Friday, September 19, 2014

Happy 50th, Chicago Film Festival!

I've known since I moved here that I shared a spiritual link with the Chicago International Film Festival, and this year the case only gets stronger. On October 9, the festival will turn 50 on the same day I turn 37, and as happens every year, the programmers will whup even my relatives and loved ones in the competition for Best Gift.  Tickets go on sale to the public today, though one of the perks of joining Cinema/Chicago and supporting the organization is getting a two-day head start on those purchases.  I suspect I won't be the only patron who feels I am being showered with presents.

For their golden anniversary, the leadership has curated a selection that, according to Programming Director Mimi Plauché,"ties back to the history of the festival and also looks forward in so many ways." That commitment to its own heritage begins with the Opening Night selection of Liv Ullmann's Miss Julie, extending CIFF's streak of programming all of Ullmann's directorial efforts since her first in 1992 (including a new personal favorite of mine, Private Confessions, which won Pernilla August a richly deserved Best Actress award here in 1996).  Ullmann will be back to introduce the film and take questions, as will Hollywood directors and CIFF loyalists Oliver Stone and Taylor Hackford, who will screen some favorites among their own work: Natural Born Killers and the extended cut of Alexander in Stone's case, The Idolmaker and White Nights in Hackford's.  CIFF will also host the North American premiere of the newly restored Why Be Good?, released simultaneously as a silent and a talkie in 1929 and previously thought lost.  The star, Colleen Moore, plays a character named "Pert," which is all I need to know. She will be familiar to CIFF audiences as the inspiration for the Franju-esque graphic that CIFF has used as its logo since its inception, since she helped to found the whole institution.  Archival pleasures extend as well to a four-film cycle of Isabelle Huppert's greatest post-2000 hits, selected by the actress herself and screening all in 35mm at the Music Box: The Piano Teacher (blistering), Comedy of Power (diabolical), Copacabana (atypically comic), and White Material (unmissable).  Whether Huppert herself will alight for the occasion was not clear, but a girl can dream.

Miss Julie, despite being an Irish-set and substantially Irish-funded production, also commences in its way CIFF 2014's spotlight on Scandinavian cinema, which encompasses among many other films Ruben Östlund's festival smash Force Majeure, which I couldn't get into in Toronto; Norway's 1001 Grams, already submitted for Oscar consideration; Sweden's The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared, which at least gave Roy Andersson some competition in the race for memorable film titling; encore screenings of Breaking the Waves and Fanny and Alexander; a portmanteau of recent Nordic short films; and Iceland's Of Horses and Men, already a cult favorite, with an indelible poster and this IMDb logline: A country romance about the human streak in the horse and the horse in the human. Love and death become interlaced and with immense consequences. The fortunes of the people in the country through the horses' perception. You can bet I'm skipping the one-night-only screening of Birdman to be there.

There is so much else to advertise: not just the films that have been programmed but the spirit and values behind their selection, which are my favorite things about CIFF.  Once again, the eight features programmed in the DocuFest competition, where I regularly see some of the festival's best movies, are all documentaries seeking U.S. distribution. This way, rookies and low-budget entries aren't up against National Gallery or The Look of Silence, which need a prize a lot less than the new folks do.  Unlike some other U.S. metropolitan fall film festivals I could name, Chicago has always prioritized supporting new filmmakers, not just with their debuts but with their sometimes more precarious sophomore efforts.  So, if you enjoyed Yuri Bykov's The Major or Roberto Flores Prieto's Chasing Fireflies last year, you can see their follow-ups The Fool and Pink Noise this year.  The 68 short films, culled from a submission pool numbering well over 2000, includes new work by Decasia's Bill Morrison and Melanie Lynskey alter ego Kris Swanberg but also by students from DePaul University, Columbia College, and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago—which, lest that sound local and precious to you, recently graduated a winner of the short film Palme d'or at Cannes.  The educational-outreach wing of CIFF will take seven programmed features into Chicago Public Schools, and the choices are adventurous and important, including the Rwandan-genocide documentary Life After Death and the gay Brazilian crowd-pleaser The Way He Looks.

