SPEC D: Hirokazu Kore-eda w/ Junichi Okada, Rie Miyazawa. Japan. 127 min. Thursday, September 7, 6 PM VARSITY 8; Saturday, September 9, 9 AM PARAMOUNT 3; Friday, September 15, 5:30 PM VARSITY 2 Rating: NNN
A stylistic departure from After Life and Nobody Knows, HANA is Kore-eda's first samurai film but an unusual addition to - almost a critique of - the genre. In the early 1700s, shy, sensitive samurai Sozaemon (Okada) comes to Edo to avenge his father's death, but ends up, like Hamlet, procrastinating and getting distracted by the other lives in his shabby tenement. He's attracted to a young widow (Miyazawa) and enjoys teaching the villagers to read and write.
The film is beautiful to look at and has a pulsating score, but there are pacing problems and some of the jokes must mean more to Japanese viewers. But the themes of war and vengeance and the mythology around them are timely and masterfully interwoven into the script.
THE WIND THAT SHAKES THE BARLEY
MAST D: Ken Loach w/ Cillian Murphy, Padraic Delaney. Ireland/UK/Germany/Italy/Spain. 124 min. Thursday, September 7, 6 PM RYERSON; Saturday, September 9, noon VISA SCREENING ROOM (ELGIN) Rating: NNNN
The surprise unanimous choice for the Palme d'Or at Cannes, this archetypal tale of the growth of the IRA in the 1920s is built around the differing approaches of two brothers, giving this elemental potboiler Biblical resonance.
Murphy is the caring doctor whose complex political realism conflicts with his brother's man-of-action simplicity. The clear-cut early villain is the occupying British army, thuggish and merciless. Its apparent defeat ironically leads to bloody civil war, stirring deep emotions on and off screen.
Even though the film telegraphs its punch, it's still a knockout. And as Loach said when he accepted his prize: "Maybe if we tell the truth about the past, we tell the truth about the present."
CWC D: Hans-Christian Schmid w/ Sandra Hüller, Burghart Klaussner. Germany. 93 min. Thursday, September 7, 6:15 PM VARSITY 1 or 6; Friday, September 8, 11:45 AM PARAMOUNT 1; Thursday, September 14, 9:30 PM VARSITY 2 Rating: NNN
Sounds unlikely, but director Schmid has made a film about exorcism and demonic possession that's not exploitative. Based on real events, it focuses on Michaela (Hüller), a devout university student who suffers from erratic epileptic fits. As these worsen (she hears voices and can't hold her rosary), she alienates her new boyfriend and causes tension in her family.
None of this is played for gothic horror, but rather for psychological mystery; there's a suggestion that Michaela's problems might be caused by her rift with her judgmental mother. Hüller is astonishing, persuading us of her shy niceness in the early scenes so that her later outbursts are shocking.
THE JOURNALS OF KNUD RASMUSSEN
GALA D: Zacharias Kunuk, Norman Cohn w/ Pakak Innukshuk, Leah Angutimarik. Canada/Denmark. 112 min. Thursday, September 7, 6:30 PM VISA SCREENING ROOM (ELGIN); Thursday, September 7, 8 PM ROY THOMSON HALL; Friday, September 8, 9:30 AM RYERSON Rating: NNN
This gala opener is less absorbing and requires more effort than director Kunuk's Camera d'Or-winning Inuit epic Atanarjuat (The Fast Runner), but there's no denying its hypnotic pull.
It's inspired by the actual journals of Danish scientist Rasmussen (Jens Jørn Spottag), who in 1922 Igloolik meets the Inuit shaman Avva (Innukshuk) and his family, including his wife, Orulu (Neeve Irngaut Uttak), and most importantly, his daughter Apak (Angutimarik), who has some of Avva's powers.
The writer/directors unspool their tale subtly and slowly, letting it emerge from various storytellers rather than in linear fashion. This is initially disorienting but means that the characters accumulate texture. Once it's over (it's not nearly as long as Atanarjuat), you'll want to watch the early scenes again. Too bad Rasmussen and his Danish colleagues don't come into better focus.
Think of the movie as a sequence of interconnected igloo stories and you won't be disappointed. Exquisite scenes abound, and the performances are chillingly good; look for Atanarjuat's mischievous-faced Natar Ungalaaq in a small but key role.
The film's a moving, drawn-out lament for the end of a tradition.
DELIVER US FROM EVIL
RTR D: Amy Berg. U.S. 101 min. Thursday, September 7, 8 PM VARSITY 7; Saturday, September 9, 2:45 PM VARSITY 8 Rating: NNN
This straightforward documentary composed largely of talking heads tells a chilling story that's more an indictment of the Catholic Church than a case study of a career child molester.
Through the 1970s and 80s, Catholic priest Oliver O'Grady preyed on children in California. When parishioners complained, the Church promised he'd be taken out of circulation. Instead, he was moved to another parish and allowed to continue. The victims and their families tell their own stories. In videotaped court depositions, Church higher-ups offer their denials with the studied affability of TV actors. O'Grady gives the same performance in interviews with the filmmaker.
Deniers and criminal are so alike, one wonders if the deniers have personal, as well as political, motives for their cover-up.
LA TOURNEUSE DE PAGES
CWC D: Denis Dercourt w/ Catherine Frot, Déborah François. France. 85 min. Thursday, September 7, 8:30 PM VARSITY 4 or 5; Saturday, September 9, 9:15 AM PARAMOUNT 4 Rating: NNN
Call it The Hand That Rocks The Steinway. An icy famous pianist (Frot) cuts short a young girl's music career at a conservatory audition; that same girl finds herself years later as the pianist's page-turner and nanny to her young son. Dercourt's taut little psychological thriller is very well shot and intelligent on the subjects of confidence and doubt. The pianist, recovering from a car accident, is crippled by stage fright, and Frot communicates her fragility superbly. As the hard-to-read nanny, François (the young mom from L'Enfant) is her dramatic equal, with an implacable face worthy of a young Isabelle Huppert.
