Waking Life

Mad Songs is hardly the first film to confront the specter of the Gulf War. Hollywood weighed in with the would-be upstanding Courage Under Fire and the acerbic but muddleheaded Three Kings, while documentaries have ranged from journalist John Pilger's interrogation of UN sanctions, Paying the Price, to Werner Herzog's aerial tour of hell on earth, Lessons of Darkness. But none of these match the sustained fury, disgust, and sorrow of Gianvito's jeremiad, which has taken on a renewed unsettling resonance in recent months.

The solemn indignation of the enterprise, as handled by a nonprofessional cast, sometimes registers awkwardly. But for every scene that plays like a dramatic reading of a Nation editorial (the magazine actually gets waved about at one point), Gianvito summons a couple of persuasive formal or rhetorical flourishes. He splices in American TV coverage, scenes from victory parades, and concert footage of Iraqi oud player Naseer Shemma (performing a piece that he composed in response to the bombing of the Al-Amiriyya shelter in 1991). Ulli Bonnekamp's 16mm cinematography beautifully captures the craggy, sun-baked Southwestern vistas. Mad Songs saves its most memorable image for its hard-earned climax, which molds the ambiguous, hallucinatory spectacle of a combusting effigy into a viewer-implicating demonstration of crowd psychology and a harrowing cri de coeur.

Almost trancelike introspection: Bisset in The Sleepy Time Gal
photo: Vette Dennison
Almost trancelike introspection: Bisset in The Sleepy Time Gal


The Sleepy Time Gal
Written and directed by Christopher MŁnch
Through June 4
June 8 and 9

The Mad Songs Of Fernanda Hussein
Written and directed by John Gianvito
May 31 through June 6

Directed by Christopher Nolan
Written by Hillary Seitz
Warner Bros.

Christopher Nolan made his first movie, Following, guerrilla style, much like The Hours and Times and Mad Songs. He followed it with last year's indie smash, Memento, and now smoothly vaults into the studio leagues with Insomnia, a remake of a little-seen 1997 Norwegian thriller. Erik Skjoldbjaerg's original remains a nifty genre experiment—a film blanc, so to speak, that exposes a noirish emulsion of guilt and suspicion to the taunting midnight sun, as a Swedish detective (Stellan Skarsgard) consigned to arctic Norway during the perpetual daylight of summer hunts down a killer while suffering the torture of sleep deprivation.

The Hollywood version (which is half an hour longer) transports the action to Alaska, and works up a respectable level of bleary-eyed paranoia. But Nolan, withholding master of disorientation in his previous non-linear films, allows far too easy access into the psychic tumult of Al Pacino's cop and Robin Williams's prime suspect. Where Skarsgard's character retained a chilling degree of opacity, Pacino's is reduced to hard-boiled aphorisms and an internal-affairs backstory. And while Skjoldbjaerg's economical filmmaking craftily paralleled his protagonist's mounting unease, Nolan wastes no time in whipping out the anxious inserts and close-ups; similarly, Pacino looks pissed and gaunt before he even gets off the plane. Hillary Seitz's script, playing by the rules, adds cute frills (Pacino's character is named Dormer and the town is called Nightmute), tames the psychosexual currents of the Scandinavian template (though faint echoes of Laura Palmer remain—the killer even tampers with the dead girl's fingernails), and contrives a redemptive conclusion.

The harsh, otherworldly Alaskan topography is perhaps the movie's greatest asset—a suggestive analogue to Dormer's splintering inner life. But while the icy dexterity of the technique places Insomnia ahead of virtually all the studio competition (a chase sequence over and under floating logs is superb), it must count as a disappointment when the most promising mindfuck director of the last few years goes on to make a movie that's basically a triumph of location scouting.

« Previous Page

Now Showing

Find capsule reviews, showtimes & tickets for all films in town.

Box Office Report

Join My Voice Nation for free stuff, film info & more!