A version of the following piece will appear at the Time Out Chicago website sometime before Friday.
The must-see doc Death in the Terminal will receive its U.S. premiere in Chicago this weekend
The second annual Doc10 Film Festival will take place at the Davis Theater from Thursday, March 30 through Sunday, April 2. As with last year’s impressive debut lineup, Doc10 will again highlight the best in contemporary nonfiction cinema by presenting the local premieres of 10 important documentaries curated by Anthony Kaufman (who also programmed the documentary slate at the Chicago International Film Festival for the past two years). While I was impressed with each of the four titles I have been able to preview so far (at least one of which, the much buzzed about Rat Film, will certainly return to Chicago screens at some point this year), my favorite of the bunch is the lower-profile Death in the Terminal, an Israeli movie still awaiting five user votes on the IMDb that will be receiving not just its Chicago premiere at Doc10 but its U.S. premiere as well. Although the running time clocks in at a lean 52 minutes, this incredibly complex and disturbing documentary by co-directors Tali Shemesh and Asaf Sudry does more to explain the culture of violence in the Middle East today than any other single work of art I know of. This is perhaps because it focuses on a single 18-minute incident (a terrorist attack at a bus station in Israel, and its immediate aftermath) in a way that feels like a microcosm of the conflict as a whole.
Death in the Terminal dramatically juxtaposes surveillance video footage from multiple security cameras — plus one eyewitness cell phone video — with interviews with six subjects (including police officers, a falafel vendor, an EMT and a couple of civilian bystanders) in order to piece together what happened in Beersheba in 2015 when an Israeli soldier was senselessly gunned down by a Bedouin terrorist and, equally senselessly, an innocent Eritrean refugee was mistakenly lynched in response. The film plays out like a negative version of Keith Maitland’s Tower, the superb animated doc from last year that focused on the heroism of civilians and police during the 1966 sniper shootings at the University of Texas in Austin; only where Maitland’s humanist movie showed people “doing the right thing” in the face of tragedy, Shemesh and Sudry’s darker and thornier work focuses on people who did the wrong thing, thereby perpetuating an insane cycle of violence and retribution. But Shemesh and Sudry also thankfully have no interest in pointing fingers or casting easy blame: their film explicitly challenges viewer assumptions about how we might react in similar circumstances, a provocation nowhere more apparent than in a haunting final shot where security-cam footage is run backwards. As soon as it’s over you may feel that you need to watch it again.
Death in the Terminal screens on Saturday, April 1 at 9:15pm followed by a Skype Q&A with the filmmakers. More information on DOC10, including the full lineup, can be found on the DOC10 website.
1. Los Olvidados (Bunuel)
2. Tower (Maitland)
3. We Won’t Grow Old Together (Pialat)
4. The Sting (Hill)
5. Raw (Ducournau)
6. Bicycle Thieves (De Sica)
7. Contempt (Godard)
8. Germany Year Zero (Rossellini)
9. Rules Don’t Apply (Beatty)
10. The Babadook (Kent)
A version of the following piece should appear at Time Out Chicago sometime before Friday.
The Chicago European Union Film Festival kicked off at the Gene Siskel Film Center on March 3 and continues until the end of the month. Here are my “best bets” for the festival’s fourth and final week.
Austerlitz is a provocative and challenging German documentary on the subject of “Holocaust tourism” by the Ukrainian director Sergei Loznitsa (Maidan). The film daringly eschews all of the usual contextualizing devices of non-fiction cinema (interviews, voice-over narration, onscreen texts, etc.) and merely presents viewers with static long-take shots of men and women filing into and out of museums on the grounds where the death camps at Auschwitz and Sachsenhausen once stood. Most of the subjects look as though they could be visiting an amusement park or any other major tourist attraction but Loznitsa’s refusal to provide any sort of commentary on the stark black-and-white images means that viewers are left to draw their own conclusions about why people visit these sites and whether or not it’s disrespectful to do so in a shirt emblazoned with the words “Cool Story, Bro.”
American-born French director Eugene Green (La Sapienza) returns to CEUFF with The Son of Joseph, a masterful comedy/drama about a teenage boy (Victor Ezenfis) searching for the identity of his birth father (Mathieu Amalric), a journey that ends up taking on parallels to the Biblical stories of the birth of Christ and Abraham’s near-sacrifice of Isaac. The film’s extensive meditation on father/son relationships, which offers an optimistic view of how we may not choose the families we’re born into but that we can choose our own surrogate family members, makes it an unlikely companion piece to Warren Beatty’s criminally underrated Rules Don’t Apply. Green’s employment of Bressonian non-acting, direct-camera address and absurd humor (a digression involving a young man selling sperm on the internet is one of the funniest things I’ve seen in years) adds up to a vision as singular as it is satisfying.
Austerlitz screens on Sunday, March 26 and Wednesday, March 29. The Son of Joseph screens on Friday, March 24 and Wednesday, March 29. For more info, including ticket info and showtimes, visit the Siskel Center’s website.
