This 1993 film by the eclectic and talented Iranian Mohsen Makhmalbaf (The Peddler, Marriage of the Blessed) is a contemporary, semitragic farce about a burly film actor who wants to play only in art films but is forced by his family’s economic demands to act in a string of trashy commercial movies. His tormented wife, infertile and obsessed with having a baby, insists that her husband marry and impregnate a second wife, a deaf-mute Gypsy, to provide them with a child. What keeps this picture frenetic, apart from the hysterical action and the satirical treatment of Iranian media, is the couple’s surreal, high-tech home and Makhmalbaf’s hyperbolic, eccentric mise en scene, which fit together hand in glove (as they were undoubtedly designed to do). The three lead actors–Akbar Abdi (playing some version of himself), Fatemeh Motamed Aria, and Mahaya Petrossian–were all in Once Upon a Time, Cinema, Makhmalbaf’s previous feature, and there appear to be some cross-references (such as the hero’s Chaplin worship), but here the tone is more caustic, the inventiveness more pointed. The meanings of both films are less than entirely clear, but my hunch is that each is a comic allegory about the rift between traditional and contemporary Iran, in which class differences and cultural differences are equally pertinent. Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Saturday and Sunday, October 29 and 30, 6:00, 443-3737.
A conventionally made documentary about the Mississippi Voter Registration Project, which existed from 1961 to 1964, this is special because of the precise sense of time and place it manages to impart through archival footage and recent interviews, as well as for the exemplary history lesson it offers about a key branch of the civil rights struggle. Produced and directed by Connie Field (The Life and Times of Rosie the Riveter) and Marilyn Mulford and written and edited by Michael Chandler, it not only offers a welcome corrective to the multiple obfuscations of Mississippi Burning; it also furnishes the viewer with enough solid information to reevaluate the subject intelligently. (Whether you regard the civil rights movement as a whole as a success or as a failure, chances are you’ll have a more complicated view after seeing this.) Among the interview subjects are many Mississippi activists (including Victoria Gray, Endesha Ida Mae Holland, L.C. Dorsey, and Curtis Hayes) as well as those who came to the scene from other states (including Bob Moses, Marshall Ganz, and Pam Chude Allen), and the story they have to tell remains an essential part of our history. This won the grand jury prize for best documentary at the 1994 Sundance film festival. Music Box, Friday through Thursday, October 28 through November 3.
If you haven’t yet seen a film by Wong Kar-wei, one of the more exciting and original of the younger Hong Kong filmmakers, you should make this immensely charming and energetic two-part comedy feature a priority; if you have, you probably won’t need my recommendation. Though less ambitious than either Days of Being Wild or Ashes of Time, the Wong films that precede and follow it, Chunking Express qualifies in many ways as the most accessible of the trio and as an ideal introduction to his work. Both stories here are set in contemporary Hong Kong and deal poignantly with young policemen striving to get over unsuccessful romantic relationships and their unconventional encounters with other women–a hit woman for the mob in the first case, an infatuated fast-food waitress in the second. Wong’s singular and frenetic visual style and his special feeling for lonely romantics may remind you of certain French New Wave directors, but this movie isn’t any trip down memory lane; it’s a vibrant commentary on young love today, packed with punch and personality. With Lin Hsing-hsia, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Tony Leung, and Faye Wong. Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Friday, October 28, 6:00, and Saturday, October 29, 2:00, 443-3737.
This 1994 SF film starts out suggesting 2001 and winds up recalling Flash Gordon. In between, it proceeds fairly enjoyably on the level of a minor Forbidden Planetpleasurable for some of its vistas, its overall scenic design, and its unself-conscious naivete about displaying otherworldliness, but not very nourishing or satisfying to the mind. James Spader plays an archaeologist specializing in Egyptian ruins who’s invited to join a secret military team, headed by Kurt Russell, that’s investigating a curious artifact uncovered in Giza. It proves to be a gizmo planted on earth centuries ago that serves as a doorway to a planet in a remote corner of the galaxy. Most of the remainder of the movie is set on this desert outpost, which has three moons and is lorded over by an androgynous despot (The Crying Game’s Jaye Davidson). The adventure and spectacle tend to be more sustaining than the speculative anthropology. Directed by Roland Emmerich from a script he wrote with Dean Devlin; with Viveca Lindfors, Alexis Cruz, Mili Avital, and John Diehl. (JR)