Reviews, profiles and news about movies in Chicago

Why Does Anyone Do Anything: Paul Haggis in the “Third Person”

Drama, Recommended, Romance 1 Comment »

PHM_7578.NEFBy Ray Pride

One of the most bittersweet end credits I’ve seen in recent movies comes at the end of Paul Haggis’ melodrama about jealousy and point-of-view, “Third Person”: “To all the Belgian tax shelter investors.”

Haggis laughs when I say this on a recent sunny Chicago afternoon resounding with fire trucks and ambulances on the street below the high-up hotel suite. “I had to leave this country to get financing for this film,” he says at a fast clip with a light Canadian cadence. “I knew it was going to be a European film in many ways, anyways. It’s a European sensibility, this film. Besides the fact that two of the cities, Paris and Rome, are European. That didn’t trouble me too much, but it is a shame. We didn’t even bother to think of taking this to studios. We didn’t even try. Why would we? This is nothing a studio would make today. The days of studios making adult dramas is, sadly, long past.”

The look and feel of the movie does hark back to multiple eras. “We shot a lot of interiors at Cinecitta [studios in Rome]. Some we built on locations,” he tells me. “All the hotel suites, the hotel corridors, everything’s built there. I wanted two hotels that had the same footprint exactly. It’s part of the story. Even though [production designer] Larry Bennett changed out the windows and the dressing and the coving and everything, I wanted them to feel like… ‘Is this the same place?’ No, it’s not. ‘Is it?’” Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Alphaville

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(A Strange Adventure of Lemmy Caution) Fifty shades of grayscale: Jean-Luc Godard’s 1965 “Alphaville” is eternally nouveau, fifty years passé. One of his most entertaining movies is also one of his most timeless. Drawing on a post-Bogart gumshoe character that Eddie Constantine had already smoked and drank his way through in Z-level Euro-thrillers, Godard creates a future landscape entirely from cannily curated elements of Paris, 1964. The City of Light becomes the portal of portent. All you need to make a movie, or at least a nagging, haunt-your-dreams pre-neo-noir, is a gun, a girl and simmering philosophical asides. The shadowy web etched by cinematographer Raoul Coutard’s black-and-white photography is countered by the luminosity of Godard’s then-wife and matchless muse, Anna Karina. Her eyes shine as the corners of the city lurk, mute yet ominously expressive. Fittingly, this object from the past that partook in an imagined future, of an urban dystopia ruled by a brute computer called “Alpha 60,” is newly restored, cleanly pixillated into the present tense of rapid-fire 1-0-1-0-1-0 sequences of data. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Miss Bala

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Mexican director Gerardo Naranjo’s brilliant, urgent “Miss Bala,” which was his country’s entry for the Best Foreign Language Film, and easily the best film of 2012 so far, is getting an abrupt release in the Chicago area after failing to make the final five for the Academy Awards. It’s under the Fox International banner, which co-produced the film with Canana, the Mexican production company whose principals include Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna, and it’s their first release in the U.S. “Miss Bala” is the propulsive story of a working-class woman in Baja California (Stephanie Sigman) who wants to enter a “Miss Baja” competition but who falls into a series of coincidences that send her on the run for the duration of the film after witnessing the murder of members of the drug cartel and DEA agents at a club. (“Bala” translates as “bullet.”) Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Imperialists Are Still Alive!

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Zeina Durra’s wry, distanced “The Imperialists Are Still Alive” opens with a shot of full-frontal nudity (adorned only by a face-covering Arabic scarf) with Élodie Bouchez (“The Dreamlife of Angels”) playing Asya, a Paris-born “Jordanian-Lebanese, Bosnian-Palestinian” performance artist. It’s literally the film’s most revealing instant. She lives in a crumb-bum loft in Manhattan while mingling with the wealthy and disaffected bohemians of many lands. Durra’s comic pastiche, reminiscent of Whit Stillman’s modest filmography, is a put-on of stock figures of supposed urban sophistication; her greatest success in evoking the city may be the loving look of the 16mm images (by Uruguayan Magela Crosignani), especially in low-light situations. The story moves readily from money to muck in its provocations about the “War of Terror” and its effects on her cast of politicized hopefuls and cool-blooded cosmopolitans. They’re gadabouts who have no destination beyond an incessant circuit of openings and parties and clandestine clubs. “You’re not CIA, are you?” is a logical enough question, and “No!” the scowl in return. “Imperialists” is more ambitious than your random Amerindie entry: the post-9/11 possibility of violent xenophobia courses beneath the scenes. The title is taken from Godard’s “La Chinoise.” With José María de Tavira, Karim Saleh, Rita Ackerman, Marianna Kulukundis, Pierluca Arancio, Karen Lynn Gorney, Sophie Auster, Coati Mundi, and a cameo by, yes, Whit Stillman himself, while “Psycho Killer” plays brightly in a dim club. In English, Spanish, French, Arabic and Korean. 91m. (Ray Pride)

