The Chinese title of Dai Sijie’s semiautobiographical 1989 feature, filmed in the French Pyrenees with a nonprofessional cast of Chinese and Vietnamese emigres, means “bull sheds,” or rehabilitation centers. In a small town in China in 1966, at the onset of the Cultural Revolution, a 13-year-old boy momentarily disrupts the local propaganda by playing a pop record–actually a love song from the classic 1937 Shanghai film Street Angels–as a way of flirting with a girl in the courtyard below, and as a consequence is sent to a remote labor camp in the Mountains of Eternal Life. Dai Sijie, trained as a filmmaker in France, makes the most of his spectacular settings and extracts from this story not so much a grim survival tale as a nostalgic and poetic idyll about childhood freedom–a sort of Chinese Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in which a monk on the mountainside taking a vow of silence plays the nurturing and sacrificial role of Jim. Hampered at times by awkward performances and clumsy English subtitles, this is still a worthy companion to The Blue Kite and Farewell My Concubine as a contemporary reassessment of the Cultural Revolution, with an evocative and haunting lyricism all its own. Winner of the Prix Jean Vigo. Facets Multimedia Center, 1517 W. Fullerton, Friday and Saturday, October 22 and 23, 7:00 and 9:00; Sunday, October 24, 5:30 and 7:30; and Monday through Thursday, October 25 through 28, 7:00 and 9:00; 281-4114.
If you’re looking for an alternative to the Chicago Film Festival, here’s a neglected movie from the past that’s better than most of the current festival entries. Of the many films by Ulrike Ottinger I’ve seen, this lovely and deliciously “irresponsible” 1979 camp item has given me the most unbridled pleasure. A nameless heroine (Tabea Blumenschein) arrives in West Berlin on a one-way ticket intending to drink herself to death, and three prim ladies known as Social Question (Magdalena Montezuma), Accurate Statistics (Orpha Termin), and Common Sense (Monika Von Cube) stand around and kibitz. Thanks to the heroine’s extravagant wardrobe, the diverse settings, the witty dialogue, the imaginative mise en scene, and the overall celebratory spirit, Ticket of No Return is a continuous string of delights, worth anybody’s time. This screening will be accompanied by a lecture by film scholar Ilene Goldman. Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Tuesday, October 19, 6:00, 443-3737.