So far, I have put the following public screenings into my schedule, as well as the LGBT titles I'll see offsite as part of the OutLook jury.  The list is a bit misleading, though. Anyone who has attended a festival in the city where they live and work knows that job demands or personal vicissitudes inevitably mean losing out on things you planned to see. At the same time, I usually manage to penetrate a few press screenings of things I otherwise would have missed.  So, a few titles will come off this roster, and some will join it.  Most of them I'll tweet about as I go, and others I'll keep mum about until awards decisions are reached:

Action 4 Climate (USA, prod. Bob Rafelson, dirs. Miscellaneous) - Prize-winning short films about climate change by directors younger than 35

Algren (USA, dir. Michael Caplan; DocuFest, City & State) - The first documentary feature about the storied yet undervalued Chicago author

The Babadook (Australia, dir. Jennifer Kent; After Dark, ReelWomen) - Rumored-to-be-terrifying haunting tale starring the sublime Essie Davis

Black Coal, Thin Ice (China, dir. Diao Yinan; Main Competition) - Noir-inspired police story, and winner of the top prize at Berlin last winter

Cathedrals of Culture (Germany, dirs. Miscellaneous) - Anthology of 3D architectural studies, from Wim Wenders, the late Michael Glawogger, etc.

The Circle (Switzerland, dir. Stefan Haupt; DocuFest, OutLook) - Examination of a private gay club and underground paper in 1940s Switzerland

Creep (USA, dir. Patrick Brice; After Dark) - Perennially adorable Mark Duplass runs way against type as the title figure in this metafilmic chiller

A Dream of Iron (South Korea, dir. Kelvin Kyung Kun Park; DocuFest) - Another prizewinner at Berlin, fusing natural and industrial portraiture

Echo of the Mountain (Mexico, dir. Nicolás Echevarría; DocuFest, Cinema of the Americas) - Muralist biography meets regional ethnography

Evolution of a Criminal (USA, dir. Darius Clark Monroe; DocuFest, Black Perspectives) - Long-term legacies of a felony, directed by the perpetrator

The Evolution of Bert (USA, dir. Jeffrey Wray; New Directors, Black Perspectives) - Coming-of-age tale of a first-generation black college student

A Few Cubic Meters of Love (Iran/Afghanistan, dir. Jamshid Mahmoudi; World Cinema) - Tense love story of Iranian laborer and Afghan woman

The Fool (Russia, dir. Yuri Bykov; Main Competition) - Suspenseful drama about building contractor serving corrupt bosses on a doomed project

Force Majeure (Sweden, dir. Ruben Östlund; Main Competition, Spotlight Scandinavia) - Comedy-drama about natural and domestic disasters

Foreign Body (Poland, dir. Krzysztof Zanussi; World Cinema) - Revered director's love triangle among Italian man and two Polish women

Free Fall (Hungary, dir. György Pálfi; Main Competition) - The shockmeister of Taxidermia is back with more surrealist, strong-stomach satire

Futuro Beach (Brazil/Germany, dir. Karim Aïnouz; World Cinema, OutLook, Cinema of the Americas) - Complex, ocean-spanning romance

A Girl at My Door (South Korea, dir. July Jung; New Directors, OutLook, ReelWomen) - Police woman falls in love with abused girl she rescues

González (Mexico, dir. Christian Díaz Pardo; World Cinema, Cinema of the Americas) - Desperate man takes a job from a dangerous televangelist

In Order of Disappearance (Norway, dir. World Cinema, Spotlight Scandinavia) - Black-comic revenge thriller, with Stellan Skarsgård as Liam Neeson

Into the Clouds We Gaze (Czech Republic, dir. Martin Dušek; DocuFest) - Comic study of a Czech man obsessed with "Pimp My Ride"-style competitions

Land of Storms (Hungary/Germany, dir. Ádám Császi; World Cinema, OutLook) - Gay love story revolving around star player on German soccer team

Life After Death (USA/Rwanda, dir. Joe Callander; DocuFest) - Character study of young Rwandan man growing up in the years after the 1994 genocide

The Look of Silence (Denmark/Indonesia, dir. Joshua Oppenheimer; DocuFest, World Cinema) - Celebrated complement to last year's Act of Killing

Nabat (Azerbaijan, dir. Elcin Musaoglu Guliyev; World Cinema) - Portrait of elderly woman who refuses to leave war-torn Azerbaijani homeland

Of Horses and Men (Iceland, dir. Benedikt Erlingsson; World Cinema, Spotlight Scandinavia) - May I repeat? Cult favorite horses-'n'-humans epic

The President (Georgia, dir. Mohsen Makhmalbaf; Main Competition) - The essential Iranian director continues his explorations into other cultures

Refugiado (Argentina, dir. Diego Lerman; Main Competition, Cinema of the Americas) - Tense drama of an abused mother fleeing her husband

