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HEGEL’S ANGEL at the Collected Voices Film Festival


Did you know there is no word for “you” in the Haitian language, only “we?” Simone Rapisarda Casanova’s masterful Hegel’s Angel, screening this Friday, October 13 at the Logan Center for the Arts as part of the Collected Voices Film Festival, is probably flying under the radar of most Chicago cinephiles but its Midwestern Premiere should be considered a must see for all local movie lovers. The theme of the fifth edition of this invaluable ethnographic film festival, the brainchild of filmmaker and programmer Ife Olatunji, is “Africa and her diaspora,” a concept embodied in Casanova’s experimental, richly lyrical portrait of the denizens of contemporary Haiti and their complex relationship to the outside world.

Hegel’s Angel provocatively combines fiction and non-fiction filmmaking techniques to capture the adventures of a boy named Widley as he traverses the Haitian countryside helping his father at work painting and hanging banners and visiting a local film editor in his leisure time. The editor is in the process of cutting a Haitian-shot film with an anti-“foreign charity” bent that was made by a foreign director who has since mysteriously vanished; and the meta-cinematic way that Casanova (an Italian filmmaker based in Canada) interweaves these two narrative lines adds up to a timely snapshot of a corner of the world that has traditionally been cinematically under-documented.

For more information about this screening of Hegel’s Angel, including ticket and venue info and showtime, please visit the Collected Voices Film Festival’s official website.

The Last Ten Movies I Saw

1. My Brilliant Career (Armstrong)
2. Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker (Asher)
3. Hegel’s Angel (Casanova)
4. The Garden Left Behind (Alves)
5. The True Adventures of Wolfboy (Krejci)
6. Belzebuth (Portes)
7. Bicycle Thieves (De Sica)
8. Vertigo (Hitchock)
9. The Spiral Staircase (Siodmak)
10. Black Girl (Sembene)

Angela Schanelec’s I WAS AT HOME, BUT… at CIFF

It was an honor to review Angela Schanelec’s great new film I WAS AT HOME, BUT… for Cine-File Chicago. It screens as part of the Chicago International Film Festival twice in the next two weeks:


Angela Schanelec’s I WAS AT HOME, BUT… (Germany)
Thursday 10/17, 8:15pm and Sunday 11/20, 4pm

The international distribution of Christian Petzold’s films in the 21st century, resulting in his critical coronation as contemporary German cinema’s preeminent auteur, has been a welcome development in the world of cinephilia. It is regrettable, however, that the films of Thomas Arslan and Angela Schanelec, Petzold’s formidable colleagues in the movement known as the “Berlin School” (the first generation of graduates from the German Film and Television Academy to make their mark after the reunification of Germany), remain largely unknown outside of their native country. As critic Girish Shambu points out in a recent video essay, the Berlin School has been called a “counter cinema” for the way these filmmakers have reacted against the aesthetically and narratively unadventurous mainstream German movies of the ‘80s and ‘90s and have taken inspiration from the glory days of Fassbinder and the New German Cinema of the ’70s instead. Schanelec is generally regarded as the most challenging of the Berlin School directors: her would-be 1998 breakthrough PLACES IN CITIES was panned as a “joyless snoozer” by Derek Elley in Variety who claimed Schanelec’s movies “throw out no emotional lifelines for the viewer.” I would argue, however, that, while devoid of obvious emotional signifiers and easy character identification techniques, Schanelec’s work, like that of her hero Robert Bresson, can be emotionally overwhelming if one is watching and listening correctly. I WAS AT HOME, BUT…, Schanelec’s latest, is an ideal introduction to her unique brand of cinema: a fragmentary, elliptical and non-linear tale of a young teen boy’s return to the home where he lives with his single mother and younger sister after having run away a week previously. Upon returning, the boy, Phillip, resumes rehearsing a grade school production of HAMLET in which he plays the title role, while also attempting to navigate life in a still grief-stricken home two years after the death of his father; one scene, where Philip and his sister Flo continually attempt to console their mother Astrid, who rebuffs them while cleaning a kitchen sink, is ingeniously staged by framing the characters from behind in a static long take that goes on for so long it eventually evokes a feeling of cosmic wonder. Astrid (the superb Maren Eggert), meanwhile, has a few misadventures of her own: one amusing subplot details her failed attempt to buy a bicycle from a man with a tracheotomy, and another sequence, gut-bustingly funny, sees her haranguing a Serbian filmmaker (Dane Komljen, playing himself) in the street after having walked out of his movie. Finally, a parallel story involving one of Phillip’s teachers (TRANSIT’s Franz Rogowski) debating whether to have a child with his own girlfriend may seem random initially but ends up poignantly underscoring Schanelec’s aim of painting a complex portrait of the joys and sorrows of parenthood. While her title may reference Ozu’s coming-of-age classic I WAS BORN, BUT… and a prologue and epilogue featuring a donkey obviously nod to Bresson’s AU HASARD BALTHAZAR, Schanelec ultimately generates a sense of transcendence through an employment of image and sound that is entirely her own. This is nowhere better exemplified than in a remarkable, time-hopping sequence, scored to M. Ward’s muted cover of David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance,” that begins in a cemetery at night before flashing back to years earlier in a hospital room then flashing-forward again to the present in a museum. A masterpiece. (2019, 105 min) MGS

