Mind over matter
For art-house film lovers, nothing screams summer like cerebral cinema.
Films of all temperatures, nationalities and vintages will invade art houses this summer, providing viewers with ideal escapes from the deafening thuds of The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor. Consider the alternatives: Instead of the goofy coming-to-America comedies The Love Guru or You Don’t Mess with the Zohan, see an acclaimed fish-out-of-water drama by Head-On director Fatih Akin (whose The Edge of Heaven, coming in June, follows three families as they crisscross the German-Turkish cultural divide). Instead of a walk down memory lane with Indiana Jones, check out Alain Resnais’s Last Year at Marienbad (opening Friday 2 at the Music Box), an elliptical French classic about the slippery nature of memory.
Documentaries make up some of the best bets. One of the coolest ways to cool off this summer, Werner Herzog’s Antarctica-set doc Encounters at the End of the World (tentatively slated for July; art-house bookings fluctuate to some degree) continues the filmmaker’s career-long project of examining man’s place against what he called, in Grizzly Man, “the overwhelming indifference of nature.” The director-narrator journeys to McMurdo research station in Antarctica, which looks not like something out of The Thing or The Empire Strikes Back but like a snow-covered Rust Belt town. Herzog again ponders questions of survival and the insignificance of the individual; at one point, he wryly speculates on the motives of a penguin who waddles off toward certain death.
Another of cinema’s foremost ironists, Guy Maddin, will return with My Winnipeg (coming in June), his first documentary—though his preferred term is docufantasia. Like all of Maddin’s films, Winnipeg unfolds in a collage of archaic film styles. Narrating himself (at Toronto, he did the narration live, though there’s no word of a nationwide tour as with Maddin’s Brand Upon the Brain! last year), the director spins genial, allegedly autobiographical stories about his hometown of Winnipeg, recalling the cab companies’ rivalry for control of the city’s back alleys; showing us the garbage heap locals use for sledding; and sharing comical memories of the tension between his sister and overbearing mother (played by noir icon Ann Savage).
There’s more than one way to make a documentary, of course, and one of the masters of the form, Errol Morris, will return with Standard Operating Procedure (Friday 2), his long-awaited film on Abu Ghraib. Morris’s most famous gambit might be his use of reenactments to lay out the details of a murder case in The Thin Blue Line; in Standard Operating Procedure, by contrast, he’s confronted with a wealth of evidence. He’s both fascinated and horrified by the photographs of torture and how they conceal as much as they reveal.
It wouldn’t be the art house without new films from France, and Chicago will get to see both André Téchiné’s The Witnesses (May 16)—a drama about a circle of friends confronted with the prospect of AIDS in the mid-’80s, starring Emmanuelle Béart—and the Cannes favorite La France (August 22 at the Siskel), an exceedingly strange partial musical set during World War I, in which Sylvie Testud treks to the front lines in drag to find her love. Variety dubbed it “Bresson meets the Beatles.”
Those caught up in the recent Romanian film craze should check out the Siskel’s retrospective on 40 years of Romanian cinema (May 11–June 26), which includes not only recent hits The Death of Mr. Lazarescu and 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, but also Occident, the first feature by 4 Months wunderkind director Cristian Mungiu. For anyone seeking global trends outside of the cinephilic bubble, try the annual Human Rights Watch Film Festival (May 23–29) and the African Diaspora Film Festival (June 13–19). Both play at Facets, which will also show Love and Honor (May 30–June 5), the award-winning samurai film by Japanese filmmaker Yoji Yamada.
And, as always, don’t miss the old masters. From July 4 through July 31, Siskel will present a centennial program of films by Portuguese auteur Manoel de Oliveira (Belle Toujours), the world’s only active 99-year-old director, whose verbose, flatly stylized films are unlike any others. See them if you haven’t already been talked out by the films of Jean Eustache (The Mother and the Whore), who will get a retro of his own at the Siskel May 17 through June 5. And for an epic-sized antidote, the Siskel will present films by Luchino Visconti (June 21–July 30). If there’s a movie opening this summer as great as his three-hour masterpiece The Leopard (1963)—in which Burt Lancaster plays an aging prince who experiences the decline of his influence during the Italian unification—it will be a fine season, indeed.