling it the anti-Nashville; this program is part of a series related to Daney and his work, which continues next weekend with several precious and rarely screened films. (JR) Read more
Jean-Luc Godard’s best feature since Nouvelle Vague (1990) is in some respects as difficult as that film, though visually it’s stunning and unique even among Godard’s work. The first part, set in contemporary Paris, was shot in black-and-white 35-millimeter, while the second, set in Brittany two years earlier, is in floridly oversaturated color. A young man (Bruno Putzulu) interviews men and women for an undefined project called Eloge de l’Amour, which will involve three couples (young, adult, and old) experiencing four stages of love (meeting, physical passion, separation, and reconciliation). One young woman he spends time with is the granddaughter of a couple he’s met earlier, former members of the French resistance negotiating to sell their story to a Hollywood studio. As in his magnum opus, Histoire(s) du Cinema, Godard is centrally concerned with the ethics of true and false representation and with the lost promise of cinema, which leads to some anti-American reflections ranging from reasonable to over-the-top. This is a twilight film, dark and full of sorrow, yet lyrical and beautiful as well (2001). In French with subtitles. 94 min. (JR) Read more
Despite a mainstream thrust that suggests Hollywood in its conventional blandness, this first feature by writer-director Nasser Refaie has a prototypical Iranian art movie orientation. It’s a comedy about a crowd of young women waiting to take a university entrance exam that never strays outside its schoolyard locationa graceful tour de force that’s limited by a reluctance to move beyond predictable character types. Unfolding over 80 minutes of real time, it evokes the modernist style of The White Balloon, and the focus on women determined to receive higher education is mildly feministthough the propensity of recent Iranian features for staging all their action in exteriors is at least partially a consequence of censorship laws requiring women in film interiors to wear chadors, however implausible. The giggles and prankishness of many of the exam takers are refreshing, yet it’s symptomatic of the overall mildness that the liveliest moments ensue when someone’s pet monkey gets loose and climbs a tree. In Farsi with subtitles. 80 min. (JR) Read more
Adapted by Milton Krims from a novel by Lloyd C. Douglas (whose work also inspired Magnificent Obsession and The Robe), this 1937 feature stars Errol Flynn as a dedicated doctor who abandons his practice. Frank Borzage (A Farewell to Arms) directed, which may be the best reason for seeing this; with Anita Louise. 85 min. (JR) Read more
Film festivals are a lot like travel, in that they can greatly enhance our sense of the world as a diverse yet interactive community in a relatively short time. But I’ve just returned from a spate of actual travel (some of it film-related, some of it not) during which it became more apparent to me than ever that this community is livid about the direction Bush’s so-called war on terrorism is taking–and this is already starting to have an impact on the important cultural exchanges that the festivals foster.
In New York, where I was attending a conference on Iranian cinema at Lincoln Center, word came through that Abbas Kiarostami would not be able to attend the New York Film Festival, which is running concurrently with Chicago’s: he had been told in Paris that because he’s from an Islamic country, under new U.S. security measures a three-month background check would be required before his visa could be approved. While I was in London, an estimated third of a million people–about as many as read this paper–turned out to demonstrate against a U.S. invasion of Iraq. And then, on a brief vacation in Paris, I ran into my old friend Peter von Bagh, a Finnish film critic and programmer, who told me that Finnish filmmaker Aki Kaurismaki had just refused to attend the New York festival himself as a gesture of solidarity with Kiarostami. Read more
A movie about two Italian immigrant brothers (Tony Shalhoub and Stanley Tucci, both in fine form) who open a New Jersey restaurant called the Paradise; Shalhoub plays the artistic and temperamental chef, Tucci the more practical-minded manager (1996). Tucci wrote the script with his cousin, Joseph Tropiano, and directed it with one of his costars, Campbell Scott. Apart from offering what may well be the best advertisement for Italian cooking in movies, this little picture charms by virtue of its craft and patience; it moves at times more like a European movie than an American one, allowing its characterizations to grow on us, and the effort pays off. It also succeeds as a story about art and idealism and cultural assimilation. Others in the cast include Isabella Rossellini, Minnie Driver, Ian Holm, Marc Anthony, and Allison Janney. R, 107 min. (JR) Read more
This economically constructed and haunting chiller (1943, 66 min.) from the inspired team of producer Val Lewton and director Jacques Tourneur doesn’t have the reputation of the two other films they worked on together in the early 40s, Cat People and I Walked With a Zombie. In part that’s because its ending is a bit abrupt and unsatisfactory–but it’s still one of the most remarkable B films ever to have come out of Hollywood. Adapted from Cornell Woolrich’s novel Black Alibi by Ardel Wray and Edward Dein, the film employs an audacious narrative of shifting centers, thematically related by a string of grisly murders in a small town in New Mexico. Depending for much of its effect on a subtle and poetic nudging of the spectator’s imagination, the film has a couple of sequences that are truly terrifying. With Dennis O’Keefe, Margo, and Jean Brooks. A 35-millimeter print will be shown. Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State, Monday, October 7, 6:00, and Wednesday, October 9, 8:30, 312-846-2800. Read more
The Toronto film festival is traditionally held in early September, about a month before the festival here, and in the 20-odd years I’ve been attending I’ve never been so aware of the ideological gulf between Canada and the U.S. as I was this year. It was evident on-screen, in, for example, the pointed comparisons between the two countries in one of the best films there, Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine, which takes up issues such as why people shoot one another, keep their doors locked or unlocked, and (more implicitly) do or don’t have national health care. It was also apparent offscreen, in the frequent anti-American slant of headlines and stories in Toronto newspapers. And it was visible in the feuding between a couple of high-profile American reviewers, Roger Ebert and Variety’s Todd McCarthy, who both expressed anger about not getting into certain press and industry screenings, and several members of the local press, who called the two spoiled and arrogant for making such a fuss.
Some of the tension was a symptom of war nerves, and it sharpened national stereotypes, making Americans seem pushier than they often are and Canadians meeker, in their willingness to queue up and behave and be more egalitarian. Read more