Friday, September 21, 2007

Getting in on the Festival Action

I try to keep the self-pity on a tight leash around this blog, but every year I tell myself I'll scrounge up the money to hit the Toronto Film Festival, and I never ever make it (even though, this year, my disappointment was more than compensated by a personal visit from my idol-critic Mainly Movies on his way back from the big event, as well as detailed, sensational write-ups at The Film Experience and GreenCine).

But then, I realize, what am I griping about?? The Chicago Film Festival, despite a paucity of big premieres and a shortage of national coverage, is a pretty top-flight shindig and it's right in my neighborhood. Last year, having just moved here, I didn't hear about the festival until lots of the showings were sold out, and I was limited to three screenings, albeit interesting ones. This year, though, I had my act all kinds of together, and I scored a killer itinerary. I've never actually covered a film festival before, but I'm looking forward to regular updates and write-ups all through this one—and also to that coffee-fueled, bloodshot, Donnie Darko state of being that even the most inveterate festival goers tend to describe. Bring it on, and stay tuned!

Control (UK, Anton Corbijn) - Biopic of the lead singer of Joy Division that's been winning plaudits and audience love since Cannes; Samantha Morton's on board, which is always a plus, and I like the still images
Men in the Nude (Hungary, Károly Esztergályos) - Could be a fairly banal story of middle-age coming out prompted by some kind of Death in Venice encounter, but Eastern Europe has been churning out great stuff lately, and who could resist that title?

The Aerial (Argentina, Esteban Sapir) - One of those mad experiments that wash ashore at festivals; this one is a pastiche of silent-movie tropes as well as a comic screed against mega-corporate media
Scream of the Ants (Iran, Mohsen Makhmalbaf) - A living legend who still has trouble getting American distribution; I prefer his daughter's films to his own, which are sometimes too austere or dogmatic, but his best work (A Moment of Innocence, Kandahar) is frequently stunning
Hallam Foe (UK, David Mackenzie) - Whatever its shortcomings, the best parts of Young Adam (no, not just the naughty bits) have lingered well over the past couple of years, so I'm eager to see this new project, headlined by Jamie Bell (Billy Elliot, Undertow)
Stuck (Canada, Stuart Gordon) - Mena Suvari (remember her?) and Stephen Rea in some exploitation thriller that was a surprise critical fave in Toronto. The late-night slot is promising.

Dreams of Dust (Burkina Faso, Laurent Salgues) - Story about African goldminers forced to tunnel, mole-like, more than 100ft. into the ground in search of their quarry. Interesting to see whether gorgeous images and political content get blended any better here than in Western films about African immiseration
4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days (Romania, Cristian Mungiu) - A major coup, for the festival and for me: the world hasn't stopped wagging about this one since the first day of Cannes, and certainly not after it scooped the Palme. Should be a high point.

Yella (Germany, Christian Petzold) - Mainly Movies loved this one in Berlin, as did the awards jury. I don't know much about the plot except that it concerns an extremely estranged married couple.
Taxi to the Dark Side (USA, Alex Gibney) - Gibney, director of Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room and producer of the current No End in Sight, exposes post-9/11 American torture practices, focalizing the case of an Afghani taxi driver who was imprisoned and killed in 2002
The Last Mistress (France, Catherine Breillat) - A convalescent Catherine Breillat (Fat Girl) makes an unexpected swerve into costume drama, with the equally unexpected Asia Argento at her side

Opium: Diary of a Madwoman (Hungary, János Szász) - Let's hope I'm not burned out by all the intensity before I even get to this acclaimed dramatization of a real-life relationship between an asylum inmate and her morphine-addicted doctor, adapted from the doctor's diaries
Chicago 10 (USA, Brett Morgen) - Rack one up for hometown stories, and for interesting multimedia experiments, with this doc about Chicago's radical anti-war demonstrators of the late 1960s. Currently on Mike D'Angelo's list of the year's best

The Man from London (Hungary, Béla Tarr) - I'm a virtual novice with Tarr, having only seen Almanac of Fall, so even though this one's gotten mixed notices at best, I'm still intrigued
Lars and the Real Girl (USA, Craig Gillespie) - I'm mostly avoiding the imminent commercial releases, but the timeslot was right for this one, and I'm curious to see how a faux-indie like this looks amid the context of so much international drama and documentary

