I wrote the following capsule review of the Beloit International Film Fest’s “WI / IL TWO” shorts program for Time Out Chicago.
A Missed Connection. Photo courtesy of Third Wheel Entertainment.
Chicago Shorts Shine at This Year’s Beloit International Film Festival
Located in a picturesque small town in Wisconsin just north of the Illinois border, the Beloit International Film Festival is a gem of a regional fest that has long featured an impressive roster of Midwestern filmmaking talent, and this year’s lineup is no exception. Any Chicagoans planning on attending the 2020 edition of BIFF, which kicks off tonight, Friday, February 21, and runs through Sunday, March 1, would do well to check out the “WI / IL TWO”shorts program: It features a contingent of unusually strong Chicago-made short films. Among the works screening in this program (and thus vying for the fest’s highly competitive “Best Illinois Short” award) are Matthew Weinstein’s A Missed Connection, Layne Marie Williams’ Golden Voices and Eve Rydberg’s Home. This program screens at Bagels & More on Friday, February 21 at 7:30pm and again at the same location on Saturday, February 22 at 7:30pm. Filmmakers and cast members from all three short films will be present for a Q&A session following both screenings.
A Missed Connection is an emotionally resonant study of two college friends, Jacob (Tyler Pistorius) and Lauren (Kimberly Michelle Williams), reconnecting in a coffee shop by chance on a wintry night. That writer/director Matthew Weinstein packs a bit too much “character arc” into the brief run time is a welcome problem in an age of films of too little ambition, and one that is compensated for by spectacularly subtle lead performances and gorgeous Rembrandt-esque visuals. Golden Voices is a poetic horror film about a ghost-chasing podcaster (Kalika Rose) who stumbles upon sleepwalking children whispering of “gold” in rural Indiana. Director Layne Marie Williams, aided by cinematographer Grace Pisula (whose Gold Point Studio produced), packs a wealth of haunting atmosphere into a fleet 14 minutes that will likely leave viewers wanting more; this could easily be the pilot for a web series. Home, a pungent dramedy about the reunion between a father/daughter duo, both on the verge of homelessness, serves as a terrific showcase for two of Chicago’s finest theater actors (Francis Guinan and Carolyn Hoerdemann, who also co-wrote); when actors can cause your heart to lurch by interacting with a tomato—you know you’re in the presence of art.
For more information about this year’s Beloit International Film Festival, including ticket info and showtimes,visit the BIFF website here.
1. The Lady Eve (Sturges)
2. Le Boucher (Chabrol)
3. Bringing Up Baby (Hawks)
4. One Sings, the Other Doesn’t (Varda)
5. The Awful Truth (McCarey)
6. Wise Blood (Huston)
7. Man with the Movie Camera (Vertov)
8. Contempt (Godard)
9. The Blob (Yeaworth/Doughten)
10. Man with the Movie Camera (Vertov)
I reviewed Jia Zhangke’s I WISH I KNEW for Cine-file Chicago on Friday. It screens three times at the Gene Siskel Film Center over the next week:
Jia Zhangke’s I WISH I KNEW (Chinese Documentary Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center — Friday and Saturday, 6pm and Wednesday, 7:45pm
I WISH I KNEW, a melancholy and meditative documentary portrait of Shanghai that received its world premiere in 2010 but is only now being released in the United States thanks to distributor Kino/Lorber, was originally commissioned to screen at the World Expo in Shanghai. It came in the middle of a seven-year break from narrative feature filmmaking for Jia Zhangke, a period in which the most important director of the Chinese film industry’s “sixth generation” made only documentaries and shorts, and was consequently treated as a minor work by most critics. Seen today, however, after a decade’s hindsight (i.e., after Jia went on to make a string of urgent and complex narrative movies about China’s rapid evolution towards a privatized economy and its leading role within 21st century global culture, films that critic Jonathan Rosenbaum might term “state-of-the-planet addresses”), I WISH I KNEW now looks like one of the key works in its director’s filmography. Confronting each new movie from Jia can be a bit of a bewildering experience, pushing even seasoned cinephiles like me out of typical patterns of response and judgment, which is perhaps one of the reasons why this vital 10-year-old work feels like it is somehow arriving on these shores right on time. I WISH I KNEW is a kind of city-symphony film for the modern age but one in which the city in question is revealed mainly through interviews with its citizens. Each interview subject—mostly middle-aged-to-elderly men and women—talks primarily about the experiences of their parents and grandparents in Shanghai; and thus the whole of this documentary, a deceptively simple accumulation of personal “oral histories” not unlike a filmic version of Studs Terkel’s interview books about Chicago, ends up being greater than the sum of its parts. Among the topics discussed