“The Imperialists Are Still Alive!” opens Friday at Facets. A trailer is below.
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Review: Film Socialisme

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The 80-year-old Jean-Luc Godard’s “Film Socialisme” is a disarmingly beautiful rash of video imagery that ranges from HD in gleaming blues on a luxury liner late at night to cell-phone images that stutter, blanch and bleed, accompanied by murmorous dialogues turning over familiar political idées fixe and the crisp musique concrète-style sound mixes of his work of the past three decades. Godard hectors and cryptographs, finding an expressive character for his digital video palette with far greater success than his 2001 “Eloge de l’amour,” but with less engagement than in the recently reissued “Sauve qui peut (la vie)” (1980), shot on 35mm film, which works with metaphors of self-loathing, prostitution and misogyny. “Film Socialisme” is sketch comedy for cineastes (far less dense than the obsessive and potted essay “Histoires du Cinéma”), those who react to colors and edits and gestural repetitions and thematic fixations, but not those who struggle to cipher a story from fragments. His latest fractured fairytales are also filmmaking as sculpture, expressive through collage and not the verities of theater and text, film as a corrupted dream. (Oh! The nineteenth century!) Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Inspector Bellamy

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When an artist is prolific and productive until the end of a long life lived well, it’s a source of marvel when they pass, to finally realize just how easy it was to have taken them for granted. That would count with much of the French New Wave; while François Truffaut was only 52 when he died in 1984, and Éric Rohmer recently died at the age of 89, Alain Resnais’ weird and witty “Wild Grass” was only a preface to a new film he’s shooting at the age of 88, and while there are indications he may have retired, Jacques Rivette will be 83 come March, and Godard, well, Godard is as easy to take for granted at a still-contentious 80 years of age as it was to think that a new Claude Chabrol movie would be on its way every couple of years. These insouciant elders are like cognac or brandy, in their own way; you could always count on reaching for the top shelf when a taste struck. Read the rest of this entry »

Something to Do: The undulating poetry of Godard’s “Every Man”

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By Ray Pride

Contrails crosshatch and feather a deep blue sky to the sound of planes. A camera pointed upward, soon to come to earth to trace how the lives of three adults’ lives criss-cross.

Shocking and shockingly beautiful, Jean-Luc Godard’s “Every Man For Himself” [Sauve qui peut (la vie)] is as brutish as it is sensitive. First released in the U.S. in 1980, Godard called it his “second first film,” marking his return to European art-house film after a decade experimenting first with didactic political films and then with emerging video technology. Francis Coppola was the original U. S. distributor, and was set to produce an ill-fated American gangster movie by Godard, “The Story.”

Paul Godard (Jacques Dutronc) is a television filmmaker fighting with his girlfriend, Denise (Nathalie Baye), who cross paths with a prostitute, Isabelle (Isabelle Huppert). The camera’s gaze remains as simple as those opening shots. Blunt statements about power and sexual violence are threaded throughout, and are usually also in the service of describing filmmaking as being an equally brutal act. (The scenes of sexual display are largely absurd, including a Rube Goldberg-style roundelay in a hotel room that resembles a tableau from a late Fassbinder film as well as a mockery of how movies are directed.) Read the rest of this entry »

The Top 5 of Everything 2010: Film

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The Social Network

Top 5 Domestic Films
“The Social Network,” David Fincher
“Winter’s Bone,” Debra Granik
“Ghost Writer,” Roman Polanski
“Exit Through the Gift Shop,” Banksy
“Inception,” Christopher Nolan
— Ray Pride