Silent Light (Mexico, Carlos Reygadas) - My most anticipated ticket of the fest. The reviews have trumpeted just what I wanted to hear: that Reygadas has preserved his brilliant visual acumen and jettisoned his compulsive petulance in tone and content. Fingers crossed to high heaven.
Irina Palm (Belgium, Sam Garbarski) - An unusual cast (Marianne Faithfull, Miki Manojlovic, Jenny Agutter) and production history for this tale about a 50-year-old prostitute. I clearly ruined myself in Nathaniel's Best Actress contest with this pick (among others!), but the film still intrigues me

Faro: Goddess of the Waters (Mali, Salif Traoré) - I seek out as much African cinema as I can at events like this, since commercial distributors are never any help, even on DVD
The Witnesses (France, André Téchiné) - Téchiné might be back in Wild Reeds territory with this AIDS-influenced domestic drama set in France in the 1980s. And any film that recalls Wild Reeds is a good thing
Flight of the Red Balloon (France, Hou Hsiao-hsien) - Some foreign artists try to break into Hollywood; Hou has opted to break into French cinema with this light-touch expansion on the classic Red Balloon short film. A one-time Special Event showing for the fest

The Banishment (Russia, Andrei Zvyagintsev) - I'm kind of asking for it here, since no one said anything nice about this one at Cannes, but I loved the director's first movie The Return, so I'll extend benefit of the doubt, at least once
One Hundred Nails (Italy, Ermanno Olmi) - The title refers to a mad act by a disillusioned university professor who nails 100 books to a library door before seeking refuge in a new life. Hopefully I will meet some different fate than this. In any event, Olmi is an old master (The Tree of Wooden Clogs) in whose work I'm entirely unversed, plus there are echoes here of Tarkovsky's ravishing Nostalghia, a personal favorite

The Savages (USA, Tamara Jenkins) - The closing night gala, with Jenkins and Laura Linney in attendance, and a glowingly-reviewed film to boot. The trailer delights me every single time I see it. A great way to end what I anticipate will be an extremely rewarding couple of weeks!

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Blogger randomcha said...

Hey Nick! Great stuff. I'm the film writer for the blog Chicagoist, and if all goes as planned I'll be getting a media pass in order to cover the festival. I'll be lucky if I have time to see a dozen of what's playing. I'll be happy to link to your site for those I can't see that you review. If you want to talk more film stuff drop me a line at randomcha(at)gmail(dot)com

8:01 PM, September 21, 2007  
Blogger par3182 said...

tell the lovely laura linney i love her

1:50 AM, September 22, 2007  
Blogger Glenn Dunks said...

The Man From London was dreadful. Looks great, but my god, slower than watching paint try. Good luck with it. I enjoyed the first two thirds of The Witnesses, but thought the final act really dragged. Of the film's you're seeing (I saw three of them at a film festival last July) Control was my favourite.

It helps that it was finally a biopic on somebody who, because he died so young, didn't live a life that was all event + event + event + drugs = biopic.

7:43 AM, September 23, 2007  
Blogger Yaseen Ali said...

How exciting! This is a great-sounding lineup, and I'm looking forward to your reviews

Hope you like the Mungiu and the Tarr... and I'm v. excited about The Savages, which I sadly missed at TIFF. A full report on Linney's Oscar chances is expected ASAP, sir!

9:21 PM, September 23, 2007  
Blogger Y Kant Goran Rite said...

I've seen 5 of those:
- Control may not be even+event+event=noble death, but it's about as inspired - Samantha Morton is wasted, the black&white is wasted, the Joy Division tracks are wasted (ok, so the plot needs them). It's not as indebted to the biopic category as it is to the nobody-understand-me-not-mama-not-papa-not-my-too-young-wife-mopey-teenager category.

- 4 Months, 3 Days - is every bit as stunning as you've heard

- Yella made me wish I got some sleep instead

- The Man from London made sure I got some sleep instead

- and I would call Witnesses a return to form if I actually thought Téchiné ever lost his form

7:22 AM, September 30, 2007  

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