are the establishment of Shanghai as a British treaty-port city in the mid-19th century, the Communist revolution, political executions, and the mass exodus of Shanghainese people to Hong Kong and Taiwan in the aftermath of World War II. While most of the interviewees are ordinary men and women, Jia does also feature some prominent Chinese filmmakers and actors including Wong Kar-Wai favorite Rebecca Pan (who weeps when reminiscing about her past and sings a beautiful song in Mandarin) and Taiwanese directing legend Hou Hsiao-Hsien (who knew little about Shanghai until he traveled there to research his 1998 masterpiece THE FLOWERS OF SHANGHAI). The final two interview subjects are the youngest, which is fitting in that they represent the city’s future, and their stories feel like they could serve as the basis for one of Jia’s narrative films: the first is a man who claims to have become absurdly rich overnight by speculating in securities and the second is a car-racing champion who moonlights as a best-selling novelist. Tying all of these disparate interviews together are wordless, lyrical sequences of a young woman (the great Zhao Tao, Jia’s long-time leading lady onscreen and off) traversing the city alone, from the Suzhou River to an empty movie theater to many building construction sites. This unnamed woman’s compelling presence seems to personify the spirit of Shanghai itself, a nexus of past and present, a place forever busy being born. (2010, 119 min, DCP Digital) MGS
1. Local Hero (Forsyth)
2. Man with the Movie Camera (Vertov)
3. Dune (Lynch)
4. City That Never Sleeps (Auer)
5. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Wiene)
6. The 400 Blows (Truffaut)
7. M (Lang)
8. I Wish I Knew (Jia)
9. Fantastic Fungi (Schwartzberg)
10. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Wiene)
ROY’S WORLD, the documentary film I produced about the childhood of the great writer Barry Gifford (WILD AT HEART) in Chicago during the mid-20th century, will have its World Premiere at the Glasgow Film Festival at the end of this month. I will be in attendance for a Q&A following both festival screenings (on 2/28 and 2/29) along with the film’s director, Rob Christopher. Any UK friends interested in attending either screening, please check out our film’s page on the #GFF20 website here.
American friends: Penguin/Random House books will be publishing a new collection of Barry’s “Roy” stories (1973-2000) as a tie-in to our documentary this September. It is available to pre-order now here.
1. 9 to 5 (Higgins)
2. Sherlock Jr. (Keaton)
3. Sorry, Wrong Number (Litvak)
4. Beanpole (Balagov)
5. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (Lynch)
6. Our Hospitality (Keaton)
7. Zombi Child (Bonello)
8. Sherlock Jr. (Keaton)
9. Mary, Queen of Scots (Rourke)
10. Call Northside 777 (Hathaway)
Bertrand Bonello’s ‘Zombi Child’ is the first great film to play Chicago in 2020
January and February typically constitute a dreary movie-watching season in which new cinema fare consists largely of dud pictures that the major Hollywood studios have no confidence in and have decided to dump on the market when theatrical attendance has traditionally been lowest. Fortunately for cinephiles, there are usually still worthwhile independent and foreign releases to choose from during these winter months. A good example this year is Bertrand Bonello’s Zombi Child, which sees the iconoclastic French writer/director putting an original spin on the most tired of horror subgenres. It thankfully bypasses the overly familiar George Romero-esque approach to the lurching, brain-eating “undead” and harks back instead to the zombie film’s voodoo origins found in subtle chillers like Jacques Tourneur’s I Walked With a Zombie from 1943. Opening at the Siskel Center for a week-long run beginning this Friday, January 24, it’s the first great film of 2020 and should be considered essential viewing for Chicagoans looking for something to see on the big screen.
Bertrand Bonello’s best films portray characters who exist outside of the mainstream of French society (e.g., the fin-de-siecle prostitutes in House of Pleasures, the young multi-ethnic terrorists in Nocturama), and Zombi Child is no exception: It alternates between two distinct narrative threads – one devoted to the true story of Clairvius Narcisse (Mackenson Bijou), a Haitian man who was “zombified” in 1962 so that he could be employed as slave labor on a sugar-cane plantation, and one detailing the adventures of his fictional granddaughter, Mélissa, a young black woman at a predominantly white college in contemporary France. The latter story is narrated by Fanny (Louise Labeque), a recently heart-broken student who befriends Mélissa and initiates her into a popular sorority but with dark ulterior motives. The way these two stories dovetail in the film’s climax adds up to a critique of racism, “othering” and the commodification of culture that is at once subtle, subversive and devilishly clever.
For more information about Zombi Child, including ticket info and showtimes, visit the Siskel Center’s website.