The Last Ten Movies I Saw

1. The Stuff (Cohen)
2. The Hunger (Scott)
3. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (Hawks)
4. Rear Window (Hitchcock)
5. Senso (Visconti)
6. And Life Goes On (Kiarostami)
7. Citizen Kane (Welles)
8. The Devil’s Doorway (Clarke)
9. Citizen Kane (Welles)
10. I Was at Home, But… (Schanelec)

RENDEZVOUS IN CHICAGO at the Buffalo International Film Festival

The next Rendezvous in Chicago screening, to be held at the great Buffalo International Film Festival in New York next month, will also be our 28th and final theatrical screening before the movie is made available to stream via our distributor Cow Lamp Films. The screening will take place at Halwalls Contemporary Arts Center on Sunday, October 13 at 5:00pm and be followed by a Q&A with me and producer Layne Marie Williams. There will also be a review of the film on a major indie film website to coincide with this screening. You can find out more, including ticket and venue info, on the BIFF site here.



The final Chicago theatrical screening of RENDEZVOUS IN CHICAGO will occur at 6740Micro, a delightful microcinema operated by the folks behind the New 400 Theater in Rogers Park, the evening of Wednesday, September 25. Doors open at 7:00pm and the show starts promptly at 7:30pm. The screening will be followed by a Q&A with me and actress Clare Cooney moderated by film critic Andrea Thompson (Chicago Reader, Admission is $5, the show is CASH ONLY and it is expected to sell out – so please arrive early! There will also be a cash bar. The exact address is 6740 N. Sheridan Rd (2nd floor). For more information, please visit the Facebook event page of the screening.


Abbas Kiarostami’s HOMEWORK

It was an honor to review Abbas Kiarostami’s great 1989 doc HOMEWORK for Cine-File Chicago. It screens as part of the Gene Siskel Film Center’s invaluable Kiarostami retrospective twice in the next week:


Abbas Kiarostami’s HOMEWORK
Friday and Monday, 6pm

“It’s not really a film, more a piece of research.” So says an off-screen Abbas Kiarostami, with characteristic modesty, to an unseen passerby while filming the scene of children walking to school that opens this delightful and deceptively simple documentary. While Kiarostami is widely regarded as one of the giants of narrative cinema in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, his prolific side-career as a documentarian is less well-known due to the vagaries of international film distribution. This 1989 feature, which grew out of and serves as a companion piece to the director’s 1987 breakthrough masterpiece WHERE IS THE FRIEND’S HOUSE?, is an ideal place for the uninitiated to start exploring his non-fiction work. The majority of the running time is devoted to direct-to-camera interviews with students from Tehran’s Shahid Masumi elementary school about the topic of homework; but the conversations between Kiarostami and his subjects gradually deepen so that the film eventually becomes an ethical inquiry into corporal punishment, poverty, illiteracy and the clash between tradition and modernity in post-revolutionary Iran. Kiarostami’s masterstroke here was to foreground the filmmaking process by occasionally cutting from close-ups of the children to “reverse angles” of the cinematographer who was filming them with a 16mm camera—and thus frequently reminding the viewer of exactly what these kids were seeing during the interviews. In a subtle but radical way, these “intrusive” shots invite us to empathize with the children, one of whom is terrified by the adult filmmaking team to the point of crying hysterically. That the film climaxes with an unexpectedly passionate recitation by this timid and reluctant interview subject is a testament to how Kiarostami was able to coax great performances out of children and non-actors alike. (1989, 78 min, DCP Digital) MGS

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