A serious contemporary movie about a serial killer by flashy and talented genre director William Friedkin may sound like a contradiction in terms, and I certainly wouldn’t want to oversell a movie whose distinction largely consists of negative virtues: its refusal to manipulate the viewer, mythologize the subject, or deify the serial killer in the disgusting if effectively Oscar-mongering manner of The Silence of the Lambs. Made several years ago, but held up from release by Dino De Laurentlis’s bankruptcy, this film is a somber investigation of the legal and psychiatric issues surrounding the trial of a serial killer. Although the facts of the case are gory enough, Friedkin, adapting a novel of the same title by William P. Wood that’s based on an actual case, goes to considerable lengths not to exploit this material for cheap thrills. Refusing to offer any authoritative conclusion about whether or not we should regard this killer (well played by Alex McArthur) as insane, but considering the various legal and ethical ramifications involved, the movie proceeds rather like an issue-oriented chamber drama of the 50s, with potent and naturalistically plausible performances by Michael Biehn, Nicholas Campbell, Deborah Van Valkenburgh, John Harkins, Art La Fleur, Royce O. Applegate, and Grace Zabriskie, among others. (Harlem-Cermak, Bricktown Square, McClurg Court)
Apart from his final feature, Salo, this is probably Pier Paolo Pasolini’s most controversial film, and to my mind one of his very best, though it has the sort of audacity and extremeness that sends some American audiences into gales of derisive, self-protective laughter. The title is Italian for “theorem,” in this case a mythological figure: an attractive young man (Terence Stamp) who visits the home of a Milanese industrialist and proceeds to seduce every member of the household–father, mother (Silvana Mangano), daughter (Anne Wiazemsky), son, and maid (Laura Betti). Then he leaves, and everyone in the household undergoes cataclysmic changes. Pasolini wrote a parallel novel of the same title, part of it in verse, while making this film; neither work is, strictly speaking, an adaptation of the other, but a recasting of the same elements, and the stark poetry of both is like a triple-distilled version of Pasolini’s view of the world–a view in which Marxism, Christianity, and homosexuality are forced into mutual and scandalous confrontations. Like Pasolini at his best, this is an “impossible” work: tragic, lyrical, outrageous, indigestible, deeply felt, and wholly sincere (1968). A newly subtitled print will be shown. (Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson , Friday and Saturday, October 23 and 24, 8:00, 443-3737)
The 28th Chicago International Film Festival moves into its top-heavy second week, with a disproportionate number of high points scheduled for this weekend. The first four features that I cited last week as my favorites among the festival selections I’d seen so far–Actress, Angel of Fire, Hyenas, and Reservoir Dogs–will all be showing simultaneously this Friday night. Admittedly, all except Hyenas will be screened again, and two (including Hyenas) have been screened already, but a few more scheduling conflicts crop up again later, e.g., Actress and Angel of Fire overlap a second time on Saturday, and another of my favorites, Another Girl, Another Planet overlaps with Angel of Fire when the latter shows for the third and last time on Sunday. A certain number of such conflicts is no doubt unavoidable, and the Chicago Festival is certainly not alone–some of the conflicts at the Toronto Festival of Festivals over the last couple of years have been equally acute. But I do hope that in the future more effort can be made to distribute the goodies more evenly throughout the week rather than pile them together like the ingredients in a banana split.
On the basis of what I’ve seen, I can offer only one minor recommendation after the weekend–In the Soup–although some of the reviews that follow will offer others. (Once again, those films that our reviewers strongly recommend will be indicated by a check mark.*) You may want to make some choices on the basis of what you’re likely to be able to see elsewhere in the future. For instance, Reservoir Dogs will open commercially here next week, while Angel of Fire–which drew only small audiences in Toronto–will probably never get a commercial run. If Actress and Hyenas come back to Chicago, it will most likely be at the Film Center, not the Music Box or the Fine Arts. Considering that Another Girl, Another Planet runs for only about an hour and was shot on cheap black-and-white video (and actually looks better in that format than on the big screen), it’s difficult at this point to know how or when you’ll get another chance to see it.
Screenings are at the Pipers Alley Theatre, 1608 N. Wells, the Music Box, 3733 N. Southport, and the Apertus College of Judaica, 618 S. Michigan. Tickets can be purchased at the festival store at Pipers Alley and at the theater box offices an hour in advance of show time; they are also available by phone (for a service charge) at 559-1212 and 644-3456. General admission to each program is $7, $6 for Cine ma/Chicago members; the first show of the day before 6 PM at both theaters are $1 cheaper. For further information, call 644-3456 (644-FILM).
* Archive note: the check mark has been replaced by an asterisk for the electronic version of the festival listings.
Much acclaimed in France for its fascinating take on the cinematic apparatus, this masterpiece from Iran by the highly talented Abbas Kiarostami (And Life Goes On…) combines fiction with nonfiction in novel and provocative ways. It starts with the real-life trial in Tehran of an unemployed film buff who impersonated the celebrated filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf (The Peddler, Marriage of the Blessed). His charade included becoming intimate with a well-to-do family while pretending to prepare for a film that was to feature them. To complicate matters, Kiarostami persuaded the major players to reenact what happened, finally bringing the real Makhmalbaf together with his impersonator for a highly emotional exchange. Much comedy is derived from the ways “the cinema” changes and inflects the value and nature of everything taking place–the scam, the trial, Kiarostami’s documentary, and so on (1990). (Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Sunday, October 18, 4:15, 443-3737)