Monthly Archives: June 2005

Onion City Film Festival

The opening-night program of this experimental film and video bash is unusually star-studded, with short works by Kenneth Anger, Peter Kubelka, Jonas Mekas, Michael Snow, Ken Jacobs, and Ernie Gehr. Anger’s Mouse Heaven (2004) does for Disney creatures what his Scorpio Rising did for bikers. In Poetry and Truth (2003), Kubelka plays with the phoniness of advertising footage. Mekas’s Williamsburg, Brooklyn (2003) works with sorrowful and pungent home movies from two distant periods. And in Sshtoorrty, Snow repeatedly superimposes the first and second halves of one long take that records a lively narrative in subtitled Farsi. But of the works available for preview, the real gem was superficially the most conventional: Michelangelo Antonioni’s 35-millimeter Michelangelo Eye to Eye (2004). The Italian filmmaker was incapacitated by a stroke in 1985, but through digital magic he’s restored to his old self, entering San Pietro church in Rome to admire and caress Michelangelo’s sculpture of Moses–one magnificently restored Michelangelo confronting another. In its deceptive simplicity and enduring mystery, this could be Antonioni’s most arresting tour de force since the 1960s. The festival continues June 17 through 19 at Chicago Filmmakers; see next week’s issue for details. Thu 6/16, 8 PM, Gene Siskel Film Center.… Read more »

Howl’s Moving Castle

Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki follows up his international hit Spirited Away with this adaptation of a British novel by Diana Wynne Jones; I haven’t read the book, but the movie’s dreamlike spaces and characters are sometimes worthy of Lewis Carroll. One thing that makes this highly cinematic is the radical fluidity of both age and character: people and objects are constantly transforming, and wisdom doesn’t so much succeed callowness as peacefully coexist with it. The heroine, a teenage hatmaker, runs afoul of a wicked witch and gets turned into a 90-year-old woman; she becomes housekeeper for a youthful magician named Howl, tending to the gigantic walking castle where he lives. Whenever she feels romantic stirrings for him, she becomes a teenager again. Voices are by Emily Mortimer, Jean Simmons, Billy Crystal, and Lauren Bacall, among others. PG, 118 min. Reviewed this week in Section 1. Century 12 and CineArts 6, Pipers Alley, River East 21.… Read more »

She’s One Of Us

In this provocative first feature (2003), French director Siegrid Alnoy asks us to accept the premise that an insecure and awkward provincial office temp (Sasha Andres), suggestively called Christine Blanc, becomes transformed overnight into a confident and successful executive after gratuitously murdering a contact at work and getting away with it. Even if, like me, you can’t buy this premise and read it as a studied spin-off of Albert Camus’ The Stranger, Alnoy creates such a visual and aural tour de force of show-offy stylistic gestures that you can’t help but sit up and take notice. In French with subtitles. 100 min. (JR)… Read more »

Pepe Le Moko

Jean Gabin plays the title hero, a dapper Parisian gangster hiding out in the casbah until passion tempts him toward doom. Along with the colonial atmospherics and some crude sadism, Gabin’s probably the reason for the enduring success of this 1937 exercise in poetic realism, adapted from a 1931 novel and directed by Julien Duvivier. At least three American remakes derive from it (including the Orson Welles radio version)not to mention aspects of Casablanca and even a Warner Brothers cartoon character, Pepe Le Pew. This has a lot to do with the romantic fatalism that would be called film noir after it crossed the Atlantic. An early voice-over segment about the casbah itself, before Gabin makes an appearance, is so pungent you can almost taste the place, even though the filming was clearly done in a studio. With Mireille Balin. In French with subtitles. 93 min. (JR)… Read more »