1. Arrival (Villeneuve)
2. Naked Childhood (Pialat)
3. The Islands and the Whales (Day)
4. Death in the Terminal (Shemesh/Sudry)
5. The Cinema Travelers (Abraham/Madheshiya)
6. Rat Film (Anthony)
7. Detour (Ulmer)
8. The Swindle (Chabrol)
9. L’enfer (Chabrol)
10. Betty (Chabrol)
A version of the following piece should appear at Time Out Chicago sometime before Friday.
The Chicago European Union Film Festival kicked off at the Gene Siskel Film Center on March 3 and continues until the end of the month. My best bets for the festival’s third week are a beautiful, hand-drawn animated film from England and a surreal, dreamlike allegory from Portugal.
Based on a graphic novel by Raymond Briggs (best known for penning the animated holiday favorite The Snowman), Roger Mainwood’s Ethel & Ernest is a deceptively simple but deeply moving account of the lives of an ordinary married couple living in London from the late 1920s through the early 1970s. The title characters of Briggs’ book were explicitly based on his own parents and the way the film’s elliptical narrative quietly moves from one relatively uneventful vignette to another over the span of half a century has all the intimacy and emotion of flipping through a cherished family photo album. More than one critic has compared the film to the opening marriage montage of Pixar’s Up if that sequence had been sustained for the running time of an entire feature. The voice work of Jim Broadbent and Brenda Blethyn as the central couple is magnificent and cinephiles should especially appreciate that their first date involves taking in a screening of John Ford’s Hangman’s House.
João Pedro Rodrigues’ previous feature, the superb The Last Time I Saw Macao, received its local premiere at CEUFF in 2013 and this more ambitious follow-up is one of the highlights of the filmgoing year so far. Short on plot but long on spellbinding imagery, The Ornithologist concerns the misadventures of a young man named Fernando (Paul Hamy) who is kidnapped by Chinese tourists while on a bird-watching expedition in a dense forest near the Portuguese/Spanish border. After escaping, Fernando attempts to return to civilization but, like Ulysses and St. Anthony of Padua before him, finds himself continually sidelined by encounters with a menagerie of strange characters (including a deaf-mute shepherd named Jesus). The homoeroticism and mystical-jungle imagery may put one in the mind of Apichatpong Weerasethakul but the Catholic symbolism and meditation on solitude vs. companionship are distinctly Rodrigues’ own.
Ethel & Ernest screens on Friday, March 17 and Saturday, March 18. The Ornithologist screens on Saturday, March 18 and Thursday, March 23. For more info visit the Siskel Center’s website.
1. Failan (Song)
2. Inspector Bellamy (Chabrol)
3. Before Midnight (Linklater)
4. Richard Linklater: Dream is Destiny (Black/Bernstein)
5. Before Sunset (Linklater)
6. Eyes Without a Face (Franju)
7. Citizen Kane (Welles)
8. Selling Stupid (Carrier)
9. Before Sunrise (Linklater)
10. Far from Heaven (Haynes)
I was very taken with Bruno Dumont’s batshit crazy Slack Bay, which screens twice at the Siskel Center’s Chicago European Union Film Fest over the next week. A version of this review should appear at Time Out Chicago sometime before Friday.
The Chicago European Union Film Festival kicked off at the Gene Siskel Film Center on March 3 and continues until the end of the month. My best bet for the festival’s second week is also my favorite of the 14 titles I’ve previewed so far: Bruno Dumont’s Slack Bay, an off-the-wall police procedural/slapstick farce that features a healthy dose of social criticism to boot. It’s a worthy follow up to Dumont’s acclaimed 2014 television mini-series Li’l Quinquin, which similarly combined a murder-mystery plot with slapstick comedy (surprising at the time given that Dumont’s previous work was noted for its marked lack of humor). While Quinquin was set in the present day and focused on a pair of incompetent police officers investigating a series of murders in a small town where racism and xenophobia are rampant, Slack Bay is set just before World War I and focuses on bumbling cops investigating a series of killings in a coastal town whose socio-economic gulf represents seemingly eternal French class divisions. As if the positive response to Quinquin has given him confidence, Dumont also successfully turns the wackiness here up to 11; Slack Bay is one of the funniest and craziest films in recent memory.
The plot concerns two families whose paths cross on France’s scenic Channel Coast: the savage, working-class Bruforts, permanent residents of “Slack Bay” who make their living from fishing and ferrying, and their opposite numbers, the Van Peteghems, aristocrats who vacation there only during the summertime. Each family is satirically shown through a grotesque, archetypal and deliberately exaggerated lens (as bloodthirsty cannibals and inbred blue-bloods, respectively) – the very lens, in other words, through which the families might subjectively view each other. Dumont’s conception of the Brufort children as all male and the Van Peteghem children as all female allows him to create a provocative dialectic between “barbarism” and “civilization.” This class divide between the families is only bridged when the sexually ambiguous Billie Van Peteghem (Raph), a girl who disguises herself as a boy, attracts the romantic interest of the brutish “Ma Loute” Brufort (Brandon Lavieville). Plus, there’s a police inspector so corpulent that he literally has trouble standing upright (Didier Despres) and French screen legend Juliette Binoche, as an eccentric Van Peteghem aunt, performing in a more cartoonish register than you’ve ever seen her.
Slack Bay screens on Saturday, March 11 and Thursday, March 16. For more info visit the Siskel Center’s website.