By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Jan 27, 2005 at 5:24 AM

{image1}In attempt to get to the root of the ways commercial and corporate landscapes and lifestyles affect the people involved in them, filmmaker Jem Cohen spent six years, often without a crew, shooting footage for his film "Chain."

One striking element of "Chain," which follows the paths of two women as they navigate modern landscapes, is the way it reminds us that the world is fast becoming homogenized. Shot in cities across America and in Europe, it's nearly impossible to ever work out where the action is taking place.

Cohen says that "Chain" is a narrative feature, a political film and a documentary. While all of those descriptions seem apt, it remains difficult to parse them. Can a documentary have actors? "Chain" does.

Tamiko (Miho Nikaido) is a 31-year-old Japanese woman who works for a company that builds theme parks and shopping malls. She spends much of her life on the road, attending meetings and compiling reports and reading magazines and drinking tea in her hotel rooms at night.

Although she has family back home, she seems very much like a woman alienated from family and from society because of the demands of her job. She is completely devoted to her company and even when she hears that there is a financial scandal at the top, she feels it isn't her place to mention this to her superiors.

Amanda (Mira Billotte) left home and began hitch-hiking across the country. At one point, she asked a driver to drop her at the nearest mall and she's basically lived there ever since. She spends her days eating abandoned food and pretending to talk into a dead cell phone she found, to avoid getting tossed out by mall security. She sleeps in building sites and abandoned houses and occasionally finds work cleaning rooms at fast-disappearing independent motels.

Their stories are interspersed with footage of commercial and corporate landscapes and laced with found audio of sales pitches and telemarketing calls.

While the world is busy doing business around them, Tamiko and Amanda are struggling to make meaningful lives amid the white noise of commerce. And in the end, despite Tamiko's dedication to her work, she seems abandoned by the corporation to which she is devoted. And Amanda appears abandoned by society in general.

Narrated in a non-linear fashion and slowly paced, "Chain" may not satisfy viewers merely seeking entertainment, but it is a quietly and subtly powerful meditation on globalization and dehumanization.

"Chain" screens, for free, Tuesday, Feb. 1 at 7 p.m. at UWM's Union Theatre, 2200 E. Kenwood Blvd., as part of the Experimental Tuesdays series. The theater is located on the second floor of the UWM Student Union. Call (414) 229-4070.

Also showing at the Union Theatre this week is "Primer," winner of the grand jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival and the Alfred P. Sloan Award for Science and Technology. The film is a low-budget thriller about a pair of young engineers working to create a unique invention and then facing the ramifications of their new creation.

"Primer" screens Friday, Jan. 28 at 7 and 9 p.m.; Saturday, Jan. 29 at 5, 7 and 9 p.m.; and Sunday, Jan. 30 at 5 and 7 p.m. Admission is $5.

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.