The title of Alain Tanner’s melancholy 1985 film refers to the rural zone between Swiss and French customs, where a group of small-time smugglers eke out a precarious, in-between existence. Films about border tensions (Grand Illusion, Touch of Evil, Luc Moullet’s unjustly neglected Les contrebandieres) tend to treat their locations metaphorically, and this one is no exception, although it’s equally a Losers’ Club movie in the manner of The Asphalt Jungle about a band of assorted malcontents who dream of escape to a better life. Decorously framed and shot, with lingering landscape shots, stately camera movements, and a wonderful Terry Riley score, this movie glides along with a kind of graceful inertia that eventually defeats its spectators as well as its characters by gradually leading both to the same inconclusive impasse. With Hughes Quester, Myriam Mazieres, and Jean-Philippe Ecossey. (Facets Multimedia Center, 1517 W. Fullerton, Friday and Saturday, August 28 and 29, 7:00 and 9:00; Sunday, August 30, 5:30 and 7:30; and Monday through Thursday, August 31 through September 3, 7:00 and 9:00; 281-4114)
Coinciding with the Film Center’s Jim McBride retrospective (whose most provocative program, on Thursday, August 20, combined the flaky sex comedy Hot Times and a brilliant Twilight Zone episode about Elvis, The Once and Future King) is the release of McBride’s least personal and most commercial movie to date. Rewriting a hackneyed crooked-cop story by Beverly Hill Cop’s Daniel Petrie Jr., he gets tense, sexy performances from Dennis Quaid and Ellen Barkin and makes the most of his New Orleans locations. But as in some Cajun cooking, it’s the spices rather than the meat that imparts the essential McBride flavor: offbeat secondary casting (the late, great Charles Ludlam’s eye-rolling defense attorney) and a use of props ranging from the surreal (Mardi Gras floats in a warehouse) to the homey (Quaid’s squeaking gator doll). (Old Orchard, River Oaks, Water Tower)
The problem with most jazz documentaries is combining talk with music without allowing either to ride roughshod over the other. Peter Bull’s recent feature about Thelonious Monk disciple and soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy is a stirring object lesson in how to do this without compromising either the performances of Lacy’s inventive sextet or the interest in what Lacy has to say about his career. The mesh isn’t quite so fine in Ken Levis’s short about another postbebop saxophonist. Jackie McLean has some acute things to say about politics, racism, and the music business, but it’s a drag to hear them interrupting his solos; only in an outtake from Shirley Clarke’s The Connection is he allowed to stretch a little. (Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Sunday, August 23, 6:00 and 8:00, 443-3737)
Not for every taste, Donna Rosebud suggests at times a throwback to 60s Underground whimsy. But local independent J.P. Somersaulter, who shot this in high-contrast black and white over five years, has some rather novel fantasy notions up his sleeve. His eponymous heroine–mayor, musician, doctor, philosopher, and mother of seven, among other accomplishments–dreams about the real world while inhabiting a telepathic alternate universe where sync sound is unnecessary. Like other animators who’ve turned to live action Frank Tashlin, Walerian Borowczyk, David Lynch–Somersaulter has some pretty elastic notions about reality, and you might want to try bending along with him. (Music Box, Friday, August 14)
From the Chicago Reader (August 1, 1987). — J.R.
Kevin Costner, suffering as nobly here as in The Untouchables, plays a naval officer hired by the secretary of defense (Gene Hackman), whose mistress he has been unwittingly sharing. While credited as an adaptation of Kenneth Fearing’s novel The Big Clock (which was made into a movie in 1948, directed by John Farrow), this taut thriller adds so many twists of its own it might be more appropriately cross-referenced with The Manchurian Candidate, even though it isn’t nearly as daffy or as mercurial. Cornball Dolby effects aside, it’s the kind of intricately plotted suspense film with juicy secondary parts (Sean Young, Will Patton, George Dzundza, Iman, Howard Duff) that used to be churned out in the 1940s; Roger Donaldson, the New Zealand director of Smash Palace, The Bounty, and Marie, delivers coproducer Robert Garland’s efficient script with more bombast than brilliance, but at least it keeps you in your seat (1987). (JR)