Top 5 Foreign Films
“Carlos,” Olivier Assayas
“Everyone Else,” Maren Ade
“Dogtooth,” Yorgos Lanthimos
“Father of My Children,” Mia Hansen-Løve
“I Am Love,” Luca Guadagnino
— Ray Pride

Top 5 Films
“Animal Kingdom,” David Michôd
“Enter the Void,” Gaspar Noé
“Inception,” Christopher Nolan
“Lourdes,” Jessica Hausner
“Monsters,” Gareth Edwards
—Bill Stamets

Top 5 Documentary Films
“Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Inferno,” Serge Bromberg and Ruxandra Medrea
“Sweetgrass,” (no director credited) [Ilisa Barbash and Lucien Castaing-Taylor]
“The Oath,” Laura Poitras
“Videocracy,” Erik Gandini
“Rembrandt’s J’Accuse,” Peter Greenaway
—Bill Stamets Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Breathless

Comedy, Drama, Recommended, The State of Cinema, World Cinema 1 Comment »


The Godardian knot: how can a nifty movie fifty years on seem so fresh? For its immersion in signifiers: of snips of pop culture passing for personality. Flip, fluid “Breathless” (Á bout de souffle), in a celluloid restoration with updated subtitles (with no current plans to replace the recent Criterion double disc) is kinetic sculpture in its form, its willful jump cuts (seldom seen in 1959) making light cubism of its story through editing. Drawing from the gangster cool of Bogart and doomed couple-on-the-run romanticism (from films like Joseph H. Lewis’ “Gun Crazy,” which used street locations with the same kind of punch), Godard, the film critic and intellectual, made splendid play of film grammar and fine faces. Michel Poiccard (Jean-Paul Belmondo), thick cigarette drooping from his full lips, smoke coiling across his thick boxer mug, is irrationally infatuated with American student Patricia (Jean Seberg), the grandmother of all “manic dream pixies,” peddling the New York Herald Tribune on Parisian streets. Cinematographer Raoul Coutard’s crunchy, granular black-and-white images (shooting with film meant for 35mm stills) are accompanied by the occasional tracking shot blatantly taken from a wheelchair being backed through pedestrian traffic. Godard was 30 at the time, and the 1960s would be filled with worship of muses like on-and-off-again love/wife Anna Karina, but his love of Jean Seberg’s slender neck is as cruelly erotic as anything he’s ever shot: positioned in a convertible’s back seat, her head three-quarter turned away, Godard photographs her as the eternal present, the center of all things, as the sights of Parisian street life stream past in a sustained series of jumpcuts. Director Jean-Pierre Melville, whose portrait of Montmartre nightlife, “Bob the Gambler,” gets a joke reference, appears as a pretentious novelist whose ambition, he says, is to become immortal, then die. He pulls down his sunglasses and the warm, huge pools of his eyes fix on Patricia. The sphinx, flustered, turns away, and as the image fades, faces us. 97m. (Ray Pride)

“Breathless” opens Friday at the Music Box.

Review: Made in U.S.A.

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While some reviewers have disdained this never-released-in-the-U.S. Godard entry from 1966, “Made in U.S.A.” as a semi-coherent hodgepodge, it’s also been a kind of phantom limb for those who admire the Swissman’s prolific output from that time, immediately preceded by “Masculin féminin” (also 1966) and “Pierrot le fou” (1965) and succeeded by “Two or Three Things I Know About Her” (1967) and “La Chinoise” (also 1967). Complicated rights issues, largely centered on rights to the novel the movie’s kinda-sorta based on, kept it from public view since its New York Film Festival premiere in 1967. A whimsically nonsensical Cold War-era noir plot bobs into view amid the aphoristic cultural-capitalism critique, but Godard’s ideas about how to photograph youth and fads and ex-wife Anna Karina, dressed in bright bold primary colors against other bright bold primary colors, are a delightful eyeful, even if the movie never attains the heights of “Two or Three Things,” which was produced at the same time. A character says we’re watching “Walt Disney with blood,” and that might be right. The richness of the sound and image are enough for grateful ears and eyes, even if “Made” didn’t boast an offhanded café scene where Marianne Faithfull’s singing “As Tears Go By.” The Village Voice’s J. Hoberman wrote a book called “Vulgar Modernism”: here’s a visual concordance of the very idea. 88m. Widescreen. (Ray Pride)