Daily Archives: October 15, 2004

Dear Frankie

One should know as little as possible in advance about the plot of cinematographer Shona Auerbach’s subtle and graceful directorial debut, written by Andrea Gibb. So let’s just say that the main characters are a single mother (Emily Mortimer), her deaf nine-year-old son (Jack McElhone), his mysteriously absent father, a sailor hired by the mother to briefly impersonate the man, and the Scottish port setting. Considering this film and David Mackenzie’s Young Adam, an exciting new Scottish cinema may be taking shape. PG-13, 105 min. (JR)… Read more »

In The Battlefields

Danielle Arbid’s first feature is set in 1983 Beirut, where the isolated 12-year-old heroine and her dysfunctional, middle-class Christian-Arab family periodically rush off to bomb shelters. I have a hard time relating to narrative films shot largely in close-ups, even when they’re directed by Carl Dreyer or Sergio Leone; Arbid’s picture is so claustrophobic I couldn’t process all the emotional interchanges. In Arabic with subtitles. 90 min. (JR)… Read more »


If one discounts the facile and unconvincing ending, this first feature by Guka Omarova, a former actress and writer for Sergei Bodrov (who collaborated with her on the script for this film), offers a convincingly bleak view of how a 15-year-old boy could get ahead in rural Kazakhstan in the early 90s. Hired by a hood to find miners willing to participate in murderous amateur boxing matches, he winds up delivering the prize money of a fighter who dies to the boxer’s girlfriend and son, and eventually gets pushed into crime. 86 min. In Russian with subtitles. (JR)… Read more »

The Final Cut

This debut feature by writer-director Omar Naim takes place in a future age when a person can have a video chip implanted in his brain, record his entire life, and arrange for the images to be edited down into a funeral memorial. Robin Williams plays Alan Hakman, an editor of such tributes, who’s haunted by a childhood memory and seems modeled on the Gene Hackman character in The Conversation (1974). Naim’s premise has possibilities, but its execution often feels slapdash, and considering that The Conversation itself was a reworking of Blowup (1966), the viewer’s sense of deja vu may be even more excessive than the characters’. With Mira Sorvino and Jim Caviezel. PG-13, 105 min. (JR)… Read more »

Axis Of Evil: Perforated Praeter Naturam

Arts organizer Jim Swanson, hoping to shed light on the myths of evil and its doers through the philatelic art of the postage stamp and literature, invited Michael Hernandez de Luna to curate an exhibit of stamp art with particular (but not exclusive) attention paid to President Bush. The exhibit yielded a handsome coffee-table book and served as the backdrop for this thoughtful talking-head documentary, directed by Carmine Cervi and narrated by Warren Leming. Among the participants are Bernardine Dohrn, Daniel Ellsberg, Martha C. Nussbaum, Gerhard Schutte, and Howard Zinn, though the DVDlike the bookregisters more as a collection than as a single coherent statement. 84 min. (JR)… Read more »

10 On Ten

Abbas Kiarostami directs his own making of DV documentary (2003) about his feature 10, and virtually all of it, apart from a few clips, consists of him driving around the hills in northern Tehran where he shot Taste of Cherry, speaking about the advantages of digital video as well as such topics as The Camera, The Subject, The Script, The Location, and The Music. This will be mainly familiar to his fans and useful to viewers who are puzzled by his methods, though the implication that everything in a film can be explained by rational strategy is a little disingenuous. Because of all the verbiage, a sometimes awkward English voice-over has been added instead of subtitles. 83 min. (JR)… Read more »

Un Chant D’amour

The only film (1950) by the great writer Jean Genet. Silent and wordless, it poetically and delicately recapitulates some of the themes of his novelsspecifically the erotic encounters between two men in separate prison cells. 26 min. (JR) Also on the program: Frederic Moffet’s video Jean Genet in Chicago (26 min.), which reimagines the events surrounding the 1968 Democratic National Convention through Genet’s eyes.… Read more »

Hijacking Catastrophe: 9/11, Fear & The Selling Of American Empire

Jeremy Earp and Sut Jhally, both academics in the field of communications, make a persuasive if by now fairly familiar argument that the Bush administration has exploited the September 2001 terror attacks to promote its neoconservative foreign policy. Among the talking heads are Norman Mailer, Noam Chomsky, Daniel Ellsberg, Tariq Ali, and retired military officers Stan Goff and Karen Kwiatkowski; their anger is well-founded and often energizing. It’s as blotchy looking as Michael Moore’s recent work, but the content is more important. Julian Bond narrates. 68 min. (JR)… Read more »

Night Of The Bloody Apes

Various rapes and murders ensue after a scientist transplants the heart of a gorilla into his son’s dead body. Rene Cardona directed this 1968 Mexican item and coauthored the script with Rene Cardona Jr. Even the tolerant Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film deems this totally tasteless and amateurish, but gore buffs should be alerted to real open-heart surgery footage. (JR)… Read more »

This So-Called Disaster

After playing the ghost in Michael Almereyda’s underrated modern-dress-Manhattan film of Hamlet (2000), Sam Shepard invited Almereyda to film his own rehearsals for the San Francisco stage production of his autobiographical play The Late Henry Ross, featuring Nick Nolte, Sean Penn, James Gammon, and Cheech Marin. The play holds relatively little interest for me even after this unpacking, yet Almereyda’s judicious observation and careful editing keep Shepard’s serious work with actors and honest wrestling with personal demons fascinating and instructive throughout. 89 min. Facets Cinematheque.… Read more »

Chicago International Film Festival

For all my desire to celebrate the 40th Chicago International Film Festival as it moves into its second week, one thing sticks in my craw. Festivals are supposed to reflect what’s going on in the world of cinema, and one of the most important things going on right now is the astonishing and unprecedented success of muckraking documentaries. This year a remarkable number of films critical of the Bush administration have been released, including an astute French documentary by William Karel, The World According to Bush (which just showed up on Amazon). Yet not one of them is in the festival, a lamentable lost opportunity.

Chicago isn’t the only U.S. festival to help marginalize these works. The biggest concentration of anti-Bush films I’ve heard about all year turned up in Rotterdam rather than in this country. Are festivals unconsciously duplicating the self-censorship of network and cable TV, which has made these documentaries so necessary? The most conclusive evidence I’ve seen so far of why the American war strategy in Iraq has been disastrous is an account by a Swedish journalist of an army raid in Samarra, but the only place it’s available so far is as an “extra” on the DVD of Fahrenheit 9/11–with the unforgivable addition of guitar accompaniment.… Read more »