Despite an exciting mid-film twist, this entertaining pic, like vengeance itself, leaves you feeling a bit empty.
CWC D: Michael Glawogger w/ August Diehl, Paulus Manker. Austria/Switerland. 96 min. Thursday, September 7, 8:45 PM VARSITY 3; Friday, September 8, 2:45 PM PARAMOUNT 4 Rating: NNN
If commercial cinema's general feel-goodness has blunted your disgust and you need something to help you regain that thoroughly-jaded-with-life feeling you cherish, Slumming is for you.
Rich dilettantes Sebastian (Diehl) and Alex (Michael Ostrowski), out on a night out of "slum tourism," pick up Kallmann (Manker), a street poet who's near-comatose from drink, and dump him over the Czech Republic border.
Between Kallmann's insane ranting as he struggles to return to Vienna and Sebastian's smug confession to the woman he claims to love lies a vast pit of repugnant elements. You won't be able to resist peering over the edge, but you'll want a shower afterwards.
THE BOTHERSOME MAN
CWC D: Jens Lien w/ Trond Fausa Aurvàg, Petronella Barker. Norway. 95 min. Thursday, September 7, 9 PM VARSITY 1 or 6; Saturday, September 9, 11:45 AM PARAMOUNT 4 Rating: NNN
A brave new world inspired by Tati and Tarkovsky by way of David Lynch and Roy Andersson, this comic satire of Norwegian bourgeois society is crammed with wild observations about the emotional life (and lack of it) of Scandinavians.
A man suddenly finds himself in a new city where problems and memory don't exist and happy people apparently live without pain or death. Many funny bits arise from the curious fact that politesse takes precedence over feelings. It's a shame Lien had to frame it all within an unnecessary afterlife conceit instead of just giving us an unfiltered lambasting of his countrymen's peccadilloes.
VIS D: Nuri Bilge Ceylan w/ Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Ebru Ceylan. Turkey/France. 101 min. Thursday, September 7, 9 PM VARSITY 8; Friday, September 8, 3 PM RYERSON Rating: NNN
This is an intensely meditative personal essay about a disintegrating relationship by Turkish art house darling Ceylan. In a move that's perversely audacious and arguably a tad narcissistic (rest assured, Ceylan is no Vincent Gallo and this is no Brown Bunny), the director casts himself and his wife in an understated, sparsely worded anatomy of a breakup that's at times alienating, at times absorbing.
Some will be awed by its deceptively unassuming complexity, but less patient viewers may grow frustrated by its dissection of mid-life existential ennui that ends up embodying the very ill it depicts. Though Climates is undoubtedly less rewarding than his previous film Distant, it's nevertheless a testimony to Ceylan's talent and mastery of his craft that we remain riveted to a screen on which nothing much happens.
THE LIVES OF OTHERS
SPEC D: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck w/ Ulrich Mühe, Sebastian Koch. Germany. 137 min. Thursday, September 7, 9 PM VISA SCREENING ROOM (ELGIN); Saturday, September 9, 10 AM PARAMOUNT 2 Rating: NNNN
Set significantly in 1984, von Donnersmarck's confident debut feature looks at the Orwellian practices of the Stasi (secret police) in the German Democratic Republic. Playwright Georg Dreyman (Koch) is one of the few state-approved writers, but when a government minister targets him as a possible subversive, his entire life comes under surveillance.
Heading up the investigation is the cold and composed Wiesler (Mühe), who studies every detail of Dreyman's life. What he hears gradually affects him and constitutes the motor for the film's moving last act.
Having swept the German Film Awards, this absorbing pic, with its nods to The Conversation and The Pianist, could successfully cross over. Its themes of art and politics are richly detailed, although, as in a lot of left-leaning art, the artists are a bit too noble, the baddies too crass. Mühe's performance is terrifyingly good.
CF D: Andrew Currie w/ Carrie-Anne Moss, Dylan Baker. 91 min. Thursday, September 7, 9:15 PM RYERSON; Saturday, September 9, 3:45 PM PARAMOUNT 2 Rating: NNNN
In a world where zombies have been brought to life to work as menial servants (the opening scene hilariously explains it all), young Timmy (K'Sun Ray) longs for his emotionless father (Baker) to pay attention to him while his mother, a perfectly cast Moss, yearns to be loved. When zombie Fido (Billy Connolly) enters their life, suddenly anything is possible.
Though comparisons to Shaun Of The Dead are bound to come up, Currie's zombie comedy is in a class by itself. Skewering 1950s ideals, Lassie-type films and B-movie horror, Currie and co-writers Robert Chomiak and Dennis Heaton have written something that's both deliriously funny and thought-provoking. A must-see.
VIS D: Rolf de Heer w/ Crusoe Kurddal, Jamie Gulpilil. Australia. 92 min. Thursday, September 7, 9:15 PM VARSITY 2; Saturday, September 9, 9:45 AM PARAMOUNT 1 Rating: NNNN
A story within a story, replete with many surprising digressions, this gorgeously shot escape into another culture succeeds by re-imagining Aboriginal oral tradition as a movie that, as its narrator says, is "a story like you've never seen before."
It begins 1,000 years ago by bringing a famous Australian photographer's black-and-white photograph of 10 goose-egg hunters and their canoes to life. A warrior who has designs on his older brother's third wife is told a cautionary tale by his brother about two similar brothers many thousands of years earlier, and this thrusts us into a full-blown primeval moral saga. Enchanting.