Reviews, profiles and news about movies in Chicago

The Terrible Lightness of Seeing: On the Tender Melancholy of “In The Shadow Of Women”

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By Ray Pride

The latest sweet shimmering sliver of romantic regret from sixty-seven-year-old French master Philippe Garrel, “In the Shadow of Women,” plays out in an efficient seventy-nine minutes, filled more with pause than with plot. But its restraint, its quiet virtues, are feats of maturity and mastery. Garrel shares screenplay credit with eighty-four-year-old Jean-Claude Carrière (“Belle de Jour,” “Every Man For Himself,” “Birth,” “That Obscure Object of Desire,” “The Unbearable Lightness of Being”), and the silken severity of the widescreen black-and-white images is by seventy-year-old Renato Berta (“Jonah Who Will Be 25 in the Year 2000,” “Full Moon in Paris,” “Au Revoir Les Enfants”).

Old guys! But the characters are younger, young-ish, caught within timeless trappings of the heart, in modern, urban, bourgeois society. (Garrel’s work began in bohemia but this is now his milieu.) In contemporary Paris, a thirtysomething couple, Pierre (Stanislas Merhar) and Manon (Clotilde Courau) make small-scale documentaries, including one about the Resistance activities of an aging raconteur. Pierre and Manon have an apparent emotional equilibrium in both life and work, but Pierre is taken by a young trainee, Elisabeth (Lena Paugam), and starts to see her on the side. Pierre thinks he can hold onto both women, until the unexpected twist of Elisabeth discovering that Manon herself has a lover, which she tells Pierre, which leads him back to his wife. But…He cannot contain these minor multitudes, he demonstrates through jealousy that you only ruin yourself. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Cemetery Of Splendour

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RECOMMENDED

One of the most charming and recurrent of Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s statements in the past decade about his progressively more ethereal features, shorts and art installations is that it’s perfectly alright, even appropriate to nod at some point, waking at an indeterminate later moment when the world has changed (or obstinately remained the same) for his dreamers and sleepwalkers. In the latest simmering surrealism by the School of the Art Institute graduate who likes to be called just “Joe,” “Cemetery of Splendour” (Rak ti Khon Kaen), he literally engages a sleeping sickness, based on a true story, with a cast of soldiers confined to a clinic that stands atop a burial ground for Thai royals. A rich melancholy pronounces itself more readily than any apprehensible allegory. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Son Of Saul

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RECOMMENDED

The human face; the ear, provoked. Two of the most powerful tools available to filmmakers are the human face and psychologically suggestive sound design. A couple of quotes, then, in service of glancing at thirty-eight-year-old Hungarian director László Nemes’ death-camp-set debut feature, the unlikely fable of faith “Son of Saul.” First, from French master Robert Bresson’s “Notes on Cinematography”: “The eye solicited alone makes the ear impatient, the ear solicited alone makes the eye impatient. Use these impatiences. Power of the cinematographer who appeals to the two senses in a governable way. Against the tactics of speed, of noise, set tactics of slowness, of silence.” And from George Orwell, the all-too-familiar “If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—forever.” Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Anesthesia

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Writer-director-actor Tim Blake Nelson assembles a stellar cast for his chatty, appropriately named “Anesthesia,” a would-be brooding meditation on mortality on Manhattan’s Upper West Side—Sam Waterston, Glenn Close, Kristen Stewart, Corey Stoll, Gretchen Mol, Michael Kenneth Williams, Mickey Sumner, himself—and then produces a perfectly competent, wholly forgettable 1990s-style indie ensemble “web of life” pic. We’re all connected, but are we connected at all? Take, drink, this is the thesis to my sketch drama: “The world has just become so inhuman. Everyone’s plugged in, blindingly inarticulate, obsessed with money, their careers, stupidly, arrogantly content. I crave interaction, but you just can’t any more.” A stabbing on an apartment stoop introduces us to a roster of ennui-istas and depressives that include a drug abuser, a self-destructive twentysomething, a suburban mom who misses the city, and a Columbia University professor on the verge of retirement. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Lady In The Van

