LANGUAGE AND THINKING 2012 FILM SERIES
Killer of Sheep, Charles Burnett (1977)
Tuesday 14 August 7pm
“The first feature (1977) of the highly talented black filmmaker Charles Burnett, who set most of his early films in Watts (including My Brother’s Wedding and To Sleep With Anger); this one deals episodically with the life of a slaughterhouse worker. Shot on a year’s worth of weekends for under $10,000, this remarkable work is conceivably the single best feature about ghetto life. It was selected for preservation by the National Film Registry as one of the key works in American cinema—ironic and belated recognition of a film that, until this recent restoration, had virtually no distribution. It shouldn’t be missed. With Henry Gayle Sanders.” 87 min.
— Capsule by Jonathan Rosenbaum from the Chicago Reader
Grizzly Man, Werner Herzog (2005)
Tuesday 14 August 9pm
Werner Herzog’s characteristic fascination with the darker aspects of nature and humanity informs this documentary about Timothy Treadwell, a self-styled environmentalist who spent 13 summers among the grizzly bears in Katmai National Park and Reserve in Alaska before he and his girlfriend were mauled to death in 2003. A failed actor, Treadwell was fastidious in videotaping his annual sojourns, and the footage becomes a bizarre performance piece, recording not only his good intentions but his narcissistic mania in the presence of his beloved bears. Like so much of Herzog’s work, both narrative and documentary, this is an engrossing look at obsessive behavior gone terribly awry.
–Capsule by Joshua Katzman from the Chicago Reader
Beau Travail, Claire Denis (1999)
Wednesday 15 August 7pm
“A gorgeous mirage of a movie, Claire Denis’ reverie about the French foreign legion in eastern Africa, suggested by Herman Melville’s Billy Budd, Foretopman, benefits especially from having been choreographed (by Bernardo Montet, who also plays one of the legionnaires). Combined with Denis’ superb eye for settings, Agnes Godard’s cinematography, and the director’s decision to treat major and minor elements as equally important, this turns some of the military maneuvers and exercises into thrilling pieces of filmmaking that surpass even Full Metal Jacket and converts some sequences in a disco into vibrant punctuations. The story, which drifts by in memory fragments, is told from the perspective of a solitary former sergeant (Denis Lavant, star of The Lovers on the Bridge) now living in Marseilles and recalling his hatred for a popular recruit (Gregoire Colin) that led to the sergeant’s discharge; the fact that his superior is named after the hero of Jean-Luc Godard’s Le petit soldat and played by the same actor almost 40 years later (Michel Subor) adds a suggestive thread, as do the passages from Benjamin Britten’s opera Billy Budd. Most of all, Denis, who spent part of her childhood in Djibouti, captures the poetry and atmosphere–and, more subtly, the women–of Africa like few filmmakers before her. A masterpiece.”
— Capsule by Jonathan Rosenbaum, from the Chicago Reader
The Five Obstructions, Lars Von Trier (2004)
Wednesday 15 August, 9pm
Lars Von Trier, notorious tormentor of innocent, defenseless women, picks on someone his own size this time, a fellow Danish filmmaker named Jorgen Leth. In the 1960’s, Mr. Leth made a 12-minute film called “The Perfect Human,” which Mr. von Trier claims to have seen 20 times and which he assigns his elder colleague to remake. The five new versions are made under increasingly exigent and absurd constraints — one is a cartoon, one must be shot in the worst place on earth and one must contain no shot lasting more than half a second — and the results are fascinating and strange. The heart of “The Five Obstructions,” though, is the psychological drama that develops as the mercurial Mr. von Trier faces off against the cool, implacable Mr. Leth. This examination of the arbitrariness and irrationality at the heart of the creative progress makes you wonder why anyone in his right mind would make a movie, and also grateful that oddballs like Mr. von Trier and Mr. Leth, against all reason, bother to do so.
— A. O. Scott from the New York Times “Critics’ Picks”
Man on Wire, James Marsh (2003)
Tuesday 21 August 7pm
James Marsh’s documentary revisits the legendary stunt in which French wire walker Philippe Petit crossed between the twin towers of the World Trade Center in August 1974. A charismatic figure, Petit recruited a small crew of co-conspirators who helped him infiltrate the building, reach the roof of the south tower, shoot a fishing line to the north tower by bow and arrow, and eventually string a 450-pound cable between the two structures. In his spare time he liked to watch old heist movies on TV, and the documentary is wittily patterned after that genre: there’s the same iconic introduction of the crew members, the same meticulous planning, the same heart-stopping suspense when unanticipated complications arise on the scene. In archival photos Petit seems to float between the towers, a tiny black figure against a vivid blue sky; the images are all the more poignant for the unstated fact that Petit is still around when the buildings aren’t.
—J.R. Jones from the Chicago Reader
Yellow Earth, Chen Kaige (1984)
Tuesday, 21 August, 9pm
Nowadays, most people have heard of China’s celebrated “Fifth Generation” of directors. Film-makers like Zhang Yimou and Chen Kaige have enthralled cinemagoers with works like Red Sorghum andFarewell, My Concubine. As with other trailblazers, the Fifth Generation needed a breakthrough movie to bring them to the attention of viewers at home and abroad. That film was The Yellow Earth, filmed in 1984. Directed by Chen Kaige and photographed by Zhang Yimou, The Yellow Earth was a sensation at the Hong Kong Film Festival in 1985….The Yellow Earth, which is set in 1939, centers on the relationship between Gu Qing, a member of the Eighth Route Army, and a peasant family. Gu comes to the village to compile a collection of folk songs, and he meets the young Cuiqiao and her family. She is due to enter into an arranged marriage, which terrifies her. She is inspired by Gu’s stories of girls fighting in the army, and asks him whether she can follow him back to Yanan. While Cuiqiao waits for Gu Qing’s return from Yanan with official approval, she is married. She decides to try to join an army unit that is camping on the other side of the Yellow River.
—Richard James Havis in Asiaweek
Battle of Algiers, Gillo Pontecorvo (1966)
Wednesday, 22 August, 7pm
One of the most influential political films in history, The Battle of Algiers, by Gillo Pontecorvo, vividly re-creates a key year in the tumultuous Algerian struggle for independence from the occupying French in the 1950s. As violence escalates on both sides, children shoot soldiers at point-blank range, women plant bombs in cafés, and French soldiers resort to torture to break the will of the insurgents. Shot on the streets of Algiers in documentary style, the film is a case study in modern warfare, with its terrorist attacks and the brutal techniques used to combat them. Pontecorvo’s tour de force has astonishing relevance today.
—Synopsis from the Criterion Collection
The Apple, Samira Makhmalbaf (1998)
Wednesday, 22 August, 9pm
“The Apple” is a stunning feature film debut from Samira Makhmalbaf, the 18-year-old daughter of Iranian filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf. …Richly allusive and beautifully photographed, “The Apple” follows the aftermath of a real-life situation in which a father had kept his two daughters confined to their home since birth. When neighbors reported the situation to the welfare authorities in Teheran, the daughters, who are slightly retarded, were removed from the home and returned to their parents only on the condition that the father allow the two to leave home and explore the outside world. Makhmalbaf heard about the story on a Wednesday and began filming on the Sunday four days later. She follows the return of the girls and their ensuing exploits as their father’s philosophy bridles against the welfare edict. In addition to the father, the two daughters, and their mother-who is blind-the story is populated by a cast of characters including a representative from the welfare department and other children who the young girls meet during their steps into the outside world.
—Jeremy Lehrer in Indiewire