From the Chicago Reader (January 26, 1996). — J.R.
This program of 35-millimeter experimental films selected by Bruce Posner is a mixed bag, though there’s no denying the intensity of the works. That may be part of the problem: including musical interludes between clusters of films is a good idea, but it backfires because two of the interludes are as aggressive as the films, denying us a contemplative moment when we might catch our breath. But I can still think of two good reasons for seeing this show. There’s an awesome eight-minute fragment by Sergei Paradjanov, literally made on his deathbed, called Confession (1990) that easily surpasses his last two features and deserves to be ranked alongside his sublime Sayat Nova; it centers mainly on a long take juxtaposing a group of musicians (whose music is unheard), an apparent funeral, and various ritualistic activities — all happening at once in the same hallucinatory space in a way that recalls juxtapositions in medieval paintings. And then there are the dated but undeniably lively silent abstract expressionist works made between 1967 and 1992 by Stan Brakhage, the best of which are Night Music (1986) and The Dante Quartet (1987), where the tempi are sufficiently varied to justify the poetic and musical analogies implied in the titles. (The others tend to wear one down with their relentless pile-driver attack.) Posner’s autobiographical The Analects, made between 1987 and 1995, comes last and registers least effectively. The other artists represented in the program are Jose Antonio Sistiaga, Thierry Vincens, and Kurt Kren. Kino-Eye Cinema at Chicago Filmmakers, 1543 W. Division, Friday and Saturday, January 26 and 27, 8:00, 384-5533. –Jonathan Rosenbaum
Paradoxically yet appropriately, Jacques Rivette’s only “superproduction” to date, his two-part, no-nonsense 1993 opus about Joan of Arc, is his first realistic film since L’amour fou (1968)–and perhaps the only movie that offers a plausible portrait of what the 15th-century teenager who led the French into battle was actually like. Apart from the stylized effect of having various participants in the action narrate the plot while facing the camera, this is a materialist version of a story that offers no miracles, though it does offer a pertinent attentiveness to gender issues (such as the nervousness and sexual braggadocio of the soldiers who sleep beside Joan) and a Joan who’s girlish as well as devout, capable of giggling as well as experiencing pain; when she wins over the dauphin the scene is pointedly kept offscreen, and when she’s interrogated by priests about her faith she could almost be a graduate student defending a dissertation. (Rivette himself plays the priest who blesses her just before she leaves home.) The two features, though comprising a unit, can be seen separately; if I had to see only one I would opt for The Battles (somewhat mislabeled because battle scenes crop up only in the last third), because Rivette is doing things, especially with landscape and period detail (both traversed by inquisitive pans), that he’s never done before. (The Prisons has high points of its own, but its emphasis on Joan’s martyrdom tends to recall Rivette’s The Nun.) As Joan, Sandrine Bonnaire, who’s seldom been better, gives a singular poignance to the line “I know what I must do, but at times I don’t know how.” For his part, Rivette seems to know what he’s doing every step of the way. Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Friday, January 26, The Battles: 6:00, and Saturday, January 27, The Prisons: 2:30, 443-3737.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): film still.
A warm and likable chronicle (1995) about growing up black in Mississippi between 1946 and 1962, shortly before the end of jim crow laws, adapted from a memoir by Clifton Taulbert and directed by first-timer Tim Reid. Even as a southerner and near contemporary of Taulbert, I can’t vouch for the accuracy of every detail here, but on the whole this feels right (even the colors employed in the decor smack of the 50s), and it certainly puts to shame the egregious nonsense of Mississippi Burning. The film has its hokey moments but also a good many quiet virtues and strengths, which is perhaps why it was rejected by the trendy Sundance festival: there’s hardly an ounce of hyperbole in it. The excellent cast includes Al Freeman Jr., Phylicia Rashad, Isaac Hayes, Taj Mahal, Polly Bergen, and Richard Roundtree. PG, 115 min. (JR)
Wes Anderson’s 1996 first feature (before Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums) is fresh, character driven, often funny, and unfashionably upbeat (as well as offbeat). And it doesn’t beat you over the headwhich made it a hard sell in industry terms and explains why it was almost completely ignored upon release. But I found its Kerouac-like goofiness both charming and sustaining. Owen Wilson, his brother Luke, and Robert Musgrave play three young, immature friends and aspiring thieves in Texas; another Wilson brother, Andrew, also appears, and the film benefits from its relaxed cast consisting largely of friends and siblings. (The presence of such producer godparents as Polly Platt, James L. Brooks, Monte Hellman, and L.M. Kit Carson probably helped as well.) Written by Anderson and Owen Wilson; with James Caan and Lumi Cavazos (Like Water for Chocolate). R, 95 min. (JR)