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RECOMMENDED

In Nicholas Hytner’s “The Lady in the Van,” Maggie Smith stars as “Miss Shepherd,” an unwanted neighbor of playwright Alan Bennett, a homeless woman who parks her caravan in his London driveway for fifteen years. Brusque comedy ensues as Bennett adapts his own memoir and 1999 stage play and Hytner shoots the story at Bennett’s home and its Gloucester Crescent locations. (Hytner also directed Bennett’s earlier screenplays, “The Madness of King George” and “The History Boys.”) As an elevated microcosmic portrait of the classic English eccentric, tended to by a less eccentric observer, “The Lady in the Van” is particular and ultimately piquant. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Mustang

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RECOMMENDED

“Everything changed in the blink of an eye. One minute everything was fine, then everything turned to shit”: this is the opening narration from the mouth of Lale, the youngest of five headstrong orphaned sisters in “Mustang,” a provocative yet joyous celebration of the power of female agency. A self-conscious fairytale, it’s one of 2015’s smoothest, most confident directorial debuts, superficially a Turkish “Virgin Suicides,” but very much the thirty-seven-year-old Turkish-French director Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s own wild creature, drawing upon western European cinematic sensibilities as well as the verdant yet rustic setting in a Turkish backwater, Inebolu, a town on the Black Sea 600 kilometers from Istanbul. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Lamb

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RECOMMENDED

Writer-director-star Ross Partridge’s “Lamb” (based on a novel by Bonnie Nadzam) finds beauty in the service of an unnerving story about an unmoored forty-seven-year-old habitual liar named David Lamb (Partridge). After his father’s funeral, with a divorce in the offing, he befriends an eleven-year-old girl, Tommie (Oona Laurence), and invites her to a Rocky Mountains getaway. While rife with portent and potential pitfalls, the relationship in “Lamb” is nonsexual, and while disturbing, has only a few scenes that even come near the elemental horror of “Room,” with its child witnessing sexual abuse. For her own reasons, Tommie acts above her age. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: 45 Years

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RECOMMENDED

We all have secrets. Some stay kept. Most should. Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay excel in “45 Years,” Andrew Haigh’s understated, cleanly sculpted story of a devastating week in a married life after a forty-five-year-old secret is revealed. Before meeting his wife Kate, Geoff Mercer had loved another woman, who died in a tumble into an Alpine crevasse. With the coming of global warming, the long-dead, still-young Katya is discovered in a thawing glacier. Geoff does not react well. Kate does not react well to Geoff’s reaction. Haigh’s “Weekend” worked with similar modest means and observational delicacy in sketching the beginnings of a possible lifelong relationship. And there’s curious cultural resonance in the casting of two iconic figures of London’s Swinging Sixties—Courtenay from roles as in “The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner,” Rampling in “Georgy Girl”—creating echoes akin to the story itself, in which a long-dead figure wreaks complications upon not only an uneventful anniversary on the horizon, but on the years that preceded it. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Benefactor

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RECOMMENDED

Loving glimpses of Philadelphia and the thick white hair and drizzle-grizzle beard of an elder Richard Gere are the key attractions and distractions in writer-director Andrew Renzi’s debut feature “The Benefactor.” Olivia (Dakota Fanning) and Luke (Theo James) are a young married couple with a child on the way who draw the attention of powerful, wealthy Franny (Gere), a philanthropist still reeling from an accident that killed his best friends five years earlier: Olivia’s parents. Gere’s Franny is a micromanager of the worst order, a striking contrast to the lost, lost man he played in Oren Moverman’s 2014 “Time Out Of Mind.” Here, he’s all brass and bravado, his poor little rich man at once generous and self-gratifying, pained and also a pain to the family-to-be he forces his favors onto. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Band of Robbers

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Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn are all grown up in Aaron and Adam Nee’s “Band of Robbers,” a gamy heist film transposing Mark Twain’s characters to the modern day—Huck’s just out of stir, Tom’s a cop—as well as to a world where colorful, crooked, working-class characters seem to have mainlined Wes Anderson movies, not limited to “Bottle Rocket,” and the likes of “Napoleon Dynamite” since the womb. Read the rest of this entry »