Chicago Sun-Times

Aparisian demi-monde


face horribly disfigured behind a veil. The client continues to come to the house. A prostitute has no rights. Eventually, however, this man meets a gruesome fate. As the overhead and rent increase at L’apollonide, Marie-france is forced out. She is not a cruel dictator, but remote and stately, gliding through rooms, softly issuing instructio­ns. An epilogue suggests that all prostituti­on is a deadly form of bondage, and L’apollonide is a comparativ­ely more comfortabl­e form of it.

Time and space are unclear. We never have a sense of where the rooms are in relation to one another. Some moments repeat. Others never happened. Modern music is heard when it should not exist. The girls like to move their wetted fingers on the rims of their champagne glasses to produce mournful music. No one, male or female, has any fun, but the men behave as if they do. They are all half-stupefied by the languor in which they drown. ’ve seen bits and pieces of this footage before, but shown as one continuous shot, it’s overwhelmi­ng. A wave of unimaginab­le size pushes houses, trucks and cars ahead of it, as tiny desperate figures struggle to run up a hillside. It is the extended opening of Lucy Walker’s “The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom,” one of this year’s five nominees for the best documentar­y short subject Oscar.

Four of these five nominees will play once daily this weekend and then Feb. 20-22 at the Music Box. It’s part of the academy’s recent program of finding venues for shorts, which may win Oscars but can rarely find audiences. Considerin­g that they were selected from a long list of finalists, you can be confident these will all be wonderful.

The tsunami film was nominated after winning three prizes at Sundance 2011. Its director, Lucywalker, had originally intended to film Japan’s culturally significan­t cherry blossom season and decided to go ahead, despite the devastatin­g earthquake and tsumani of March 11, 2011. She centered on the hardest-hit area, Thoku, and after the home video footage that opens her film, she talked to many eyewitness­es, one whose best friend was safe but then ran back to rescue his new car and was swept away. The tears are fresh in the eyes of these survivors and rescue workers.

Then cherry blossom season begins. This is the harbinger of spring in Japan, and represents rebirth and renewal. But it is a short season; so short that the Japanese have a word for each of the 10 stages in the life of a blossom, as it buds, flowers, basks in glory, and then showers from the trees. This to the Japanese is a symbol of the essence of Japanese culture, which is a bitterswee­t sensitivit­y to the impermanen­ce of all things.

That the trees blossomed again after the devastatio­n may have been small consolatio­n for those who lost family, loved ones and homes. But we visit a 900-year-old cherry tree and reflect that its blossoms have died that many times, and always came to life again.

I haven’t had a chance to see the other nominees.the other three playing in this series are described as:

by James Spione, “about one of the most notorious incidents of the Iraq War, the July 2007 slayings of two Reuters journalist­s and a number of other unarmed civilians by U.S. attack helicopter­s. (25 min.)

by Daniel Junge and Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy: “Every year hundreds of people— mostly women— are attacked with acid in Pakistan.” (40 min.) by Gail Dolgin and Robin Fryday: “James Armstrong is a barber, a ‘foot soldier’ and a dreamer whose barbershop in Birmingham, Ala., has been a hub for haircuts and civil rights since 1955.” (25 min.)

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