Sand Dollars (Dominican Republic, dirs. Israel Cárdenas and Laura Amelia Guzmán; Main Competition, Cinema of the Americas, ReelWomen) - Affair between Dominican woman and much-older lover played by Geraldine Chaplin

Something Must Break (Sweden, dir. Ester Martin Bergsmark; World Cinema, OutLook, Spotlight Scandinavia) - Frank love story of gender-ambiguous youths

Stations of the Cross (Germany, dir. Dietrich Brüggermann; World Cinema) - Hotly debated in Berlin, following young girl bent on Catholic self-purification

Summer (The Netherlands, dir. Colette Bothof; World Cinema, OutLook, ReelWomen) - Romance of young girls stuck in a small Dutch industrial town

The Third One (Argentina, dir. Rodrigo Guerrero; World Cinema, OutLook) - Sexually curious youth accepts boudoir invitation from gay male couple

This Afternoon (USA, dir. Stephen Cone; New Directors, City & State) - Drama of faith and sex addiction from maker of Wise Kids and Black Box

Timbuktu (Mauritania, dir. Abderrahmane Sissako; Main Competition, Black Perspectives) - Jihadist drama so powerful and well-shot I'm seeing it again

La Tirisia (Mexico, dir. Jorge Pérez Solano; New Directors, Cinema of the Americas) - Drama of two pregnant women electing whether to carry to term

Two Days, One Night (Belgium, dirs. Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne; World Cinema) - Toast of Cannes, as Marion Cotillard struggles to keep her job

The Way He Looks (Brazil, dir. Daniel Ribeiro; World Cinema, OutLook, Cinema of the Americas) - Crowd-pleaser about gay, blind student amid first love

The Well (USA, dir. Tom Hammock; After Dark) - Post-apocalyptic thriller about teenage girl defending her reservoir from a violent tycoon

Why Be Good? (USA, dir. William A. Seiter; 50th Anniversary) - Restored 1929 comedy about a flapper whose virtue is tested by a rich suitor

Wild (USA, dir. Jean-Marc Vallée; Closing Night) - Well-reviewed adaptation of Cheryl Strayed's memoir, with Reese Witherspoon on a dramatic trek

Winter Sleep (Turkey, dir. Nuri Bilge Ceylan; World Cinema) - Talk-filled, lustrously shot winner of the Palme d'or, about a hotelier and his family

The Word (Poland/Denmark, dir. Anna Kazejak-Dawid; Main Competition, Reel Women) - Teenage girl enacts revenge on her faithless boyfriend

Xenia (Greece, dir. Panos Koutras; World Cinema, OutLook) - Two brothers, gay and straight, embark on comic Odyssey to find Greek father

If you peruse the full festival schedule and notice a title you think I'm overlooking, please feel free to suggest it in the Comments.  I've already seen the uneven but interesting Clouds of Sils Maria and Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem, the terrifying and imaginative It Follows, the better-as-it-goes Miss Julie, the extraordinary National Gallery, the dense but luscious Princess of France, the unusual and fascinating Red Rose, and the sobering and gorgeous Timbuktu in Toronto.  You can read brief opinions about them here.  I'm deferring stuff like Birdman and The Imitation Game till their imminent commercial releases.  Otherwise, I'm open to suggestions, and I hope you'll track and enjoy all the coverage here at Nick's Flick Picks.

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Anonymous Jonathan said...

You didn't like "Gett?"

I highly recommend "Nabat," which is a stunning piece of immersive visual and sonic storytelling. "Something Must Break" is also lovely. Your line-up looks solid.

5:55 PM, September 19, 2014  
Anonymous Jonathan said...

Oh, and I'd also recommend "Concrete Night" with reservations. It played TIFF 2013 and is worth seeing for its spectacular black and white cinematography alone.

6:09 PM, September 19, 2014  
Blogger Jonathan said...

Different Jonathan here; maybe I should go by JStor to avoid confusion...

Of the two that I've seen, I would definitely recommend Of Horses And Men. Not having seen Birdman, I'm not sure whether it's better than that, but it's definitely a unique experience, I'll give it that!

The only one that I've seen is Two Days, One Night and... eh. It's fine, I guess. Cotillard is good; Rongione is better. Script is 16 Disgruntled Solar Panel Factory Workers, but has a good ending. Most people like it more than I do, though, so YMMV.

Of your choices, I hope to see Babadook, Black Coal, Thin Ice, Force Majeure, The Look of Silence and Timbuktu at or around LFF time, so I look forward to your appraisals (or reappraisals in the case of the last one)!

7:15 PM, September 19, 2014  

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