The Chicago International Film Festival is a welcome annual arrival, and I’m delighted once again to provide capsule reviews of as many of the films as I can manage to see. All films are shown at the AMC River East Theaters, 322 E. Illinois St. here in the great city of Chicago, Illinois. Part 1 is here. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4. Part 5.
Kékszakállú is not only part of the Hungarian title of Béla Bartók’s one-act opera Duke Bluebeard’s Castle (A Kékszakállú Herceg Vára), but it’s also the title of a very nicely done filmed meditation on its themes (Argentina, 2016). The opera is based on a Charles Perrault fable from 1697, where Bluebeard’s a rich but ugly aristocrat whose previous wives have mysteriously disappeared. He gains a new wife through an arranged marriage, but she discovers the tortured bodies of his previous wives, and she and some other family members eventually kill him. In the Bartók opera, he’s a little more misunderstood – he marries Judith, who wants to see the other rooms in the castle. Each room he refuses, and each time she talks him into it. The first is the torture chamber (but no bodies) – each room after that has more symbolic significance: a treasury of riches, a beautiful garden, a lake of tears. The final, seventh, room is the hardest to talk him into, but he acquiesces, only for her to find… the other wives, perfectly healthy and living in luxury. The catch, of course, is that none of them can ever leave, including, now, Judith.
Our filmed version here, directed by the Argentinean director Gastón Solnicki, isn’t remotely as dramatic, only dealing with these themes in glancing, associative ways. But what’s echoed is a sense of (quotidian) dread and vulnerability shared by the female characters (in the film, we follow four or five female characters, but three predominate) and the choices they make to move on from their otherwise humdrum (and privileged) young lives. Entering college, finding work in a factory, moving to the big city, running away from home and even just jumping off of a high diving board become oddly suspenseful, despite the film’s languid pace, lack of spoken dialogue and almost-too-pretty visuals. Two different cinematographers and two different editors, along with Solnicki, makes me suspect that the film’s intriguing cohesiveness is more happy accident than deliberate, planned result. But it’s absolutely worth watching, and speaks highly of Solnicki’s taste level and sense of evocative abstraction. At 71 minutes, it’s well worth a look; me, I’m both suspicious and optimistic enough to be looking for what he does next.
Kékszakállú will screen Friday, October 21st at 6:15 pm, Saturday the 22nd at 3:45 pm and Tuesday the 25th at 8:45 pm.